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Is American Journalism in Peril?; Tipper Gore Opts Out of Senate Race

Aired March 18, 2002 - 16:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. Is American journalism in peril? I'll talk to two newsmen turned authors who suggest the answer may be yes.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jonathan Karl in Nashville, Tennessee, where Tipper Gore is trying to influence a Senate race she decided to sit out.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Major Garrett just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. And I'll look behind the scenes at President Bush's 2002 campaign itinerary.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider in south Boston for the annual St. Patrick's Day breakfast. But we're not here for the booze. We're here for the buzz.


WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. We begin with the Gores, Tipper, the noncandidate and Al, who by some accounts is looking more and more like he's planning to run for president again. Her brief consideration of a Senate bid has helped generate fresh buzz about his political future. It also intensified the spotlight on the race to succeed retiring GOP Senator Fred Thompson.

Jonathan Karl has more from Nashville on that race, and on Mrs. Gore's decision not to run. Hello, Jonathan.

KARL: Hello, Judy. Well, Tipper, after turning the Tennessee Democratic Party upside down for three days, is now taking steps to unify the party as it tries to win back her husband's old Senate seat.


TIPPER GORE, FMR. SECOND LADY: Thanks. Thank you. Thank you.

KARL: At a Nashville political rally, Tipper Gore appeared on the political stage, but in a supporting role.

GORE: Although I seriously considered running for this seat, and I appreciate the encouragement, I decided that we had a very unique opportunity to unite early on, behind a strong and wonderful man who will make a tremendous candidate for the United States Senate.


KARL: The idea of a Tipper Gore candidacy generated excitement among Democrats nationally. But as Mrs. Gore talked to party operatives in Tennessee, she got a cooler reception.

BILL FARMER, TENNESSEE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: I had no indication that she was interested, and that really put the party organization in kind of an awkward moment.

KARL: By the time Mrs. Gore got around to making calls, Democrats has already united around Representative Bob Clement, the son of a former governor and a conservative who wins high marks from the National Rifle Association. Even Gore friend Harold Ford was already committed. But Ford expects a Gore candidacy of some kind in the near future.

REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE: We may see an Al Gore win before we see a Mrs. Gore win. But they have three daughters, and I have a sense that we'll see one of the Gore women, I should say, involved in politics, sometime soon.

KARL: On the Republican side, one-time presidential hopeful Lamar Alexander has started his campaign for Senate with a sprint.

LAMAR ALEXANDER, SENATE CANDIDATE: This is a dangerous time. I want to help the president win the war and strengthen our country.

KARL: But Alexander faces a spirited challenge from Congressman Ed Bryant, and may have to prove he's conservative enough to win the Republican nomination.

TED WELCH, ALEXANDER CAMPAIGN FINANCE CHAIRMAN: Lamar is a conservative with a vision. He looks into the future. He's a deep thinker and he's a doer. And the people of Tennessee seem to respond very favorably to a person with that kind of outlook.


KARL: A family spokesman says Al Gore was ready and eager to campaign for his wife, and that the shaving of the beard was a symbolic show of support. By shaving his beard, Al Gore, the spokesperson said, was showing his wife that if she was ready for a new start, so was he -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl. In a moment we'll consider whether shaving the beard had any other meaning.

Well, some Al Gore watchers are eager to see his new clean-shaven look, and to read something more into it. We're joined now by our national correspondent, Bruce Morton -- Bruce.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, we tried to get a picture of the newly clean-shaven Al Gore today, but he dodged our cameras. Anyway, here are the clean and shaggy models. The clean shave is a symbol, and a signal that the 2004 presidential campaign is at the starting line.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they're off!

MORTON (voice-over): A Gore spokesman says this is not a tea leaf. Millions of American men woke up Sunday morning and shaved. It doesn't mean they're en route to conquer New Hampshire. Maybe not, but the former vice president has already been to New Hampshire twice since the last election, and he's not alone. Senator John Edwards has visited once, and has an Iowa trip on his schedule. House minority leader Dick Gephardt has logged three New Hampshire visits. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, too.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: We make sure that at least one of us is safely up here in New Hampshire every week.

MORTON: He's been there the past few days. John Kerry of Massachusetts, three visits. Of course, here's the boy next door. But he has Wisconsin and South Carolina on his schedule. Joseph Biden of Delaware, a 1988 candidate, has been once. Chris Dunn of Connecticut hasn't, but he was in South Carolina last weekend, another early state.

Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, has not visited New Hampshire yet. He may like the job he has. But New York activist Al Sharpton has paid a visit. Who says it's not a big field? Gore, as we said, has been twice and has a Boston fund-raiser coming up. They are all raising money for themselves and for other Democrats.

Gore has the first Tennessee fundraiser for his political action committee the 26th. And next month is the Florida Democratic convention, which looks as if it will be the first real cattle show, say moo, of campaign '04. Gore will be there and speak. So will Kerry, Lieberman, Edwards and Chris Dodd. Daschle won't attend. Nor will Gephardt.

Still, it's clear these guys aren't spending their weekends on the golf course.


(on camera): Insiders have been saying for some time it'll be a large field. But looking at the travel schedules, it's hard to argue with that -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bruce Morton, thanks very much.

And we're joined now by former Gore campaign manager, Donna Brazile. Donna, first of all, on Tipper Gore, you say you were a little surprised that she decided not to do this.

DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, I think Tipper had a great deal of support across the state of Tennessee. But most people who know Tipper Gore understand that she is someone who can bring people together. She likes consensus, and she enjoys helping to work with Democrats from across the spectrum. So I think once she arrived in Tennessee and talked to some of the people and met with Bob Clement yesterday, she decided to help unify the field and bring the party together.

WOODRUFF: Rather than take them on.

BRAZILE: Well, that's not Tipper's style.

WOODRUFF: Donna Brazile, you worked with Al Gore very closely in the last election. Do you think he's going to go for it next time?

BRAZILE: Well, he shaved the beard, he's lost some weight. If he decides to run, I think he'll be in great fighting shape. I say that because it's still too early in the political season. But clearly, he's out there raising money for the party.

He's campaigning with Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, to help them with their jobs this year of winning back the House and retaining control of the Senate. But I believe that Gore will decide, sometime after the midterm election and perhaps earlier, if the season looks like it's going his way.

WOODRUFF: Isn't he telling some colleagues that he's leaning strongly at this point toward doing this?

BRAZILE: I think he's telling everyone out there to keep their options open and to go out there and work really hard for the Democratic Party. He's going out. He's planning to go down to Florida. He's celebrating another birthday in a couple days. So I think Gore right now is just really staying focused on working with the party.

And by the way, he wasn't there today because he's teaching at Tennessee State University.

WOODRUFF: If Tipper Gore had run for the Senate, Donna, how would that have affected his race?

BRAZILE: I think it would have helped him. Tennessee is a very difficult state to win in the current political climate. But Tipper would have helped build a bridge back into the state. She's a very dynamic campaigner. She's someone who cares passionately about the issues. And I think she would have helped the vice president mend the fences back home in Tennessee.

WOODRUFF: So now that she's not running...

BRAZILE: I think she'll focus on buying this new house in Nashville, and she will help Bob Clement, who's a very moderate, a very fiscally conservative Democrat, win the Senate race this year.

WOODRUFF: But does that in effect hurt him, because he doesn't have his wife there to mend the broken fences, as you put it?

BRAZILE: Well, Tipper will be there to help him. But I do believe, at this point, the vice president will need to spend a lot more time in Tennessee helping to mend the fence, and also helping the Democratic Party on the national level, as well.

WOODRUFF: All right. Donna Brazile, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We'll be talking to you a lot about this in the days and weeks to come.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. He's in great fighting shape.

WOODRUFF: We appreciate it. Thank you.

And now to President Bush, and his ever-sharpening focus on this year's Congressional elections. Our White House correspondent Major Garrett is with the president outside of St. Louis, Missouri -- Major.

GARRETT: The location, Judy, is O'Fallon, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what the president fears could be a jobless recovery. A little bit of talk about tax breaks and other things to help small businesses. Later the president, though, will turn to the political side of this trip. A fund raiser for Jim Talent, the former member of the House of Representatives, who's running for the United States Senate against Democrat Jean Carnahan. And as the president is proving repeatedly, this wartime president is becoming a warrior for the Republican Party.


(voice-over): The president's already raised more than $8 million for state parties and GOP candidates for governor, the Senate and the House. But the heart of the Bush strategy is winning back control of the Senate, where much of the White House agenda has stalled.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Someone asked me today, am I going to campaign. Here we are in war, do you think it's all right for the president to go campaign? I said, yeah, I do. I think it'd be a lot easier for me to accomplish what I want to accomplish with Denny Hastert as speaker of the House of Representatives, and with Trent Lott as majority leader of the United States Senate.

GARRETT: The president is devoting at least one day a week to fund-raising -- a pace that aides say is likely to continue through most of this election year.


The president is campaigning for others, but also for himself, hitting Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, states he lost in 2000. So even if Republicans don't prevail in 2002, the president is laying a foundation for his own reelection in 2004 -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Major, in terms of the Senate, what states do the White House see, in terms of their best Republican prospects? GARRETT: Well, right now it is a state, South Dakota, where Republican John Thune, a member of the House, is running against Democrat incumbent, Tim Johnson. From there, the prospects get a little dimmer. They are looking at former St. Paul mayor, Norm Coleman, of Minnesota. But White House and other Republican advisers say that's a tough climb.

Same here in Minnesota. Jim Thune is a good candidate, but Jean Carnahan is a very sympathetic figure. Without a statewide election and other hot Congressional races here in Missouri, it's a tough prospect there.

The other thing the White House and Republicans are looking at is to make sure they don't lose any ground. That's why significant attention is being paid to North Carolina and Tennessee, Republican seats the White House would be loath to lose in 2002 -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Major Garrett travelling with President Bush today. Thank you, Major.

Mr. Bush says, as you heard a little while ago, Vice President Dick Cheney is having -- quote -- "a very good visit" to Israel, a pivotal stop in Cheney's marathon tour of the Middle East. In talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Cheney is lending his diplomatic clout to U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni's effort to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We continue to call upon Chairman Arafat to live up to his commitment, to renounce once and for all the use of violence as a political weapon, and to exert a 100 percent effort to stamp out terrorism. In that same spirit, I will be talking to Prime Minister Sharon about the steps that Israel can take to alleviate the devastating economic hardship being experienced by innocent Palestinian men, women and children.


WOODRUFF: The U.S. peace effort appears to have made some progress. Sources say Israeli troops are expected to begin withdrawing from recently reoccupied Palestinian-controlled areas tonight, and hand over security responsibilities to the Palestinians.

Our senior White House correspondent, John King, has been travelling with the vice president. He joins us from Jerusalem. John, I know it's well into the evening there, but bring us up to the moment.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, the vice president is resting now in his hotel room, I'm told. He had more than a three-hour meeting tonight with the Israeli Minister Ariel Sharon. Prime Minister Sharon's office describing it as a positive meeting, saying they discussed a wide array of issues. Not just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the war against terrorism and bilateral issues as well. And you mentioned before, Israel, we are told, in security discussions today, promised to pull out of five areas they have occupied with troops in recent weeks. And tonight we are told that at least one of those withdrawals is under way, in the town of Betjala (ph). That is a Palestinian town where Israeli defense sources say the withdraw has begun.

So some progress, no cease-fire, not the cease-fire announcement the vice president had hoped to have when he arrived here. But some progress. And senior U.S. officials telling us tonight, don't look for a cease-fire before the vice president leaves tomorrow in the early afternoon. But they are cautiously optimistic that if General Zinni keeps about his diplomatic mission, perhaps a cease-fire agreement in the next several days -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, you were saying to me a little earlier that there have been some mixed signals from the Cheney camp during this trip.

KING: This, as we saw throughout the Clinton administration, Judy, is the unsolvable problem. Always confusing, the lines always seem to be shifting. Yesterday the vice president said he hoped there would be a cease-fire announcement when he arrived here.

This morning, after he had been told that was most unlikely, he opened the door to a meeting with Arafat, something that would be a dramatic breakthrough. The president has refused to meet with Arafat and the vice president as well, because they say he is not doing enough to crack down on violence. But the vice president left the door open to a meeting if General Zinni believed that would be helpful.

And by the time we arrived here in Jerusalem, the vice president was told by top U.S. negotiators here, the level of mistrust is as high as they can remember in the past 20 years. They think there may a cease-fire several days down the road, but not today. At that point the administration team, with Cheney, seemed to pull back a little bit to more of a detached posture, saying, oh, no, the vice president was never here to be involved in active negotiations. And they are now saying a meeting with Mr. Arafat appears most unlikely. They're not ruling it out, but they say most unlikely.

WOODRUFF: John, any discussion among the Cheney camp, or reaction to this notion that, if the Bush administration had gotten involved earlier, some of this might have been different?

KING: Well, they reject that notion. They know they will be subject to criticism. A senior U.S. official who is here is not part of the Cheney party, but is part of the Zinni negotiating team, says that they believe they are making progress and that this is a process of fits and starts. It has been for years and years and years. And they believe that both parties, in the words of this official, suddenly realize General Zinni is reengaged by Mr. Cheney's presence. The Bush administration, at the highest level, is reengaged in this process. This official telling us tonight he believes both Israelis and Palestinians realize now they have an opportunity to seize the moment. Very difficult issues to resolve. The Palestinians want a much broader Israeli pull-out than Israel has agreed to so far. But they believe there is some catalyst with General Zinni back in the region. The vice president coming through here quickly. So they know they will be criticized.

General Zinni left here on January 23rd. He is just back now, in between months of deadly violence. They know they will be criticized. What they're hoping to get, though, within the next week, perhaps a little sooner, is a cease-fire agreement that they believe will validate the Bush administration's strategy of pulling General Zinni out until the parties were serious about negotiating, at least a cease-fire.

And we should make that clear: no one optimistic for anything beyond that right now. No one is talking about peace negotiations. They simply want a cease-fire.

WOODRUFF: And on that realistic note, John King in Jerusalem, traveling with Vice President Cheney. Thank you, John.

The state of journalism in America. A tough critique is coming up next. I'll talk to the authors of a new book who take particular aim at television news.

Jeff Greenfield offers his verdict on the judicial wars playing out here in Washington, and the history behind them.

And, is art imitating life, in a new film about a fictional presidential campaign? This is INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: Question: Are you what they call a news junky? With hundreds of newspapers and magazines and dozens of television news operations, there certainly are enough places to get your fix. But has American journalism gotten better or worse?

Leonard Downie and Robert Kaiser from "The Washington Post" decided to take a closer look. And in their new book, "The News About the News," they take aim at American journalism.


(voice-over): The subtitle tells the story. "American Journalism in Peril." Downie and Kaiser surveyed the world of news, print, television, the Internet, and found much to criticize. Quote: "Much bad journalism is just lazy and superficial," they write. "Local television stations lard their newscast with dramatic video fragments of relatively inconsequential but sensational fires and auto accidents. Broadcast and cable networks devote news time to mindless chat and debate. Newspapers fill columns with fluffy trivia and rewrites of press releases and police blotters." Downie and Kaiser criticize newspapers, especially those owned by corporations that care more about stock prices than news values. But they are most concerned about broadcast and cable television news. Some specific charges, in the rush to be first, both cable and broadcast networks sacrifice accuracy and fail to put stories in context.

The author's quote the three broadcast anchors. CBS's Dan Rather -- quote -- "We have allowed this great instrument , this resource, this weapon for good, to be cheapened."

NBC's Tom Brokaw says the young reporters and producers don't care about news. They want to do magazines or talk shows.

ABC's Peter calls such magazine shows, "very serious bottom feeders."

As for CNN, according to Downie and Kaiser, its reporters -- quote --"have rarely broken a story or challenged a powerful person or institution with original reporting." The book went to press as the events of September 11th forced news organizations to get serious and substantive. But also before the fight involving "Nightline" and ABC opened up new questions about the commitment to the news values Downie and Kaiser hold so dear.


And joining us now, Leonard Downie and Robert Kaiser, author of "The News About the News" and, respectively, executive editor and associate editor of "The Washington Post." Len Downie, to you first. In the aftermath of September 11th, a lot of people said the news media did a pretty good job. My question is, has a lesson been learned?

LEONARD DOWNIE JR. "WASHINGTON POST": It will take more time to find out if a lesson has been learned. But I'm afraid we've already seen too much return to life before September 11th in the news media. The morning shows have already gone back to celebrities and fashion and crimes, and that sort of thing. They aren't covering too much of the news of the war or foreign news any longer. Foreign news is a smaller part of the network news. Foreign news has disappeared almost entirely from many newspapers across the country again.

WOODRUFF: Why is that?

DOWNIE: Well, in part, it's because of money. The networks, the big networks, closed down most of their foreign bureaus to save money. They've trimmed their news staffs. Newspapers across the country, they're owned by large chains that are primarily driven by quarterly profit increases -- have not only shrunk their staffs, but they've also shrunk the space available in the newspaper for news. And when they do that, foreign and national news are the first go.

WOODRUFF: Bob Kaiser, you cite a number, the two of you cite a number of newspapers and TV stations around the country, that you say do good journalism and they turn some profit. You cite places like Evansville, Indiana, Minneapolis, Jacksonville. If that's the case, why aren't other stations and newspapers learning lessons from them?

ROBERT KAISER, "WASHINGTON POST": Good question. I would add to Len's answer a minute ago about foreign news. A lot of these news organizations are just out of the habit now of doing serious journalism. That's certainly true in an awful lot of the local TV stations, for example, that you have just mentioned.

You know, it isn't easy to do good news. If you sit in a meeting and say, let's do some good news, that's not enough. You've got to have talented reporters, you've got to have determination, you've got to be willing, often, to spend some money to do the digging. So it isn't an automatic.

We do argue in this book that quality journalism pays. You do not find distinguished news organizations in financial straits. On the contrary, "The Los Angeles Times," "The Wall Street Journal," "New York Times," these are very profitable institutions. So are some of the best things on television, profitable, including Ted Koppel, interestingly.

WOODRUFF: And I want to ask you about that in a moment. I want to bring up CNN first. You won't be surprised to know that Easton Jordan, who runs news gathering at CNN, and a number of my colleagues here take strong exception with your characterization of CNN as "rarely breaking news." Easton Jordan points out, for example in the last few weeks, the story about the INS sending our student visas for the hijackers, and others.

I mean, his point is, he said if CNN had only one deadline a day, it would be clearer what CNN is doing. I have to ask you about that.

KAISER: Well, sure, and I'm glad you have. As we write in the book, CNN does an enormous public service every time it brings us to the scene of a breaking story, or to participate in some historical event. And of course, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is right. Your brand of journalism is often very different than ours. You're rushing around trying to get cameras and correspondents on the scene as news happens.

And our prejudice, as we explain in the book, is in favor of digging, revelatory, investigative reporting. It doesn't take a genius to realize we're talking about what we do best in a newspaper. We're prejudiced in that direction.

WOODRUFF: Len Downie, what about the future of television news overall? We just mentioned the whole saga of Ted Koppel, "Nightline," on ABC, and whether ABC was going to bring David Letterman. We know that's not going to happen.

What is the future of television news? One of our competitors at MSNBC, Chris Matthews, recently was saying, well, this was too much hype about "Nightline." He questioned whether it really brings the value that some say. How do you read it?

DOWNIE: I think the size of "Nightline's" audience show it clearly is valued by people who want to see serious news coverage at that hour of the night. And we've also seen -- I should just add about CNN, too, the fact that you have continued to maintain correspondents around the world, where major networks have pulled back.

And this, I think, is the question. How much of the serious news coverage is going to be shifting from the three major broadcast networks, that are focused on entertainment, and will be shifting to cable. In fact, NBC itself, which also owns and runs MSNBC and CNBC, has already publicly said that they're shifting a lot of their serious news coverage -- their coverage of political conventions, for example, to cable.

Dan Rather made an interesting proposal, though, that we report in the book to us. And that is that he thinks that one of the major networks might actually do well by starting a prime time newscast. An hour of serious news, better than the half-hour news shows that come on earlier in the evening. And he thinks that would attract an audience in prime time, because nobody else would be doing it. It might not be the highest rated show, but he thinks it would be successful.

WOODRUFF: Bob Kaiser, is any of this the responsibility of the audience, or is it simply a matter of, if you build it, they will come?

KAISER: No, it's both. We urge the audience to be demanding of good journalism. And indeed, one of the most important reasons we wrote this book is to have a more informed audience for news. But it is true, too, that if you build it, people will come.

Look at NPR, for example. It's built a huge audience for serious news in the morning and late in the afternoon. No one knew that demand existed until NPR provided the product. So, yes, you can build an audience by what you produce for them, just as you have in the middle of the afternoon for politics on CNN. But you can't depend only on either the providers or the consumers. But if both are pushing for better work and better journalism, I'm sure we will get better results.

WOODRUFF: Well, I think our audience can tell we could talk about this forever. The book is "The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril." The authors are Bob Kaiser and Leonard Downie.

Gentlemen, thank you both. Good to see you.

KAISER: Thank you.

DOWNIE: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Provocative book.

Up ahead, the Pentagon, says Operation Anaconda is over, but how successful was it? That debate when we return.


WOODRUFF: Checking the stories in our "Newscycle": The Food and Drug Administration may soon suspend a rule that currently requires drug companies to conduct safety studies on their pediatric drugs. The FDA created the safety measure two years ago and was promptly sued by opponents, who say the FDA overstepped its authority. Now the FDA wants two years to review its policy.

Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Israel today. After a conference with U.S. Envoy Anthony Zinni, Mr. Cheney is holding meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Turning to Afghanistan: The Pentagon says the U.S.-led military mission known as Operation Anaconda is over. However, 500 soldiers will remain in the region, hunting for traces of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

And joining us now with their takes on some of the major issues of the day: here in Washington, Melissa Sekora of "The National Review"; and in Los Angeles, political commentator Carl Jeffers.

Let me turn to you first, Carl.

Tommy Franks, who is in charge of our operation in Afghanistan says Operation Anaconda is over. He is calling it an unqualified, absolute success. Is he right?


I think that, certainly, General Franks enjoys the confidence of the president. And at this stage, I think that we all can really show and demonstrate support for General Franks. He's a fine Army man.

But my concern -- and I must be just a bit cynical -- historically, the pattern has been that we have concluded these military maneuvers, and at the end of these actions, some general runs to the microphone and proclaims that action was a spectacular success. And then four or six weeks later, we found out that it was neither spectacular nor successful.

So I really think it is a little early for us to start passing out cigars self-congratulatory statements until we really know, from some ground intelligence, exactly what we've accomplished, what information do we have about finding the top leaders of the al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and what other issues that we need to address before we immediately proclaim it as successful.

WOODRUFF: Melissa Sekora, is it too early?

MELISSA SEKORA, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": I don't think it is too early. I think that we can claim some success here.

And one of the reasons we can is because we learned a few lessons from the battle of Tora Bora. I think we learned there that the Afghan army is not quite ready to go on its own, and that our presence is necessary, and that we need to sort of -- I think we're actually building a case for having more ground troops there, because, when the United States did retreat a little bit and give more leeway to the Afghan army, we saw that they fell back and that the enemies escaped. And the enemy is escaping by foot. And it makes more sense to me to have more ground troops there sort of scurrying after these guys.

WOODRUFF: Let me turn you both quickly to a domestic political story, in fact our lead story today, and that is the aftermath of Tipper Gore's decision not to run for U.S. Senate from Tennessee.

Carl Jeffers, what does this is say about Al Gore's prospects for the presidency? Does this make it easier for him to run? Does it clear the way? Is it harder? What do you think?

JEFFERS: Well, I am not sure that it can be measured in terms of easier or clearing the way.

I think this was a strategic decision that was most important because it does a couple of things. One, it eliminates the possibility of conservative groups from all over country pouring in millions of dollars to the Tennessee senatorial campaign in order to address their concerns about their fear of what the potential would be for an Al Gore candidacy. So they would in fact be campaigning not so much because they want Lamar Alexander, but because they want to make sure that they can drive up the negatives for Al Gore.

And, No. 2, by Tipper not running, it allows Al Gore to be completely free to go around the country and campaign for Democrats in the congressional off-year elections. And we must remember that here is a man walking around with 50-million-plus votes in his pocket. Neither top Republicans nor Democrats can discard that fact.

And, in 1966, Richard Nixon literally orchestrated his comeback by campaigning for congressional candidates and therefore setting the stage for 1968.

WOODRUFF: I am going to have to interrupt, because I want to give Melissa a chance.

Melissa, does this clear path for him in any sense?

SEKORA: I think it does.

I think Al Gore is still going to be the front-runner as long as he declares that he wants to be the front-runner. It often takes a candidates one or two or three times before he is elected.

And I think that the only thing is that he is really going to have to find his ground. He has some stiff competition. We have Daschle. We have Edwards. We have Kerry. And I think those are solid candidates that are starting to find their ground in the national audience. And it is going to be more difficult for Gore to sort of garner support from the Democratic base if he doesn't really just step up to the plate and say he is definitely interesting in running for president.

WOODRUFF: All right, we're going to have to leave it there.

Melissa Sekora of "The National Review," Carl Jeffers, political commentator, joining us from Los Angeles, thank you both.

SEKORA: Thank you.

JEFFERS: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Good to see you. We appreciate it.

SEKORA: Thanks.

WOODRUFF: Politics and St. Patrick's Day: Up next, our Bill Schneider joined the party in Boston for the "Inside Buzz" on the governor's race in Massachusetts and a likely GOP brawl.


WOODRUFF: In Massachusetts today, the town of Belmont is welcoming home Winter Olympics organizer Mitt Romney. Romney says he has pretty much decided whether to challenge acting Governor Jane Swift for the Republican nomination. He may make his decision public when he meets with local supporters at a Boston hotel tomorrow.

Our Bill Schneider has been spending some time in Boston, where politics is very much on parade.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I am here at the annual St. Patrick's Day breakfast in South Boston. It is election year in Massachusetts. So what is for breakfast? Politics.

(voice-over): Massachusetts is not friendly territory for Republicans, as the Republican in chief remarked when he telephoned the breakfast.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of these days, you might invite me, Senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. I'll march right down Broadway with you. I'll tell you that.

BUSH: Well, then you will never get elected again in South Boston.


SCHNEIDER: Massachusetts does not send a single Republican to Congress. The state legislature is 85 percent Democratic. Every statewide official is a Democrat, except one: acting Governor Jane Swift, who was not elected governor, though she is trying to be this year.

Her sorry poll standings were topic B at the St. Patrick's Day breakfast.

THOMAS FINNERAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE SPEAKER: I don't know if you've seen the menu lately, but they named a new item after Governor Swift's campaign. It's a new breakfast item. It's called toast.

SCHNEIDER: Topic A at the breakfast: businessman Mitt Romney, who is going to announce this week whether he'll challenge swift for the GOP nomination.

MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I am 99 percent there at this stage. So I know what my decision will be. And I will communicating that some time very soon.

SCHNEIDER: The latest poll shows Romney leading Swift among Republican primary voters by over 60 points.

SHANNON O'BRIEN (D), MASSACHUSETTS GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: A gold medal for Jane Swift in the downhill.


O'BRIEN: She is going really, really, fast.

SCHNEIDER: The acting governor seems unintimidated. Don't the Irish believe in hopeless causes?

ACTING GOV. JANE SWIFT (R), MASSACHUSETTS: There were rumors that Mitt Romney was going to be here today.


SWIFT: Mitt Romney.

But, unfortunately, those rumors were quelled by the terrible drought that we're experiences here in Massachusetts. His handlers were afraid there would not be enough water for him to walk on.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Here in Massachusetts, politicians know how to run against Democrats and Republicans, Irishmen and Englishmen. But this year, they could face a special challenge. At a time of soaring national pride, how do you run against the Olympics?

Bill Schneider, CNN, South Boston.


WOODRUFF: We'll never know if they laughed at the walking-on- water line.

Well, another governor's race is in our "Campaign News Daily": Candidates in Illinois are getting in their last-minute licks before tomorrow's primary. Gubernatorial hopefuls from both parties reached out to voters during Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parade yesterday. And they continued the attacks and counterattacks that have made this one of the most contentious Illinois primary seasons in decades.

Well, Hollywood has the Oscars and our Bill Schneider has his IPpys. This Friday -- that's right, IPpys -- Bill will hand out the IPpys to the most deserving political figures. Starting today, you can go online at and cast your votes. Up ahead: Washington is caught up in a judicial war. Our Jeff Greenfield has some thoughts when we return.


WOODRUFF: The time was, many years ago, the White House would select a nominee for the bench and then look to the Senate for a rubber-stamped approval. Well, not anymore.

My colleague Jeff Greenfield has been looking at the recent nomination of Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering to a federal appeals court.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Judy, that Pickering nomination died last week, but the latest chapter in the judicial wars has just begun.

But how and why did the least political branch of the government become ground zero for such intense take-no-prisoners political warfare?





GREENFIELD (voice-over): From FDR through Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, Supreme Court nominees sailed through the Senate with barely a murmur of dissent.

But, in 1968, when President Johnson tried to make Justice Abe Fortas chief justice, a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats blocked that attempt. They objected to his views on criminal justice and obscenity. The next president, Richard Nixon, saw both of his first two nominees, Judges Clement Haynsworth and Harold Carswell defeated.

Democrats controlled the Senate back then. But in both cases, it was not party-line voting. At least 17 Democrats voted for both the nominees. And at least a dozen Republicans voted no. The next big fight came when President Reagan nominated Judge Robert Bork in 1987.

The Democratic Senate voted him down after a campaign that conservatives saw as a partisan smear. But even here, two Democrats voted aye, while six Republicans voted no.

And in 1991...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God? JUDGE CLARENCE THOMAS: I do.


GREENFIELD: ... Judge Clarence Thomas won confirmation by the narrowest vote in history, when 11 Democrats voted for his confirmation.




GREENFIELD: President Clinton's two choices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, won easy confirmation back when Democrats controlled the Senate. And Clinton had no Supreme Court nominations to send them after the Republicans took over Senate in 1994. But Republicans, still angry over the Bork and Thomas battles, did block several of his judgeship nominees.


GREENFIELD: So, what's happening now? Well, put simply, the most passionate and partisan members of both parties see high judgeships as the battleground. In part, it's because the courts are where some of the most emotional political issues -- abortion, race, other social issues -- are played out.

Right now, the right wants President Bush to put committed conservatives on the courts, while the left just as passionately demands that Democratic senators, particularly those with presidential ambitions, oppose such choices. Like it or not, these nominations, particularly a Supreme Court nomination where the nominee holds strong views, are where the most intense battles will likely be played out for a long time to come -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: In other words, these judgeships matter.

GREENFIELD: They matter intensely.

WOODRUFF: Jeff, different subject altogether you are going to be talking about tonight on "NEWSNIGHT"?

GREENFIELD: Yes. You know this supposed whispering campaign against "A Beautiful Mind"? I've got 90 seconds of incredible wisdom to share with the audience. And I will do that tonight at 10:00.

WOODRUFF: All right, we'll be watching, as we always do.

Jeff Greenfield, thank you. See you tomorrow.


WOODRUFF: Politics, it turns out, is a laughing matter. When we return, we'll hear from a political-operative-turned-filmmaker who is behind a new campaign mockumentary.


WOODRUFF: Now a look at a new independent film about campaign politics: The comedy "Bottomfeeders" was shot on a shoestring budget. It chronicles a fictional presidential campaign effort in Pennsylvania, which happens to be the opposition candidate's home state. The movie's hero is a state party director prepared to lose quietly until the volunteers, the "bottomfeeders," stage a rebellion.

Our Jonathan Karl caught up with the movie's writer, Celia Fischer, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Cissy the film's hero.


CELIA FISCHER, WRITER: She's really on the downslope when we meet her. And she feels like getting thrown in this campaign, going to run the opponent's race, it would be like trying to run in Texas if you were running against George Bush. She really feels like she is being abused.


MADI DESTAFANO, ACTRESS: You know, I'm only letting you do this so you can document for all time how it wasn't my fault, how I did a kick-ass job, but it was a loser from the get-go.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, you were -- it doesn't seem much of a coincidence -- state director in Pennsylvania for the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1992. This is about the state director of a Pennsylvania campaign. Is this about you?

FISCHER: It's not about me. It is about my experiences.

I mean, when I was working in Pennsylvania, we weren't running against the governor of Pennsylvania. But in this movie, that is what's happening. So it was based on my experience, but it's not really my life story or anything.

KARL: Do you have anything in common with this state director?

FISCHER: Yes, she's kinda crabby, as I was when I was doing that. She's kind of crabby and relentless, but she's got a pretty good heart, I think.

KARL: So it's a comedy about the bottomfeeders.


KARL: First of all, what's a mockumentary, and who are the bottomfeeders?

FISCHER: Well, it's a comedy sort of shot in a documentary format. And, in our movie, the bottomfeeders are volunteers on a political campaign, the bottom of the food chain in politics.


DESTAFANO: We don't stand a chance in hell to win Pennsylvania.


KARL: And I sense that the big campaign managers don't think much of these bottomfeeders?

FISCHER: Well, in this movie, that's right. They think that campaigns are won on television and that the stuff that volunteers do is basically irrelevant to their efforts. So, they are going to be proven wrong.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Simon, take a look around you now.


KARL: The campaign manager, the head of the campaign, is this foul-mouthed, cynical operative who thinks that campaigns are only won on television.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Hell, no. Who gives a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) what happens in the states? Campaigns are won at the national headquarters and on television.


KARL: Who is he based on?

FISCHER: Well, the cynical part of it is actually fiction, because we needed a really tough antagonist for our state director in Pennsylvania. But the character traits are sort of a mix of James Carville and Harold Ickes.

KARL: Really?

FISCHER: Yes, I think of him as Carville's body and mannerisms with Harold Ickes' mouth.


DESTAFANO: Where the hell am I going to get that kind of money, though?



KARL: Now, I noticed that had Mayor Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia. Does this guy have a future in acting? FISCHER: He could if he wanted to. It's not the first time he's done it, AS you know. He was in the movie "Philadelphia."

KARL: OK, now, you've done politics and you've done filmmaking -- any parallels between the two?

FISCHER: Oh, sure, sure.

KARL: Really?

FISCHER: Well, first of all, everyone in Hollywood wants to be in politics and everyone in politics wants to be in Hollywood. So...


KARL: And where do you want to be?

FISCHER: I want to be in Los Angeles. I want to be doing what I am doing. I actually want to be sitting behind my computer writing more screenplays.


WOODRUFF: And those of us who not seen the mockumentary hope we get to see it in the future. The film will be shown at the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema next month and who knows where after that.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back. But first, Wolf Blitzer joins us with a look what is coming up next on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

WOLF BLITZER, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": Thank you very much, Judy.

Vice President Cheney is in Jerusalem right now attempting to stop the fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Our John King is there as well and he'll join us live. We'll also talk live with Pakistan's ambassador here in Washington, Maleeha Lodhi, about yesterday's church attack in Islamabad. And what follows Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan? All that and much more right after INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: Tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS, I'll interview the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox.

CNN's coverage continues now with "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Thanks for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff.


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