Leslie Cockburn is an American investigative journalist, and filmmaker. Her investigative television segments have aired on CBS, NBC, PBS Frontline, and 60 Minutes. She has won an Emmy Award, The Hillman Prize, Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award, Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and the George Polk Award.
She was the 2018 Democratic nominee for Virginia’s 5th district in the U.S. House of Representatives, losing to Republican Denver Riggleman.
Leslie Cockburn (née Leslie Corkill Redlich) was born in San Mateo, San Mateo County, California, and raised in Hillsborough, California. She is the daughter of Christopher Rudolph Redlich, a shipping magnate. She grew up in a family of hunters.
Leslie attended the Santa Catalina School. She then studied at Yale. She went on to earn a master’s degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Cockburn is a former investigative journalist for NBC, CBS, and PBS Frontline. While living in London, she started working for NBC News. Among her early reports was an interview with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. In 1978, Cockburn moved to CBS. During her career, she covered six wars including the U.S.-directed Contra War against Nicaragua.
In 1987, Cockburn began producing and reporting documentaries for PBS Frontline in collaboration with her husband, Andrew Cockburn. They created Guns, Drugs, and the CIA (1987), a documentary which claimed the CIA assisted and encouraged drug trafficking. In 1990, Cockburn produced and co-wrote “From the Killing Fields” with Peter Jennings and Tom Yellin for the ABC News documentary show Peter Jennings Reporting. The film alleged that the U.S. had covertly supported the Khmer Rouge in its return to power in Cambodia during a genocidal movement responsible for the deaths of millions in the 1970s.
In 1991, she and her husband produced the PBS Frontline documentary The War We Left Behind, which showed the effects of the Gulf War on Kurdish and Iraqi civilians. In 1997, Cockburn conceived and co-produced The Peacemaker, starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman, a thriller positing a terrorist attack on New York City with a stolen nuclear weapon. In 1998, Cockburn served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. In 2000, she produced “America’s Worst Nightmare,” a 60 Minutes report on political instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan and fundamentalist groups linked to the Taliban, a piece that was recognized as “strikingly prophetic” in receiving the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award in 2001.
In 2009, Cockburn directed and co-produced (with husband Andrew Cockburn) her first feature documentary for theatrical release,American Casino. It follows the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States which led to the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Cockburn and her husband began filming in January 2008, and documented the financial machinations and miscalculations on Wall Street that produced the disaster, and also documented its effects on several Baltimore homeowners struggling to stay afloat. The film premiered at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in April 2009.
Variety described it as a “searing expose of the subprime mortgage crisis (matching) Wall Street’s numbers and graphics to the flesh-and-blood individuals whose lives have been devastated by the deliberate machinations of bankers and traders.” The New Yorkersaid it was “a terrific documentary chronicling the subprime-mortgage mess and the financial collapse.” The New York Times said it was “a meticulously structured film.”
Awards and nominations
Cockburn has won The Hillman Prize (1984), the George Polk Award (2010), and the 1991 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, along with Peter Jennings and Tom Yellin. Cockburn’s work has received multiple Emmy nominations, and her 1998 documentary Yuri The Great won an Emmy Award in 1999.
Stop the Pipeline!!!
Leslie Cockburn for Congress
Published on April 16, 2018
By: Leslie Cockburn for Congress
We need to protect our land and the farmers whose livelihoods hang in the balance. And we urgently need to stop construction of unnecessary pipelines that cross Virginia’s 5th Congressional District – and protect the people and communities who are threatened by them.
Closing Statement – Leslie Cockburn
Published on April 4, 2018
By: Indivisible Charlottesville
Leslie’s closing statement from the March 17th debate of the four Democrats running for Congress against Tom Garrett in VA-05 hosted by Charlottesville Indivisible.
What democracy looks like…
Leslie Cockburn for Congress
Published on April 15, 2018
By: Leslie Cockburn for Congress
Something extraordinary happened on the first day of the caucuses in our 5th District: A record turnout – way bigger than anybody imagined. The real winners are all the people who turned out to vote. They are what democracy looks like – and it is this grass roots movement that made our win possible. Please help me keep the movement going by voting at your local caucus. And watch here to remember how good it feels to win!
From former campaign site
Women’s Civil Rights
Leslie believes it is time for women to be treated as full citizens. They deserve equal pay. It is disturbing that women still receive 20% less pay than men, 80 cents on the dollar. Women of color receive even less. This kind of discrimination is illegal. John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law in 1963. But it must be strengthened and given teeth. Too many women are heads of households and breadwinners. We must not defund the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and must allow the EEOC to collect pay information through the Employer Information Report. Otherwise, we operate in the dark. Leslie supports the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Gender wage discrimination has a severe impact on older women. According to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, 22 million older women receive Social Security benefits but receive, on average, $300 a month less than men. Leslie wants to help change that and supports the Eleanor’s Hope initiative to promote women’s retirement security. She also wants to equalize Social Security rules for disabled widows.
Women’s reproductive rights are under threat from the Trump administration and its allies in Congress. The irrational attacks on Planned Parenthood mean cruel and unusual punishment for millions of poor women. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that denying Planned Parenthood federal funding for one year will result in thousands of unwanted pregnancies. It will increase Medicaid spending by 21 million.
Under the Affordable Care Act, contraception was provided to poor women for next to nothing. Because of this, as of 2014, abortions declined to a record low. For the first time since 1975, the abortion rate in the US fell to under a million. Publicly funded family planning visits saved state and federal governments over 13 billion dollars a year. Let’s respect a woman’s right to choose.
Leslie wants to end Trump’s global gag rule. The rule denies US foreign aid to NGOs that provide sexual and reproductive health services, such as contraception and HIV testing, to women abroad. This is barbaric and should be reversed.
The proposed bills to demolish the Affordable Care Act have casually slashed maternity and newborn coverage, now regarded as essential care. This affects at least 9 million women. Whatever the final bill is, Leslie, a mother of three, will work to restore this coverage.
Criminal Justice Reform
Virginia schools refer more students to law enforcement in the “school-to-prison-pipeline” than any other state. Although not all of those students go to court, the trend of turning to police rather than just a visit to the principal’s office is a disturbing trend. According to a recent report by Virginia Tech, African-American students make up 23 percent of the student population in Virginia and 49 percent of the referrals to juvenile court.
Many states, from Texas to New York, have adopted criminal justice reforms that reduce unnecessary incarceration and keep families and communities safe and intact. Virginia and the federal government lag far behind.
Leslie will work with legislators to promote smart, safe reforms at the federal level such as rewarding states that stop jailing people too poor to pay bail and limiting the government’s ability to take property away without a conviction through asset forfeiture reform. She will also investigate solutions to support healthy options for opioid addiction, preventing children from entering the criminal justice system maze and ensuring that people are not unfairly prosecuted.
It is wrong for poverty and race to play such a significant role in determining who gets a conviction. Leslie wants to help America invest in the future –in good schools, clean water and air and an economy that works for everyone-not in spending billions to incarcerate.
Economy & Jobs
The 5th district needs jobs. The flight of tobacco and textiles has left a blighted economy in some areas, particularly Southside. However, Leslie believes, from her many interviews in the region, that the obvious solution is new energy. The skills required to install and maintain solar and geothermal energy are already present in every county. If you can dig a well, repair a metal roof, mend a board fence and bushhog a field, you can easily learn to work with solar panels and geothermal pipes. Training is already available in Franklin County at the CEEB center in Rocky Mount. This program needs to be refocused for adults, enhanced and extended to every county. Leslie will work to secure federal funding for this program. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, there are now 4 million new energy jobs in the United States. Solar jobs are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the US economy. Virginia deserves some of those jobs.
The other clear path to jobs creation is the model of Nelson County. The natural expansion of the tourist and leisure industry from one resort to a myriad of businesses can be duplicated elsewhere. Also, farmers can grow crops to meet the needs of local business. Breweries want local hops and malting barley, very profitable crops.
In order to bolster farming in the district, Leslie wants to make sure the massive cuts to the Farm Bill proposed by President Trump, upwards of 250 billion dollars, do not go through. The Trump plan slashes 29 billion for crop insurance. We need to increase crop insurance, not cut it. She will look closely at the farm bill with local farmers to see where it can be better tailored to the needs of the district. 5th District farmers want more funding for conservation. Leslie also wants to make better compost available to farmers so they do not have to rely on industrial waste.
There are three missing pieces for a sound economy in the 5th district. One is the shameful minimum wage, a dollar fifty less than West Virginia. Two is transportation. In the Southside counties, there is woefully little access to public buses. In Bedford County, there is no train stop. For a thriving economy, Leslie believes, the district needs better transport. Three is broadband. Without broadband, rural Virginians are shut out of the modern economy. The broadband issue has a long and checkered history. What we need to secure is federal funding that has flowed to other states. Virginia needs to be next in line. Virginia also needs to lure companies like Microsoft, that want to be part of a rural broadband renaissance. Microsoft’s data center is already in the district and the company is thus a natural partner for the 5th.
The Trump Department of Education under Betsy Devos wants to spend $250 million dollars on school vouchers. Two new studies cited by Time magazine in June say voucher programs do not improve student performance on standardized tests. Leslie supports strong public education and will fight any initiative that strips funding from public schools. She does not support diverting funds for vouchers. In some Charlottesville charter schools, the teacher turnover is 1.4 years and there is little oversight.Too many 5th district schools are so strapped for funds that they have closed programs for gifted students. They are nervous about losing Medicaid for special needs children. (A cut to Medicaid would mean massive costs to local government.) Their teachers are so underpaid that one educator in Charlottesville recently cited a case of a colleague who had to quit to work as a baby sitter because it was more lucrative. Leslie has met with teachers in Bedford County and Franklin who are barely getting by. Teacher pay must be addressed if schools are to improve. Also, the tyranny of testing since the Bush years is killing innovation in the classroom. These policies should be reviewed at the Congressional level. Otherwise, great programs like the Gereau Center for Applied Technology and Career Exploration in Rocky Mount, where students are exposed to fields like aviation, forensics, architecture and engineering will wither and die.Leslie supports strong pre-K programs and wants to expand pre-K education. Every $1 spent on pre-K saves $7-8 dollars in future intervention.She is a strong supporter of free community college for all Virginians. She will work hard to change the rules on student loans that are turning students, parents and grandparents, into debt slaves. Leslie will fight to reverse the bankruptcy laws inserted into legislation by bank lobbyists, forcing people, in many cases, to takes these debts to the grave. She will fight to reduce interest rates for all student loans.
Energy & Environment
Rural Virginia is vulnerable to the schemes of large, out-of-state corporations that despoil the land without a stake in the consequences. Fracked-gas pipelines crisscross the district and two more are on the drawing board. High-pressure gas pipelines are a ticking time bomb for the communities they pass through. Explosions and poisonous leaks that foul the waters are all too common. Several counties are in pitched battles at the moment over new pipelines. A report from the Southern Environmental Law Center concludes that the pipelines are completely unnecessary for Virginia’s energy needs. Leslie will ensure that on the federal level, FERC will abide by the law and address the serious concerns of The Fish and Wildlife Service about the pipelines’ effect on over a thousand waterways, forests and scenic mountains that will be scarred with mountain-top removal.
She met recently with the two generations of farmers who own the sustainable family farm, Four Corners, in Franklin County. Their highly successful operation has been adding jobs in Franklin and is a much-loved part of the community. The Mountain Valley pipeline, owned by corporations from Florida and Pennsylvania, will tear up their back field. If the pipeline is built, Four Corners Farm will close its doors. The temporary jobs of pipe fitters and excavators cannot replace the sustainable employment of a growing farm and its related businesses.
Leslie has traveled the route of the Atlantic Coast pipeline through Nelson County. Profitable new businesses that provide hundreds of jobs will be adversely affected. Cideries, breweries, a ski resort and several wedding venues will have a high-pressure pipeline in their backyard. The pipeline is also slated to go through an area that was washed away in severe flooding last century. Such an event could cause catastrophic damage. In Buckingham County, the historic freedman community of Union Hill is facing the nightmare of a pipeline compressor station that could ravage their neighborhood. Even the Monacan Indian Nation is facing the invasion of one of its most sacred sites by pipeline crews.
Land conservation must be supported in Congress. Leslie will back scenic easements to preserve family farms. She will support low taxes for farm use. She will fight to restore streams protection, so that coal ash and the five heavy metals it contains cannot poison out water. Those heavy metals can cause spontaneous abortion and severe developmental problems in children. She will vote to restore the power of the Environmental Protection Agency, under siege by Trump and his allies, to ensure clean air and water for future generations of Virginians.
Leslie will support efforts by the League of Conservation Voters to protect our land and the farmers whose livelihoods hang in the balance.
The United States is now the only nation on earth not committed to the Paris Agreement on climate change. Yet the US government’s own assessment of climate change, the recent Climate Science Special Report, is a forceful indictment of the perils of inaction.
According to the report, all US government agencies involved in the assessment have “very high confidence” that the world’s oceans are absorbing more than a quarter of the CO2 emissions every year from human activity which is making the oceans more acidic. Scientists are reasonably confident that “the rate of acidification is unparalleled in at least the past 66 million years.”
The US government report says the current rate of sea level rise “is greater than any preceding century in at least 2800 years.” The culprit is “human caused climate change” which has been a major contributor to sea level rise since 1900. Scientists expect sea levels this century to rise as much as eight feet.
The consensus is that the world’s ice is melting. “The mean thickness of the arctic sea ice during winter between 1980-2008 has decreased between 4.3 and 7.5 feet.”
We must resume our place at the table as a leader of the Paris Agreement. Otherwise, we are endangering the earth. I support the US Climate Alliance, made up of 14 states including Virginia. This Alliance pledges to advance the objectives of the Paris Agreement with or without the White House.
In Virginia’s 5th district, the proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act will devastate Virginia families. In one clinic alone in Nelson County, The Blue Ridge Medical Center, 20% of families are on Medicaid. 2000 people could lose their healthcare including 1600 children. Medicaid loss means that special needs programs in the district schools may be shut down. Older Virginians in nursing homes could lose their care. Nearly two thirds of all nursing home residents’ care is financed by Medicaid.
Jobs in the healthcare industry will be slashed. Transportation for Medicaid patients will disappear, a profound loss for people in rural districts without buses, trains or taxis. The Congressional Budget Office reported that the bill Republicans put forward would strip 23 million families of Medicaid.
Leslie wants to guard the rights of Virginians and preserve the best of the Affordable Care Act, ensuring that people with pre-existing conditions get care and that those low- income families who can now afford coverage will continue to receive that coverage. Right now, Virginians aged 50-64 can be charged no more than 3 times what a 21 year old would pay. The House bill that our congressman voted for would have allowed insurers to charge the oldest among us 5 times more, a change that the AARP Public Policy Institute says would increase monthly premiums for a Silver Plan by 22%. She will work to ensure that any government subsidy for opiates abuse clinics does not go to fly-by-night private providers who profit from addiction without real treatment, as has recently been exposed in Florida.
She thinks it is wrong that Congress gets the “Gold Plan” for its own members while legislating deep cuts for others. She supports “single payer” healthcare, which means Medicare for all. Leslie will add her name to the Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act (HR 676). She will fight to reduce the extortionate cost of drugs changed by Big Pharma, in some cases a thousand times what it costs to buy the same drug in Canada. She will fight the fraud and waste in the medical industry where a hip part costing a few hundred dollars can be tens of thousands of dollars on a hospital bill.
She wants to address the opioid epidemic that is ravaging the 5th District by making the opioid pushers feel the pain. Big Pharma must be held accountable. Several states are suing opioid producers that have profited from the destruction of families and communities. Every day over 90 Americans die from opioid overdoses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the cost to the country of opioid addiction is 78.5 billion dollars a year. Not only must the drug companies be challenged in the courts and in Congress, insurance companies must be forced to stop the practice of making opioid prescription costs lower than non-addictive pain killers. Treatment in rural counties must be generously funded.