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Larry King Live

Don Imus Discusses Campaign 2000

Aired February 24, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JEFF GREENFIELD, HOST: Tonight, it's make or break time, but not for George Bush or John McCain or Al Gore or Bill Bradley. No, the pressure is on Don Imus. Will his political picks win in the primaries? And could it turn an 800-pound gorilla into a lame duck if they don't? Don Imus is next with your phone calls -- and why am I talking like this -- on LARRY KING LIVE.

Welcome to the broadcast. Our guest for the entire hour -- and a long hour it's probably going to be -- Don Imus.

DON IMUS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: This is a week.

GREENFIELD: Heard by millions on radio, seen by dozens on another cable network and on Saturday the recipient -- and I want to get this right -- of the "Radio and Records"' Talk Radio Lifetime Achievement Award in Washington at some hotel, where Cokie Roberts will be interviewing you in front of live audience.

IMUS: Which means it's over. When they start giving me lifetime achievement awards from some cheesy trade magazine, like "Radio and Records," like the guy I work with Charles McCord, he says its a statuette with a toe tag. I mean, it is over.

GREENFIELD: When they say distinguished, that means you're, like, over 50, but lifetime achievement means kind of head for that home.

IMUS: For doing what? Insulting people? Hello.

GREENFIELD: It's a living. It's a living. Some news before we turn to the political world.

(CROSSTALK)

IMUS: This is the absolute -- it doesn't get any better than this.

GREENFIELD: Please.

IMUS: Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, the all-time rat, ratted out our guy, John Gotti, was arrested in someplace in the Midwest, Phoenix or someplace.

GREENFIELD: That would be the far West. IMUS: He's been in the federal witness protection program for ratting out our guy, John Gotti. So he goes out of that. He has now been busted for this multimillion dollar drug ring that he's been conducting, and now he goes to prison.

GREENFIELD: And which prison do we think he goes to?

IMUS: Well, I mean, he goes prison, and he goes to prison with -- you know, how prisoners feel about guys who rat out, well...

GREENFIELD: I think they're going to put him in a real secure place, don't you?

IMUS: Oh, man, I mean, what a nightmare for this guy.

GREENFIELD: On a more serious matter, a couple of hours ago, Betty Lou Beets, the convicted murderer in Texas, was executed. George W. Bush had been pressured by a whole lot of groups, including the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, to stay the execution. She is the fourth woman to be executed, only the fourth, since capital punishment was restored.

IMUS: With a did she do?

GREENFIELD: She killer a few people.

My question is...

IMUS: How many people?

GREENFIELD: I don't have the exact number.

IMUS: One would be enough, wouldn't it?

GREENFIELD: I think it's one. But that would probably be enough.

My point is...

IMUS: There goes her husband for the insurance.

GREENFIELD: You don't have problem with that?

IMUS: I don't have a problem that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) insurance.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENFIELD: But that's self preservation. Somebody killed a rich guy for his insurance. You would be -- you can't participate in this discussion.

IMUS: No, I can't.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENFIELD: But more generally, you are for the death penalty, right?

IMUS: Well, you know, I don't know. I am -- if you kill a kid, or a cop or stuff like that, I think there are a lot of instances where it's appropriate, yes. I don't think it's a deterrent or anything; I just think it's a good idea.

GREENFIELD: Vengeance is OK.

IMUS: I think so, yes.

GREENFIELD: But when Governor Ryan of Illinois, pro-death penalty guy, said you know, we just released 13 people on death row in Illinois alone because the DNA evidence suggested that they might not have been guilty, and George W. Bush said, well, you know, in Texas, everybody we've executed, all 120, we know they've been guilty. Does that give you a little pause? I mean, can I assume you're against the execution of people who don't do the crime they're convicted of?

IMUS: Well, that depends. No, I think the governor of -- where?

GREENFIELD: Illinois.

IMUS: I think it was a good idea.

GREENFIELD: OK.

IMUS: They should review all of these things. Barry Scheck and these guys should do their DNA thing. Yes, that's not reasonable.

GREENFIELD: Well, I ask because often when someone is executed, the next morning we hear on your show a radio recording of somebody being put to death in great pain in an electric chair.

IMUS: Well, some of these people really deserve to be -- I mean, if you want to be serious, I don't really know in my heart how I feel about the state killing people, just between you and me. But on a more superficial, conscious level...

GREENFIELD: Where else are we going?

IMUS: ... it's not a horrible idea. I mean...

GREENFIELD: So let's talk politics, because in the 10 years that I have involuntarily been associated with your show, you have moved steadily from a kind of misanthropic, local crump, who complained about the pasta not being on order in his local gourmet store to a obviously, incredibly powerful political figure. Your endorsements shake the walls from Washington to wherever.

But what I want to know, is when you do this, when you figure out who you are for, is it based on in-depth study, or is this kind of like a, he's okay, he's a phony, he's a straight talker, he's as weasel?

IMUS: Well, our program is primarily an entertainment program. I mean, it's not "Meet the Press." It's not "INSIDE POLITICS." It's -- our goal is to be entertaining and amusing, and then you know, you get bored with that. So generally, to answer your question, which -- I endorse people who at that point are ahead, so.

GREENFIELD: So in other words, it has nothing to do with the character -- no, come on. There's something about -- because you have the most eclectic list of people I have ever -- and you endorsed Clinton in '92 and Al D'Amato.

IMUS: Yes.

GREENFIELD: You endorsed Dole in '96, D'Amato in '98, McCain and Bradley in 2000.

IMUS: Yes.

GREENFIELD: It's obviously not based on conservative, liberal...

IMUS: I'm getting a little wobbly on Bradley, by the way.

GREENFIELD: Well of course you are, because he's behind the polls, and we'll get to that. But the instinct -- it's instinct, isn't it? I like this guy, he's OK.

IMUS: I actually do like McCain. We've known McCain for a long time. We're from the same -- actually, I was not from Arizona, but we both lived there -- did. But no, I like McCain for all the reasons everybody else likes him, but -- so my endorsement of him -- I endorsed him when he was 3 percent in the polls, you know, so.

GREENFIELD: When you endorsed Bradley, though, he looked like he might be a formidable foe for Al Gore?

IMUS: Oh, absolutely. We thought we had a sure thing, and Al Gore...

GREENFIELD: You mean, it was like boxing, the horse race, you had the two guys who you thought, one of them certainly going to be president, he'll be down in Washington hobnobbing.

IMUS: I'm trying to name that thing under his chin, whatever that is.

GREENFIELD: What do you think happened to Bradley? I mean, you watch the stuff with some care and you watch it with a certain instinct. What happened, or what didn't happen?

IMUS: Well, you know, man, I tuned into one of these Sunday morning programs, and he was sitting there talking about invoking the 25th amendment, you know, if he has to go under for some heart procedure, and I thought, it's over. I mean, it doesn't matter how serious his heart problem is, and I think also, you know, he didn't take a lesson from Dukakis, not being willing to fight back. I mean, he kept talking about at some point he was going to start throwing elbows, but he never threw any elbows, and then when did, it was too late, you know. And I mean, you can say what you want to say about Al Gore, but I mean, the guy is vicious and tough, and he'll say and do anything. I mean, he'll say and do anything.

GREENFIELD: Did that surprise you about Bradley?

IMUS: A little bit, because you know, when he played basketball he used to -- you know he was not a pushover.

GREENFIELD: No, he's not.

And speaking of non-pushovers, we'll be back with Don Imus in just a moment.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: I am Jeff Greenfield. I am sitting in for Larry King. And sitting next to me is Don Imus, syndicated radio personality and political kingmaker.

We were talking about...

IMUS: Please.

GREENFIELD: Well, some people think you are, and we'll get to that in a minute.

IMUS: It's a thought.

GREENFIELD: What I wanted to refer to was a moment in the debate between Gore and Bradley at the Apollo Theater, because it reminded me of things that happened on your show with politicians. This is Al Gore getting a shot on at Bill Bradley, and let's take a look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday, he even proposed the appointment of a new special prosecutor to investigate Democrats. Senator Bradley, you must be the only Democrat in America who misses Ken Starr.

BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did not propose a special prosecutor. I said that the Democratic Party will lose its mantle as a reform party if we don't come to terms with what happened in 1996.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: All right, let's first of all talk about that Gore line: You must be the only Democrat who misses Ken Starr.

IMUS: Yes, that's a Paul Begala deal.

GREENFIELD: Or a Bob Shrum deal. IMUS: Probably something like that, yes.

GREENFIELD: Now -- also just before we turn away from that, the Bradley answer, that kind of earnest look, it's not what...

IMUS: Well, he should said, you know, you're probably glad he's gone too before he looked into your campaign finance stuff, I mean, or whatever -- I mean, no, that was awful. He was -- Bradley was a dead man the second he said it, you know, and how do you -- I don't know -- how do you recover?

GREENFIELD: What I am wondering about is when you have these pols on -- particularly for the first time, you know, when they're trying to impress you that they're regular guys because that's why they do your show, I think -- can you often tell that you're not hearing the spontaneous utterance that just occurred to them? Can you hear like them reading off a prompter or a cue card?

IMUS: Well, yes, I mean, they know -- they're wondering, am I going to have to answer hard questions and -- or substantive ones, and then I think they -- you know, they do -- they usually -- their appearance on the program is an opportunity to humanize themselves and to be amusing, and a lot of them prepare and, yes, it sounds like they're reading a cue card, you know, but not all that often, I mean...

GREENFIELD: No. Well, some of them who are your regulars, I mean, I'm wondering...

IMUS: The people who we ask to be on are generally -- we know a lot about them already, you know? We have seen them someplace else where they have -- I mean, I have discovered a lot of people on Jim Lehrer's program frankly, or you know, so -- you know, like Michael Beschloss, I mean, you wouldn't think he'd be a great guest, but he's a great guest, I mean, the presidential historian, the guy is a great guest.

GREENFIELD: When you get a pol on, how do they pass or flunk the test? What is it for you?

IMUS: I don't -- pal, I don't...

GREENFIELD: Pol, politician, I'm sorry.

IMUS: You know, I am very hard of hearing.

GREENFIELD: When you put a -- I know, I apologize for that.

IMUS: Thank you.

GREENFIELD: When you put a political figure on...

IMUS: Right.

GREENFIELD: ... it's their first time up, how do you decide whether you're going to bring them back, whether they have made the cut, or whether they're just...

IMUS: Well, if they have a -- if they do answer the question, if they're funny and they're amusing, and it helps to be self-effacing, and generally they're interesting people. I mean, for example now, nobody -- I would think nobody in America would think that Bob Schieffer would be a great guest.

GREENFIELD: He's terrific. He's a -- southern Texas stories and all.

IMUS: He's a, I mean, he's a great guest. He's a great guest. I mean, he's the guy on "Face The Nation," we're talking about -- well, people know who he is, but I mean -- and I don't know why we ask him on. This has been a number of years ago, but the guy is a great guest.

Or Doris Kerns Goodwin, you know, the presidential historian. Well, you see her on -- well, you see her here or with Lehrer or something, and I mean, she -- but she's a wack job. She's a great guest, you know.

Or someone like Anna Quindlen, I mean, you know, she's so liberal that she -- you know, but she's a great guest, and they use this program or my program to -- I mean, they'll say things that they wouldn't say other places, personal things.

GREENFIELD: Well, former Senator D'Amato being one example.

IMUS: Who?

GREENFIELD: Former Senator Al D'Amato, when he...

IMUS: Well, that was idiotic, you know.

GREENFIELD: ... did his Judge Ito impression, probably wasn't the thing he had in mind when he came on.

IMUS: No.

GREENFIELD: But it strikes me that some of these people may actually believe that you are a kingmaker. I don't think you believe that exactly.

IMUS: No.

GREENFIELD: Not all the time.

IMUS: I don't think they -- I don't know.

GREENFIELD: You don't think some of them are on your show because they think it's going to do a great deal for their political career, or because they love you so much, do you think?

IMUS: I don't know. I mean, it's not -- I mean, some people think it's an awful program, but it's not an awful program. It's a fun program. GREENFIELD: I agree, but some of these people are on because they think, oh, if I can show Imus I am a funny, regular guy, that's going to do something for me.

IMUS: Well, I don't know that we have ever demonstrated we have ever done anything for anybody, have we? I mean...

GREENFIELD: You know, that's a good point.

IMUS: Yes.

GREENFIELD: Maybe I'll remember that the next time you call.

IMUS: What are you talking about? When you go around the country people don't talk about they saw you on "INSIDE POLITICS," do they, no? Or "NIGHTLINE" or -- hello!

GREENFIELD: They mostly -- no, I know. But it's mostly like an auto wreck investigation. It's those kinds of questions. Does he really say that? Does he really look like that? So, I don't want to push this too far. But I do want to talk about John McCain, your other guy.

IMUS: My man.

GREENFIELD: Right. Because you're going to stick with him as long as he keeps winning primaries.

IMUS: Thanks to Anna Quindlen, by the way, for attacking him in "Newsweek." Have another hot fudge sundae, honey, and leave McCain alone, OK. I mean...

GREENFIELD: You know, I think we're going to get into that a little -- have another...

IMUS: No, but I am mad at her now. What's the matter with her? I mean, I am humping her books for years. We don't need Anna Quindlen to take a look at John McCain's voting record. We know what his voting record is. It's atrocious, that's not the point, you know.

GREENFIELD: Before we break, I hope the audience understands what has just happened, because those of us who have known you a long time, this is -- she writes a column looking at the voting record of a man who wants to be president. You take personal offense to this.

IMUS: Yes, I do. What's the point?

GREENFIELD: And attack her on the personal...

IMUS: What's the point? We know how he voted. We know he has an idiotic position on gun control. We know all of that. That's not the point. We want him to be president for a number of reasons. Don't we?

GREENFIELD: OK, we'll go for the medication now and take a break and we'll be back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a lot of contests coming up. There will be some of these primaries where only Republicans vote in it. There will be primaries where both the Republicans and Democrats vote on the same day. I think the interesting thing is that I won overwhelmingly amongst Republicans and like-minded independents.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are reformers. We are reformers, Republican reformers who can make our party bigger and change politics in this country for generations. Don't fear this campaign, my fellow Republicans. Join it. Join it.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: And I'm Jeff Greenfield sitting in for Larry King, and back with Don Imus. So let's talk about these Republicans. First of all, you have got a problem with George W. Bush?

IMUS: No -- no. I mean, really?

No, I mean, I just don't like him. I'd vote for Al Gore before I would vote for him and I would actually break out in a rash if I had to pull a lever for Al Gore.

GREENFIELD: Because you're not a big fan of Al Gore, even though he did your show, right? That didn't turn you in his favor in any way, Gore?

IMUS: No, but I mean he's -- the thing about Al Gore is that just -- he would just say -- it's like Bush, they would just say and do anything. You mean, you just get the -- I mean, maybe McCain is the same way and maybe Bradley is the same way, but you don't get that sense. But you get the sense that Al Gore and George Bush will say and do anything -- anything! There's no line they won't cross.

I mean, even though I love McCain, I mean, I thought not taking a position on the Confederate flag in South Carolina was cowardly. I mean, yes, and that's the last thing McCain is, is a coward. But I mean, the flag shouldn't be there, just take it down, I mean, that's -- you know, why not just say that? I mean, both Bradley and Gore said that the other night.

GREENFIELD: Yes, now wait. Now, Bradley and Gore said they would take the Confederate flag down at the Apollo Theater. Do you consider this a profile in courage?

IMUS: Well, no, not necessarily, but they didn't have to get into it there.

GREENFIELD: No, because they're bidding for votes for liberals because South Carolina won't go Democratic no matter what.

IMUS: No, I understand that.

GREENFIELD: And it's costful. But the problem you have with Bush is what? I mean, he's generally described whatever else people write about him as a pretty likable guy, down to Earth, you know, rye, has a sense of humor about himself, he's not a self-important guy.

IMUS: Yes, but, I mean, you can't align yourself with somebody like Pat Robertson saying -- you know, you think of Christians, at least I do, because I am a Christian, so, you think -- not born again, I mean, I think being born once was sufficient, but...

GREENFIELD: So in your case it might have been once too often actually, some people might say.

IMUS: Thank you, thanks. But you would think -- wouldn't you think of Pat Robertson -- you would think, well, here is a guy, he's probably a good guy, you know, but -- and he's an evangelist, he's -- so he's not going to be going to be mean or he's not going to lie. But calling Warren Rudman a vicious bigot is just so absolutely out of line. I mean, Warren Rudman's best friend is probably one of the straightest people in the galaxy, David Souter on the Supreme -- I mean, it's unbelievable. So -- and to not disassociate yourself from people like Pat Robertson and like the other little geek, Ralph Reed and some of the -- I mean, I don't have any respect for a guy like that. That -- that's wanting to be whatever he wants to be too badly.

GREENFIELD: But, again, these judgments are not -- this is his position on this issue, this -- it's just a kind of instinctive reaction on how they behave.

IMUS: Yes.

GREENFIELD: In other words...

IMUS: You know, a lot of friends of mine live in Texas. And the lieutenant governor has as much power in Texas as the governor does. I mean, he's kind of, like, gone along for the ride. I mean, talk to Molly Ivins about -- if you want to know about George Bush.

GREENFIELD: Well, she's also a liberal. She'll oppose -- she opposes him because they disagree on issues.

IMUS: No, she knows he's a dope.

GREENFIELD: I see. OK, but speaking of McCain, you are hardly the only person in the media who has found him...

IMUS: And I was talking to Jonathan Alter the morning -- you know the guy from "Newsweek"? -- after he lost South Carolina, about 6:20 in the morning Eastern time. He sounded like he was going to slit his wrists.

GREENFIELD: So you buy into -- I mean, you believe that a lot of the media have just swooned... IMUS: Oh, absolutely right into the tank for him, sure.

GREENFIELD: OK now, the general notion of people who think that about people like me is that we're a bunch of liberal lefties. How -- why would the media be swooning over an anti-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-death penalty, proud Reagan conservative.

IMUS: I don't think it has anything to do with that.

GREENFIELD: So it's not the issues.

IMUS: No, absolutely.

GREENFIELD: What is it?

IMUS: It's a character thing, and I think he's a romantic figure and, you know, he's -- well, I think it's what he is. He's a romantic figure. I mean, it's a guy who's sitting in solitary confinement for two years and he's not dropping food on himself, you know? And he's charming and amusing and...

GREENFIELD: And not bitter.

IMUS: Yes, apparently.

GREENFIELD: I think that's a big part of it. He doesn't come -- didn't come back and yell at those of us who didn't...

IMUS: And he's a decent, moral human being. I mean, he could -- he's a guy -- probably Bush is as well, and probably all -- probably Gore and Bradley as well. It would be a president you wouldn't have to be embarrassed about, as we are with the current one.

GREENFIELD: Uh-huh. We'll be back, talk about...

IMUS: Maybe you're not, but...

GREENFIELD: ... a little more about politics.

IMUS: You probably are.

GREENFIELD: And perhaps I won't be interrupted in my attempt to get out of this segment.

IMUS: No...

GREENFIELD: ... when we come back.

IMUS: I'm a guest, aren't I?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: We are back and we're back with Don Imus.

I don't know now I missed this, but you're a Ph.D it turns out. You have a Ph.D, correct? IMUS: In the Universal Life Church, yes.

GREENFIELD: And what -- how did you get that?

IMUS: Well do you remember a guy named Kirby Hensley?

GREENFIELD: Yes.

IMUS: He had an IRS scam going, but also he would ordain people. And you could become a regular minister for $25 or a Ph.D for $100. So I had $100 and I sent it in.

GREENFIELD: You popped for the biggie.

IMUS: Yes, but then you're legally -- you can marry people. I could marry myself as a matter of fact. I could marry you if you decided you want to do that.

GREENFIELD: When you said marry yourself you didn't mean join yourself in marriage, but rather perform the ceremony.

IMUS: Yes.

GREENFIELD: OK, I was a little confused about that.

Now it turns out that this campaign, which a lot of us figured was going to be...

IMUS: Boring

GREENFIELD: ... really boring, it's getting people juiced, right?

IMUS: Oh, absolutely. I mean, just the turnout in South Carolina and New Hampshire and Michigan, I mean, twice as many people voted as ordinarily would have -- as did last time, so -- as did last time, so...

GREENFIELD: Now, you know...

IMUS: And it is exciting, and it's -- and all of these -- I mean, as you said when we were talking before the program, all of these people who are voting in all of these states for -- you know, in California and New York, Connecticut, all of the -- the votes are going to count.

GREENFIELD: Yes, it wasn't over by time we get out of New Hampshire...

IMUS: Absolutely, so it's not...

GREENFIELD: ... so it's a real refreshing thing.

IMUS: I mean, it will be -- I mean, the primary here in New York is important, so... GREENFIELD: Now, how -- you know what we journalists are like. And we always, every four years, swoon over the possibility of this endless primary fight. We even have dreams that the convention might mean something. And it -- of course it never does. But this year there's what glimmering chance that this thing could go on and on and on. What happens to your ratings when you focus on politics? Does your audience want you to do that, or do you do that because that's what you care about and the hell with them?

IMUS: Well, we've never been really that concerned about ratings. I mean...

GREENFIELD: I can understand why.

IMUS: I mean, it's not -- I mean, the radio station I'm on in New York makes more money than any radio station in America. The -- my radio program skews higher in terms of people -- income, education, jobs, that sort of thing. But we don't have the most -- we don't -- you know, Howard Stern has the greatest number of listeners, and they're fine. And we work for the same company and -- but it's not about the number of people, it's about who listens, so...

GREENFIELD: So six-figure advertising executives are more important than 14-year-old boys.

IMUS: Yes, well, I mean, they're not more important in terms -- well, I mean, I would like everybody to listen, but we're always -- I mean, our focus is on, you know, making fun of people and making fun -- and it's a current events-driven program, so...

GREENFIELD: Did you think...

IMUS: But to answer your question, the ratings, there's not much we can be concerned about.

GREENFIELD: Did you face resistance, though?

IMUS: And we don't do awful but...

GREENFIELD: I'm sorry, do you want to draw this thing out or...

IMUS: Well, no, I'm the guest. I mean, do I interrupt you when you come on my program? No, I don't.

GREENFIELD: All the time.

IMUS: No, I don't. You make fun of me, and then...

GREENFIELD: That's true. But it's hard to sometimes...

IMUS: We ask you questions and then you answer them.

GREENFIELD: It's just hard to know when this thought reaches its end. It's like...

IMUS: OK, OK. GREENFIELD: It's like that marathon runner in 1954 falling and then getting up and trying to get to the tape.

IMUS: I have concluded that.

GREENFIELD: Thank you.

IMUS: Ask another dope-headed question -- painful question there.

GREENFIELD: I love it on interviews when someone says, let me ask you this question -- drives me nuts.

IMUS: Yes.

GREENFIELD: So let me ask you this question, when you first started down this road toward talking to people like Governor Weicker and Anna Quindlen and Tim Russert and...

IMUS: You.

GREENFIELD: Me. Did people at the radio station think you were nuts? Did they say, what the hell are you doing? We want the wacky, zany morning show, don't do this?

IMUS: No, because it's always been -- there was always a reflection in the essays that we do and the satirical comedy routines that we do have always been based on current events, you know? And so, you know, it was just a natural extension to then go to guests. And I think when -- you know, I used to play records for years. That's what destroyed my hearing, you know. So, you know, when we stopped playing records, we started talking to people. And then I think it was the Gulf War, and nothing really planned, you know? So nobody said anything, you know. And we -- you know, people bought the program. And advertisers bought the program. And they still buy it. And they pay an enormous amount of money for it. And enough people listen, it's worthwhile doing, you know, so...

GREENFIELD: Who won't do it? Who do you want on the show -- who do you want as a guest, just says, nope, not interested?

IMUS: Well, there are some people who won't do the show for a number of reasons, but...

GREENFIELD: Like who?

IMUS: Well, the first lady, I don't think she'd come on.

GREENFIELD: Uh-huh.

IMUS: I mean, I can't...

GREENFIELD: OK.

IMUS: I don't know who we've asked lately who's turned us down, but there are people. GREENFIELD: We're going to talk a little more about this issue of who will and won't do Don Imus's show and why when we come back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: We have a call from Woodlands, Texas, and we'll try to make this clear to Mr. Imus. You're on the air, go ahead.

I don't hear this either.

Woodlands, Texas, you're on the air.

OK, well, we're in the same boat, Don. That call was at a very low level.

Let's talk about Hillary and Rudy. This has got to be for someone like you a gift for the Gods, this Senate race?

IMUS: I guess it is. I think everybody is -- I mean, everybody you talk to in New York from -- and even people who are not -- I was talking to Maureen Dodd the other day, yesterday, and everybody is jacked up about it, but I don't know if it's going to that great or not.

GREENFIELD: Think we'll be weary of it by the time -- it's been going on for so long?

IMUS: I mean, they're going to debate each other, but I don't know. I don't have any high hopes for...

GREENFIELD: Do you have a horse in that race? Are you for Rudy? Are you for Hillary?

IMUS: Well, I'm for the mayor. I don't think we should reward this woman because she survived a crummy marriage and put her in the United States Senate. I mean, hello. No, it's outrageous. I mean, I live in Manhattan, and the mayor is, you know -- I am not a big fan of the mayor. He's not the most charming person on the planet, but the guy has done a fabulous job and would make a great United States senator.

GREENFIELD: Does it surprise you there hasn't been more made of the fact that the first lady moved out of the White House while her husband was still president?

IMUS: No, I mean, I think we all understand that. I mean who'd want to live with him, I mean.

GREENFIELD: Let's take that call from the Woodlands Texas.

Go ahead, you're on the air.

CALLER: OK, Mr. Imus, do you have any political aspirations?

IMUS: Yes, yes I am going to run for the -- no, I don't. No, I don't, not...

(LAUGHTER)

GREENFIELD: Why are you laughing at that?

Excuse me, quite seriously, if you had said to me two and a half years ago that Jesse "The Body" Ventura could be elected governor of the civic-minded state of Minnesota, I'd have said that you'd gone back to some old habits of yours, right? So if he can do it, if Donald Trump can actually convince people he was running for president, I mean surely, what's to disable you if you wanted to.

IMUS: Well, I mean, I don't have anything to offer. I don't have any interests. There's nothing I want to do. I'd rather go out to the ranch and teach kids with cancer how to ride horses than go to Washington and take money from lobbyists, so.

GREENFIELD: That's an interesting slogan: Vote for Imus. He expect nothing, and neither should you.

IMUS: You know, I ran against Barry Goldwater Jr. in 1968 -- Barry Goldwater Jr.

GREENFIELD: He was son of the senator and a congressman from California, right?

IMUS: Yes, in the Palmdale-Lancaster, California area, the home of Frank Zappa and Catherine Beef Hart (ph).

GREENFIELD: That should have been your campaign team right there.

IMUS: My position was -- the salary then, was I was making 80 bucks a week on the radio in 1968, and the pay in Congress was 42,500 at that point, and so that was the reason to put me on what I then characterized as the gravy train.

GREENFIELD: How did you do? I mean, we know you lost.

IMUS: I think I got about 800 write-in votes, and I conducted my campaign on this radio station. It was first radio station where I had ever worked. Because the people who owned it -- who are since unfortunately passed away -- were both active, full-blown alcoholics, drunk all of the time, and so they had no idea what I was doing, and so I just campaigned on the air, which of course was against the...

GREENFIELD: FCC rules, I think.

IMUS: Yes, but then nobody -- it's a 5,000-watt station in Palmdale, California, and it's 1968. I mean, nobody cares. I mean, we were all doing acid anyway. I mean, nobody cares. So I got about 800 votes, you know.

GREENFIELD: And also, we should put on the record you were governor of Connecticut for a day.

IMUS: Yes.

GREENFIELD: So I believe I wrote your inaugural/farewell speech.

IMUS: I don't think anybody would vote for me nor should they, so I don't have any aspirations. That's silly.

GREENFIELD: That's wise. I would think that's a good-sense judgment of the American people.

Do you...

IMUS: Are you OK?

GREENFIELD: Yes, I am just...

IMUS: You look like you're going to have a stroke. I mean...

GREENFIELD: Well, I've been sitting next to you for 34 minutes.

IMUS: No, I mean, do you want to lie down?

GREENFIELD: No, I am thoughtfully composing this next question here.

IMUS: Oh, OK.

GREENFIELD: Do you dislike Hillary Clinton?

IMUS: No. Wait -- I don't know her. I met her a couple of times.

GREENFIELD: At one point, you were saying nice things about her.

IMUS: I think she's still probably a nice person. I don't -- you know, but she's phony and -- I mean, I -- what's she going to do? She's in a horrible situation.

GREENFIELD: But this is an interesting -- I am not sure if you listen to yourself, because some of us have to.

IMUS: Yes.

GREENFIELD: You just said, I don't dislike her; she's a phony.

IMUS: Well, she is a phony. But you know, she's well aware of that. I mean, you can't buy a house in Chappaqua with, you know, Harry Thomason's money and then -- the whole -- it's just preposterous. I can't believe any -- in fact, I know women, I mean, powerful women in show business who are just, you know, bleeding heart liberals, who are not going to vote for her. I mean, they're just not going to vote for her. They hate Rudy, but they're not going to vote for her.

GREENFIELD: Why do they tell you they're not going to vote for her?

IMUS: Well, they're offended by it. I mean, it's offensive.

GREENFIELD: By moving here, having...

IMUS: To think she's qualified to serve in the United States Senate, it's silly. It's absurd if you get thinking about it.

GREENFIELD: Eight years ago, you staged a memorable debate on your air between Senator D'Amato and Bob Abrams.

IMUS: Right.

GREENFIELD: It will go down in history as Lincoln-Douglas on speed.

IMUS: I had to finally scream at them to shut up, yes.

GREENFIELD: Would you invite Rudy and Hillary to debate on your microphones?

IMUS: No, because -- in fact, Bradley and Gore were going to debate on my program, and I just think it's inappropriate. It's not what the program's about, so they should debate with you, they should debate with Tim Russert or somebody else. So we wouldn't do any of those.

GREENFIELD: Back in a moment with Don Imus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I am Jeff Greenfield for Larry King, and with me, Don Imus.

There are people who feel that the humor that you and your sidekicks engage in --- Bernard McGuirk, Charles McCord, Lou Rufino -- often crosses the line. I mean, this morning, you were talking about Tiger Woods and some other athletes, and the conversation was a joking reference to what you presume was their sexual preference. You often do jokes that are racial...

IMUS: This morning?

GREENFIELD: Yes, racial and religious stereotypes.

IMUS: We had two black guys on this morning, Stephan Dweck and Monteria Ivey, two black comedians who have a book called "A Field Guide to White People." So they were on promoting that, so anything could have happened.

GREENFIELD: But there are times when you do pieces that other people find offensive. I mean, there's a piece in "Newsday" I think today or yesterday that says your show just engages in racial humor of the most stereotyping kind. Every one of the black political figures that you parody sounds like something out of an Amos and Andy radio show. Do you cop to this at all? Do you do racially offensive humor?

IMUS: Well, I don't think so. I mean, has there been racially offensive stuff on the air? Yes. But do we make a practice of it? No, I mean, I don't think so.

GREENFIELD: There are some folks who now will not come on your show because of this.

IMUS: Well.

GREENFIELD: And the question is, why do so many other people accept it? I mean when Bob...

IMUS: I think if you sit down and listen to it, I mean, it's not -- I am not a racist. It's not -- are there things that get said on the program that that shouldn't be said? Yes, absolutely. So, but I mean...

GREENFIELD: But what's your take on that? I mean, you could obviously stop it if you wanted to. You could just say to Bernard, and Charles and yourself -- and not do the recording bits with Al Sharpton or Vernon Jordan.

IMUS: Have you ever listened to an Al Sharpton essay? I mean, they're brilliantly written, intelligent essays, but we're parodying Al Sharpton's voice, why is that offensive?

GREENFIELD: Well...

IMUS: But nobody complains when we parody, you know, Walter Cronkite or Andy Rooney or...

GREENFIELD: What some folks have said is that every black voice you do...

IMUS: ... Ross Perot...

GREENFIELD: ... every black voice you do sounds the same.

IMUS: Well, I don't agree with them.

GREENFIELD: OK.

IMUS: It's not true.

GREENFIELD: Let's take a call from San Francisco. You're on air, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Oh, hi, I'm a huge fan of Don's and of you, Jeff. I've met you through Don's show. I'm wondering, what is the real relationship that you have with your cohorts on the show there? Sometimes it seems very tempuous (ph) and sometimes very friendly. And I'm wondering, are you really friends or is it just a big gig that you guys fight on the show all the time?

IMUS: Who is she talking about, Charles?

GREENFIELD: She's talking about Charles and Bernard and Lou the fact that -- are you really buddies with them? Bernard often wishes you dead, there are those comments like... IMUS: Well, no, Charles and I are the basic -- one of best friends I have. I mean, I have four, five best friends -- I mean, my wife, my brother, Mike Lynn, Charles McCord.

GREENFIELD: How long have you and McCord been together?

IMUS: Twenty-nine years.

GREENFIELD: Now, he's...

IMUS: I mean, I love McCord.

GREENFIELD: He is officially the news anchor of your show.

IMUS: He is genius, he's brilliant.

GREENFIELD: He writes the material.

IMUS: Yeah. They write brilliant stuff. I mean, some of the black voices we do and some of the essays -- I mean, we don't write essays that make black people sound stupid or make Ross Perot sound stupid or -- I mean, if people are offended -- I mean -- I can't -- get over it. I mean, we're just trying to be funny. Everybody thinks it's funny until it's about them and then they get hysterical. So -- but, I mean, I'm the first to say that we've done things that's inappropriate? Absolutely. But, I mean, we -- you know -- we try to do better, so...

GREENFIELD: It is interesting to me, though, that when Bob Grant, a radio personality in New York referred to the former mayor, an African-American, as a washroom attendant, he was fired by ABC. And yet, on your show, people like Anna Quinlin, Senator Bill Bradley, the vice president of the United States, Joe Lieberman, people -- prominent journalists and not-so-prominent journalists come on your show. So they -- and I can't pretend to be neutral about this since I'm one of them. We don't seem to have a problem with that.

IMUS: Well, I've never referred -- I mean, we don't say things like that to -- if we -- if something like that gets said -- and I don't think something like that hasn't been said, but it's an attempt to be humor -- to be funny. Now, it may not be an appropriate attempt to be funny, but it isn't a -- you know, if Bob Grant -- whatever he said -- I mean, if he's serious about it and it's a serious talk show and the guy is not trying to be funny, well then, that is offensive. You know, if people think that you're serious and you're making some serious pronouncement about the mayor being a washroom attendant, well, that is offensive so...

GREENFIELD: The fact it's said in fun, it's like a friar's roast?

IMUS: But I mean -- I don't know whether -- it would depend.

GREENFIELD: But that's what it seems to me like. It's like a friar's roast. It's one of those things where you -- political correctness is the enemy. IMUS: You can cite two or three examples over 30 years. Thirty years I've been on the radio -- of stuff that's been offensive. I mean -- or that's been -- you know -- so I mean -- they're going to have to get over it.

Because, you know, I got black kids with cancer coming out to this ranch in New Mexico who don't think I'm a racist. And the people who are accusing me of being a racist haven't give and dime to any charity in their lifetime and -- I mean, so it's outrageous. I mean, it offends me, and I'm not going to put up with it. I don't put up with it. It's silly.

GREENFIELD: We'll be back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: About ten years ago...

IMUS: Do you color your hair?

GREENFIELD: No, I don't. I would ask you what you did with yours, but it's so obvious...

IMUS: It's so obvious, what?

GREENFIELD: Anything. It just -- I mean, it looks like something died up there.

IMUS: No, it's...

GREENFIELD: Yes it does. It looks like an animal just passed away. But let's move on, as the vice president says, OK?

IMUS: All right.

GREENFIELD: When I started listening to your program, as I mentioned earlier, you were this lonely guy. One of the great jokes every Thanksgiving was, would McCord invite you to his home because you had no place to go. You would wax eloquent about how many sporting events you would watch on your various television sets, and it was kind of a grumpy, good gig.

Now, you're married to a wonderful woman. You have a child on whom you dote. And there are people who say it's not that funny. I don't want to hear Kathy Lee in the guise of Don Imus. Stop telling me about how wonderful your kid and wife is. We know that. Do the jokes. Yet people listen. They follow like every step.

IMUS: Well, I don't care. I mean, I don't wear people out about my wife or my kid, so -- but I mean, you know...

GREENFIELD: I'm sorry, would you repeat the last sentence?

IMUS: I don't wear people out about my wife or my kid! I have my wife and my wife's funny, you know. The kid -- I don't put my kid on, but my wife's amusing. GREENFIELD: No, but I mean. We do follow your...

IMUS: My wife's funnier than some other guests I have on.

GREENFIELD: Oh, yeah!

(LAUGHTER)

GREENFIELD: No, but the idea that we wake up and pretty much every day we know your child's temperature, height, weight.

IMUS: No, that's not true. You're doing like you do when you do the news. You're greatly exaggerating what goes on. It's outrageous. I haven't talked about Wyatt for...

GREENFIELD: Hours, hours.

IMUS: No, I bet I didn't mention him this morning. Well, get me a tape. I didn't mention him.

(CROSSTALK)

GREENFIELD: You taking him to the doctor. He's talking, he's doing high jumps...

IMUS: He's a very bright child.

GREENFIELD: I am sure he's going to the (INAUDIBLE) next year.

IMUS: He's a lot brighter than some other people's children, I might point out! I'm just kidding.

GREENFIELD: See, this would be my point.

IMUS: What point? I mean...

GREENFIELD: The love you have for this family...

IMUS: Yes.

GREENFIELD: The way that you feel about your -- about Deidre who's a terrific woman, perhaps a little -- one lapse in judgment, about Wyatt, and some people -- there are people who say, Don, enough already!

IMUS: Well, don't listen then. I don't care.

GREENFIELD: Are people not listening? Are -- how were your ratings the last year?

IMUS: They're fine.

GREENFIELD: You're fine?

IMUS: No, we're not No. one. I've never been No. one.

GREENFIELD: You've never been No. one.

IMUS: No, OK.

GREENFIELD: But are they like -- here's what I'm getting at.

IMUS: They're OK.

GREENFIELD: OK.

IMUS: We're sold out and what do you -- what do you want me to tell you?

GREENFIELD: Demographics are great?

IMUS: Yes, millions of people love me -- tolerate me -- listen. Well, if nothing else.

GREENFIELD: It's just -- let me just put this down as marker. You know, in a year or two...

IMUS: Why are you treating me like you treated poor John McCain the other night, by the way? Because you've been meaner to John McCain -- you and Judy Woodruff -- and Judy, by the way, I can't wait to get her on again -- I mean...

GREENFIELD: Mean to John McCain?

IMUS: I'm saying, the poor guy lost the South Carolina primary, you, like, guys took it all personally. An you were asking him very rude questions! I mean, we don't need rude questions over the candidates. We need little puff balls, let him knock them out of the park.

GREENFIELD: I see. You know, it's funny but getting journalistic guidance from you is kind of like getting military strategy from General Custer. And this is really pathetic, but again, let's move on.

IMUS: Yes.

GREENFIELD: About a year or two from now, Wyatt is going to be old enough to start going through that wretched family experience that New York families do: getting this kid into the right day care center...

IMUS: We're already in there -- we're already doing that. He's 19-months-old we're already in -- he's been taking Spanish lessons since he was eight-months-old. He speaks more Spanish now than I do. And -- no, we're already into all of that. So -- but his mother handles that. She's got it covered.

GREENFIELD: And it is pretty clear, isn't it, that as long as you are on the air, your audience is going to be treated to a step-by- step...

IMUS: No! GREENFIELD: You're not going to take us through this?

IMUS: No -- I haven't -- I mean...

GREENFIELD: You want to pledge to us we're not going to hear about...

IMUS: People were complaining I talk too much about this cattle ranch that my wife and my brother and I built out in New Mexico. And so -- I mean, I don't go on about that stuff, but I mean, you know it's -- that's what my life is. My life is these children with cancer and my other kid so -- I mean...

Jeff: What's also interesting is people listen to you and -- if they haven't heard you, and they turn it on and they hear you going on and on and on about like...

IMUS: They're greatly exaggerating this.

Jeff: ... and on about that you didn't get the cable fixed to the satellite...

IMUS: Oh, well, I mean...

GREENFIELD: ... hey, and then two weeks later they get caught up in it. They say, gee, I wonder what ever happened to his satellite dish? What is that? Do they have no life they should pay so much attention to yours?

IMUS: Well, you know, we do very well on television, on MSNBC.

GREENFIELD: OK.

IMUS: But we beat CNN on MSNBC and we're in half the homes. I mean, you started this. So anyway -- in fact, we're the only program that does beat CNN. But anyway -- and it's this pathetic cable news thing, MSNBC. They have these robotic, like, security cameras trained on the two of us sitting there doing a radio program, and people watch it. And the reason they watch it is because we're sick of turning on the "Today" show or that dreadful "Good Morning America" and these people pretending they're happy. They're not happy. How can Al Roker be happy? He's fat, he can't be happy. How can Matt Lauer be happy? He's in marriage he's got to get out. You know, he wanted out of that quicker than these people got married on Fox wanted out of that marriage. He's happy? How can he be happy? He is not happy. Those people are not happy. They are miserable. And they pretend otherwise, and people know that, because people are miserable.

GREENFIELD: Thank you.

IMUS: When you get up, you're not happy, are you?

GREENFIELD: We'll be back...

IMUS: Are you happy?

GREENFIELD: Very.

IMUS: No you're not.

GREENFIELD: Not right now.

IMUS: No.

GREENFIELD: We'll be back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREENFIELD: For the record, the lawyers for Matt Lauer and his wife, Don Imus works at the Kaufman-Astoria...

IMUS: No, no, no, I'm just kidding around. I mean, Matt Lauer's got to have a sense of -- he's got to lighten up. He's got to have a sense -- my only point was that those people are not -- we know they're not happy.

GREENFIELD: Look, I...

IMUS: I mean, they may not be miserable but -- so -- my only point I was making is I don't pretend I'm something I am not.

GREENFIELD: No.

IMUS: I don't pretend I'm happy when I don't feel well or anything else.

GREENFIELD: I have long thought -- well, you never feel well. I have long thought that a television show that instead of "Good Morning America," hello, America, you know, get your butt out of bed, America, with people basically approaching the morning like most of us do would probably be a big hit. But I...

IMUS: If Mel had put us on CBS in the morning instead of Bryant Gumbel, we would kill everybody. But we're stuck in this horrible little cable thing that is an embarrassment. But...

GREENFIELD: Donations to the Don Imus...

IMUS: They spent $30 million over here to build a set for Bryant Gumbel and he can't get arrested. We went over there to make fun of him one morning, and we were going to interview people standing outside the studio. There was nobody there. And yesterday it was 10 degrees, we go down the street to the "Today" show, there's a hundred people standing outside the "Today" show and it's 10 degrees. So, I mean, it wasn't because it was cold. It is not happening.

GREENFIELD: We've got a couple of minute left -- thank god -- and so I want to ask this. You're, what, 68, 70 years old now? How much longer...

IMUS: I'm in my 50s. What you talking about?

GREENFIELD: Yes, what part... IMUS: I'm in my late 50s.

GREENFIELD: You're in your 50s like a guy hanging out of an airplane is in the airplane, right? I mean, we're hitting 60 pretty soon, aren't we, Don? Let's...

IMUS: We'll get there in a couple years.

GREENFIELD: Maybe before this show's over we're going to be close to 60.

IMUS: Thank you.

GREENFIELD: Point is, how much longer can you do this? How much longer do you want to do it? You still like it a lot?

IMUS: You mean the show tonight?

GREENFIELD: The show, yes -- no, not the show tonight. We're going to do that for about a minute more. But the radio show.

IMUS: Oh, I don't know. We've got this ranch to run. That's going to take up a lot of time. I'm going to do the show from out there for a while.

GREENFIELD: Could you see yourself at some point spending, like, half the year out in New Mexico maybe?

IMUS: Well, the summers at least, you know? I mean, I like doing this. It's not hard work. It's fun, you know? I mean, I don't like it when people get angry me or they say things about me that I don't think are true and stuff like that. And I -- you know, the truth is we really -- we're really not trying to hurt anybody's feelings, so -- I mean, I -- sometimes we do and it's unfortunate, but, I mean, we're really not trying to. But it is fun to do. It's great fun to do. So, it's interesting. ou know, it's -- particularly with this political season now, it's great fun. I mean, for us it is, so...

GREENFIELD: Do you ever get up and look at the coverage, the fame, the money, and think where you started out and think, there's just no way this could have happened? This is like proof of fate...

IMUS: I went through that back in the '70s, when I was on drugs. And, you know, I'm a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, and so I went through all that. No, I don't think that. I mean, I'm not that big a deal, frankly. So, you know...

GREENFIELD: Well, many of us know that, but a lot of people don't. And when they come up to you and treat you like a demigod -- I mean, they -- first of all, the name sounds like some villain on some Flash Gordon episode, right? "Imus" itself is kind of weird. But they know you, they care about you, they ask about -- they ask people like me, because we do your show, what's Charles like? What's Deidre like? Have you met Wyatt? There is a cult here, right? There is a cult of Imus. IMUS: I don't get out much. I really don't. I mean, I go home to the apartment in Manhattan and I go to the ranch. And, I mean, I really don't get out much. So I don't come in contact with -- I'm serious, I don't come in contact with that many people. I mean, whenever I do a book and I do book signings and stuff like that. I like people, so I don't even think about that. I mean -- I mean, I see people on the street once in a while. I mean, I don't ever have any problem. I like people. I mean, they're nice, so -- and I don't think of myself like that.

GREENFIELD: But you know other people do? Many of them.

IMUS: Well, I guess they do. But, I mean, I can't be responsible for that.

GREENFIELD: No, I'm not suggesting that.

IMUS: Yes.

GREENFIELD: But do you ever want to -- what piece of advice would you have these people who obsess about you, get a life? Go away? Thank you?

IMUS: Well, just know that I'm armed. That's all they need to know. No. I mean, I don't think -- I don't -- I think they -- it's fine. I mean, I am not a bad guy. I'm actually -- I mean, I have some faults, but I'm actually a pretty good person, so -- and I am not -- you know...

GREENFIELD: Well, you're nice enough to have stayed up way past your bedtime to join us here on LARRY KING LIVE.

IMUS: Well this was fun.

GREENFIELD: And I have to tell this audience that when I asked Don to do this show, first he hung up on me. Then he said, I have no choice, do i? And I said, no. And he's here. And thank you for joining us.

IMUS: No, it was fun.

GREENFIELD: That is it for this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Tomorrow night Larry will be here -- on tape, but here -- with John Tesh.

IMUS: Well, will he be here or not?

GREENFIELD: Well, as far as the audience...

IMUS: No, is he here or not? It's LARRY KING LIVE. What do you mean it's on tape. What is that? Is this another CNN deal where you're trying to run some jive by us here? You're (UNINTELLIGIBLE) someone in front of the Pentagon?

GREENFIELD: We have to go... IMUS: No, but I mean is he live or not?

GREENFIELD: The paramedics will be here in a moment.

IMUS: Will he be here or not?

GREENFIELD: I'm Jeff Greenfield...

IMUS: Is he going to be here or not?

GREENFIELD: ... for LARRY KING LIVE.

IMUS: This is outrageous.

GREENFIELD: From all of us, thank you for watching.

IMUS: I'm calling for an investigation.

GREENFIELD: Please call 911 now.

IMUS: This is a special prosecutor's...

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