The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/19/14

Guests: Xeni Jardin, April Ryan

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. On December 11th, 1991, Columbia University hosted a talk about free speech. And that would not usually be a big deal except for this particularly talk, Columbia hosted this talk from someone who had disappeared off the face of the earth. It made headlines around the country when Columbia somehow convinced this guy to show up in person and give this talk, because for nearly three years before this talk, there had been no public sighting of author Salman Rushdie. Nobody knew where in the world he was. Nobody knew for sure if he was even still alive. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SALMAN RUSHDIE, AUTHOR: It is wonderful to be back in New York. I was here more or less exactly three years ago. Since then, I haven`t been anywhere. Let me begin by asking you to imagine a hot air balloon drifting slowly over a bottomless chasm, carrying several passengers. A leak develops. The balloon starts losing height. And the pit of dark yarn comes closer. Good grief, the wounded balloon can bare just one passenger to safety. But many must be sacrificed to save the one. But who should live and who should die? And who could make such a choice? I have now spent over 1,000 days in just such a balloon. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was December 1991, author Salman Rushdie surprising everybody by turning up in person with a phalanx of bodyguards at Columbia University, after he had not been seen in public in almost three years. Three years prior in 1988, he had published a long complicated, very good novel called "The Satanic Verses." And he was already kind of a big deal by that time as an author. But "The Satanic Verses" was really a good book. It won the Whitbread Prize in Britain. It`s a very big literary prize in the U.K. It was very well-received as a novel. It was very well-received except among those who thought it was so blasphemous that Salman Rushdie should be killed for having written it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPORTER: The book has angered Muslims all over the world who say it portrays Muhammad`s wives as prostitutes and suggests the Koran is not the direct word of God as spoken to Muhammad. In Pakistan, the American flag was burned to protest the U.S. publication of the book. In Islamabad, riot police prevented large numbers of demonstrators from entering the capital. Last Sunday, six people were killed during protests here. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: They were big and deadly protests in Pakistan and in South Africa and in Iran and in Iraq and in Egypt. The book was banned in India and then in South Africa and then in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and Egypt and Somalia and Bangladesh, and Sudan, and Malaysia, in Indonesia, and Qatar. That all happened late 1988 at a time when the book had only been published in Britain. But then in February 1989 on Valentine`s Day, Iran decided to make it official. So, this is 1989, which means Iran had only had their Islamic revolution 10 years beforehand, right? That was 1979. This was 1989. 1989 is the year that the leader of that Islamic revolution Ayatollah Khomeni, that`s the year that he died in 1989. Iran was sort of an insecure country at that time. But this young, unstable, very radical regime without a friend in the world, they weren`t exactly clear what was going to happen to them after their supreme leader who had led them through the revolution was going to pass on at this point. He was in frail health. And at that very sketchy, unstable, insecure time in Iran, the Ayatollah looked around the world, saw Muslims rioting all around the world about this book and he decided that he would basically put a cherry on top. He issued a fatwa, not just condemning the book, but condemning to death -- issuing a worldwide death sentence for the author of the book, for Salman Rushdie, and also for any editor or publisher aware of its contents. The ayatollah then said it was the religious duty of all Muslims all around the world to kill Salman Rushdie and any of the editors and publishers involved, quote, "without delay". He later added that although it was the religious duty of all Muslims to try to kill Salman Rushdie, he said any non-Muslim who did so would be rewarded handsomely with a cash bounty. So, that was Valentine`s Day, February 14th, 1989. Two days later, the largest bookseller in the United States at the time, Waldenbooks, announced they would not sell the "Satanic Verses" in the United States. The following day, February 17th, another large chain B. Dalton, which also was part of the Barnes & Noble chain, also announced they would not sell the book. And remember, this is 1989. There`s no Kindle, right? There`s no iPad. There`s no ordering your books online for someone to send it to you in the mail in a brown paper wrapper. This is 1989. There`s no online at all, unless you`re working at (INAUDIBLE) or something, right? If you want wanted a book in 1989, you got it from a bookstore. So, when the biggest bookstore chains in the country started saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, we`re scared of the threats, we`re not going to carry this book, that meant people would not be able to get the book. So, the fatwa was issued by Iran on February 14th. Waldenbooks caved February 16th. B. Dalton and Barnes & Noble caved February 17th. At that point, it wasn`t even published yet in the United States. It was due to be published a few days later on the 22nd of February. And in advance of that publication day, all of the biggest bookstores of the country were saying, whoa, whoa, we`re not going to carry it. We`re too afraid. So, it sort of seemed like the fatwa was working. I mean, yes, Salman Rushdie was still alive and those editors and publishers were still alive, but the book itself was getting submarined by these corporations who were too afraid to allow the book to be sold. And that`s how it seemed it was going to go. Until Americans kind of shook it off and realized that this meant the Ayatollah was running American bookstores and deciding what we could and couldn`t read. And basically, the First Amendment got up on its hind legs and people protested and shamed the bookstores into selling that freaking book. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) TV ANCHOR: Across the country, writers held protests. Here is Cassandra Clayton. ROBERT STONE, AUTHOR: This was when he had the idea that destroyed his faith, because he recalled that of course Mahound himself had been a businessman, and a successful one at that -- REPORTER: Passages from the "Satanic Verses" read by author Robert Stone, 500 people jammed the room as some of the world`s most celebrated writers spoke out against the Ayatollah`s death sentence on Salman Rushdie. SUSAN SONTAG: If we show fear of this repulsive aggression, in the response of this aggression, all our institutions are hijacked -- (CHANTING) REPORTER: Hundreds of writers began their protest outside the Iranian mission to the United Nations. They also picketed the major book chains, which had refused to carry the "Satanic Verses." MICHAEL KIMMEL: Publishers will be far more timid about what they`ll publish. Writers will be more timid about what they can write for fear of who it might offend. REPORTER: There were also protests in Washington and San Francisco. In Boston, as 75 people marched outside, a B. Dalton bookstore received a bomb threat and closed the store. Waldenbooks has said it is not stocking the book in order to protect its employees and customers, but late today, B. Dalton said its stores and its Barnes & Noble subsidiary will resume selling the "Satanic Verses" as soon as it is available from the publisher. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Aha! So, the bookstores had pulled the book. They said they were too afraid to sell it. But, then after protests, lots of protests from Americans who said, we will no be the censored this way, after people stood up and roared about the bookstores being so afraid here, at least some of the stores realized they better carry it. And you know what, when they carried it, it sold really, really, really well. And yes, it took protests and picket lines and Susan Sontag talking smack about them on "Nightly News" to shame the bookstores into reversing their decision and being willing to sell the book after all. That was true for the bookstore chains. But the publisher of the book never wavered. Viking Penguin had published it in Britain. They dealt with all the threats and all of the blowback there. After all, the fatwa was against them and their own editors, too, right? They had dealt with it in Britain and they stood by the book after they published it there. And in the United States, Viking Penguin didn`t waver. On February 22nd, 1989, as planned, they started publishing and selling that book in the United States. They had to push the bookstore chains into doing it, but they did it. And, no, Salman Rushdie did not surface publicly for almost another three years and he still lives under the shadow of these threats from 25 years ago now. But in that whole Salman Rushdie/"Satanic Verses" affair, in the United States, at least the First Amendment won. There was this great "Vanity Fair" piece that ran about the whole controversy years later that described what the people who worked at Viking Penguin would do when they got there, daily bomb threats during this whole controversy at their offices here in New York. Apparently, most of the time when the bomb squads would tell everybody about Viking Penguin to get out, everybody would take their stuff from the desk and relocate their office operation to the Old Town Bar, which is a really nice bar in 18th Street in Manhattan. If you have never been, you should try it. Everybody got to know and love the bomb-sniffing dogs that were there at their offices permanently. The dogs were named Yalta and Sailor. You know, it all sounds romantic when you look back at it, particularly because Salman Rushdie is alive, right, 20 years later. But it was a very, very scary time. And even though, it was scary, they did the right thing regardless. Sony Pictures Entertainment is facing a similar test of their mettle right now. Earlier this week, after bookstore chains -- I mean, movie theater chains, announced that they were too scared to show the Sony movie, "The Interview", Sony also announced that they could cancel the movie`s premier and essentially not distribute it at all anymore. Today in his final press conference of the year, President Obama said he had sympathy for Sony because Sony had faced these threats, they faced this serious hacking attack from hackers who the United States government believes to be the government of North Korea. The president today said he has sympathy for Sony and he recognized they are going through a hard time. But he also criticized very bluntly their decision to pull the movie. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake. We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don`t like, or a news report that they don`t like. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don`t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: President Obama speaking today at his final press conference of the year. After that very blunt criticism from President Obama, Sony Pictures released a statement this afternoon basically distancing themselves from their own decision, saying they`d only decided to pull the movie as a matter of logistical necessity because movie theater chains had made their own decisions that they were not going to show it. It was not Sony`s decision. It was the movie theaters. That is not exactly how Sony portrayed this decision when they made it, but the fact they feel the need to retell the story in a way that makes them look a little better shows how much pressure they are feeling about what they`ve done. Now, more substantively, Sony also said they are actively surveying alternatives now that would allow the company to release the movie on some sort of different platform other than in movie theaters. Sony is trying to portray this like it was their intention all along, but just two days ago, they did say they had no release plans for the film whatsoever. So, they are doing a little revision about what`s happened here. But big picture, they do seem to be changing course at least a little, even though they are trying to say they`re not. But as Sony executives and movie theater chains try to figure out what they are going to do and as the ghost of Susan Sontag yells at them in their dreams, the other shoe that`s about to drop has nothing to do with whether or not the American people will ever have the occasion to see the Seth Rogen movie that nobody had heard of or intended to see before this whole thing started. The other shoe that is going to drop here is how the United States government is going to respond to this matter now that the FBI has both decided and announced that the government`s official view is that this attack on Sony and the threats surrounding the distribution of this film came not just from random hackers, random protesters somewhere, but rather from a country. They came from the nation of North Korea. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: The FBI announced today that -- and we can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack. I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have this state mount an all out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco. I love Seth. And I love -- I love James. But the notion that that was a threat to them, I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we`re talking about here. They caused a lot of damage and we will respond. We will respond proportionally and we`ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose. It`s not something that I will announce here today in a press conference. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: What we`re waiting to hear now is what the United States is going to do to retaliate now that they have determined that the culprit in this attack on Sony Pictures and this threat against American moviegoers is the work of a specific foreign country. And that part of this whole amazing story, not the -- you know, corporate cowardice part of it, not the threats part of it, not the First Amendment part of it, not the did he just James Flacco, instead of James Franco part of it, the part of it that is not about the movie, but it`s now moved beyond the movie and it`s become an issue of foreign relations and potentially military retaliation among countries. The part of this whole amazing story that is about to get really, really interesting now that this is a matter of international discourse, right, the part of it that`s about to get really interesting is the question of whether or not it really was North Korea who did this. What if it wasn`t them? We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Xeni Jardin from Boing Boing is here next. I have to tell you, we get more fan mail for Xeni when she`s on our show than we ever do for anyone else who`s ever on the show. But she joins us live next. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: We just confirmed that it was North Korea. We have been working out a range of options. They will be presented to me. I will make a decision on those based on what I believe is proportional and appropriate to the nature of the situation. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: When the pictures at Sony Pictures first got hacked -- look at this -- this is what popped up on the screen. They got locked out of their computer networks and this was the screen that appeared on all the infected computers. This glowing red skeleton, "This is just the beginning. We continue till our request be met. We have obtained all your internal data." And then, below, at bottom, they had -- we blurred them out -- but they have links to the stolen Sony data, so Sony -- people seeing this could see that the hackers really had stolen all their data. At the top, you see, it`s the Republican Party claiming -- I`m kidding! It`s not the Republican Party. It looks like it, right? It says hacked by #GOP. But in this case, GOP does not mean the Republican Party. GOP, in this case, apparently stands for Guardians of Peace, which is what the hacker group has been calling themselves throughout these attacks. Now, the FBI said today that the hack is the work of the North Korean government. President Obama at his final press conference announced he`s working on an international response by the United States now that the U.S. thinks it knows that the North is responsible. But not everybody is as sure as the FBI about this. I mean, first of all, there`s the fact that the first public communication and demand from the hackers didn`t mention North Korea at all. Nor did it mention this Sony movie "The Interview" that the North Koreans hate so much. The first communication from the group after the hack started just demanded money. Then, there`s the matter of the attack itself and how it showed up at Sony in the first place. I`ll quote from Kim Zetter at wired.com today about why this doesn`t necessarily work -- look like the work of a country. First of all, nation state attacks aren`t generally as noisy as to announce themselves with an image of a blazing skeleton posted to infected computers as occurred in the Sony hack, nor do they typically use a catchy gnome to hack like Guardians of Peace to identify themselves. Nation state attackers generally don`t chastise their victims for having poor security, as purported members of this group have done in media interviews. Nor these such attacks involve post of stolen data to pastebin, which Kim describes as the unofficial Cloud repository of hackers where files belonging to Sony have been leaked. Those are the hallmarks not of a nation state attack but of hacktivists who target large corporations for ideological reasons or just for fun. That`s the skeptical view from "Wired Magazine" today. Other experts and journalists and have said this looks more to them like it`s someone who could have been an insider at Sony, and had a big, bad grudge against the company for some reason. Others have said that the paths the FBI says it followed to determine that this was North Korea, those paths seem way too easy to follow and way too brightly lit. Maybe this is someone just wanting to make it look like it`s North Korea, in order to cover their own tracks. I don`t know. And you don`t know. But the FBI says it knows. And today, the president of the United States said on that basis, he`s preparing an international retaliation against North Korea because of it. Here`s the thing though -- what if it`s not North Korea? Is there good reason to doubt that? And if we`re not doubting it, do we have good reason not to doubt it? Joining us now is Xeni Jardin. She`s technology and culture writer and editor at boingboing.net. Xeni, it`s great to see you. Thanks for being here. XENI JARDIN, BOINGBOING.NET: It`s a real treat to be back. Happy holidays. MADDOW: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. All right. So, Xeni, you are smarter about these things than I am by a mile. How hard is it to figure out the source of a hack? And whether or not it`s a country that`s doing a hack? JARDIN: Well, I think I don`t know how much smarter I am than you, Rachel, and I don`t know how smart any of us can be about the source of this attack. We haven`t seen the FBI`s evidence. There are a number of security professionals who have posted different theories about different actors that are linked to North Korea. Brian Krebs was talking about a group of ethnic North Koreans in Japan who have linked to some attacks on military targets in South Korea. An organization called CrowdStrike Security Organization was talking about an actor called Silent Chollima. It`s like we`re looking into the deepest, darkest areas of the underworld and trying to figure out if -- you know, it`s like if a murderer left the tools of the murder at the scene of the crime, which is kind of like what malware that points right back to North Korea would do. I kind of feel like any of these scenarios, right, whether it`s a hacking group, like anonymous, or whether it`s North Korea or as the Conspiracy Theory Blogs suggest maybe the whole thing is an FBI flag operation meant to usher in a new era of Internet regulation, like any one of these is equally as whacky as the other. MADDOW: Right. JARDIN: Like my only response to all this is basically a big shruggie, I don`t know. None of us know. MADDOW: Well, I think the best case against the false flag theory is that they definitely would have picked a super unequivocally awesome movie. I have nothing against this movie in particular, but like this is not Salman Rushdie winning the Whitbread Prize, or the "Satanic Verses". JARDIN: Right. MADDOW: Like, this really is kind of a butt jokes movie, so it`s not necessarily the way they`d go. JARDIN: They would pick a documentary or at least an Oscar-winning -- yes. MADDOW: Yes, exactly. Well -- so, there is a question as to whether or not hacking attacks can ever be effectively fingerprinted. That said, I mean, some unnamed senior intelligence official told "The New York Times" this week, we almost never name a suspect country, so when we do, it`s got to be based on something fairly strong. Is there something that the FBI or the government could release publicly that would give people more confidence in their conclusion? JARDIN: Conceivably. Will they? I don`t know. I mean, this is the least transparent administration to date in many respects. Let`s say it is North Korea, however. I think one of the more interesting questions is, in what way is an attack on a Seth Rogen movie a matter of national security? Just a few days ago, President Obama was saying that Americans should be encouraged to go to the movie theaters. The Department of Homeland Security was saying that the 9/11 threat of violence that the hackers or somebody purporting to be the hackers posted, saying, you know, if you go to the movie theater and see this movie, we`re going to rain down violence on you, the Department of Homeland Security said this is not a credible threat. Sony isn`t even an American company. They are a Japanese company. Since when do the profits and the products of movie production companies become a matter of national security? And really, who is to blame for this? It`s Sony. Like Sony`s own sloppy network security practices are what led to Sony being hacked, if what we`re reading is true. They have a folder password called passwords. They are being sued by their own employees over sloppy network security. One former employee called their network security a joke. And because of this, like nobody died because of this attack, and we have politicians like John McCain calling this an act of war. Really? MADDOW: Xeni Jardin, technology and culture editor at Boingboing.net, to whom we turn for perspective on matters such as these -- Xeni, it is always great to see you. Thank you so much, my friend. JARDIN: It`s an honor. Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: Thanks. All right. We got lots more ahead tonight, including the Friday night news dump from a very far place tonight. Please stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seconds. (CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, I was looking around the office for stuff. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have never seen any of this stuff. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I found this random oven mitt. Mitt Romney oven mitt. I thought that might be kind of fun. MADDOW: America`s future is in his mitts. (LAUGHTER) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is one of the fake feet we used whenever we did the story about the feet washing. (CROSSTALK) MADDOW: Washington, yeah. Where did you get - never mind. (CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then this -- MADDOW: Did it start out as a larger item? (LAUGHTER) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then this we are at - we had had these made when we did junction on the road. So this is . MADDOW: This was a prop made out of the false signs. This is an extra that we had laying around. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t remember this at all. MADDOW: Remember they had like . UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, remember Kent Jones had the sign and he - and he .. MADDOW: Oh, we can flip it around. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, we have that. MADDOW: I just want to do that. You know, let`s - Mitt Romney. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Behold the White House press corps as of 1914. And here`s the White House press corps ten years later, 1924. The White House Correspondence Association says this is the White House press corps sometime in the 1950s. Did you notice something different here? Look, a lady. We found one. The White House press corps, which is the American people`s line to the White House, has long been mostly dudes. In the 1940s Marion Carpenter was the first female national press photographer. She broke part of the glass ceiling when she followed President Harry Truman around the world starting in the 1940s. In 1960, the great Helen Thomas became the first female reporter to cover the White House. And over the years, more and more pioneering women have ascended to that journalistic height. But President Obama, from time to time, has put his own presidential spotlight on women in the White House press corps. The first time we really noticed it overtly was this past September when he did a press conference in Wales. President Obama made a statement and then he ended up taking four questions from the traveling American press. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I`ll start with Julie Pace of the Associated Press. JULIE PACE: Thank you, Mr. President. OBAMA: Angela King. Bloomberg. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As you know, Secretary Kerry today . OBAMA: Julie Davis. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the goal to ultimately . OBAMA: One last question. Colleen - Colleen Nelson, "Wall Street Journal." (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Back in September on his trip to Wales, President Obama took a grand total of four questions from the traveling White House press corps. He called on four reporters, they were all women reporters. And while that was neat on that international trip, it also was apparently just kind of a coincidence. Today, though, today, it was on purpose. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Josh has given me the who has been naughty and who has been nice list. (LAUGHTER) OBAMA: And I`m going to use it to take some questions. And we`re going to start with Kerry Budda (ph) Brown from Politico. Sharyl, go ahead. Julie Pace. (INAUDIBLE) Clark. (INAUDIBLE) Rampton (ph) Colleen McCain Nelson. Juliet Alsper (ph). April, go ahead. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: April, go ahead. President Obama`s year ender press conference this afternoon, lasted about 50 minutes. He took eight questions, all of them were from female reporters. And it was on purpose. The press secretary later released this statement, the fact is there are many women from a variety of news organization who day in and day out do the hard work of covering the president of the United States. As the question - started to come together, we`ve realized that we had a unique opportunity to highlight that fact. At the president`s closely watched end of the year news conference. Joining us now is April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Network. She is the author of "The Presidency in Black and White: My Upclose View of Three Presidents and Race In America." She was the eighth of eight female correspondents called on by President Obama at today`s presser. April, it`s great to see you, thanks for your time. APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK: Thanks for having me, Rachel. MADDOW: I have to ask you the impolitic question first. Which is, are the guys mad? RYAN: Oh, yes . (LAUGHTER) RYAN: They are hot. They are seething. Earlier today I was walking around the White House after the press briefing - I mean after the press conference and I walked up into the press secretary`s offices - out of office area and he couldn`t see me. Because one of the gentlemen was very upset. One of the gentlemen from the front row. And when I walked into the press secretary`s office and talked to those around the office, they said, oh, they have gotten many calls and many appearances from those in the front row who were upset. But you have to remember that they are the norm. . They always get questions. And they were told prior to the press conference that they were not going to get questions. They had been asking questions leading up to the midterm elections. They have been getting a lot of questions. So, they just felt, you know, putting the list together that, hey, let`s just go on with this list of women. MADDOW: When these lists come together, I know when you`re just sort of watching these things happen as the news of it, it can be a little unsettling just to know that the president has a list of who he`s going to call on in advance. Sometimes you see him struggling with the pronunciation of people`s last names and stuff like that. And it does feel sort of unexpectedly choreographed. Do you as a correspondent, does everybody else in that room have any role in lobbying to get on the list before these things happen? How do the lists come together? RYAN: Well, let me say this. You watching feel uneasy about it, and many of us in the room feel uneasy about it. This really started back during the George W. Bush time. I remember being at the White House when President Clinton was there. We screamed. I was under the towage of those who had the loudest voices, got called on. And, you know, I`m one of those women who have the loudest voices in the room. And because that works to your benefit. If you`re seen or heard, if you wear strategic colors, sometimes you are noticed, and you can get called on. There are certain little things that you can do to try - well, used to be able to do that would help you have an advantage of getting called on. Well, during the George W. Bush time, President Bush at the time did not want to go through the hollering and screaming. And he started picking people. And it persisted into the Obama administration. And sometimes now the president will go off of his script and sometimes reporters will ask, look, or e-mail or call or what have you. Josh, or whomever. Please, I have a question, I don`t know if people would actually tell me questions, but hey, sometimes people ask, look, I would like to ask the president a question. So it`s a back and forth. It`s really tough, it`s really a tough situation. MADDOW: April, the question that you asked today, I might be wrong but I feel like you have asked him the same question phrased similarly years ago. You basically asked about the state of black America and what was the state of race relations in the country. Am I right that you have asked him this before the previous press briefing? RYAN: Not in a press conference, but I had an Oval Office interview in December of 2009. It was a one-on-one in the Oval Office. And I was talking to the president about various issues and it was just a couple of weeks away from his State of the Union address to the nation. And I asked him as he was getting ready to give the State of the Union, what was the state of black America because this president was someone that everybody was wondering what did he feel about race, because many in the White House said, you know, they don`t want to talk about race (ph) because it would amplify it more. They didn`t want to go out amplifying it. They kept saying that he was the president of the United States who happened to be black and he also felt that race and politics would always followed him and they wanted to make sure strategically, that he wouldn`t get bogged down with that because that sometimes tends to take the conversation in another direction. So this president answered the question in 2009, in December of 2009, six years ago this month, and he basically harkened to a statement in Charles Dickens saying it`s the best of times, and the worst of times. And when he said the best of times he said for African-Americans, he said for those who have education, good education, it`s a great time for opportunity. But for those who don`t, there`s unemployment. It`s a bad time because there`s unemployment problems and the lack of opportunity. MADDOW: April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks making a very strong case for why it`s important for people to be there long enough to be able to ask those questions as benchmarks years apart and making the case today that it`s worth everything you can do to get your hand up there. April Ryan, well done, nice to see you, congratulations today. Thank you. RYAN: Thanks, Rachel, take care. Straight ahead, we have got Friday night news dump, now with potentially a very time sensitive oven mitt at stake. Please, stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: So, that`s fair enough there over the deficit? Did I get that up right? They wanted - Yeah, that`s good. I knew that was going to happen. Wait, hold on. How is that? See, our wall is slightly less magic. All right, there we go. They permanently extend . (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: One egg white is enough for two drinks. So, did you see that? That was the yolk. What do I do? All this time we didn`t know about it. I could have been using this phrase all this time on TV for months since August? Virginia, do you realize what this has done to me? (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: It was February 2012 the Republican Party was inching along towards choosing its presidential nominee for the 2012 election. And in February of that year Newt Gingrich was the man of the hour. Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary. Newt Gingrich was looking like the truly credible alternative to Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination. But to crystallize what he had to offer to the American people, at the February 22nd presidential debate in 2012, which was on CNN, Newt Gingrich rolled out to the nation what he wanted to be known for. The single basic memorable achievement that he, Newt Gingrich, could promise that he would deliver if the American people were smart enough to elect him president. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I have developed a program for American energy so no future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again, and so every American . (APPLAUSE) GINGRICH: . can look forward to $2.50 a gallon gasoline. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: $2.50 a gallon gasoline. So low that no future president will ever have to bow to a leader shorter than him. Whatever that means, anyway. This became the basic idea of the Newt Gingrich for president campaign. He lugged around some kind of gas tank prop - thing with him everywhere during his 2012 campaign from that point forward. Look, he carried around a gas can. He kept banging that drum. His presidency, the Gingrich presidency, would move the price of gas down to $2.50 a gallon for the people. Well, this week national gas prices have officially dropped from $2.51 per gallon to $2.45 per gallon. Nationally average. So thank you president Newt Gingrich, congratulations on your successful Newt Gingrich presidency, sir. Happy low gas prices, America. But don`t forget to marvel at the Christmas miracle of the Republican presidency mailing its loftiest goal and doing it while Barack Obama is in the White House. That`s how good Newt Gingrich is. Thank God we elected that guy. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Happy Friday. You know, this was supposed to be a slow news week. Ha! (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: Friday night news dump. Our producer Julian Metter (ph) is here tonight to tell us who our contestant is and what they will be winning. Hello, Julia. JULIA METTER: Hi. MADDOW: Who is our contest assistant? METTER: Our contest assistant is Krista Hurley. She`s from Okinawa, Japan. MADDOW: No way. METTER: She works for the Defense Department school system. She is originally from St. Louis, Missouri. And she does community theatre. MADDOW: Krista, it`s very nice to meet you. Thank you for being here. KRISTA HURLEY: It is so nice to meet you, Rachel. MADDOW: You`re in the Defense Department school system. I`m not sure I knew there was a Defense Department school system. What does that mean? HURLEY: What that means is for our military members who are stationed overseas, we provide schools for their children that they bring with them. MADDOW: And what do you teach? HURLEY: Well, I`m actually not in the classroom anymore, I`m a program coordinator. I coordinate what used to be the vocational ed program. MADDOW: Very cool. Very cool. I`ve always wanted to go to Okinawa. If I ever do, I`ll look you up when I`m there. HURLEY: Please do. All right. I`m going to ask you three questions. You probably know how this works. If you get two or more of them right, you win a fairly useless tiny cocktail shaker. Julia, can you show that off? It`s pitiful, really. If you get all of the questions right and you need extra credit, or if you only get one question right and you need a consolation prize, we`ve also decided that we could send you something random that we found in our offices. Julia, what is the random office tonight? METTER: It`s that red oven mitt with Mitt Romney on it. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: You know. Well, it feels like it`s out of date now, but it might not be in the future. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: Sorry, we also need to say hello to the disembodied voice of Steve Bennan (ph) who is the master of Moto Blog, because Steve is very important here. He determines whether or not you get your answers right. Hello, Steve. METTER: Hello, Krista. HURLEY: Hi, Steve. MADDOW: Yay. All right, first question comes from Monday`s show. On Monday`s show, we reported that Senator Tom Coburn, blocking the veteran suicide bill this week was not the first time he stood in the way of veterans` health care. In June, in fact, he had objected to a new VA facility planned for Tulsa, Oklahoma, because he said that facility was too nice. When Tom Coburn was making that complaint to the local press in Oklahoma, what did he compare this new planned VA facility to? Did he compare it to Versailles, a Ritz Carlton hotel, the Taj Mahal, or the bathroom at the C-street house? HURLEY: You know, I want to say it was the Ritz Carlton. MADDOW: Steve? STEVE: You know, I really wish it was the C-street house. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: But that`s a whole other Tom Coburn story. Let`s check the segment for Monday`s show. He complains to the local press in Oklahoma, "They`re building a Taj Mahal." STEVE: Yes, so the correct answer was C, Taj Mahal. I`m afraid Krista did not get this one correct. MADDOW: Krista, don`t worry, you have got two more chances. Don`t worry. HURLEY: OK. MADDOW: I`m with you. I won`t exactly help you cheat, but you never know, I could give you some sort of wink-wink. Question two. This is from Wednesday`s show. On Wednesday, President Obama announced that the U.S. was normalizing relations with Cuba. And that an American named Alan Gross was being sent back to the United States after five years in a Cuban prison. Which of these members of Congress was not on the plane home with Alan Gross. Was it Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, B, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona? C, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, or D, Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. HURLEY: He was not on the plane? MADDOW: Was not on the plane. So, three of those members of Congress were with Alan Gross, but one of them wasn`t. And I should tell you, the one who wasn`t really doesn`t like what President Obama just did about Cuba. HURLEY: That`s what I was thinking that Leahy was. I thought Maryland was between Arizona and New Jersey. I`m going to go with Bob Menendez of New Jersey or Jeff Flake of Arizona. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: You want to - you got - you were leaning towards Menendez. HURLEY: Say again? MADDOW: Weren`t you leaning towards Menendez? HURLEY: I`m going to stick with Bob Menendez of New Jersey. MADDOW: Steve what`s the right answer? STEVE: Let`s check Wednesday`s show. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: A bipartisan and bicameral group of lawmakers who flew to Cuba today to bring Alan Gross home. You see there at the end of the table, C0hris Van Hollen, he was joined by Vermont Senator Pat Leahy, who`s been deeply involved in trying to get Alan Gross freed. They were also joined by Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. (END VIDEO CLIP) STEVE: That leaves Bob Menendez and Krista is 1 for 2. MADDOW: I will take the top part of the cocktail shaker if you win with that one. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: All right, you`ve got one more question, though, one more chance. One of the spy stories that ended up in this week`s news because of the Cuba bombshell on Wednesday, one of those spy stories that was fascinating was the story of Ana Montes. We talked about her on Wednesday show and on Thursday`s show. Ana Montes had a high-ranking job with the Pentagon but she was secretly a Cuban spy. Which of the following is not known to be one of the spy techniques that she used to evade detection. A, passing information between shopping carts at the grocery store. B, receiving numerological codes over short wave radio. C, writing messages on dissolving paper, or D, training to defeat a lie detector test. HURLEY: OK, she trained to defeat the lie detector test. I remember the dissolving paper. I remember the shopping cart. This is (INAUDIBLE) the shopping cart. And then there were those codes that she wrote down. I`m going to go that she was not the - I think that husband and wife team did the shopping cart deal. So I`m going to go that that`s the one that was not. MADDOW: Steve, do you have the answer for us here? HURLEY: That was the tough one, but she`s right. It`s a. MADDOW: Yay. And you had exactly the right reasoning there. That`s what made that one hard. That could be other spies who the same dude exposed did do the shopping cart thing. All right, Julia, do the math, did Krista win the prize? METTER: Yes, she wins. MADDOW: Well done. And I won`t take the top of the shaker. It`s useless enough already. That would make it completely impervious. Yes, you and Johnny Manziel, well done. (LAUGHTER) MADDOW: Krista Hurley in Okinawa, Japan, it`s been such a pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much for watching the show all week. Thanks for being with us. HURLEY: Thanks so much. MADDOW: Thank you. That was so cool. All right. If any of you out there think you have what it takes to win some stuff on the Friday night news dump, go to Maddowblog.com. You can learn how to apply there. We really do have some really weird stuff. We would love to give away to you so we don`t have to keep it anymore. Maddowblog.com is where you need to go. Before you do that, it`s time for you to take an oddly compelling trip to prison. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END