Skip to main content

tv   PBS News Hour  PBS  April 18, 2011 10:00pm-11:00pm PDT

10:00 pm
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> woodruff: emergency workers were still sizing up the devastation today after deadly twisters roared through six states in the south and midwest over the weekend. good evening. i'm judy woodruff. >> ifill: and i'm gwen ifill. on the newshour tonight, we have the latest onamage done by more than 200 reported tornadoes, killing dozens and leaving hundreds homeless. >> woodruff: then we look at new financial worries and a jittery stock market after a key ratings agency downgraded its long-term outlook on the nation's debt.
10:01 pm
>> ifill: margaret warner updates the war in libya, where government forces are bombarding the city of misrata as the humanitarian crisis grows. >> woodruff: we have an excerpt of a conversation jeffrey brown had with pulitzer prize-winning novelist jennifer egan. >> ifill: and robert macneil presents the first report in his "autism now" series. tonight, how the disorder affects the entire body. >> beyond such major difficulties nick has serious physical illness in his digestive system plus frequent small brain seizures and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. >> woodruff: that's all ahead on tonight's newshour. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by:
10:02 pm
for more than 140 years, pacific life has helped millions of americans build a secure financial future. wouldn't it be nice to take a deep breath and relax? your financial professional can tell you about pacific life, the power to help you succeed. >> chevron. we may have more in common than you think. >> and by bnsf railway. >> and by bnsf railway. >> and by the bill and melinda gates foundation. dedicated to the idea that all people deserve the chance to live a healthy, productive life. and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
10:03 pm
>> ifill: survivors and officials counted the human and material costs today of the weekend's swarm of tornadoes. at least 44 people died in half a dozen states. the sheer scale of the destruction facing clean-up crews and search teams spread in all directions in areas hardest hit by the storm. despite damage destroyed homes many were simply happy to have survived like this man sunday in sanford, north carolina. >> grateful to be here and that my family and is still here and all my friends. yes, i'm grateful. >> ifill: the storm began thursday as a series of funnel clouds plowed across south eastern oklahoma. >> we have two, three. >> ifill: the violent weather front then cut across the deep south before hitting north carolina and virginia on saturday. spawning reports of more than 240 tornadoes.
10:04 pm
62 twisters were counted in north carolina alone. governor beverly purdue sized up the damage today and the outlook. >> every community is open, trying to get back to work and to clean up and to move on for the future. i mean it's just a lot of faith, a lot of community, a lot of friends that it's just the spirit of north carolina. >> ifill: in the city of sanford, this low's hardware store was ripped apart by a massive tornado with winds of 160 miles an hour. >> it sounded like the whole world was just being sucked up into the air. all around you. >> ifill: 100 people were inside when the storm hit. they surviveded after managers rushed everyone to the center of the store as the steel roof began to peel off. >> and i looked immediately as i was pivoting to run away. i just saw a big giant gray cloud funneling. >> ifill: but others never had a chance. a numb a number of deaths occurred in mobile home parks including three children in
10:05 pm
raleigh. many of those areas were still closed to resident today. >> some of the trailers were unstable that may actually fall off their footings. >> ifill: with hundreds of homes damaged, scores of people were left with almost nothing. >> we don't know actually where we're going to live. >> i cleaned up hurricane katrina and after hurricane ike. the devastation in this park right here is on that same level. i mean it's total devastation in some areas it's just gone. >> ifill: nearby shaw university shut down with eight days left in the semester. and canceled its final exams. plywood covered shattered dormitory windows. >> it's best that they leave and get off campus and be safe somewhere else. >> ifill: all tolled the weekend assault was one of the worsin decades involving tornadoes. the national weather service claimed a rare conjunction of forces. >> the weather conditions that are necessary to produce storms of this magnitude, these mon stes, these super cells, it's like making a cake. you have to have all the right ingredients. . they came into play.
10:06 pm
>> ifill: all across the affected area today state government leaders say it will take days before they have a full picture of the damage. from flattened homes in virginia to this ruined church in south carolina, to flipped- over trailers in oklahoma. officials estimate it will take millions of dollars to carry out rebuilding in the months ahead. we have we have more now about the aftermath and the recovery in north carolina. it comes from david schrader of the american red cross. he joins us from raleigh. mr. shall schrader, how extensive is the damage that you've seen? >> extensive. we arrived last night. and we took a tour driving around throughout raleigh all day today. and what's remarkable and what's striking is the fact that you go house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood and one house is pretty much intact but the house across the street or right next door is leveled. that happens throughout the entire downtown area.
10:07 pm
this is not out in the, you know, rural areas with wide open spaces. this is in residential vabds right in the city. it's everywhere you drive. everywhere we drove coming in, in the neighborhoods. there was no place we went. we didn't see some sort of remnants of the disaster. >> ifill: including at shaw university that we just saw in that piece, right? >> we drove by shaw university. you can see all the windows were shattered. there were trees everywhere. i could see why they decided to cancel classes. >> ifill: is there anyway to know, we know we have heard the latest numbers of casualties of fatalities is at 44. but is there any way to keep count of how many people have been left homeless by these tornadoes not just in north carolina but around the country. >> very difficult to track exact numbers. we track the number of people coming into our shelters. we had about 500 people come to our shelters over the weekend. that number is down to 300 in the state of north carolina with seven shelters open.
10:08 pm
we had 120 in wake county probably the largest number of people in one location. that's how we track people. as state officials will probably do a better job of pinpointing exact numbers on a day-to-day basis. >> when we talk about disasters like this it's usually located in one place whether it's in a country like haiti or it's in another location where we've seen earthquakes or hurricanes. in this case because it was a series of tornadoes we're talking about 15 states. how unusual is that? being so widespread? >> very unusual. the thing that makes tornadoes so unpredictable or so dangerous is because they're so unpredictable. the fact that there were so many over such a wide area is really the part that is awe- inspiring in some cases. here a tornado would pop up and disappear and pop up in another location all over the place. kind of unusual for that to happen and certainly in such a big area in such a short amount of time which is why the red cross is is fanned oust over like five states
10:09 pm
going to people, helping them out providing food and shelter and clothing to those who need it. we fan out and have volunteers arriving by the hour helping out. mobile food going out and delivering food to people in the neighborhoods, that sort of thing. that is going around all across five states right now. >> ifill: was it something that we had... that the people who were in the path of the tornado saw coming? was there adequate warning this time? >> i couldn't talk... speak to whether there was adequate warning. i know many of the folks we did speak to had an opportunity to get to safety. i met a gentleman in one of the shelters name leo. his children were playing outside like people would do on a saturday afternoon riding the skateboard and playing board in the yard. they saw a storm coming, pretty loud and thunderous. the kids thought it was a typical thunderstorm but leo heard sort of what sounded like a freight train coming. he knew this was different. he brought the children inside. they waited out about two to
10:10 pm
five minutes they waited it out just hoping for the best. their house was destroyed. most of the neighbors' houses were destroyed. he came to the red cross shelter but he was lucky... he felt lucky he was alive, his family was alive. not everyone could say that. despite the fact that his life was turned upsidedown he still felt lucky and great pl for the work that the red cross was doing at the shelter and grateful for the work they were doing for his neighbors. >> ifill: if people want to help victims of these tornadoes, how do they do that? >> click, text or call. they can click the website red cross dot-organ make a financial donation that way. you can call 1-080 red cross and make a financial donation that way. you can make one by text messaging, texting the word red cross 90999. $10 will automatically appear on your phone bill. that's real easy, real simple. probably the best, fastest easiest way to help. and that money will go to good use to help disaster victims
10:11 pm
here and other areas where the red cross is always on alert and always helping. >> ifill: and give some relief to people who are suffering. dave schrader with the american red cross, thank you so much. >> thank you. >> woodruff: still to come on the newshour, worries over whether the u.s. will tackle its debt; the violence and the humanitarian crisis in libya; pulitzer prize winner and novelist jennifer egan; and the disorder known as autism. but first, the other news of the day. here's hari sreenivasan. >> sreenivasan: a gunman in an afghan army uniform killed two people in kabul today. it was the latest in a string of attacks that have claimed 16 lives since friday. the kabul incident came inside the afghan defense ministry. the taliban said the gunman was a militant who was also an army officer. on saturday, another taliban agent, also wearing an afghan army uniform, blew himself up,
10:12 pm
killing five american troops and four afghan soldiers. the u.s. is on a timetable to begin withdrawing forces in july. in iraq, as many as nine people were killed when suicide bombers set off two car bombs in baghdad. the attack happened right outside the heavily fortified grn zone, near a security checkpoint. the targets appeared to be government motorcades on the road from the airport. in the aftermath, soldiers inspected the blast scene littered with charred debris. at least 23 other people were wounded in the attacks. approximately 5,000 people occupied a major city square in syria today. they insisted they will not leave until president bashar assad steps down, and they defied warnings from authorities. the gathering in the city of homs followed a funeral procession for eight people killed on sunday in clashes with police. meanwhile, the "washington post" reported the state department has secretly funded syrian opposition groups. but a spokesman played down the report. undermine that government. what we are trying to do in syria through our civil society support is to build the kind of democratic institutions frankly that
10:13 pm
we're trying to do in countries around the globe. >> sreenivasan: the "post" report cited diplomatic cables obtained by wikileaks. the cables say the u.s. has funneled up to $6 million to syrian exiles to finance a satellite tv channel, plus activities inside syria. the head of the federal aviation administration defended his agency's overall record today after issuing new rules to fight fatigue. randy babbitt said he is infuriated by air traffic controllers falling asleep at work, but he maintained 99.9% of them are doing the job right. babbitt spoke in atlanta, along with paul rinaldi, head of the national air traffic controllers' association. rinaldi said overall, the system works. >> at the end of the day we run almost a flawless system. over two million passengers are moved through the national system every day and not even a bleep happens but we have a couple situations and the ball is dropped and we become the
10:14 pm
butt end of a joke. we don't deserve it and don't like it and we will stand together and fix it. >> sreenivasan: on sunday, the f.a.a. issued updated work rules that give controllers an extra hour of rest between shifts. radiation levels at japan's dai- ichi nuclear power plant are still too high for repair crews to enter. a pair of small robots reported the readings today. they were sent inside two of the facility's reactor buildings. the government insisted that despite the radiation in units one and three, plans are still on track to stabilize the plant by year's end. separately, officials said radioactivity has also spiked at unit two, indicating possible damage to spent fuel rods. this was deadline day for filing income taxes across america, and the first family released their returns. president and mrs. obama reported an income of more than $1.7 million for last year. much of that was from the sale of the president's books. the obamas paid federal taxes of more than $450,000. they also reported charitable donations of $245,000. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to judy.
10:15 pm
>> woodruff: a warning about u.s. government debt helped send the stock market into a slide today. worries about european debt and chinese economic policies added to wall street's woes. the dow jones industrial average lost 140 points to close at 12,201. the nasdaq fell 29 points to close at 2735. the indexes had been down even more, before recovering some of the losses. the closing bell on the new york stock exchange sounded at the end of a jittery day of trading. stocks had plunged at the outset when one of the nation's largest bond rating agencies, standard and poors, downgraded its long-term outlook on u.s. treasury debt from stable to negative. s&p said there's a, quote, significant risk that democrats and republicans cannot agree on spending and deficits until after the 2012 election.
10:16 pm
the agency said we see the path to agreement as challenging because the gap between the parties remains wide. s&p also suggested it might lower the triple-a credit rating on u.s. bonds in the next two years. raising the government's cost of borrowing. u.s. treasury officials said the rating agency underestimated prospects for action. but white house press secretary jay carney said the president welcomes the s&p statement. >> any call for a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction on fiscal reform is a welcome one. and in that context i think that it adds to what we believe is some momentum towards that end. >> woodruff: last week the president introduced a plan to cut $4 trillion from the federal deficit over 12 years. house republicans passed a
10:17 pm
package cutting the deficit by more than $4 trillion over ten years. in the meantime, the two sides remain at odds over raising the federal debt ceiling which sets a limit on government borrowing. house majority leader eric cantor said today that any action on that issue must be accompanied by meaningful fiscal reforms that immediately reduce federal spending. both sides pledged sunday not to play politics with the debt ceiling. >> congress is going to have to raise the debt limit. they understand that. that's absolutely essential to preserve the credit worthiness of the united states of america. >> nobody wants to play around with the country's credit rating. nobody wants to see default happening. >> woodruff: the federal government is expected to reach its borrowing limit as early as mid may. for a closer look now at the financial for a closer look now at the financial and political impact this story had today-- and may have beyond-- we turn to two people. nick perna watches the markets and many other economic issues as the managing director of
10:18 pm
perna associates, a consulting firm. and james politi, a reporter with the "financial times" here in washington. we thank you both for being with us. nick perna, to you first. what exactly is standard and poors saying with this anoujs ment and what are they basing it on? >> what they've looked at is the level and prospect of growth of u.s. deficits and indebtedness and it gives them cause for concern. they said that it puts the u.s. in a position where it is not nearly as credit worthy as other sovereign nations that have triple-a or pristine credit ratings so by firing the shot across our bowl giving us a warning they said there's some probability as high as perhaps 2 and 3 over the next two years that u.s. credit rating could be downgraded from triple-a. >> woodruff: what are they
10:19 pm
basing it on? we notice that the other major ratings agency moody's i guess has drawn a somewhat different conclusion. now they recently said they've looked at what's going on and they think the country may be headed in the right direction when it comes to dealing with its credit issues. >> i think first of all it's different than having a difference of opinion about general electric or at&t where split ratings are cause for concern. but with the united states a rating agency has a right to raise a question about the ability of our institutions to deal with this. a lot of it depends on how much faith you have in the congress and the white house to be able over the next few months to hammer out a really good deficit reduction program that couldn't have smoke and irors in it. by smoke and mirrors i mean relying heavily on pulling rabbits out of hats to get big
10:20 pm
tax cut multipliers or loaded with unspecified spending cuts. i think that what s&p was doing was trying to hold feet of these actors to the fire so we enhance the odds of getting an agreement. >> woodruff: james politi you cover this all the time. you're here in washington looking at what the two parties are doing. i realize a lot of this is is in the eye of the beholder but does it look as difficult? are they as far apart as standard and poors was saying today? >> there are huge differences between taxation and health care in particular that will make it hard to reach a deal. on the other hand, there has been some progress in the last two weeks. both sides now have a plan. they agree on a target which is about $4 trillion in deficit reduction. over the next decade or so. and so the plans are out there. the question is can they reach agreement? >> woodruff: we just noticed
10:21 pm
the wire services are moving a bulletin tonight saying that the vice president is going to be hosting a deficit reduction meeting with members of congress on may 5. we had heard that this was coming possibly but now the white house is puting that word out. >> president obama would like to see a deal on a final agreement by the end of june so the clock is ticking towards that deadline. at this point the question is what will that deal look like? will it be meaningful and will it help reassure analysts. >>. >> woodruff: when standard and poors says there's a one in three chance that they will lower the current cripple-a long-term rating of u.s. sovereign debt within a couple of years are they serious when they say that? you call it a shot across the bowl a moment ago. how serious is it? >> i think they're serious.
10:22 pm
spending things moving in the right direction. i think it's important to understand that we're not dealing with a corporation that could run out of money and not pay its bills. what we have here is a country that when push came to shove it can easily print money and always make interest payments and always issue new debt. the problem is one not of bankruptcy but the problem is what does it do to the u.s. and global economic system by generating inflation and generating a huge drop in the dollar exchange rate and a spike in u.s. interest rates? so i think that while maybe the probabilities are small, the potential for chaos is high if we don't get a really effective deficit reduction program in place. >> woodruff: so james politi, how do the players here in
10:23 pm
washington view this? do they take it seriously? how do they see the consequences if s&p were to follow through on this? >> everyone is saying, you know, this is a warning that we need to get our fiscal house in order and we need to react to it. on the other hand there are these big differences between the sides and both republicans and democrats are using it sort of as an excuse to reinforce their talking points on these issues. >> woodruff: and speaking of those talking points, let me come back to you, nick perna. whether it's the ratings agencies or people in new york who are looking at what's going on in washington, do they have a number in mind for what they think is an appropriate amount of debt reduction? do they have a... i mean, do they expect a certain formula to how much of it would be spending cuts, how much of it might be revenue increases? >> well, i think to take the
10:24 pm
last part first. i doubt that there's a formula for revenue versus tax increases, but i think that what they would be looking at is whether or not tax cuts were such a large part of the program as to make it impossible to balance the budget or reduce the deficit. the other thing is i think in the case of a sovereign nation they're probably much more concerned about the direction. in other words, if the numbers show a decided and credible decline in the u.s. budget deficit, i think we would be off credit watch or be off the negative rating in short order. so it's really direction that's more important than any particular metrics in this case. >> woodruff: so given that, back to you james politi, does either side figure it's picked up more ammunition with something like this today? >> or does this hit both sides equally? >> well, i think certainly the
10:25 pm
republicans were definitely trying to pick up ammunition. they were saying this is the latest reminder for the fiscal irresponsibility of the obama administration. we need to, you know, do something about it. on the other hand, the democrats are... the democrats can argue that this situation is also the product of policy, enacting under george w. bush. so i think there was certainly positioning on both sides. let's not forget that a default could come earlier than some would imagine if the u.s. does not raise the debt ceiling which is another vote that is looming on these issues. >> woodruff: something that's coming up justn the next few weeks. i mean the deadline is coming. >> the deadline is may 16. the treasury thinks that a default wouldn't happen until at least the beginning of july so there's a little bit of time but it's not a lot of time. >> woodruff: nick perna,
10:26 pm
finally, does this say that these ratings agencies still have outside influence? we know they were criticized after the financial collapse because they didn't necessarily... i think it's fair to say they didn't forecast what was going to happen. >> right. well, i think that's a great question. the way i heard the question put today was a lot rougher. that is, how can agencies that messed up as badly as they did, how do they have the gal to, you know, kind of cast gate the united states? i think that that would be a cheap shot because i think, you know, the other thing you could say is that the same people who messed up the budget are the same people who were in command in washington at the top whether you're talking about the senate or the white house or the congress. but i think what we've got is it's a very interesting situation whe there's somebody watching over the process now. in addition to the media. i think that's a very good thing. they're not only looking at the total direction, as i said,
10:27 pm
but i think they'll be looking very carefully at the quality of the program that's enacted, whether or not it's credible. and that's really good. >> woodruff: james politi here in washington and nick perna in new york, we thank you both. >> ifill: next, two reports on the fighting in misrata, libya. the first, from jonathan miller of independent television news, reporting from tripoli. >> reporter: in the city snipers cluster bombs and chaos the rabble of the rebel army, disorganized untrained insurgents fends off qaddafi's fire power. a tragic symbol of the dead locked libya war. the humanitarian crisis exposing nato's inability to stop the killing turn the tide of war or force regime change. air strike can't protect the panicked cornered residents of
10:28 pm
misrata. >> one month,.... >> reporter: a former libyan fighter pilot says that in a month he's called in the coordinates of this position at least ten times. the nato bombers haven't come, he said. rebels claim they have no choice but to stand and fight. >> i'm not going outside misrata. but when someone coming to your town to try to tell you what to do. >> reporter: an investigator from amnesty international told me she had witnessed rockets fired by qaddafi's forces raining down on residential areas. she had seen dozens of cluster bombs. misrata's hospital administrator says a thousand people may have been killed. 3,000 wounded. 260 bodys in the morgue since friday. in tripoli the government forcefully denying outrage us allegations. >> the army would not follow orders to kill civilians
10:29 pm
because this is the army of the nation, not the army of one person. >> reporter: two senior united nations representatives met the libyan prime minister and foreign minister yesterday here in the capital tripoli. and they secured agreement to establish a humanitarian presence here. the u.n.'s head of humanitarian affairs flew to benghazi. from the libyan government no promise of unfettered access from tripoli by road. >> i pushed very hard for a cessation of hostilities to enable us to do that and got no guarantees from the government in relation to that. >> reporter: at misrata port desperation as thousands clamored to escape the blitzkrieg. the priority evacuating foreign migrant workers but frantic libyans want out too some even blocking roads to stop the migrants get to go the port. the british government is now taking a lead in pledging
10:30 pm
further evacuations. for many tens of thousands though there's no way out. with the u.n. mandate to protect civilians stretched to the max, there's little for them to hope for either. >> ifill: charles levinson of the "wall street journal" is in misrata. margaret warner talked with him by phone earlier this evening. charles levinson, thank for joining us. you just got to misrata last night. what does this city look like, feel like to you? >> it feels very much like a city under siege. which it is. everywhere you go there's bread lines winding around the block and people who have been here for a while say they're getting longer every day. gas stations have massive lines. carsaiting to get gas because there's only a few gas stations in town that are in safe neighborhoods. there are whole blocks of the city that are off limits because qaddafi's forces have positions in buildings with
10:31 pm
snipers. ten-year-old kids being shot in the head. we saw three kids in the past 24 hours who have been hit in the head by bullets while playing outside their houses. it is grim. >> warner: qaddafi's forces are actually in the town. are they also besieging it from outside? what is the balance of powerhe ? >> qaddafi's forces definitely have the advantage in terms of weaponry and probably numbers as well. tanks, artillery, heavy artillery, rockets. the rebels have the advantage of fighting on urban terrain that they know intimately. they're all each unit group of reels is defending their own neighborhood basically. so once qaddafi's fors get in the city inside the city streets, they are at the huge disadvantage. tanks are not the ideal weapon for urban combat though the rebels have been fairly successful in repulsing qaddafi's thrust into the city. >> warner: since you've been
10:32 pm
there has there been any sight or sound of nato air strikes. >> all day long there was nothing. this evening we started hearing very distant buzz of airplanes overhead. we didn't see anything. we heard some distant booms. we don't know for sure whether those were air strikes or what they were. we just suspected they might have been. the rebel fighters say the same thing. they see very few nato air strikes. they hear the planes but don't see a whole lot of action by nato. >> warner: do the rebels think that would help or is this the kind of fighting that air strikes can't affect? >> they think it will help. for example, on one of the main streets where there's been a lot of fighting, the tripoli street, they know buildings that have, you know, scores of qaddafi troops inside them. they've tried to bomb the buildings but they can't do it. they're small rudimentary explosives. they want to see a bomb drop on these buildings. >> warner: how and where this they caring for all these hundreds or thousands of
10:33 pm
wounded. >> the doctors are working non-stop. the hospitals are overflowing. they've set up tents outside the hospitals acting as the emergency room. they're treating only the ones that they think they can handle. others are going untreated. the people are being sent home. early. as soon as they have the most rudimentary care. operating rooms are going 24 hours a day. >> warner: do you have a sense of how long the rebels can hold out? >> a good question. that's what sort of everybody is asking. what we're trying to answer. they seem pretty optimistic. things seem to be getting... or are deteriorating here. they have the port. as long as they can keep that port going and supplies coming in, they they can hold out. they're also counting on the fact that they think their fighting morale is much higher than their enemies. qaddafi forces don't want to be fighting. they're not fighting for a cause. they're fighting for a paycheck but the rebels are
10:34 pm
fighting to defend their home. they're hanging by a thin thread. th's fair to say. >> warner: charles levinson of the wall street journal, thank you very much. >> my pleasure. >> woodruff: this year's pulitzer prize winners were announced today. the "los angeles times" garnered two awards, including one for exposing politicians in bell, california, for paying themselves enormous salaries. the "new york times" also picked up two prizes for international reporting and for commentary. in arts, the fiction award went to jennifer egan for her novel, "a visit from the goon squad." jeffrey brown talked to her about that book last summer. here's an excerpt. >> brown: i have read where you said you thought this novel is about time. what does that mean? >> i was reading a lot and i was interested in trying to write a book about time today.
10:35 pm
i think i was particularly interested because of the huge technological changes that we're going through. i found myself very drawn to the music industry which has been in kind of a free fall in recenyears as we all know. >> brown: why was music the way in to telling the story about... it's a group of characters. it begins in the 1970s san francisco, very specific music scene, right? >> i think for a few reasons. for one thing all of us remember those teenage years and the songs we fell in love with and the music scene they were part of. in a certain way music cuts through time like almost nothing else. it makes us feel like we're back in an earlier moment. and then i think on the other side the music industry is an interesting lens through which to look at change because it has had such a difficult time adjust to go the digital age. >> brown: you're known for these interesting books. and different styles all the time. where do you start? in this case was it starting with as you say a yen to write about music? >> a couple of things. i was interested in writing
10:36 pm
about time and about music but actually what started it was standing in a hotel bathroom washing my hands looking down and seeing a wallet lying in plain view. and i have been robbed a number of times. i've had my wallet stolen in all kinds of situations. i thought that poor woman. someone might take her wallet. and i thought but i'm the only person here. it led to a fictional leaps where i thought who is the woman that would take that wallet and why. >> brown: that's how the novel starts. >> i started with that and started with that moment and went. in the course of writing the first chapter about the woman who takes the wallet i found myself intrigued by a mention of her former boss whom i wrote i found her saying that he sprinkled gold flakes in his coffee and sprayed pesticide in his armpits and he's a record producer. at the time i thought that's a music thumbnail sketch but ultimately i thought who is he and why does he do those things? that led me into this music producer who is in a way in a state of mourning over the
10:37 pm
direction the industry has gone and also for his own... he's heading into middle age and thinking a lot about his years a a punk rocker in san francisco which then led me to write about san francisco in the late '70s where i was a high school student going to punk rock clubs on occasion. >> brown: you said it led you to write about 1970s. in fact non-linear is the key to thing. you go in and out of time. we meet a character at one point and then later on in his or her life and then spinning back. why that? i guess that goes to the sense of time, right? different moments of time. >> well i had the thought of just going backwards because initially as i was writing these chapters i was moving backwards. i found that the power, the hold whole didn't seem to be greater than the sum of its parts when i followed the backward format. when we realize time has passed it's moving slowly and incrementally but we oly notice it in sudden quantum
10:38 pm
leaps. the change always feels surprising which in itself is surprising because change is so constant. i was interested in getting at those little surprises. amongst a group of people over many years. it seemed like the best way to do that to try to twist it in as many ways as i can is to move in and out of time rather than solidly forward and backwards. >> woodruff: the non-fiction award went to dr. siddhartha mukherjee for his book on the history of cancer. you can watch betty ann bowser's interview with him on our web site. also there, find a profile of kay ryan, who won the pulitzer prize today for poetry. >> ifill: april is autism awareness month, and tonight robert macneil returns to the newshour to launch a series of reports on this developmental disorder. part one: autism as a whole body experience. >> in recent years the diagnosis of autism has shown startling growth. now affecting one in 110 american children.
10:39 pm
for over two decades parents desperate for answers and feeling slighted by the medical community have helped forced to create services for their children, raise money for research and campaign for wider awareness of autism and for support from the government. today the picture is changing. researchers now believe there is no simple genetic cause. autism may involve multiple genetic pathways. and toxic materials in the environment may trigger the symptoms of autism. autism once was considered only a brain disorder. now more doctors say it often involves serious physical illness. and that's ourirst story tonight. frankly, i have a personal motive in telling it because it's about my grandson nick who is six and lives in cambridge, massachusetts. it's not easy connecting with nick. we live in different cities. >> hi, nick. how are you? >> all my grandchildren are a
10:40 pm
little shy when we first meet again. >> nice to see you. >> but nick's shyness is different. one of the marks of autism is difficulty making eye contact and communicating. even with family members. >> so, how are you doing? >> i've been a reporter on and off for 50 years but i've never brought my family into a story. until nick. because he moves me deeply. also because i think his story can help people understand his form of autism and help me understand it better. this was nick when he was nine months old, a healthy, alert and engaged baby with no apparent medical problems. now at six my grandson seems like a different child. showing the classic symptoms of autism. a disorder in development. his difficulty connecting.
10:41 pm
>> can i read that one for you? do you want to look at it yourself? >> nick struggles with language. the rigidity and resistance to change nick shares with other children with autism. >> we're going home. >> a tendency to suddenly appear absent, to withdraw into an emotionally detached inner world of his own. those symptoms are characteristic of the autism spectrum. severe to mild. in nick's case relatively mild. but beyond such mental difficulties, nick has serious physical illness in his digestive system. his mitochondria, the energy needed by his cells for normal activity plus frequent small brain seizures and extreme sensivity to light and sound. how nick was transformed from that healthy boy to nick today is still devastating to his mother, my daughter allison.
10:42 pm
>> when nick was diagnosed i actually hired baby-sitter so that i could go sit in my car in a parking lot and cry because i couldn't do it here with the kids. >> reporter: allison was trained as a psychiatric social worker but like many parents has made virtually a new career of caring for her son with autism. >> i remember one day i was sitting at the computer and he was about 16 months old. and i caught out of the corner of my eye that he was spinning one of his sister's doll's plates. i had never seen a child play that way before. ever. i went in to interrupt him, and he wouldn't stop. there was an intensity about it. i had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach because i knew something was wrong. >> reporter: that worry sent allison to a developmental pediatrician who confirmed their fears. nick had autism. >> nick was irritable, crying, inconsoleable, and now is not on track developmentally at
10:43 pm
all. he's gone backwards. so we went from a 15 month appointment where this child was a-okay supposedly and given the m.m.r., the t-tap and the hib vaccine but people say to me, allison it's a coincidence. allison, how do you know this happened? well, it's impossible for me to know, but i will say is this. it was not a coincidence that my child is diagnosed with autism at the same time that his whole system shut down. something happened to my child. >> reporter: i understand allison's suspicion. but public health authorities say there is no scientifically valid evidence that vaccines cause autism. and allison found little support from the developmental pediatrician. >> when i said to her this child has not had a formed bowel since the 15-month shot she said children with autism
10:44 pm
have diarrhea. when i said that he was crying inconsoleably. she said this is part of autism. they can't regulate their emotions. it was all lumped under, yes, we always see that with autism. it's just autism. >> reporter: nick complex problems demanded a broader view of autism, some call it a new paradigm or a systemic illness or a whole body experience. >> nicholas. >> reporter: one of the leaders of that new thinking is dr. timothy booy, a pediatric gastro enterologist at massachusetts general hospital. >> six months ago he was so lethargic and so out of it that he came into the office and literally laid on the chair for a 30- or 40-minute visit. he never moved. he wouldn't interact. he wouldn't give you any eye contact whatsoever. at the end of the appointment mom picked him up and took him out and went home. >> reporter: the doctor found changes in the lower
10:45 pm
g.i.tract. he called limp i'd nodular hyper place i can't. >> some of the enzymes are time released. >> reporter: inflammation and damage in his small intestine. how does that affect the life of a child, like nick? for instance, does it give him pain? >> i think it can give pain, and i think pain in a child with autism is a very difficult thing to assess. because a child with autism can't vocalize that. he will very often not come to you and say, i've got a belly ache. he can't use those words. so he may exhibit that as a child who doesn't sleep well. he may exhibit that as a child who has a lot of increased agitation or hyper sometime latory type behavior. part of the problem is we've accepted that those are behaviors that we often see in children with autism and we've written it off to our their autism. so it's very difficult to think through whether that is a marker for pain in some of
10:46 pm
those kids if we're unwilling to look for other reasons. >> you're not clean yet. come on. >> he is remarkably better. he's active. he's happy. he's playful. he's turning off the lights which some people would find to be a negative challenge. i don't think so. i think that's a child who is testing. i think it's really interesting to see. he walked right over happily, smiling, sat down, a much different child. >> reporter: do you think the medical community and your contact with it understands this wider definition of autism. >> emphatically, no. they can't just refer these kids to early intervention and consider this a psychiatric or neuro psychiatric situation. they've got to stay involved and help the family get referrals for gastro enterology, neurologists to look at whether or not there's
10:47 pm
seizure activity. >> reporter: from its lowest ebb two years ago nick's condition has greatly improved. as allison found different doctors to diagnose and treat his other problems. but attaining even that level of progress nick's autism is having a profound effect on the family. all of their lives ultimately revolve around his needs. certainly that's how his ten-year-old sister my granddaughter nelly sees it. she's in a different kind of pain. >> i just don't like autism affects the family. it seems like it takes up too much time. and you usually get really bored of autism. because it's in your life all the time. >> what things would you do if you didn't have a brother with autism? >> i guess a lot of money is spent on doctors' appointments
10:48 pm
and nick's everything. it would change if we didn't have to get all that stuff. >> i see. are you worried about nick? >> yes. >> tell me what you worry about. >> well, if he's going to stay autistic for the rest of his life. >> and what would that mean? if he were? >> i don't know. but it would get harder when he gets older. there wouldn't be as much services to help him. and then i'm worried that he might get lost because he doesn't really know what to do. >> when you think about the future with nick, what do you feel about that? >> well, i hope that he doesn't have to stay with me kind of and that i hope that he gets healed soon.
10:49 pm
sometimes when other people say i seem perfect and you have to do something that you don't like you don't usually want to do it and your autistic sibling does. it seems unfair. it seems like they get what they want and you don't. >> well, one of the things about life is that we all learn we have to do things we don't want to do. whether it is autism or not. >> yeah but it seems like it happens too much. i mean, there's going to be a few times when that happens but it seems when it's an autistic brother or sister it always happens. >> i don't know.
10:50 pm
i can't take the autism out of her life. we try to make things, you know, we try to do the best we can with it. she's right. in some ways it's really unfair. i wouldn't say... i would say that every family who lives with an autistic child makes massive sacrifices in every way. it takes a phenomenal amount of teamwork. i think dave and i have been pleasantly surprised to find that it has brought out probably the best in us. it doesn't leave a lot of energy left over. >> like the energy nick's father dave expends every evening. >> what do you want to do? >> in a little bit. can i get a five. >> okay. >> reporter: nick loves to ride on buses. >> i have to go on the bus. >> other places too.
10:51 pm
>> reporter: so every day after work as a senior account executive at a public relations agency, dave devotes 90 minutes to a bus outing that nick yearns for all day. >> we can go to belmont if you want. >> reporter: on our day there we change nick's schedule so we can all go to the park before dark. >> no. >> you're going to go to harvard station later. >> after? >> after we're done. after the playground. >> you're going to have one. >> i'm sad. >> i know you're sad. >> reporter: for exercise they walk from their apartment the half mile to harvard square to
10:52 pm
wait but not just for any bus. >> i want to go on the 72 bus. >> reporter: the 72 takes them on a 20-minute loop through cambridge and back to harvard square for the walk home. tonight the 72 doesn't come. >> do you see it coming? >> reporter: and doesn't come. >> that's the 73. >> reporter: the eager little boy scans each arriving bus as though it carries all of his happiness. and still it doesn't come. >> do you want the 73. >> no. >> reporter: after nearly an hour of waiting looking sadder and sadder. >> nick? if the 72 couldn't doesn't come, should we take another bus? >> another bus? >> he's persuaded with no tantrum. take another bus home. part of his improved physical condition has brought more patients patience, more tolerance for change. >> high five, bud.
10:53 pm
>> reporter: we made a promised trip to the toy store. >> which one is thomas? here you can see the disconnect between us. nick, which one is thomas? for me, the father of four children with four other grandchildren seeking connection with nick is a very poignant sperbs. ... experience. to have a grandson who can tune me out or simply ignore me like this, make no eye contact for long stretches of time-- and i'm going to buy it for you a present-- gives me a strange and painful feeling. >> say thank you to grandpa. >> thank you to grandpa. >> thank you. >> reporter: it warms my heart that nick's physical problems are improving. i'm in admiration of the patience and encouragement that allison and dave bring to his constant. i see my daughter like other mothers not only perplexed by sometimes amused and always intrigued by what may be going
10:54 pm
on in her son's mind. >> ifill: tomorrow night, robin looks at the prevalence of autism. but you don't have to wait until then to watch part two. it's available in its entirety on our "autism now" web page. you'll also find a transcript of robin's entire interview with dr. buie, along with a place to leave your questions. robin and others will answer them later in the series. >> woodruff: again, the major developments of the day. survivors and officials counted the costs from a weekend of tornadoes that killed at least 44 people in half a dozen states. the stock market took a hit after the standard and poors bond rating service downgraded its long-term outlook on u.s. govnment debt. the dow jones industrial average lost 140 points. and to hari sreenivasan, for what's on the newshour online. hari? >> sreenivasan: we talked with wunc reporter leoneda inge about the aftermath of the severe storms in raleigh, north carolina. and on our making sense page this tax day, paul solman and his team have posted a graphic showing the first family's income, taxes, and charitable
10:55 pm
giving. all that and more is on our web site, judy? >> woodruff: and that's the newshour for tonight. on tuesday, we'll look at arguments in a climate change se at the supreme court. i'm judy woodruff. >> ifill: and i'm gwen ifill. we'll see you online, and again here tomorrow evening. thank you, and good night. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> oil companies have changed my country. >> oil companies can make a difference. >> we have the chance to build the economy. >> create jobs, keep people healthy, and improve schools. >> ...and our communities. in angola chevron helps train engineers, teachers and farmers, launch child's programs. it's not just good business. >> i'm hopeful about my country's future. >> it's my country's future.
10:56 pm
>> pacific life-- the power to help you succeed. >> and by bnsf railway. >> the william and flora hewlett foundation, working to solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. >> and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions captioned by media access group at wgbh
10:57 pm
10:58 pm
10:59 pm


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on