Ben Marble, the man who gained national attention last year when he told Dick Cheney to go f**k himself in the middle of his televised post-Katrina photo-op in Gulfport, Miss., is a big, gregarious Southerner with the kind of boyish charm and rebellious glint in his eye reminiscent of Randall P. McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. An average guy thrust into a crazy, unjust circumstance, who felt compelled to raise his voice and say enough is enough. Marble spoke for millions of Americans when he implored our Vice President to conjugate with himself. Yet, though he filled the role of Everyman that day, he, like McMurphy, is no ordinary man. His message to Dick Cheney was no mere stunt, a goof to capture on video for fifteen minutes of fame. Rather, it was a pointed comment on the hypocrisy and tragic disregard that has guided this White House, and a jumping off point to raise more awareness of the ongoing plight of post-Katrina victims in the Gulf Coast, to which Marble has dedicated himself ever since. ER physician, front man of the rock band dR. O, proprietor of over a dozen websites, self-described computer geek, artist, husband and father, Ben Marble still manages to find time to speak out against injustice and hypocrisy, whether someone is listening or not.
I sat down with Ben on the eve of the fifth anniversary of September 11th, after he happened to run across a couple of op-eds I’d written on Katrina and contacted me out of the blue. Over lunch, we spoke for more than two hours. When the interview came to a close, we hopped in a cab downtown to protest George W. Bush’s visit to Ground Zero. There we stood together with other fellow citizens disgusted by Bush’s relentless exploitation of 9/11. All in all, it was quite a day. The following is the edited transcript of our discussion.
MediaBloodhound: To set the scene for people who don’t know, what led to your now famous encounter with our cuddly Vice President?
Dr. Ben Marble: Well, it’s a bit of a story. You know, of course, the hurricane destroyed my whole neighborhood. We had fled, running for our lives. Or driving for our lives in the car. My wife, she was thirty-nine weeks pregnant. She was having contractions every fifteen minutes, twenty minutes. My son was a year and a half at the time. He had a hundred three, hundred four fever. My fifteen-year-old daughter was with us as well. And we’re driving through this torrential rain, trying to get away.
We left Gulfport at three o’clock in the afternoon. The first hotel we could find was in a place called Lake Park, Georgia, which was about an hour and a half northeast of Tallahassee [Florida] – that’s how far we had to drive. We got there at 7 a.m. We checked in, went to bed. That was the day the storm hit, which also happened to be our wedding anniversary. Little bit of irony there. Slept for about two hours. Got a phone call from one of our friends. He was in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, at his grandfather’s house. He thought the house would be safe ’cause it was three stories. The water was up to the second story and almost up to the third and he was afraid they were all going to die. He called me back forty-five minutes later, said the water was finally going down. They were still alive. Their car floated away. Stuff like that.
We backtracked that night. Stayed in Niceville, Florida. Kinda watched the storm on TV. Then the next morning we stocked up on supplies – generators, gas, chainsaws, water, food. I bought a bicycle. All things we thought we would need. Drove back home. Went and saw my parents. They were still alive. My wife’s parents’ house was OK. We went to our house. We saw it was destroyed. Our whole neighborhood was gone. My wife kinda freaked out, of course, but that’s natural. She’s still having contractions.
That night we spent at her mom’s house. The next day we were just trying to do what we could to start the recovery process. It was ninety-five to a hundred degrees outside. No power. No water. No nothing. It was like living in a military zone. There’s helicopters and military planes flying over all day. It was virtual martial law. After dark they could shoot you on sight if they saw you out. I, in fact, dared go to my friend’s house, literally two hundred yards over one night about an hour after dark, and I had two police come up and draw their guns on me and threaten to shoot me. It was pretty crazy.
Late Wednesday afternoon, my wife was feeling really bad, having more contractions. I’m an ER doctor, so I went ahead and checked her and she was four centimeters. So we started off to the hospital. We got stopped probably three times on the way to the first hospital by military, wondering what we were doing out after dark, pointing their guns at us. So we’re like, well, we’re going to this hospital, we gotta go have this baby, so they let us go. We’d go another half mile and somebody else would pull us over.
We finally made it to that hospital. They had no doctor, no baby doctor. They said if the baby was coming out, they could deliver her outside in a tent. But I wanted her at least to get some sort of pain control to help out there. So we said, “OK, no thanks. We appreciate it, but we’re going somewhere else.” We went to another hospital. We got stopped again, like twice more on the way. Same routine. We finally got there. They had just gotten their generators up. Some water going. They had a nurse midwife. They gave my wife one shot of Nubain Phenergan and after about four hours she had the baby, and the baby was healthy luckily.
She’s in the hospital maybe twelve hours, they said, “You gotta go.” So we went home to her mom’s house. We spent several days there. Over the next several days it was just, you know, dealing with various…mainly volunteers. It wasn’t the government that brought help. It was volunteers from all over the country. Just people driving down with truckloads of stuff. “Here, we’re gonna drop this off here. Y’all need this? We’ll bring you food and water, clothes, different things.” The trick was finding out where stuff was at because you didn’t have much communication to do that. But you did what you could.
So I’d been going to our house here and there, trying to salvage stuff. I managed to talk to my friend Jay into helping me try to get some stuff out of the rubble. We had a rental truck. An eighth of a tank of gas. Gas lines at that point were three-to-four hours long. So that day we got to the train tracks, which were literally about 150 feet or so from my house, they wouldn’t let me cross. They’re telling me I gotta go this extra fifteen-minute route when I know I’m low on gas already and had crossed there every day before. They’re like, “You gotta turn around.” Finally, I put it in reverse – luckily Jay had the camera rolling – and just as I did, I see this long convoy of black cars coming through, ten, fifteen, twenty. They just told me no one can pass here, and ten seconds later they’re waving this caravan of cars through. I was infuriated. I flipped off the convoy. But, uh, we took the long way around. We had no other choice. I mean what are you going to do when the guys got machine guns, you know?
We made it to the house eventually. There are police out front, talking to this woman. That’s another story – this insane woman squatted in our house and started looting the neighborhood, putting it in our house. So I asked the police officer, “What’s going on there?” [Referring to the convoy.] And he said, “Well, the vice president’s down there.” And I said, “Really? Well, you think they’d let us go down there?” He said, “Yeah, they’d really like to talk to some of the locals – that’s why they’re here.” I said, “Oh, OK, great.” So we took off. Jay had the camcorder and I had the camera, and we walked down there. And the whole time we were walking, I thought, you know, I would really like to tell Cheney to go f**k himself. He said that on the senate floor to Senator Leahy, so if I get a chance I’m gonna say it. I told Jay. He said, “Ah, you’re asking for trouble.”
MB: So it was premeditated?
Marble: Yes, it was premeditated. It was very much premeditated. I was kind of like the ultimate Punk’d!
MB: Related to it being premeditated, it did have a polished comedic quality to it. Even your choice to use “Mr.” when you addressed him. I think that’s why your comment seemed to be coming from a sane man who’d simply had enough. Also, had those same words come from a screaming person who’d been dragged away, I think it would’ve been a one-day story for the mainstream media. Maybe not even a full day. I think that’s why it had so much impact. That it was measured, and there was a comical quality to it.
Marble: Well, the premeditated part was the “go f**k yourself.” The “Mr. Cheney,” that just, I don’t know why, I can’t say that was premeditated. I guess I’m used to addressing people respectfully. A lot of people told me that, though. So when we got down there they patted us down, check our I.D.’s. And Jay’s got the camera rolling. And there was such a mob of people covering it that I lost track of Jay. I didn’t know where he was. And Dick was going on and on, doing his little political spin routine. I was thinking to myself, “I better hurry up and say something because he may stop talking any second.” I knew when he did, it was going to be over. I started getting kind of nervous. I was like, I just need to go ahead and say it. I knew I was speaking for a lot of people because my sister-in-law was the first person who got power back who had a television and I’d gone to her house and we saw everything that was happening in the New Orleans area, with, you know, people having nothing to drink, nothing to eat and just being left in the streets to die, to fend for themselves. The basic simple things that they should’ve done and could’ve done were some airdrops of food and water and drop in some military to deliver them. I mean, common sense.
MB: Common sense.
Marble: These guys don’t have common sense. They gotta go check with their lawyers and all this other crap, and, you know, you got people dying – you don’t worry about that other stuff, you go save them.
MB: And it kind of makes you wonder. How much of it is about common sense and how much of it is lack of care?
Marble: Right. Do we really care? These aren’t our people. Well, that was kind of half the reason he came to my neighborhood. Or probably the only reason. Because I lived in a pretty prominent part of Gulfport, which was a block off the beach in a neighborhood mostly of doctors and lawyers and such.
MB: When you told our Vice President to go f**k himself, could you tell if he made eye contact with you?
Marble: Oh, absolutely he did make eye contact with me. He was about twelve feet or so away at the time. And right as I said it, it was like one of those moments in time where everything stood still and you could just hear this total silence. He looked right up at me and had this grin on his face like, “Oh, you got me.” Like he knew. He thought it was funny. He had this little grin on his face. He looked me right in the eye and kind of rolled his eyes, and then he went on. And right at that moment I was like, I better say it again because I’m not sure they heard me. So I did, but I started walking away because they were running at me like they were about to tackle me. And I was like, “Go fuck yourself, you asshole” as I walked away. That’s why it kind of faded out.
MB: The matter-of-fact quality of how you said it was also pretty hilarious.
Marble: You know, there was something else that was funny about it, too. I had this old ratty Mr. T “I Pity the Fool” T-shirt I was wearing. I think that was a large part of why they let me in. [Laughs.] I was just wearing it because I knew I was going to be getting dirty and nasty with the house.
MB: Because if you had an “Impeach Bush” T-shirt, they never would’ve let you in.
Marble: Oh yeah. They never would’ve let me in.
MB: [Laughing.] But a Mr. T “I Pity the Fool” T-shirt. That gets you in.
Marble: Exactly. [Laughs.]
MB: That pretty much seems up the administration, doesn’t it?
Marble: Exactly. So I’m walking off. I wave at the guy who patted me down. I said to him, “Have a nice day,” and he was looking at me like he wanted to shoot me. I walked back to my house. And, you know, people ask me how I feel about it. Do I regret it? I say the same thing Dick Cheney said. It felt great.
MB: The same thing he said about saying it to Senator Leahy.
Marble: Yeah. I knew he needed to hear that. The country needed to hear that. It felt good, you know? That’s all I can say. It was a great feeling. One of the funniest things I’ve ever done in my life. So I, uh, walked back to the house. I called Jay. This is funny too. I went back to the house. He’s still filming down there. So his cell phone goes off and he interrupted it twice. And tell him to get back to the house before they saw him and took that camera away from him. So as soon as he gets back, the first thing I did was get that DVD and hid it in the bushes. Because I knew they were gonna come back. I just had that feeling.
MB: And they were going to go after that?
Marble: Oh yeah. So I put a blank one in its place. And, sure enough, ten minutes later two guys with machine guns pointed at us come jogging up.
MB: Were these military or Secret Service?
Marble: It was military. In a military uniform, fatigues. They said, “Excuse me, sir, you fit the description of a man that just cussed out the Vice President, wearing an orange shirt…”
MB: So, in effect, the military, with everything that’s going on, all the people in need of help, took time away from the job they were sent down there to do by this administration in order to find you.
Marble: Sure. Yup. So I said, “Well, I’m probably the guy you’re looking for.” And they said, “OK, sir, we’re going to have to handcuff you, we’re going to detain you for questioning. You are not under arrest. Do not run. And they emphasized the do not run part. [Laughs.] I was like, I just told you it was me. I’m not going to run – y’all have the machine guns.
MB: How did they justify those two things? We’re going to handcuff you, but you’re not under arrest?
Marble: I didn’t have the right to inquire about that.
MB: [Laughs.] Yes, you probably wanted to avoid getting shot.
Marble: There was a lot of stress going on at the time. And people, especially military or police in that type of situation, they get an itchy trigger finger. They were looking for an excuse. I just had police pull their guns on me a few days before that.
MB: Because you were out past the curfew.
Marble: Yeah, sure. So they handcuffed me. They put the one on the right extremely tight. I said, “Look, it’s really tight, you know – you don’t have to do that.” They ignored this. So I told Jay to turn the camera back on. He takes the camera with that new blank DVD in it and starts videoing again. They walk me from the house to the train tracks they wouldn’t let me cross beforehand, where a police car was parked. They put me in the backseat and began interrogating me. “Why did you do that, sir? Are you trying to hurt the Vice President?” Blah, blah, blah. I was like, “No, I don’t mean him any physical harm. But, you know, if he can say that on the floor of the senate, where people are supposed to be civil and courteous, then I think I can say it in the middle of the worst disaster in the history of our nation.” They had no idea what I was talking about, so I had to give them a history lesson. Most of them were pretty pissed off. There were a couple who thought it was funny, but most were pretty angry and wanted to take me to jail.
MB: And these were all soldiers?
Marble: Well, at that point, there were maybe three or four soldiers in military uniforms, and a couple guys were Secret Service. They had the glasses, the little earpieces.
MB: But the guys who were first on the scene were military. Then the Secret Service came after?
Marble: Correct. And some type of uniform police officers. I don’t know if they were from the sheriff’s office. I don’t know who they were.
MB: But the people who asked you, “Did you intend to do any harm to the Vice President?” That was Secret Service?
Marble: That was Secret Service. So I explained all that to them. That was about it. Then, suddenly, they take Jay’s camera away from him. One of them got in the front seat with it and I could see him messing with it. All I know is that video Jay shot of me in handcuffs does not work. They finally said, “Well, apparently you didn’t break any laws. We have your social security number, your phone number, your place of employment.” Blah, blah, blah. Then they said, “If we need to get in touch with you, we will. Don’t get in touch with us.”
MB: Nice little intimidation factor at the end there.
Marble: Yeah, sure, sure. I actually got a call from an attorney a couple weeks ago about this. I’ve had a few people contact me. I’ve never thought about it seriously, but the attorney I talked to apparently seems to think they broke the law with what they did. So I’m kind of weighing my options there with that. Not for any kind of monetary reason, but to further expose their abuse of power. So if he’s willing to make a case out of it, I might be willing to do that. We’ll see.
MB: You’re just looking into that now?
Marble: I had never taken it too seriously, but the more I think about it, things just keep getting worse in this country. This upcoming election in November is going to be a huge election and the reason why is we have a, uh, American citizens have a chance to restore some sort of balance of power. Because we’re basically living under a de facto dictatorship. They control the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch, and it looks like Bush may get a third Supreme Court appointment. Because Kennedy’s talking about maybe going – how scary is that?
Marble: If they maintain control of Congress, we will have a war with Iran. This is what I believe.
MB: I think you might be right.
Marble: And a war with Iran is essentially a war with Russia and China. Not a war that we want. Russia and China have already said don’t do it. That’s their number one supplier of oil, that’s their energy source. We can’t take away Russia’s and China’s energy source and expect them to sit idly by while we do it. China has the largest military on the planet. Plus they have the most people on the planet. They’re also basically our banker. If they call in their loans, we’re really in trouble. The bottom line is, you’re odds of dying in a war with Iran, Russia and China are a lot greater than dying from a random terrorist act. So are you voting to go to war with Iran, Russia and China or are you voting not to go to war with them? That’s how I see this election. I think this is one of the most important issues I’m trying to push with The Mission NOT Accomplished Tour. People need to vote for candidates that stand up and say they will impeach George Bush, or Dubya Gump, as I call him.
MB: Actually, that’s a good segue. The Mission NOT Accomplished Tour. What is it? What do you hope to accomplish with it? What’s the itinerary? I know you started in front of the White House on Friday.
Marble: Well, I’ll tell you what led up to this whole event being planned. Rockey Vaccarella taking a FEMA trailer, a fake FEMA trailer to Washington, D.C. to say that Bush needed another term in office…
MB: …to get the job done.
Marble: When I saw that on TV, I nearly shit my pants.
MB: Can I quote you on that?
Marble: [Laughing.] Sure…please do. This guy, you know, I kind of feel sorry for this guy.
MB: I kind of feel sorry for him, too. I was going to ask you a question related to that.
Marble: I feel like I owe him an apology. And if you’re listening Mr. Vaccarella, or if you read this, I’m sorry, sir.
MB: Well, I mean, my feeling about it is, on the one hand, the guy suffered greatly from Katrina – he lost his eldest son. But, at the same time, I was going to ask you what you think is going through his mind? To have suffered that, but still come out to support the president on his handling of both preparing for Katrina and the aftermath. To come out in defense of him…
Marble: Well, I think that’s just an example of a Bush sheep. They would jump off a cliff with him. I don’t mean that in a mean way, but these people will support him to the end. No matter what. They would…these are like people who would die in the bunker with Hitler, you know? Some people believe Bush can do no wrong. And the fact of the matter is, Rockey was there and he knows what happened. Now, granted the response was a failure on all levels of government – the city, state and federal – but how could he go to Washington and say he’s trying to raise awareness about that area so people won’t forget - which is certainly an admirable thing - and call for another term for the guy who let us down? The guy who dropped the ball, the guy who started a war based on lies, in the wrong country, wrong place, wrong time. The man who let people die in the streets for day after day after day. The man who wants to start another war with Iran. The man who’s taken the largest surplus in the history of our nation and turned it into the largest deficit in just a short three years. I mean this guy is so incompetent, and how anyone could say he deserves another term in office - I was like, are you insane? I don’t claim to grasp why those people think that way. Though I do think it has a lot to do with growing up in the South and being raised in the church and stuff like that. Being brought up to believe you’re supposed to support your President no matter what.
MB: Especially during a time of war.
Marble: Right, cannot criticize the president during a time of war, which is total BS. If you want to win a war, you can’t expect someone to fix the problem when he won’t even admit he’s the cause of the problem. How is he going to get us out of it when he won’t even admit he got us into it? It’s ridiculous. So, anyway, that’s what inspired the trip. I actually went on MSNBC’s Hardball show and debated Mr. Vaccerella. With regards to The Mission NOT Accomplished idea, I wanted to be the anti-Rockey. Because the majority of people down in the post-Katrina area do not support this president. I know that for a fact. The overwhelming majority and I’m talking probably at least 80 to 90% of the people. So the first stop was at the White House. I did a speech to the president, asking him to realize the single best thing he could ever hope to do for our country is to go ahead and resign.
MB: And you made this speech just outside the White House.
Marble: Right in front of the White House. And I didn’t get too loud and boisterous. I kept it calm and civil. We are filming this whole trip. The first thing we shot was that. That’s how we kicked it off. And we interviewed a few people. I called on Bush to think about resigning. If he refuses to resign, then I think the only issue that has to be pushed by the opposition in the November election, if people pushed this single issue: “I will impeach Dubya Gump if you elect me. Then we can take back control of Congress and we could get rid of the guy.” I honestly believe that one issue is the only issue that anybody needs to promote for November.
MB: And there are a growing number of candidates nationally who are running on that.
Marble: Well –
MB: Not a lot, but some.
MB: Well, a lot of Democrats seem afraid to actually voice it.
Marble: They want to stick their finger in there and take a poll.
Marble: And that’s following. Being a leader means you got to lead. You take a stand. Set the initiative. You don’t follow polls. Polls are good for some things, not when it comes to this issue.
MB: I think the people who are running on that platform would be considered on the fringe by the Democratic leadership.
Marble: And that’s where I think they’re wrong.
MB: Yeah, they are wrong. But look at Paul Hackett. There’s no reason why Paul Hackett is not a star candidate in the Democratic Party. But the problem seems to be the Democratic leadership at the top.
Marble: Nancy Pelosi specifically said that if we win the majority we will not impeach George Bush. I think she should resign for saying that. I mean because that’s a lie. If they win, everybody knows they’re going to impeach him. So if they’re gonna do it, and we all know they are, then be honest about it.
MB: Sure. Paul Hackett made the Democratic leadership too nervous. He spoke the unvarnished truth.
Marble: And that’s what’s going to happen. They feel like if they can’t control, then they have to silence you.
Marble: So the main goals of the Mission NOT Accomplished Tour are, one, to encourage people to vote for impeachment and the other goal is to continue to raise awareness of the ongoing problems in the Gulf Coast post-Katrina. There are a couple of big ones. There’s a huge healthcare crisis right now. Very huge. Trauma surgeon shortage. Somebody gets in a car wreck, gets shot, stabbed, they may bypass three or four hospitals before they get to a surgeon. And there’s that golden hour to get care initiated. People have died because of this. I know two people specifically who died directly because of this. I mean there are so many cases I could tell you about. The suicides rates are through the roof. Psychiatric illness rates are through the roof. Murder rates have tripled. Meanwhile, doctors are leaving in droves, nurses are leaving in droves, and no one’s coming in to replace them. So there’s a huge healthcare crisis going on right now.
MB: It’s kind of ironic that the guy who came up to support Bush’s actions regarding Katrina is from New Orleans and the guy who’s speaking out against his actions is from Mississippi. Because Mississippi received much more support, right?
Marble: True. Absolutely. Mississippi has gotten way more support. The recovery in Mississippi has been very different because we have a Washington fat cat lobbyist as our governor. Haley Barber. And what better time to have the fat cat lobbyist as your governor? If he couldn’t get things done, who could? The recovery in Mississippi has been going very well as far as clean up and starting to rebuild. Now there are still all of those things I mentioned that aren’t happening. But in the New Orleans area, they haven’t started doing anything. They haven’t started tearing the buildings down. You can’t rebuild until you get the rubble out of the way. They haven’t even started to get the rubble out of the way. I think they’re not capitalizing on a golden opportunity. New Orleans should be the new capital for making horror movies because there’s block after block after empty building that would be great sets for some horror movies.
MB: All of which George Bush drove right by during his little anniversary tour there. If you were to parse articles covering his Katrina anniversary photo-ops, some papers had a line or two about this buried in their stories.
Marble: I guess part of the reason they haven’t even started tearing most of the buildings down is, by all people’s estimations, there are still many uncovered bodies in those buildings. They’ll mark a building as clear, but do they really search it? For example, in the movie with Spike [When the Levees Broke], they showed where they’d marked a building as clear and all the doors were locked. Nobody had been inside it. How do you mark a building as clear when nobody ever entered it? And so they’re going to find more bodies. They’re still finding bodies. But, at some point in time, those building are uninhabitable. They’re unusable. Might as well go and start tearing them down. The problem is, nobody wants to do that because the insurance scandal. The insurance industry’s got a multi-billion-dollar scam going on right now. They’re just ripping people off left and right, not wanting to pay claims. People don’t want to rebuild because the levee’s not restored. If a tropical storm, a little teeny tiny tropical storm, came and hit New Orleans, it would be under eight-to-ten feet of water again. They would be back where they started. So why rebuild when the levee’s not strong enough to even stop that? So that’s the big dilemma and I don’t have any good answer for it.
The other thing, there’s a huge shortage of low-income housing. All these people in FEMA trailers, after eighteen months, they’re gonna get evicted. And there’s no housing for them to get to, and the pricing on the houses and apartments that were there before, that survived, have doubled or tripled. The three specific public housing projects they have, you know, they’re selling to private companies who are going to bulldoze them and probably build condos or something.
MB: Sure. Well, there’s a great deal of a kind of Manifest Destiny going on there. I still believe the Bush administration’s inaction before, during and after the storm have something to do with that.
Marble: Oh yeah. They’re making sure they build those casinos real quick, though.
Marble: And anything big money, you know, but they’re not concerned about the average Joe. So there’s a huge shortage of housing. A huge healthcare crisis. You never hear anything in the news about the healthcare crisis. And that’s coast wide, that’s Louisiana and Mississippi. The third issue, which is a big issue, is they won’t fund a category five levee in New Orleans. If you’re gonna rebuild it, it’s inevitable, sooner or later, maybe a hundred years from now, but a category five storm will hit New Orleans. I mean everyone knew for decades that New Orleans was going to flood if a major storm ever hit.
MB: Except Bush. He just couldn’t predict the breach of the levees.
Marble: Yeah, no one ever predicted the breach of the levees. What a great statement. You’re doing one heckuva job, Brownie. So we’re gonna fire you in a few days. So those are the things I’ve been talking about – the Katrina stuff, the stuff about impeaching him, those are the issues I’ve been trying to raise. I did the thing at the White House yesterday, then we went to Camp Democracy in DC. Then to Philadelphia before coming to New York City. We’ll be at the United Nations.
MB: Let me take you back to the Hardball appearance.
MB: Unfortunately Mr. Vaccarella ate up most of the airtime. You were cut off at the end of the segment. To paraphrase Pink Floyd, your lips moved but nobody heard what you said. What were you trying to say at the end there? Because you were still speaking, but they cut your mike off.
Marble: I was actually trying to mention The Mission NOT Accomplished Tour.
MB: Oh, OK.
Marble: I was going to tell Chris I was thinking about doing my own tour, my own trip to the White House. I didn’t realize I’d been cut off. I had a hard time hearing them because I was down in Mississippi at the time. And he was, you know, in Washington or New York or wherever.
MB: Yet some media outlets automatically jumped on that saying you were ranting and raving at the end there and they cut you off because of it.
Marble: [Laughs.] No, I couldn’t hear what was going on. They just ran out of time.
MB: During the segment, you said to Rockey that President Bush met with you but he wouldn’t meet with Cindy Sheehan, and you asked him why he thought that was? In response, Rockey said Bush had met with Cindy Sheehan twice. First, that’s incorrect. He met with her only once and that was with a group of other parents right after her son Casey had been killed in Iraq, when she was still in shock, in an acute stage of grieving.
MB: But he never met with her again. And that’s the point. When she was well enough to have an actual conversation with the president, when she was no longer in a vulnerable position, he refused. Yet, not only did Chris Matthews let Rockey go on and on, chewing up the overwhelming majority of airtime, even speaking over you when you attempted to stop Rockey from monopolizing the segment, but Matthews also failed to correct him on that point.
Marble: I think everybody knew my point.
MB: But he didn’t even correct –
Marble: Chris didn’t call him on it.
MB: And that’s the kind of sloppiness I often call out on this site.
Marble: Well, I wouldn’t want to be a Chris Matthews or Keith Olbermann, or in any of their shoes, where I’d have to pretend I’m unbiased. Because all human beings are biased.
MB: But I think, in a way, it’s more…it’s that, at this point in time, it’s more about being truthful. I mean Keith Olbermann has been getting a lot of buzz lately because he’s been truthful. If members of the Bush administration lie, he says they’re lying and points out what they’re lying about. If they shamelessly exploit 9/11, he calls them on it. He’s kept a running timeline he shares with his audience that tracks the overly coincidental, beneficial timing of this administration’s terrorist warnings. I don’t think that’s about being biased or unbiased. I think, journalistically speaking, it’s just doing your job.
Marble: Oh, I love the guy. He’s great.
MB: I mean that statement he gave recently on Rumsfeld and the administration was brilliant. And he’s made a couple since then.
Marble: That speech was awesome. But he’ll probably get canned.
MB: And the only reason why he might not get canned is his ratings have been growing steadily.
Marble: And that’s, you know –
MB: That’s the only reason why he won’t get fired.
Marble: So you have to dance like a monkey to tell the truth.
MB: You do. And to that point, I think he has been able to do what he does on his show because he really only addresses serious issues for a portion of it. The rest of the time he’s doing an entertainment report, or he’s doing a report on Petey the Three-Eyed Goat.
Marble: [Laughing.] Yeah.
MB: And Zeppo the Juggling Cat. But I understand. Edward R. Murrow was forced to do the same thing. It’s the only way it seems they would allow him to do the other stuff. The serious stuff. And, you know, Fox has taken a huge slide.
Marble: Oh yeah. People are waking up.
MB: And that’s the only thing, at least for the moment, saving Keith Olbermann’s job.
Marble: But my concern is that people are going to wake up too late. To some degree, they already did wake up too late, ’cause we had the 2004 election and Bush is still in office.
MB: Certainly. OK, I know your Cheney quote was printed in scores of national magazines and obviously the video of your encounter with him was ubiquitous. But have you had much airtime on cable and network news? And what’s your feeling on how you’ve been handled by the mainstream media since you’ve come on the scene?
Marble: Well, other than MSNBC, they’ve wanted to avoid it I guess. You know?
MB: Yeah, in doing research for this interview, I couldn’t find another appearance.
Marble: Kinda sweep it under the rug.
MB: You think they’re frightened to have you on?
Marble: Possibly. You know, if they wanted to tape ahead of time if they’re scared I’m gonna say something, I mean they could always do that. So I don’t know. That’s a good question.
MB: I mean you haven’t been on the Today show.
MB: You haven’t been on the CBS Early Show.
MB: Or Good Morning America.
MB: Yet they’ll gladly bring on Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly.
Marble: Oh, absolutely. I told the guys at MSNBC I would love to be on a show against Ann Coulter. That would be great. If they want some good ratings, put me on that show. It will be funny, and they’ll have good ratings. And I’ll rip ’em a new one. Seriously. I would love to get on a show with Anne Coulter.
MB: You and me both. But what do you think it says about the mainstream media? That they would have someone on…in fact, right around the time you had your Rockey segment, Matthews had Coulter on Hardball to plug her book. And he praised her throughout interview. It was held outdoors, where they gathered a pre-selected crowd of Coulter fans who were cheering for her. It was nauseating. Matthews literally called her “a great writer.” His exact words. Never mind she’s also a confirmed plagiarist.
Marble: Well, I think there’s a lot of mainstream media whores. Seriously, the guys who were at that press conference with Cheney. One. One reporter spoke up and said something. None of them noted I was quoting Cheney’s own words back to him. Now what does that say about those reporters. Not one of them said, “Hey, Mr. Cheney, didn’t you say that same thing to Senator Leahy?”
Marble: None of them. They had zero balls. And the reason why is they know they won’t have access if they actually say something and speak up. You know the guy who said, “You gettin’ a lot of that?” He probably hasn’t had a single interview since. I don’t know for a fact, but that would be my guess. If you speak up and ask a relevant question, they’re not gonna talk to you anymore. The media is a joke. And that’s why people have to go online. I probably get my information from as many sources as possible. I’m an Internet geek, a computer geek, so I visit numerous websites, international sites, et cetera. But I’ll also watch MSNBC, CNN, Fox. I love watching Fox – it’s really entertaining. I mean they claim to be fair and balanced. Well, why is a Fox correspondent now the White House press secretary? That’s absurd. How is it that Secret Service admitted that they were pretending to be Fox reporters, and it’s OK. That’s fair and balanced.
MB: But most people - and this informs my focus for MediaBloodhound – since most people realize Fox is basically just a mouthpiece for this government, I don’t go after them because I feel it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Instead, I focus on those mainstream news outlets that are supposed to be doing their jobs, the ones people expect to do their jobs. The CNNs, the New York Times, the MSNBCs…
Marble: Yeah. Why did CNN give Rockey all that airtime? And they hyped up the story: Rockey goes to Washington. Like he’s Rocky Balboa. That was half the reason why I stopped by Philadelphia and ran up and down the stairs and held my arms up at the top.
MB: Did you see the Ed Henry segment? It was a particularly egregious segment on CNN that day.
MB: He started it off by saying you couldn’t ask for a better script, how it was right out of the movies. Well, yeah. Exactly. You couldn’t ask for a better script. And the White House couldn’t ask for better marketing.
MB: That goes to the point too - I’m sure it goes way back but it’s seems to have become much worse during Bush’s tenure – and that’s reporters in the mainstream media who are doing less journalism and more stenography. For example, with the anniversaries of Katrina and 9/11, the mainstream media reports on all of Bush’s speeches and the political strategy driving them, yet not his disastrous handling of, say, Katrina, the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, the twisted intelligence that got us into this war of choice in Iraq, and his failure to capture Osama bin Laden.
Marble: This week is Katrina. Next week, forget Katrina. It’s 9/11.
MB: And that already started.
Marble: I got that directly from a media persona I talked to. I said, “You know I’m gonna be doing this Mission NOT Accomplished Tour.” And they’re like, “Well, we’re doing 9/11 stories that week.” So I said, “OK, well, maybe I should just show up with a sign that day that says never forget Katrina.” I think what happened on 9/11 was a terrible thing, just like everybody else does. But, basically, the administration is going to use this as a tool to get the focus off of Katrina, off of their failures, off of not catching Osama, and back on the fear mongering, the war on terror.
MB: Right. Which Gore Vidal aptly likens to the war on dandruff.
Marble: [Laughing] Sure. You can’t win a war on terror. I made this point to a man outside the White House who was arguing for Bush. Besides, they’re talking about fighting the war on terror and securing the homeland - secure our borders, secure our ports. I think most people want practical solutions. Practical solutions with the least amount of misery or death inflicted on people. You know, nobody wants to be at war. Nobody wants to be killing other people.
Marble: Yeah, you got your warmongers.
MB: Yeah. But the average person, yes, I agree.
Marble: And your war profiteers.
MB: And they have profited greatly.
Marble: Now, you know, I guess you have to fight it. But you shouldn’t be destroying our way of life in the process, destroying our credibility around the globe, making the whole world hate us because you’re so obsessed with fighting the war on terror.
MB: And, of course, what they purport to be fighting this war for is the very thing they’re denying their own people.
Marble: Yeah, we’re fighting for freedom and liberty. Well, here’s a little irony - one of the first things they did after 9/11 was close the Statue of Liberty. Liberty has been shut down.
MB: Would’ve made a good headline. It’s a perfect metaphor for what’s happened since then.
Marble: It’s absurd, and it’s sad.
MB: So, speaking of fear mongering, if Cheney were here right now, sitting at this table, what would you say to him?
Marble: I would tell him he should be ashamed of himself. Seriously. He should be ashamed. It seems like, for some reason, power and money are the only things that matter to him. Instead of compassionate conservatism. What a crock of BS. Uh, what about doing what’s right for people, trying to help people. It seems like a totally selfish mentality…you know, I’m in charge and I’m gonna do what I want, make myself a lot of money and screw the rest of you. I think he should be ashamed of himself and I don’t know how else to put that. You know, I don’t wish the guy any harm or anything, but he’s probably been the most powerful vice president in the history of our country.
Marble: He’s the real president. Everybody knows that.
Marble: He, you know, he doesn’t have the best heart. He’s got bad heart disease, so if he believes in some sort of higher power and he really claims to be a Christian, which I’ve never actually seen him do, which is kind of ironic…
MB: It’s more Bush’s domain.
Marble: Yeah. Then, you know, he may seriously want to get his things in order before his next big heart attack happens because, uh…
MB: He’s had, what, 86 heart attacks already?
Marble: Yeah, if there’s really a hell, you know…
MB: [Laughing.] Yeah…
Marble: [Laughing.] It’s gonna be pretty hot for him.
MB: A reservation waiting for him in the front row.
Marble: He’s certainly got hell to pay. A lot of making up to do.
MB: Tell me a little about your how you were brought up, what informed your political views today, because you actually live in a very conservative area.
Marble: Well, I was born in Gulfport, Mississippi. I’ve lived in every county on the Coast. From Pensacola, Florida to Slidell, Louisiana. Lived down there my whole life. Grew up in the church. We went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and any other night they wanted to have a prayer meeting. My parents were holy rollers. I couldn’t listen to rock and roll. It was the devil’s music. You know, so when I see these politicians spouting their pseudo-Christian point of view…or someone like Ann Coulter. What’s her book? Godless? She claims she’s a Christian? Get real. C’mon.
MB: What about George Bush claiming he’s a Christian?
Marble: That whole war for peace concept, if you read the Bible, the scary thing about that is that’s what the Anti-Christ says.
MB: Which reminds me of something else Gore Vidal’s been pointing out for years now, this idea of perpetual war for perpetual peace.
Marble: In the Revelations, it says the Anti-Christ will call for war for peace. I’m not saying…[Laughter.]
MB: [Laughing.] That Bush is the Anti-Christ.
Marble: I’m not a practicing Christian now, but I did read the Bible probably about ten times before I was ten years old. I had to memorize it and recite it. So, yeah.
MB: So can I get you on record as saying Bush is the Anti-Christ?
MB: Can I quote you on that?
Marble: [Laughing.] Yeah. But, apparently, he thinks he is.
MB: [Laughing.] But he’s an incompetent Anti-Christ. A bush-league Anti-Christ.
Marble: The diehard Bush supporters are looking forward to Armageddon because then they get to go to heaven. It’s just like the jihadis with the seventy virgins.
MB: Right. Different side of the same coin.
MB: So I know you’ve had a lot of overwhelming support. But you’re a father, you’re a husband. You’re a doctor that works full-time?
Marble: Full-time ER doctor.
MB: Full-time ER doctor. You’re the lead singer in a band?
Marble: Uh, lead guitar and vocals.
MB: In a rock band?
Marble: Yes, an indie rock band
MB: And so, when this all hit, when you were suddenly thrust into the spotlight, how did you handle it? Which happened, of course, right in the middle of dealing with how the hurricane affected your own life.
Marble: Um, I don’t know, it’s kind of strange when you go…I go to places now and people just come up and say, “Hey, you’re the guy that was in that Spike Lee movie.” And the majority of them are like that man who walked up to me the other day in front of the White House. He shook my hand and said, “I really appreciate what you did.” I got probably 5,000 emails in the month or so after that. Ninety-five percent of them were supportive, and then were 5%, you know, “If I ever see you, I’m gonna beat you up.” You know, stuff like that.
It’s been kind of crazy. Mainly, you just have to stay busy. Stay busy and work a lot. ’Cause, uh, it’s almost…you tend to get overly emotional about things. And I do, so I’m aware of it. But when you see what other people have been dealt, what they’ve gone through. I mean I could tell you some horror stories. Last shift I worked. This is a crazy story, but it happens almost every day now. This psychiatric stuff, people going crazy. I had a man…police had a man who had knife in his hand for whatever reason. They were called to the scene. They started chasing him. He ran away, and as he’s running away he starts stabbing himself. He stabbed himself in his neck, in his chest, he stabbed himself in his leg three times, he cut both of his wrists, he stabbed his hands. And then he proceeded to run head-on into oncoming traffic and got hit by a car doing about fifty.
Marble: You know, stuff like that did not happen before Katrina. Well, every once in a while stuff like that would happen, but it’s just…the stress, the stress level is so high that people snap. A lot of people snapping and doing things they wouldn’t normally do. A lot of craziness. It’s kind of like, uh, the Wild West. And that’s more so in New Orleans, but even so on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. There’s a lot of lawlessness going on.
MB: Still going on.
Marble: People doing what they want, when they want. And, uh, doing bad things to other people. I had one guy who got shot in the head because he wouldn’t give another guy a piece of chicken.
MB: Which, granted, could happen at any time.
Marble: At any time, but these things didn’t happen at nearly the frequency. Three, four times as much.
MB: And because you work in an ER, you’re witnessing the increase in these types of incidents firsthand.
Marble: I see it on a daily basis at work. All kinds of horror stories. I’m actually thinking of writing about them as more of a therapeutic thing for myself. Get the stories out. Because the things I’ve heard people tell me, it’s just amazing some of the stuff that’s going on. People living in, you know, houses in one room with five-to-eight kids. No running water. No electricity. Things that shouldn’t be happening. And they are happening, but nobody knows about ’em so nothing gets done. Now, I’ve got sisters working for international relief and development. My sister-in-law works for them. My wife’s best friend works for another relief agency. I have a lot of friends working with different relief organizations. My wife’s been going to shoot video. You know, there’s a lot of people trying to help out and do what they can, but there’s just so much need right now going on that, you know…that’s all you can do, is do what you can do…
MB: So coming back to the original question, there are so many people in great need of help that this being thrust on you is nothing. That compared to what these people are going through, you’re thinking, “I’m lucky.”
Marble: Oh yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. Like this trip. I’m trying to get across a message that I believe in and get word out to a bunch of people of how much help is still needed. But, at the same time, getting away for a few days is a break for my wife. It’s a break for her. Just to have a little vacation.
MB: Even though you’re spending it getting the word out.
MB: Ben, thanks so much for your time.
Marble: My pleasure. Thank you.
Dr. Ben Marble can be seen in Spike Lee’s HBO documentary When the Levees Broke. You can find information about his many websites, his band dR. O and other projects at www.benmarblemd.com.