This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 15, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: We've seen massive blackouts in New York City before, in 1965 and 1977. The Blackout History Project (search) collects people's stories from those times and now the blackout of 2003. And Heather Nauert is here to tell us about the history project.
HEATHER NAUERT, FNC CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, if you talk to anyone in New York City who is from New York, somebody's got a story, incredible stories out there about all this. But this is a contemporary history project that has been put together at George Mason University.
Its director Jim Sparrow (search) joins me now from Washington. And that's today's big question. Jim, how are we handling this blackout compared to others?
JIM SPARROW, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: Well, I think that things are going quite smoothly and I'm delighted to see that they are, relative to what's happened in the past.
NAUERT: Why do you think people are behaving so well?
SPARROW: Well, it will take some time to process what's happened, but it seems that the legacy of Sept. 11 has made a permanent impact on America's psyche.
NAUERT: Do you actually think that people in New York City and across the nation feel the need to be more cooperative because we experienced terrorism on 9/11?
SPARROW: Absolutely. I don't think something goes through a person's mind in exactly that fashion, but I think the larger climate of crisis has changed the way that people respond to disruptions in their lives. I also think that, when you see the accounts of people today who have been through this on Sept. 11, they realize that they have to pay attention to what's going on and respond to their neighbors.
NAUERT: Let me ask you this, though. Assuming that crooks are crooks and crooks are going to want to steal no matter what, why would they not go out and loot [the night of the blackout]? Do they actually have a conscience now?
SPARROW: Well, I won't speculate about the psychology of criminals. What I think we can say, though, is that just the social environment right now is radically different from when the blackouts happened in 1977. Crime rates are much lower. The economy is much better. The whole configuration of issues in New York has changed. But at the same time, the people out on the street have a different mood, a different mentality. And I think, in addition, shop owners and business people had a chance to close their businesses. The lights went out at 4:00. They had some time ...
NAUERT: So they had a little more time to prepare. But what was it about 1977? Was it following the Vietnam War (search) that people were just angry with authority and they decided to just lash out?
SPARROW: Well, you have to remember that most people were not looting. It only occurred in the hardest-hit neighborhoods in New York. But by midnight of July 13, ordinary people were looting and that is really the question that we have to explain. These ordinary people lived in neighborhoods that had extraordinarily high unemployment rates. There was a crime wave that had been building for the previous decade. We were in the middle of an energy crisis. There were also resentments of the police. All of those things contributed to, I think, what you might call an alienation from authority and that helps to explain some of the looting. Yes.
NAUERT: So, in other words, today now I guess because of 9/11, but also the war with Iraq, we're just a little bit more open to taking directions from police, national guardsmen, etcetera.
SPARROW: Well, certainly the police presence is much more visible and that plays an important role in prohibiting certain types of activities that could escalate into rioting. Also, I think that there is less of a chance that looting is going to occur simply because of the public spiritedness of people on the streets and sleeping in the parks, etcetera.
NAUERT: Okay. Do we now expect these things or are these still extraordinary events?
SPARROW: I think the comparison I would draw would be to the Cold War (search) in which we had several decades of potential crisis, ranging anywhere from sabotage to nuclear war. Fortunately, that didn't occur. But people lived with the possibility that at any moment something awful might happen as a result of the Cold War. I think we have a similar situation now with the war on terrorism.
NAUERT: Okay. Jim Sparrow, director of the Blackout History Project. Thank you very much. And we'll have to wait and see if we have any blackout babies nine months from now — John.
GIBSON: That's right Heather. That happened in 1965. Little baby boom nine months from blackout night.
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