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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Death Toll From Rhode Island Nightclub Blaze Continues to Rise; New Democratic Presidential Poll Numbers Out

Aired February 21, 2003 - 16:00   ET

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: INSIDE POLITICS begins right now.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: What went wrong in Rhode Island? A fast-moving nightclub fire leads to panic, then death. And now questions.

GOV. DON CARCIERI (R), RHODE ISLAND: As we dig further and further into this, I think we're are going to find that people just made some bad decisions about what to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now.

ANNOUNCER: Walking out on war. D.C. high schoolers protest, while the president keeps reaching out to allies.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Two years ago, we were promised a better America. Has that promise been kept?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

ANNOUNCER: Democrats get together with their sights on 2004. Is one presidential hopeful standing out from a crowded pack?

A Rush Limbaugh of the left? We'll talk to a force behind the drive for liberal talk radio.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: This country is conservative. It has been for a long time. Get used to it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

Well, Democrats are holding their winter meeting here in Washington trying to bounce back from a season of discontent.

In this "NewsCycle," four of the party's presidential candidates made their pitches to an enthusiastic crowd. Others will follow suit tomorrow.

We have new poll numbers this hour on the Democratic hopefuls, how they're playing with party members, in general, and with African- Americans, in particular. That story is ahead.

But first, an update on the nightclub inferno that killed at least 86 people and horrified the nation. The death toll has been rising all day long. So has public anger about how this could have happened.

CNN's Jason Carroll is in West Warwick, Rhode Island. Jason, what do we know at this point?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, we're being told that the process of trying to recover the bodies continues.

Right now, we're going to show you an aerial shot of what investigators are having to deal with. You can see there is not very much left at all of the Station nightclub. Apparently, what they've been doing is they brought in cranes to lift up some of the heavy pieces of debris so they can try to reach some of the bodies.

Many of the bodies found in the area that used to be the front of the nightclub, where many people tried to escape. Another area, we are being told, where there might possibly be more bodies, is the cellar.

A quick recap of what happened. It was 11:00 last night, a popular hard rock band called Great White had just taken the stage. They use pyrotechnics as part of their act. Those pyrotechnics ignited some sort of a soundproof wall behind the stage. Witnesses say very quickly after that, there were flames, smoke, the lights went out, making it nearly impossible for people to try to escape. There was panic. People stepping on each other as they tried to make their way to some sort of an exit.

Since then, outside, people were also saying that there was just as much panic outside, as people tried to reach loved ones. People who were badly burned then using their hands to put into the snow to try to, in some way, soothe their burns until emergency help could arrive. Earlier today, the leader of the band, if you will, of Great White, Jack Russell, spoke about the pyrotechnics that were used as part of the act. He said that he was given, and his band was given, permission to use those type of pyrotechnics.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACK RUSSELL, GREAT WHITE LEAD SINGER: We had the permission to do it. Set it up, and it must have hit that -- it must have hit the foam stuff, or whatever that is it is very combustible, obviously. And it went off -- I mean, I can't believe how fast it went off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Late this afternoon, the club's owners, Michael and Jerry Jadarian (ph) released a statement saying that that was not the case. Let me read it to you.

It says that, "At no time did either owner have prior knowledge that pyrotechnics were to be used by the band, Great White. No permission was ever requested by the band or its agents to use pyrotechnics at the Station. And no permission was ever given."

So we do have some sort of a discrepancy there. What is clear is that the club did not have the proper permit or license to use pyrotechnics inside the club.

Also, something else happened. Another development later on this afternoon, or a little earlier on this afternoon, Judy. The owner of another club, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, the Stone Pony -- another popular club in New Jersey, a place where Bruce Springsteen often plays. The owner of that club says that last week, Great White played there, and used pyrotechnics there, and was not -- and did not have permission to use them. So this is another part of the investigation, something that investigators will be looking at as they continue to search the debris, continue to search for more victims -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jason, thanks. Such a terrible story and, again, the second nightclub disaster in just one week.

Well, that really disturbing video from inside the nightclub helps to tell the story of how this fire and how the panic spread. Survivors also shared some vivid descriptions of what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great White took the stage and just about a minute into their first song, a pyrotechnic effect went off and caught the egg crate, foam wall that lined the back of the stage -- wall, it caught it on fire. And my sister and I were right up to the stage for the show. I turned and grabbed my sister's arm and told her we had to leave. We had to get out of there. I pulled her and we went to the side of the stage and then went out the back door, outside. RUSSELL: I got dragged out by the security, and my tour manager dragged me out of the building along with the rest of the band through the back door. And the lights went out and I went back in, I'm trying to get back in. I'm yelling to see if anybody's in there. And I heard voices. I went to try to go back in, and somebody else grabbed me and said, you can't go in there. You can't go in there. I said, well, there's people in there. I've got to get in there to try to help them out. And they said, well, you're going to get hurt. I said, I don't care. I want to, you know, get these people out of there. And they wouldn't let me back in. And the next thing you know, the whole place was going up in smoke.

JOHN BARBER, NIGHTCLUB GOER: Once the smoke started coming through the building, there was really no escaping it. I mean, the crowd just all of a sudden turned and all started to go out the front door. And at that point, I mean, there was really nothing anybody could do. I mean, they just became a giant jam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Black smoke was pouring down. It dropped me to my legs. And there's a guy out there, I don't know who he is, but the person that was on the side of me that kicked that front window out, I thank God that he was in my life. I have no idea what happened in there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Very disturbing.

Tonight, Connie Chung will talk with more people who survived the nightclub inferno at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific.

Well, as horrible as this incident was, it is not the worst of its kind in U.S history. The deadliest club fire was back in 1942. Four hundred and ninety one people were killed at the Coconut Grove nightclub in Boston.

Well, now, we turn back to politics, and to the presidential race. We have the first poll numbers of the Democratic field since several more candidates launched their campaigns.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. Bill, all right, at this very, very early stage, who is the front- runner?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Judy, the answer is nobody, really.

Let's look at the current standings. Only two candidates are in double digits, Joe Lieberman at 16 percent, Dick Gephardt at 13. Neither has a formidable lead. When presented with a list of nine contenders, a whopping 37 percent of Democrats say they're not sure, or maybe somebody else.

In fact, there are only three candidates most Democrats even have an opinion of -- Lieberman, Gephardt and Al Sharpton. The Democrat with the highest favorability is Lieberman at 49 percent favorable, but that doesn't even come close to Senator Hillary Clinton's 72 percent favorable.

If you ask Democrats who is first in their hearts, the answer is Hillary.

WOODRUFF: So, of the ones who are announcing, Bill, do they get any sort of bounce just by having announced?

SCHNEIDER: Well, they do, but it's small, and it doesn't last very long. John Kerry got a little bounce after he announced he was running in early December. John Edwards and Joe Lieberman got a bounce in January. And all three of those bounces have already worn off.

Our current poll shows a little bounce for Al Sharpton and Dick Gephardt, both of whom announced in the last few weeks. Their bounces may also disappear very quickly.

WOODRUFF: Now, Bill, we know this poll looks specifically at African-American Democratic voters. Are their preferences different from the party as a whole?

SCHNEIDER: Well, yes.

African-Americans Democrats' first choice is Al Sharpton at 20 percent. Nobody else is even in double digits among blacks. But notice, nearly 40 percent of black Democrats say they're not sure. Some Democrats are worried about Sharpton and here's why: white Democrats tend to have a negative opinion of Sharpton, but Sharpton gets a three-to-one favorable rating from blacks. He's a polarizing figure.

By the way, Carol Moseley-Braun is not. Most black Democrats and most Democratic women have no opinion at all of former Senator Moseley-Braun.

WOODRUFF: And Bill, what about when people were -- Democrats were asked their view on what the U.S. should do with regard to Iraq. How do they compare with the rest of the country?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Democrats are a little bit out of step.

We asked Americans whether they favor or oppose sending U.S. troops to Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Republicans overwhelmingly say yes. So do most independents.

But nearly 60 percent of Democrats say no. Most Democrats say they agree with the anti-war demonstrators. Most Republicans and independents do not.

You know what, Judy? This war could take us right back to the '60s.

WOODRUFF: Hmmm. We'll see. We'll Also see how long it All lasts. All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

Well, Democrats are not only dealing with divisions over Iraq, but a potentially nasty fight for the party's presidential nomination in 2004. I visited with some party faithful earlier today at the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting here in Washington. Has a favorite emerged? I'll have that coming up.

There's much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS.

In the Showdown with Iraq, we will look ahead to a critical week of diplomacy for President Bush, and what it may mean for Saddam Hussein.

Also ahead, who's whining now? Bill Schneider will pour it out in the "Political Play of the Week."

And he's not a Confederate general but he plays one in a new movie. Stay with us to spot the Congressional cameos.

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Washington tries to hammer out an agreement over troops with Turkey.

Plus, do Americans think a second U.N. resolution is needed before an attack on Iraq? The latest on the showdown just moments away.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): It's time to check your "IP IQ." This week, Carol Moseley-Braun became the first woman to enter the 2004 presidential race. Who was the first woman to run for president? Was it, A, Victoria Woodhull, B, Shirley Chisholm or, C, Margaret Chase Smith?

We'll tell you the answer later on INSIDE POLITICS.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We do not want war. No one wants war. The reason why last summer, instead of starting war we went to the United Nations, was in order to have a peaceful solution to this. But there is a moral dimension to this question to. If we fail to disarm Saddam, peacefully, then where does that lead the authority of the United Nations?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Well, as Britain's Tony Blair continues to make the case against Iraq, the U.S. and Britain prepare to present a new resolution to the United Nations. The new CNN/"TIME" poll asked Americans if it's a good or bad idea for the U.S. to request another U.N. vote on Iraq. Fifty-four percent say it's a good idea, 36 percent call it a bad idea.

A United Nations spokeswoman, meantime, says the U.N. has reduced the number of humanitarian workers inside Iraq in recent weeks, but that the U.N. has not ordered an evacuation. A notice sent out last month told U.N. workers that they were free to leave Iraq voluntarily.

The standoff with Iraq and a potential deal for the use of Turkey's military bases topped the president's agenda today at his Texas ranch.

For more, let's turn to our senior White House correspondent, John King.

John, where does it stand right now? The last time we checked, the two sides had not come together on this.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, growing indications that there will be a deal perhaps within the next 24-48 hours.

Remember, just yesterday and the day before when your raised the question of Turkey and the deal for U.S. use of military bases at the White House, the White House was quite adamant and quite frustrated, saying it needed an answer within 24 - or within 48 hours, that the president needed an answer and the time was running out.

Today, as the remnants of a deal emerged, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer much more diplomatic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: The United States has noted the statements made by Turkish officials. This is a serious matter and our good friend and ally, Turkey, is taking it seriously. And we are continuing to talk to Turkish officials. And we look forward to having more to say, more to indicate at the appropriate time. We continue to talk with our good friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Both Turkey's prime minister and Turkey's foreign minister say they expect an announcement within the next days that a deal has been reached and that those U.S. troops can go ashore and stage from Turkish military bases. That one sign of progress in the Bush administration diplomacy, more urgent diplomacy from the president today on the ranch.

He was out of the public eye, but he called the Emir of Kuwait to discuss diplomatic efforts, but also intensifying war planning. Kuwait, of course, critical for the southern front if there's a war in Iraq. Thousands of troops already there.

The president also called the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, putting to the test, he says, the United Nations Security Council. That test will come next week. We are told the U.S. and Great Britain will have their resolution ready, most likely on Monday, Tuesday at the latest.

This evening at the Bush ranch in Crawford Texas, the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar is visiting. U.S. officials tell us, in an effort to try to win more support on the Security Council and to try to convince the world this is much more than a United States/Great Britain effort, Mr. Bush will talk to Prime Minister Aznar about the possibility that Spain could also take a leading role in trying to push the resolution through the Security Council, perhaps even as a co-author with Washington and London.

WOODRUFF: So, John, getting something through the Security Council is more important to this administration than having something really toughly -- as toughly worded as they originally would have wanted?

KING: Well, they say, Judy, this will be a very clear resolution. It will not say it's time to use military force, but it will say that Iraq is in continued material breach of its commitment to disarm under Resolution 1441. And the United States says that is all that is necessary, because Resolution 1441 says if Iraq does not comply completely, fully and immediately, then the next step is serious consequences.

So, the United States says you don't need a long resolution. You need a simple declaration that Iraq is in continued material breach.

The United States, though, also concedes that as of Friday afternoon, just a few days before that resolution is introduced, it is still unclear whether it has the nine votes necessary to get it through the Security Council and, also, unclear as to whether any of the other permanent members, especially France, would use the veto power. That's one of the reasons Prime Minister Aznar is getting a more prominent role. The United States believes he might have some influence over Mexico and Chile, two key members of the Security Council that have been wavering -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK. Fascinating. John King at the ranch in Crawford, thanks a lot, John.

Well, as we mentioned earlier, a number of presidential hopefuls appeared at the DNC's winter meeting in Washington. I dropped in on the session to get inside buzz from the delegates from all over the country, and to get their reaction to the candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Don't you think it's Time we had a president in the White House of the United States of America who understood the life experience of ordinary Americans out there trying to give their kids help?

WOODRUFF (voice-over): Fiery speeches and a fired-up crowd with the Democrats we spoke to eager to deflect divisions over Iraq.

MIKE ERLANDSON, MINNESOTA DEM. PARTY CHMN: I think there's no question that the real questions today, to the president of the United States of America, for example, is, where's bin Laden?

WOODRUFF: Joe Lieberman supported the Congressional resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq is not popular among the rank and file. But when we took on the president, his speech was well received.

LIEBERMAN: And don't you agree with me that America would be in a lot better shape today if Al Gore and I had gone into the White House in January of 2001?

WOODRUFF: Out in the hallways, the target was clearly George Bush and his agenda.

HAROLD ICKES, DNC MEMBER: And people are really beginning to understand how radical it is. It's radical with a smile and compassion as its headline, but it is not compassionate.

WOODRUFF: Most here were enthusiastic about the Democrats' prospects, but guarded about who they preferred, even in states where some candidates enjoyed a regional popularity.

RAY BUCKLEY, VICE CHMN, NEW HAMPSHIRE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: That's the beauty of what's happening. Even though, obviously, Senator Kerry and Governor Dean are expected to do well, any one of these guys could break through.

CAROL MOSELEY-BRAUN, FORMER SENATOR: Duct tape is no substitute for diplomacy.

WOODRUFF: Carol Moseley-Braun spoke today. Her opposition to the war went over well, but neither she nor Al Sharpton can automatically count on the loyalty of black Democrats. Among African-Americans, the buzz belonged not to Moseley-Braun, but to another Iraq war opponent.

YVONNE GATES, DNC BLACK CAUCUS CHWMN: Howard Dean, of course, he really brought it home and talked about many of the issues that really face the everyday, average citizen.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: White folks in the South who drive pick-up trucks with Confederate flag decals in the back ought to be voting with us and not them, because their kids don't have health insurance either and their kids need better schools too.

WOODRUFF: Former Al Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile was smitten. She said Dean stirred her spirits and offered TO give him her frequent flyer miles, so that he could campaign in African-American communities. And she warned Democrats not to take the black vote for granted.

DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MGR.: The days of last-week campaigning, two-week campaigning, what we call drive-by campaigning is, quite frankly, disgusting, and people are tired of it. They want to have a seat at the table.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: We heard a lot more. We don't have time to show you. But two things we will share. The chairman of the Democratic delegation from the state of Mississippi urged Democrats not to write off the South. And we ran into a college student at American University here in Washington who said she came to today's event supporting John Edwards, but after hearing Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean, she's not sure who she's for. She likes them all.

So, a lot more to keep watching. We will be watching as other White House hopefuls appear at the DNC meeting tomorrow. We'll tell you who got the best and worst receptions Monday on INSIDE POLITICS.

Well, one Democrat who isn't making it to the DNC event, Senator John Kerry. He's recovering from surgery 10 days ago for prostate cancer. His office says that Kerry received a clean bill of health today from his surgeon, who says the senator now is cancer-free and recovering right on schedule.

Coming up, a political fight over cockfighting. We'll tell you which side rules the roost.

Plus, do the Democrats have enough cash to compete with the Republicans? The take from the left and the right.

(MARKET UPDATE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF (voice-over): It's time again to check your I.P. I.Q. This week, Carol Moseley-Braun became the first woman to enter the 2004 presidential race. Earlier, we asked, who was the first woman to run for president?

The correct answer is A. In 1872, Victoria Woodhull was the candidate of the Equal Rights Party, but lost the election to Republican Ulysses S. Grant. She was also the first woman to own a Wall Street investment firm.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Is there a liberal Rush Limbaugh? Coming up, the left looks to counteract the might of right-wing radio. We'll tune in.

(NEWS ALERT)

WOODRUFF: Meantime, investigators blame a refueling accident for today's huge fire at an oil storage complex on New York's Staten Island. The fire started when a barge exploded while unloading four million gallons of gasoline at the ExxonMobil facility. Law enforcement sources tell CNN that two bodies have now been found.

With us now: Democratic consultant Jenny Backus; and Jim Dyke, press secretary for the Republican National Committee. A lot of very, very terrible and tragic news today, but on this day, we do want to turn back to politics and talk about this Democratic National Committee winter meeting, Jenny. I just want to quote something that came out of the mouth of the Republican National Committee chairman, Marc Racicot. And she said -- quote -- "Democrats should use the opportunity at their meeting this week to do a little soul-searching to determine if they are capable of articulating a positive agenda that will advance the debate between our parties, not just to say no."

Is that what the Democrats are all about, Jenny Backus?

JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Absolutely not.

Anybody who at this meeting could palpably feel the excitement in the room. The Democrats are fired up. They have a vision for this country. And I think what's really coming forth is that we're hearing a lot of echoes with President Bush with his father, that things are being ignored, problems of voters around the country. The economy is faltering. The deficits are returning. And people are really concerned.

And this White House has sort of put themselves in a bunker and is not willing to work together with Democrats to find the solutions to the problems that voters care most about right now.

WOODRUFF: In a bunker, Jim Dyke? Is that's what going on?

JIM DYKE, RNC PRESS SECRETARY: I didn't know we were in a bunker.

But the president's put forward a bold plan to grow the economy. He has got a lot of bold ideas out there that are in the public debate. He's pushing to pass those in Congress. This is an opportunity for Democrats to come forward, to rally around what they're behind, let the people know what they stand for, tax increases, whatever it may be, how you get the economy moving, and have that debate.

BACKUS: Well, if you talk about bold ideas, though, in the statement that you just read to me, it's a whole statement sort of critiquing the Democrats and trying to lay out the Republican vision. The word jobs isn't even mentioned in it. The word health care isn't even mentioned in it.

Today, you saw leaders, from Joe Lieberman, to Dick Gephardt, to Carol Moseley-Braun, to Howard Dean, say, look, we've been out traveling the country. People are hurting. And this White House isn't showing us leadership or solutions.

DYKE: There's no question that Democrats are very good at critiquing the president and very good at blaming the president for everything under the sun. You see it across the spectrum. But what you don't see is any solutions.

(CROSSTALK) BACKUS: But, Jim, this is not about the president. This is about the people who don't have health care. This is about the people who don't have jobs.

(CROSSTALK)

DYKE: That's right. So, what are the solutions? What are the Democrats' solutions? What are the plans that you put forward, the positive plans to solve the problems?

BACKUS: Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean talked about health care for everybody. Democrats in the House are trying to save more funding for homeland security. The White House -- we'll work together to support the troops overseas, but how come the White House won't work with Democrats to support our troops here at home, the firefighters, the policemen, the nurses?

DYKE: That's inaccurate. And that's one of the reasons the chairman pointed out today the inaccuracies of the past and the distortions that take place in these kind of meetings and the opportunity to put forward a positive agenda, instead of mischaracterizing and using hyperbole.

WOODRUFF: Let's quickly move on to another question. And that is the question of money, Democrats today acknowledging that they're going to be grossly outspent by the Republicans.

And this is just -- this is one quote from Terry McAuliffe: "I'm not sure we'll ever be competitive with the Republicans on money. We don't need as much money as the Republicans. We have the issues on our side," he said. But take a look at this. These are totals for 2002, hard money. Republicans raised $402 million, the Democrats just a little over half that, 220.

Are Democrats going to be at a major disadvantage here?

BACKUS: Well, first of all, Terry McAuliffe laid out at this meeting a very innovative and visionary tack that the Democrats are going to take. They've reinvested in technology to raise more money.

But, second of all, look, we're not the party of the pharmaceutical industry. We not the party of the Enron board of directors. We don't have the special interest money, but we'll have enough to be competitive.

WOODRUFF: Jim Dyke?

DYKE: It's like the guy who keeps buying new golf clubs because he wants to play better golf. At some point, he realizes that it's not the club's fault.

And Democrats have to realize that they have to put forward a positive message, a positive agenda, and rally around a positive leader. And, again, the first day is almost over and we haven't seen it yet. I hope there's still an opportunity tomorrow to take advantage of it. BACKUS: I don't know who Jim's been listening to, but it reminds me a little bit of President Bush I.

DYKE: C-SPAN and CNN -- and CNN.

BACKUS: Well, President Bush I, who wasn't aware what a grocery scanner is. I'm thinking that this White House is starting to be more and more out of...

DYKE: Well, this isn't President Bush I. This president's got a bold plan to create jobs and make sure every American who wants to find a job can get a job.

BACKUS: Look at the job chart right now. Look at the deficit chart.

WOODRUFF: We know that Jim Dyke is going to spend the weekend watching the Democrats on C-SPAN and on CNN.

BACKUS: Great. The's great. Maybe we can get him over.

WOODRUFF: Jenny and Jim, thank you both. Good to see you.

DYKE: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: We'll see you next week.

Question: Will a comedian help to launch a new radio network that leans left? Up next, we'll talk to a radio executive who wants to put noted liberals, such as Al Franken, in front of the microphone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Some Chicago investors and an Atlanta radio executive believe America is ready for a left-leaning version of Rush Limbaugh. They are trying to start a liberal radio network to counteract the huge success of conservative talk shows.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: It's "Hightower Radio" with Jim Hightower.

JIM HIGHTOWER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: And I'm with you right here coming from the chat and chew.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): We've all heard of highly touted liberal talk shows that didn't make it, while the radio dial is full of successful conservatives: Sean Hannity, Michael Reagan and, of course, Rush Limbaugh, who reaches an estimated 20 million listeners a week.

LIMBAUGH: You people in the press have got to understand something. This country is conservative. It has been for a long time. Get used to it.

WOODRUFF: That success has long rankled Democrats. Hillary Clinton blamed a vast right-wing conspiracy for drumming up the Whitewater scandal. After his party lost the Senate, Tom Daschle went a step further, saying Limbaugh has a dangerous effect on his listeners.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: People aren't satisfied just to listen. They want to act because they get emotionally invested. And so the threats to those of us in public life go up dramatically and on our families and on us.

WOODRUFF: Limbaugh called Daschle's accusation ridiculous.

LIMBAUGH: This is whining. In fact, my understanding is that he's backing off of that a little bit or trying to water that down and saying something about the fact that I should still realize that my words have consequences. Well, I know that. I know. We won. Of course my words have consequences.

WOODRUFF: A nasty fight. And if investors succeed in creating a liberal radio alternative, it could get nastier. They're reportedly trying to sign up comedian Al Franken, author of a book that was titled "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Well, if the liberal radio network gets off the ground, Jon Sinton of AnShell Media would be, we're told, its chief executive. He joins us now from Atlanta.

Mr. Sinton, why are you doing this?

JON SINTON, CEO, ANSHELL MEDIA: Well, Ms. Woodruff, I think because it needs to be done.

If you want to look at it from a completely agnostic point of view, take the politics out of it -- because I'm a radio guy -- I'm a businessman -- any time you create such a huge vacuum, nature abhors a vacuum. The vacuum needs to be filled. In terms of market speak, there is a hole on the left side of this market that you could drive a truck through. That needs to be done.

Add the political dimension to it and I think it becomes even more clear that it needs to be done. Our democracy deserves a free and open exchange of ideas. And I think most of the people who think the way that I think are pretty tired of having Rush and Sean and the rest of the right-wing crowd tell the American people how we feel about things. I think we should be able to tell the people how we feel all by ourselves.

WOODRUFF: But I know you're aware there have been other attempts to put liberals on the radio and most of those have not been successful. What makes you think this is going to work?

SINTON: Well, I think that they've been unsuccessful, in the measure they have been unsuccessful, for two important reasons.

One is, radio is a fragmented medium, which is to say that the listeners who tune in a particular radio station expect to hear something particular. If you're a Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones fan and you tune in your rock radio station and the next song that you hear is one of your kids' rap, hip-hop or Britney Spears kind of pop favorites, you're going to change the station and say, hey, what happened? That's not why I tuned in.

It violates the listeners' expectations. I think -- I was the executive producer of the original "Hightower Radio." And, incidentally, Jim Hightower is still on the radio today, has been for 10 years, doing his short-form commentaries. But the long-form show that we started on ABC, unfortunately, got dropped into a very conservative landscape.

And I think that it violated the conservative listeners' expectations and they tuned out and said horrible things about us. And it violated -- or I guess it didn't address the expectations of more liberal radio listeners, who never would have gone to the radio station in the first place. So, I think formatic purity is an issue.

WOODRUFF: Well, let me just ask you, let me quote somebody. He's the head of something called Premiere Radio Networks. His name is Kraig Litchin (sic). This network includes several conservative talk shows.

He says he doesn't see money in a liberal network. And I'm just quoting him. He says, "Liberals are dry and less entertaining." He says, "It's very hard to define liberalism, unlike how easy it is to define conservatism." As a result, he said it doesn't evoke the kind of passion.

SINTON: I'll do Kraig a favor and correct his last name. It's Kraig Kitchin, actually.

WOODRUFF: Oh, my apologies.

SINTON: I'm sure he'll accept.

But having done him that favor, let me say this in response. That's absolutely pap. That's the craziest thing I've ever heard. Was Franklin Delano Roosevelt undefinable? Was Lyndon Johnson undefinable? Was Bill Clinton undefinable? People know the difference between liberalism and conservatism. That's ridiculous.

And it's even more ridiculous to say that liberals don't have a sense of humor. In fact, our sole purpose in doing this is to entertain and enlighten through entertainment. Nobody on our network is going to get up and try to out-Rush Rush. You can't do it. He's really good at what he does. We're not going to beat him at his own game.

You know what, though? A lot of the people who make television, who make movies, who write books, and who make records do tend to lean our way. And they're entertaining people and they're creative people. And that if we...

WOODRUFF: So, who have you signed up? Have you signed up Al Franken yet? SINTON: We're very close to Al. You've heard other names bandied about, Janeane Garofalo and Bill Maher and so forth. And I don't think that we're ready to necessarily identify anybody more completely than that. That gives you a general direction and idea of what we're trying to do.

WOODRUFF: And you're looking at the fall?

(CROSSTALK)

SINTON: Yes, exactly. I don't expect to debut until the fourth quarter of this year. And by virtue of that, I don't think we're really ready to name names.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Sinton of AnShell Media, who, if this happens, would be the head of it, we thank you for talking to us.

SINTON: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

WOODRUFF: We'll check back in with you to see how it's going.

SINTON: I hope you do.

WOODRUFF: Well, we check the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily" next. Oklahomans banned cockfighting back in November, but the issue is back up for debate at the state Capitol.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our Friday edition of "Campaign News Daily": Georgia Republicans Party Chairman Ralph Reed says he's stepping down. Reed is credited with orchestrating big GOP victories in Georgia last fall, including upset wins for governor and a U.S. Senate seat. Reed now plans to focus on President Bush's reelection.

Senator Tom Harkin is moving ahead with his Iowa road show for Democratic hopefuls. Harkin plans to host town hall meetings with each candidate in different Iowa cities once a month starting in April. As a result of a drawing held yesterday, John Edwards will go first in Polk County, followed in May by Howard Dean in Davenport, and then Kerry, Gephardt, Sharpton, and Lieberman. Carol Moseley-Braun and Dennis Kucinich, along with any other future candidates, will also be offered a chance to join Harkin on the road.

The Kansas state Senate has vote to allow communists on the state ballot as well as political parties with three-word names. For years, Kansas ballots have included mainly Republicans and Democrats. The new bill lifts a 1941 ban on the Communist Party and would remove a turn-of-the-century ban on three-name groups, such as the Natural Law Party.

In Oklahoma, a state Senate committee has approved a bill that would downgrade the penalty for cockfighting to a misdemeanor. You may recall, Oklahomans banned cockfighting last November and made it a felony to own or to train the birds. But the sponsor of the new bill accuses animal-rights activists of using what he called a smear campaign against rural Oklahomans.

I'm an Oklahoma native. Hmm.

Next here, a relationship in need of therapy: why the U.S. and a certain European ally find it so hard to get along.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As the U.S. considers military action against Iraq, one nation has stood apart in its vocal opposition to U.S. policies and its ability to irritate many Americans.

Our Bill Schneider is here with more on this -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: What is it with the French? Why can't they get with the program? Maybe because they have their own program. Americans may not like it, but it works for them.

It even gets them the "Political Play of the Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The French have this special talent for driving Americans crazy.

The U.S. gives them their own Disneyland and what do the French do? Protest. A Frenchman goes to jail for attacking a McDonald's and what do his countrymen do? Protest. The Bush administration tries to build a coalition to take away Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and what do the French do? Protest.

This week, French President Jacques Chirac threatened to veto a new U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

JACQUES CHIRAC, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): It is not necessary to have a second resolution, to which France could only be opposed.

SCHNEIDER: This time, Americans had had enough -- no more French wine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we can do one little thing, one special thing, like not buying French wine, because they're not supporting us, if we can do that one thing, it feels like we've done something.

SCHNEIDER: No more French fries.

Of course, the Germans oppose U.S. policy in Iraq just as much as the French do, but you don't hear many anti-German jokes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

JAY LENO, HOST: I think President Bush is handling the French all wrong. He keeps sending in like Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell to try and win them over. What Bush should do is send in someone the French really respect, like Jerry Lewis. (END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "CROSSFIRE")

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Eric Smith of Los Angeles writes: "In considering France and its actions, I think it's useful to remember the words of a great American philosopher, Frank Zappa -- quote -- 'There is no hell. There is only France.'"

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Could it be the French are up to something? Naturellement. They want to be the leading power in the new united Europe, a Europe united not by anti-fascism or anti-communism, but by anti-Americanism, a force now rampant in Western Europe.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: This is a moment of glory for France. They're right now the center of attention in Europe, around the world. They're the center of a peace movement.

SCHNEIDER: And the winner of (SPEAKING FRENCH).

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Now, this week, President Chirac warned the new democracies of Eastern Europe that, if they want to be part of the new Europe, they better get with the anti-American program. Britain's Tony Blair is not getting with the anti-American program and look what's happening with him. Blair's job rating has fallen. He's at 35 percent in London. And what about Chirac? He is at 62.

WOODRUFF: Naturellement.

SCHNEIDER: Naturellement.

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: Merci beaucoup, Monsieur.

SCHNEIDER: (SPEAKING IN FRENCH)

(LAUGHTER)

WOODRUFF: OK.

New on the silver screen today: "Gods and Generals." But up next, the Civil War saga might be subtitled congressional cameos. We'll show you some familiar faces in costume when we return.

(INTERRUPTED BY CNN COVERAGE OF LIVE EVENT)

WOODRUFF: That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. We thank you for joining us.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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