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President Bush Letting Some at Highest Levels Know He Isn't Happy About Prisoner Abuse Scandal; The Fame Game

Aired May 6, 2004 - 08:30   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Also, if you've ever wondered why some people and some stories make the front page and others don't, we may have the answer. Award-winning journalist Maureen Orth has covered the infamous and the famous, and she's uncovered the star- making machinery in a new book.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: A good book, too. It's for people in our business, too, when we look at this stuff every day, so intriguing thoughts coming up from Maureen in a moment.

Top stories here at the half hour, the president meets today with Jordan's King Abdullah. The White House visit postponed about a month ago, after the president had endorsed Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan. Sharon's ruling party rejected that plan earlier this week. The meeting today is expected to talk about ways to restart the Middle East peace process.

More allegations of prisoner mistreatment. This time at a U.S. prison camp in Gitmo, in Cuba. Military sources say two guards there have been given administrative punishments in connections with claims of prisoner abuse. A broader investigation is expected.

A bizarre tale out of Tucson, Arizona. An afternoon on the family trampoline turned into a scary ride in the sky. Gusting high winds sent the trampoline soaring into the air, with 10-year-old Alyssa Coffile still on it. Alyssa's aunt said the gust blew the trampoline and her niece up and over the top of her house.


ALYSSA COFFILE, HURT ON TRAMPOLINE: I put one foot on the ground, and I didn't make it out of the trampoline.

I was scared. I didn't think I could make it.


HEMMER: Wow, little Alyssa recovering in a partial body cast after suffering a broken leg in that incident, again, out of Arizona.

Federal investigators have focused on what caused the tail rotor of that NBC News helicopter to fail. A preliminary reported expected in about five days. The chopper and crew covering a breaking story in Brooklyn when the pilot lost power. The helicopter pilot spiraling out of control, clipping a building, breaking apart, crashing on to the top of a buildings. The two pilots and reporter on board miraculously recovering from minor injuries. Some of them still in the hospital we are told, but wow.

Every time you watch that, it's tough to take your eye off it, isn't it?

COLLINS: It's terrible. They're so, so lucky.

HEMMER: Lucky for them.


COLLINS: President Bush is letting some of those at the highest levels know he isn't happy about the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has already been scolded by the president, will likely face a tough audience tomorrow when he testifies on Capitol Hill.

Ed Henry is there live with a look ahead.

Ed, hello to you.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Heidi. Secretary Rumsfeld will square off with the Senate Armed Services Committee for two full hours on Friday morning. He'll face tough question in public, and then he'll head to a secure room in the capital for a private showdown with the entire chamber.


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rumsfeld will face senators in both parties who are furious about being kept in the dark.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: He's going to be grilled pretty good about what happened, how it happened and how far up the chain it looks like it went.

HENRY: Members of the Armed Services panel have a checklist of concerns they are demanding Rumsfeld address. The top Democrat on the panel, Carl Levin, told CNN he expects a direct apology from Rumsfeld to show the buck stops with the man at the top. Senators want to know whether enlisted personnel were acting on their own or carrying out orders from higher ups. What role did private contractors play at the prison? And why didn't Rumsfeld tell lawmakers about the controversy last week when he brief them just hours before CBS aired the graphic abuse photos?

SEN. RICHARD DURKIN (D), ILLINOIS: The secretary testified without even indicating to the members of the Senate that this story existed or was about to be disclosed to the American people. That is unacceptable.


HENRY: Heidi, The secretary is facing pressure on another front this morning. Several senators on the Armed Services Committee are now saying that they want this prison in Iraq demolished. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska telling CNN that if Rumsfeld does not follow up and do at on his own, he will sponsor legislation to push it through the Senate, demanding that the Pentagon follow up -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, Ed, and we want to make sure to let everyone know, 11:45 tomorrow, Donald Rumsfeld will be testifying on Capitol Hill.

Workers will break ground on the new World Trade Center on a very appropriate day this summer, Independence Day. The groundbreaking of what will be the world's tallest building, the Freedom Tower, will happen during a huge celebration.

New York Governor George Pataki made it official yesterday.


GOV. GEORGE PATAKI, NEW YORK: On the 4th of July, I think is a great day. It's a symbolic indication that on the date that our country declared its freedom, we are putting the shuttles in the ground for the Freedom Tower as a symbol of our continued belief in that freedom.


COLLINS: The Freedom Tower will be built on the northwest part of the site, not on the footprints of the Twin Towers -- Bill.

HEMMER: About 24 minutes now before the hour, Heidi. The reality TV lens has blurred the definition of celebrity. And now the famous and the infamous feed America's insatiable celebrity appetite. So says Maureen Orth, special correspondent for "Vanity Fair," as she explores the current state of affairs in her new book "The Importance of Being Famous," and it's a good read, too. Maureen Orth, the author, here in New York City, on AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning to you.


HEMMER: Start at the foundation. You write about the celebrity industrial complex. What is that?

ORTH: Well, what I am suggesting is you don't have to be famous anymore to be famous. And what you have are great, big media companies, which own publishers and can give people movies of the week, as well as news interviews, and it's all sort of becoming a big blur, and we're kind of moving, in a lot of ways, toward a checkbook journalism kind of slippery slope.

Anyway, that's one side of it, these big media conglomerates. The other side is the vast army of handlers if someone happens to be a celebrity. Now publicists are for stylists, as well as there's lawyers, there's accountant. There's a huge group of people that shield the celebrity from reality.

HEMMER: You said a whole lot in the answer. You do not have to be famous anymore to be famous.

ORTH: Right. For example, Laci Peterson. That's really how I got got the idea for the book, going out to Modesto, California, and I saw that Laci Peterson's memorial service, her family came in more white limousines than I had seen when I reported Elvis' funeral way back when I started in the '70s.

HEMMER: You know, I think when critics come and talk to us, that's one question we get more often than anything else -- why do you cover the Laci Peterson matter? And why is it important to the American public?

ORTH: One of your very own reporters told me it's because they didn't have tattoos. In other words, Laci and Scott were so good looking, and they looked like they were living the American Dream, and how could a guy who looked that good really maybe have done something that awful.

HEMMER: Are you saying then that 24-hour news cycle and partly cable news networks responsible?

ORTH: I'm not saying they're responsible, I just think that right now, there is such competition with this very wired world of 24/7 news that it's much easier to kind of fill the space with kind of -- sort of scandal and celebrity, and it's easier than having to report the real things.

HEMMER: The last time you were on, you wrote an excellent piece for "Vanity Fair" on Michael Jackson. You've written several articles about Michael Jackson. Are you responsible? Is anybody who reports or writes about these topic responsible?

ORTH: What I feel is that if we're going to saturate coverage about somebody, let's say Michael Jackson, well then, why don't we pull back a little and say, look, this is about a very serious issue, pedophilia. Let's talk about this, instead of just always showing a person who is so addicted to fame that he would dangle his baby over a balcony.

HEMMER: Let me go back to Laci Peterson, it's the first chapter you write in this book, and you quote the late Jerry Nachman from NBC. You say that he told you, "This story is crack for us in the business. We can't stop ourselves."

ORTH: You know, what happens is you have the celebrity, the celebrity lawyers like Mark Geragos, who are hired just as much for how they can speak on television as -- and that's what they want to do.

HEMMER: Which feeds the image.

ORTH: Which feeds the image. And so the defense usually gets a lot more space and time than the accusers, because the government attorneys aren't used to being on TV for one thing, and also, they have to save their evidence for the courtroom. And you've got these willing people to come out there and just feed it. HEMMER: I'm a little short on time. I don't want to emphasize that it's all about Laci Peterson.

ORTH: No, I have 15 case studies of fame.

HEMMER: Hang on a second -- why is Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein in this book? Why is Andrew Cunanan in this book? What's the connection.

ORTH: Andrew Cunanan, for example, was willing to kill for fame. That's how he wanted to be remembered, the killer of Gianni Versace. Gerry Adams had to completely have his image changed in order to come to this country and be received, because he was perceived, in many places, as a terrorist for the IRA. So I detail all the various stages of fame and changing images, and it's 15 personalities, and I hope people enjoy it.

HEMMER: What's the net effect of this? You thought about that yet?

ORTH: Well, the net effect of it is I think that we really are having a bunch of kids grow up with really unhealthy role models.

HEMMER: So you think the impact is on the American child?

ORTH: I think the impact is on our whole society. You make people like Paris Hilton, and Omarosa and Trista and Ryan to Jessica Simpson...

HEMMER: But isn't some of that just fun entertainment?

ORTH: Some of it's fun. But, look, why would you have an MTV show called "I Want a Famous Face." These poor people think that they're going to get -- have a great life because they're going to get plastic surgery and have a famous face. Doesn't that sound a little weird?

HEMMER: Listen, you've been giving us a lot to think about, "The Importance of Being Famous."

Maureen Orth, great to see you again, OK. Best to you. Here's Heidi.

ORTH: Thank you.

COLLINS: And speaking fame, still to come, saying goodbye to the country's most popular sitcom, a look back at what made "Friends" so special to millions of viewers.

And Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with more of his special look at those who have pushed life beyond limits.

Stay with us, on AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: All this week in his series "Life Beyond limits," Dr. Sanjay Gupta has introduced us to people living on the edge.

This morning, he pays homage to some of the great explorers who paved the way for those who dare today.

Sanjay joins us now. Sounds like another great one.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Really incredible people. These are explorers of past and present. They do things that redefine what we think is humanly possible.

What I learned is that for them, it all starts with an idea.


GUPTA (voice-over): What makes people like Lynn Cox able to swim in 32-degree water, or Sven Carlson able to be so strong? Why climb to the top of the world, or dive to the depths of the sea?

I recently visited the Explorers Club in New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to the club.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you.

GUPTA: Which just celebrated its centennial anniversary. It's a gathering place for some of the century's most famous explorers, who took us to the top of the world, to the bottom of the ocean, to the moon, people who, through their own exploration of what's possible, paved the way for the rest of us to explore our own limits.

EDMUND HILLARY, FIRST TO SUMMIT OF MT. EVEREST: I have found that when I achieve some successful objective, I have never been short of other new adventures to undertake.

DON WALSH, FIRST TO BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN: I think we're genetically coded for exploration. If you look at a baby in a mother's arms, it's looking all over the world, the untethered child in a restaurant taking the gum off the bottom of the table.

DR. KENNETH KAMLER, V.P., EXPLORERS CLUB: It's amazing what comes out of you when you push yourself to the limit, when you block out your own Mt. Everest, whatever that might be, and you go for it. You find energy, and you just find you have capacities you never knew you had. If you push yourself to what you think is maybe just barely achievable, whether you get there or not, you've made yourself a better person, and that stays with you your whole life.


GUPTA: Really remarkable people. They call themselves explorers, not adventurers. They want to teach people through their adventures.

1953, they went to the top of the world, 1960, to the bottom of the ocean, 1969, they went to the moon. COLLINS: Wow, it's amazing.

So they call themselves explorers because they want to teach people. But what are doctors able now to learn from them? I mean, are there really medical advances that they're able to see here?

GUPTA: They really are. You know, Ed Veesters (ph), for example, climbs 13 or 14 peaks without oxygen, the highest peaks. How does the human body do that? And what sorts of lessons in terms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, in terms of asthma, things like that, can you learn from situations like that. That's why they study people like Ed.

COLLINS: Amazing. All right, what do we have to look forward to tomorrow?

GUPTA: Well, we're doing more life beyond limits. We've got mountain climbing. Ed Veesters, we've talked about him a little bit, 13 or 14 peaks without oxygen. How does the human body tolerate that. How does he train for it? I think you're going to be surprised, because He's not one of these guys that beats on his chest and sort of is a conqueror, but he's this really thoughtful, insightful guy, a poet who climbs mountains.

COLLINS: If he's not breathing much, he's probably got to be focused, very calm.

All right, Sanjay. Thanks so much.

GUPTA: I do want to remind you.

COLLINS: Also want to make sure to tune in for Sanjay's special one-hour report "LIFE BEYOND LIMITS." You'll see it this Sunday night, 9:00 Eastern, 8:00 Central.

HEMMER: Heidi, it has thrived in primetime for 10 years. And tonight, America's love affair with "Friends" comes to a close.

Sibila Vargas this morning on the magic chemistry of these six friends.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Everybody, this is Rachel, another Lincoln High survivor. This is everybody.


SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America was introduced to "Friends" in the fall of 1994. Bill Clinton was president. "Forrest Gump" was the year's big movie. "Seinfeld" was the No. 1 sitcom. But "Friends" offered something different.

TOM O'NEIL, EDITOR, "INTOUCH WEEKLY": These were six people who got equal amounts of face time. They were a lot sexier than the "Seinfeld," crowd, and they were a lot more loving.

VARGAS: And unlike "Seinfeld," this sitcom was about something.

DAVID CRANE, "FRIENDS" CO-CREATOR: The one-sentence description of this show is it's that one time in your life when your friends are your family.

VARGAS: The show quickly became water cooler talk, thanks in part to the way it explored the sex lives of the sextet.

O'NEIL: Characters talked honestly about sex. In a way, that was really reflective of what happens to people on real dates. We've never seen that before.

VARGAS: "Friends" had an immediate impact on popular taste.

DAVID WILD, AUTHOR: People wanted to be like these characters. They wanted the hair style.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I'm so sad that you're leaving.


VARGAS: By mixing touching moments with comedy, the show established a strong bond with viewers over time.

WILD: The secret of its success is that it was an emotional connection.

VARGAS: And that's what will make it so hard for some to say goodbye.

COURTNEY COX-ARQUETTE, ACTRESS: You can't prepare for that. You can't. I mean, the tears are ridiculously unstoppable.

VARGAS (on camera): Behind these walls, Warner Bros. is hard at work on a spinoff revolving around Joey's character. But they'll be hard pressed to match the incredible impact of "Friends."

Sibila Vargas, CNN, Burbank, California.


HEMMER: And apparently, if you listen to the PR from NBC, they're going to make a huge amount of cash for the network. An estimated $40 million, Super Bowl prices for the commercials later tonight in primetime -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Still to come, is Neutron Jack really about ready to put some fizz back in the world's largest soft drink maker? Some boardroom intrigue with Andy, coming up. Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HEMMER: Welcome back. Here's Jack.


$250 running shoes and an exclusive from my buddy at "Fortune" magazine, Andy Serwer. He's the managing editor over there -- oh, editor at large.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: No. Editor living large.

CAFFERTY: But you uncovered a pretty good story, right?

SERWER: Well, a colleague of mine did?

CAFFERTY: You had nothing to do with it?

SERWER: I didn't, but I'm reporting it.

CAFFERTY: OK. What do you got?

SERWER: All right, Jack Welch, as it turns out, almost ran the Coca-Cola company -- almost tabbed, I should say, to become the new CEO of Coke. My colleague, Betsy Morris, reporting that at right now.

Here's what happened, a source came up to Jack Welch and said, hey, would you be interested in running Coke. At his wedding to Susie Wetlaufer (ph), he said, hey, maybe. They continued negotiating while he was on his honeymoon in Barbados. He finally kind of backed off and said, you know what, I think I'm going to hang out with Susie and write my book.

CAFFERTY: You can always tell the guys who've been married before. He's doing a deal on his honeymoon.

SERWER: I'm not going there.

CAFFERTY: All right, $250 running shoes.

SERWER: The $250 running shoe, this -- Adidas is making this, Jack. I think you better run out and get a pair. They've got a computer chip which will adjust the cushioning levels. "The New York Times" has a very serious story on this. This is not serious. This is silly. It's silly. I mean, what are they going to have, air conditioning in the shoes next? It washes your dishes.

CAFFERTY: Big shoes with air conditioning. I like that.

SERWER: Some economic data. The markets might be interested, although the markets don't seem too interested in anything these days.

I want to just quickly say, we got a picture of the Spider-man bases. That's what the bases are going to look like for the "Spider- man" advertising in Major League Baseball. My question is, that is an aerial view.

CAFFERTY: But who looks at a base that way? You won't see it. You won't be able to see it.

SERWER: Not even if you're at the game.

CAFFERTY: Just looks like a red smudge, if you're back beyond the third row.

SERWER: I can't see that. All right, let's talk about the economy. Yesterday, a mixed day on Wall Street. And what's happening here is we're just sort of breathing a sigh of relief after the Fed meeting and suggesting it's not going to -- or not raising interesting rates and looking like they may down the road. Some numbers out this morning, Jack, pretty interesting, new jobless claims. The lowest since October of 2000. That's good news. Productivity numbers up as well. But the big deal is going to be tomorrow when we get the jobless report.

CAFFERTY: And if that's a big robust number like it was next month, that just may accelerate those interest rates.

SERWER: That's right.

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Andy.

Cafferty File, a main computer repair guy is getting some heat for a phone service that he launched in February. Phil Doyne (ph) gets 10 to 20 calls a week on something he calls his vent line. Callers pay $1.99 a minute to call up and bitch about whatever is on their mind. I can think of a lot of people who would probably go broke using this thing. Some mental health professionals are calling for an investigation. Doyne insist he's providing a listening service, not medical help. And also says, I'm quote, "I'm in it for the money," just like everybody else. He doesn't offer any suggestions. He just lets you whine and says, thank you, send me a check.

If you're looking for free baseball tickets in Detroit, consider going to the emergency room there. The Detroit Medical Center is now promising patients that they'll be seen in under 30 minutes, and if not, they get a choice of tickets to the Detroit Tigers, the new Detroit Science Center, or the City's Museum of African-American History, assuming they're still well enough after visiting that facility to attend any of those events. The medical center's chief executive says it's all part of making theirs the best health system in Michigan.

SERWER: I can see the connection between the Tigers and the best health care system. I get it.

CAFFERTY: I've got one more here.

In other medical news, fans of "ER" will soon have a chance to get closer to the action. Stars of the hit NBC drama will lend their voices to a new computer game due out this fall. The game casts the player as an intern at Cook County General Hospital. There you'll have to work with patients, deal with hospital politics, ethical dilemmas and red-hot office romances. SERWER: Medical moment, right?

CAFFERTY: Medical moment.

SERWER: Did you get clearance from Sanjay to do all of that?

CAFFERTY: No, I didn't, but I love the story about the guy with all the nails in his head. That was my favorite this morning.

SERWER: That was a good one, yes.

HEMMER: And more on that next hour, in fact, so says this voice in my ear.

In a moment here, is all the criticism in Iraq and prisoner scandal there affecting the approval ratings for the president?

New poll numbers are out, and we'll get to it after this on AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: Still to come, cruising California. Get some help from nature, as they battle wildfires, but there's still a lot of hard work to do. An update when we come back, on AMERICAN MORNING.



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