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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Your favorite late night TV shows might soon return with new episodes and new content.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Writers and Hollywood studios yesterday reached a tentative deal. Wait a minute. Are we saying those jokes on the late night shows are scripted? Anyway, if approved, the deal would end a nearly five-month work stoppage. Union members still need to ratify it.

MARTIN: NPR's Mandalit del Barco has been reporting on the writers' strike since May, and she's with us now from Los Angeles to tell us more. Mandalit, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Sure. Good morning.

MARTIN: What do we know about this deal?

DEL BARCO: Well, the Writers Guild of America seems very excited. The screenwriters celebrated together last night. I've seen their cheers posted on social media.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STRIKER: We got a deal.

(CHEERING)

DEL BARCO: And in its statement to members, the union called the deal exceptional, with meaningful gains and protections for writers. Those screenwriters now have to vote to approve the deal after carefully reviewing the details. And they hammered out issues they had been at odds over like higher residuals tied to the success of shows rerun on streaming platforms. They wrestled over having minimum writing staffs for every TV show, which would increase the number of episodes each season. And they agreed on language protecting writers' work and credits from being replaced by artificial intelligence.

MARTIN: What do you think it took to finally come to an agreement here?

DEL BARCO: You know, in the final stretch, negotiators were joined by top executives from four Hollywood studios, Disney's Bob Iger, David Zaslav from Warner Bros. Discovery, Ted Sarandos from Netflix and Donna Langley from NBCUniversal. Those heavy hitters met with the guild at the offices of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, at their offices inside the Galleria, a well-known suburban shopping mall in the Valley. But these past five months have been very acrimonious, with a lot of finger-pointing by both sides.

The studio heads met with the WGA once over the summer, and the writers complained that they were chastised and not listened to. The CEOs had to deal with their investors. And publicly, they worried about their bottom lines. The studios delayed film and TV premieres. Despite a mutually agreed upon media blackout, there have been a lot of rumors and leaks to the trade publications. Writers on the picket lines and on social media asked their negotiators not to cave. And meanwhile, everyone in the industry, union or not, has been out of work.

MARTIN: So given all that, when will productions start again?

DEL BARCO: Well, that's the big question for everyone in Hollywood. Maybe everybody who watches movies and TV wants to know that, too. The answer is, as soon as possible. The writers may have made a deal, but they still have to approve it. And the actors' union, SAG-AFTRA, remains on strike against the studios over very similar issues.

Now the actors are waiting for the AMPTP to get back to them. And if that happens soon and the writers can work their magic, and all the people it takes to make a TV show happen can get started again, some insiders say there might be time to salvage the winter TV season. And we might see those late night and daytime talk shows come back right away. You know, Michel, I went to several picket lines on Friday. And I talked to a number of screenwriters, including Brian Nelson. Here's what he had to say.

BRIAN NELSON: Whatever deal we make may be the template for other deals going forward, specifically, of course, the next people in line, being SAG-AFTRA.

DEL BARCO: Nelson says the writers will support everyone else who supported them. In fact, the screenwriters plan to continue picketing only in support of the actors who are waiting in the wings. So everyone in Hollywood is waiting for a happy ending to this saga.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Mandalit del Barco in Los Angeles. Mandalit, thank you.

DEL BARCO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: So one new deal has been reached in Hollywood but another one still hangs in the balance, this one in the nation's capital.

INSKEEP: Yeah, it's September 25, which means Congress only has about five days left to avoid a government shutdown. Given the infighting in the Republican Party, it looks less likely that a deal can be reached in time, which leads to the question of what effects a government shutdown could have on the U.S. economy.

MARTIN: NPR's David Gura is with us now to talk about all this. Good morning, David.

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's point this out again. The people who get your Social Security checks out, who process your passports, all these functions of government won't be getting paid. These people won't be getting paid. But what could the other economic effects of a government shutdown be?

GURA: Yeah, I don't want to diminish the difficulty of that both to people and businesses. Keep in mind, though, that when there is a shutdown, everyone does get paid eventually. But yeah, hundreds of thousands of government workers wouldn't get paid. The government wouldn't be able to pay for what it's bought. That has a direct effect on the economy, all kinds of knock-on effects.

The severity of a shutdown will depend on how long it lasts if there is one. And if it were to go on for a couple of days, couple of weeks, well, the fallout from that would not be huge. But if it were to last longer, then the U.S. economy would take a bigger hit. The financial services firm EY says a shutdown would take one-tenth of a percentage point off of GDP every week. Greg Daco is the chief economist at EY who tells me a concern of his is when this could happen.

GREG DACO: It comes at a time when we are seeing other threats to the U.S. economy.

GURA: Michel, the economy is facing all kinds of headwinds right now, and the Federal Reserve fight against high inflation hasn't ended.

MARTIN: So tell us more about those potential headwinds.

GURA: It's a long list of them, according to Fed Chair Jerome Powell. Growth is already slowing. Soon, student loan payments are starting back up for 40 million borrowers. Autoworkers are on strike. Energy prices have been rising pretty steadily. One other thing is, during a shutdown, policymakers would not be able to get any new economic data. That's because the government officials in charge of that data wouldn't be able to work. And as I look at my calendar here on my desk, Michel, the Labor Department is scheduled to release its next jobs report on Friday, October 6, so just a few days after the fiscal year ends. And we're supposed to get new inflation data less than a week after that.

MARTIN: Well, say more about that, though. How would something like not being able to get fresh data become a significant problem for the economy?

GURA: So it depends, again, on how long a shutdown lasts, but it could be a big problem. After the last Fed meeting, the Fed chair reiterated he and his colleagues are making decisions about raising interest rates based on the data. If the government can't collect those data and distribute them, Greg Daco says Fed policymakers would be in a real bind at their next meeting.

DACO: This lack of data in the midst of a government shutdown would essentially mean that economists, investors and policymakers would be flying partially blind.

GURA: Flying partially blind, which would be a real challenge for the Fed, which is, of course, hoping to pull off that soft landing - getting high inflation under control without triggering recession.

MARTIN: OK, as quickly as you can, if there's a shutdown, what effect is that going to have on how investors, who do have a lot to say about the economy, how they view Washington's decision-making?

GURA: Yeah, there's frustration. There's fatigue. I'll say, during past shutdowns, the market reaction has been pretty muted. Alec Phillips is the chief political economist at Goldman Sachs.

ALEC PHILLIPS: It's difficult to say that this will be a major negative for the market, assuming that it, you know, follows the pattern of previous shutdowns.

GURA: But of course, those political divisions aren't going away anytime soon. So it's crisis after crisis, and that could take a toll, Michel.

MARTIN: That's NPR's David Gura. David, thank you.

GURA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: A new NPR investigation has revealed a disturbing pattern.

INSKEEP: Yeah, of the 5,000 people who died in the past decade while in federal custody, 1 out of 4 died in the same prison.

MARTIN: NPR's Meg Anderson is with us now to explain what's behind those numbers. Meg, good morning.

MEG ANDERSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So let me just clarify one thing. There are more than 120 federal prisons, and we are talking about just one. So tell us what's going on there.

ANDERSON: Yeah. So it is a prison in North Carolina. It's called the Butner Federal Medical Center. And to an extent, more death there makes total sense. It's a prison hospital and it's the Bureau of Prisons' main cancer treatment facility. Cancer is one of the BOP's leading causes of death. So that explains a lot of it, but it doesn't explain all of it. When we started looking into the experiences of individual people, people who got really sick in prison, people who died in prison, we found stories of inmates all over the country going without needed medical care. And sometimes, when they finally did end up at Butner for advanced care, it was too late to do much for them.

MARTIN: Tell us about some of the stories you found.

ANDERSON: Yeah. Well, we found more than a dozen inmates who waited months and some of them even years for medical care. One inmate who ended up at Butner that we ended up focusing on, his name was Jeffrey Ramirez. And he found a lump in his testicle. He asked to see a doctor, but he didn't get an ultrasound until more than a year after he started complaining. He was eventually diagnosed with the final stage of testicular cancer. And when I interviewed him this year, he had been released from prison early, essentially to die at home. And he felt sure that it would have been different if he had been on the outside.

JEFFREY RAMIREZ: I know myself. That's the first place I would go. I'd go to the doctor. This would not happen, and I'm angry. I'm angry because it didn't have to get this far.

ANDERSON: Yeah. And he died just 11 days after he talked with me.

MARTIN: OK. But, Meg, Butner is a prison hospital. So are these men, women - I guess both - are they getting better care once they get there?

ANDERSON: Yeah, just men, actually, And not necessarily. We found problems there, too. One man in prison there, Frank Carr, he waited more than a year for heart surgery. When I talked to him over the phone, he sounded panicky.

FRANK CARR: I do not want to die, because I've seen so many people die in here. I've witnessed people die. And I don't want to be one of the statistics.

ANDERSON: And he did end up getting his surgery, but another man we found waited five months for surgery to treat skin cancer. By then, it wasn't feasible anymore. Another inmate died after staff failed to give him his anti-epileptic medication. And last fall, two Butner inmates died in the night after they didn't get timely medical attention. And I should note that the BOP declined our request for an interview. But they said they are, quote, "committed to providing safe and effective health care."

MARTIN: Were you able to talk with anyone at the prison?

ANDERSON: Yeah. So current and former staff at Butner told me that they think understaffing is the main reason for these delays in care. Of course, one way to fix that would be to hire more people, another way would be to lower the prison population. But part of the problem is we just don't actually have that much insight into what happens inside prisons. That's according to Michele Deitch. She directs the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at the University of Texas at Austin.

MICHELE DEITCH: There are so many things that we don't know about our prisons. How dangerous are they? How much violence is there? How well does the health care system work? Things that you would just assume we would know.

ANDERSON: So until there's independent oversight, it's hard for anyone to recommend concrete steps.

MARTIN: OK, that is NPR's Meg Anderson. Meg, thank you so much for this reporting.

ANDERSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.