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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Interview With Senator Zell Miller; Analysis of the Third Night of the Republican National Convention
Aired September 1, 2004 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Judy, speaking of Zell Miller, he is here with us. Zell Miller, who delivered the keynote speech. We want to talk to you later. We'll be speaking with Tad Divine, a senior Democratic strategist for the Democratic political ticket.
But Senator Miller, you have accused the Democratic presidential nominee of being a flip-flopper, but remember, as you pointed out yourself, 12-years-ago you were here endorsing Bill Clinton and going after the first President Bush. The Democrats are saying, you've become a flip-flopper.
SEN. ZELL MILLER (D), GEORGIA: They've said a lot of things worse than that. I don't think I've ever used the term flip-flopper of John Kerry. I've talked about this atrocious record that he's had for 20 years in the United States Senate. What a weak record it is on national defense and what a terrible record it is on raising taxes.
BLITZER: But as you well know, they're been many times over the years, you've worked very closely with him and praised him. The Democrats are circulating information that as recently as three years ago, you were praising him.
SEN. ZELL MILLER (D), GEORGIA: That was before 9/11. That was along about maybe 2001, and I'd come to the Senate, been there for about five or six months. This man was a war hero, and I honor war heroes, and I honor John Kerry's service.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Miller, the Democrats are pointing out that John Kerry voted for 16 of 19 defense budgets that came through Congress while he was in the Senate, and many of these votes that you cited, Dick Cheney also voted against, that they were specific weapons systems.
MILLER: What I was talking about was a period of 19 years in the Senate. I've been in the Senate for four years. There's quite a few years' difference there. I have gotten documentation on every single one of those votes that I talked about here today. I've got more documentation here than the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library put together on that.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: You also were, I would say, almost indignant that anyone would possibly call America military occupiers, not liberators, on at least four occasions. President Bush has referred to the presence of American forces in Iraq as an occupation, and the question is: Are you not selectively choosing words to describe the same situation the president of the United States is describing?
MILLER: I don't know if the president of the United States uses those words, but I know Senator Kennedy and Senator Kerry have used them on several occasions.
GREENFIELD: Yes. So has President Bush.
MILLER: Well, I don't know about that.
GREENFIELD: Well, we'll...
BLITZER: You know that when the secretary -- when the vice president was the secretary of defense he proposed cutting back on the B-2 Bomber, the F-14 Tomcat as well. I covered him at the Pentagon during those years when he was raising serious concerns about those two weapons systems.
MILLER: Look, the record is, as I stated, he voted against, he opposed all of those weapons systems. That, to me, I think shows the kind of priority he has as far as national defense.
Look, John Kerry came back from Vietnam as a young man unsure of whether America was a force for good or evil in the world. He still has that uncertainty about him.
WOODRUFF: You praised him...
GREENFIELD: Then why did you say in 2001 that he strengthened the military? You said that three years ago.
MILLER: Because that was the biographical sketch that they gave me. This young senator -- not young senator, but new senator had come up there, and all I knew was that this man had won the Purple Heart three times and won the Silver Star and...
Look, I went back and researched the records, and I looked at these, and I -- when I was putting that speech together, I wanted to make sure, whenever I sat down with people like you who would take these talking points from the Democrats and who also have covered politics for years, that I would know exactly what I was talking about, and we don't have time to go through it on the air, but I can go through every one of those things that were mentioned about where he voted.
He voted against the B-1 Bomber...
BLITZER: A lot of...
MILLER: ... on October the 15th, '90, and on and on.
WOODRUFF: But do you simply reject the idea that Vice President Cheney, as Wolf said and as we know from the record, also voted against some of these systems?
MILLER: I don't think Cheney voted against these. BLITZER: No, but he opposed some of them when he was the defense secretary, and sometimes he was overruled by the Congress because he was concerned, he was worried that the defense of the United States could be better served by some other weapons systems, not specifically those. I'm specifically referring to the B-2 and the F-14 Tomcat.
MILLER: I'm talking about John Kerry's record. I'll let Dick Cheney, the vice president, answer those charges. He knows what happened in the Department of Defense years ago. I don't know that.
But I do know, because I've looked it up and it's there for everyone to see, that he voted against those positions as far as those weapons were concerned. He voted against all the weapons that really won the war against Communism, the Cold War and that are now winning the war on terror.
BLITZER: I know you have to move on because you have other things to do, but when you were speaking tonight -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- you seemed very angry.
MILLER: Me angry?
BLITZER: Yes, sir.
MILLER: No, no. I'm sorry if I gave that appearance. I was very...
BLITZER: But you -- you seemed so angry that there are already some suggesting that the appearance could actually backfire from the cause that you're promoting tonight...
MILLER: I'm sure probably some anchors are saying that.
BLITZER: ... and the bottom line...
MILLER: That's what anchors do.
BLITZER: The bottom line question is: Why are you still a Democrat?
MILLER: Because I was born a Democrat and because I was...
WOODRUFF: But other people change parties.
MILLER: Well, other people are not Zell Miller. I don't change parties. I'm going to die a Democrat. I'm going up to the pearly gates, and I'm going to see my maker, and I'm going to see my mama and daddy, and I'm going to say I remained a Democrat, a conservative Democrat.
See, you talk about your voting for all these Republican things. I voted for the conservative proposals. If the Democrats had put any conservative proposals up there, I would have voted with them.
There's nobody that welcomes a conservative Democrat in the party anymore. There's no room for us.
BLITZER: Senator Zell Miller, thanks for spending a few moments with us.
MILLER: I know somebody that wrote a book about that.
BLITZER: All right.
WOODRUFF: We appreciate it.
BLITZER: We're going to move on now. Let's get a different -- a very, very different -- perspective, albeit from another Democrat. That would be Tad Devine. He's a senior strategist for the John Kerry campaign.
Let's get your immediate reaction to what you heard tonight, Tad.
TAD DEVINE, SENIOR KERRY ADVISER: Well, Wolf, I think what we heard tonight was the difference between the politics of hope and the politics of fear.
I mean, I think of John Edwards' acceptance speech in Boston which was all about hope, the hope for the future of this country, for jobs, for health care, for the possibilities of America, and, tonight, with both Senator Miller and then with the vice president, the politics of fear, smear and attack.
And, unfortunately, because of this president's record, the record of job loss, the record of incredible cost of health care escalating under his leadership -- the vice president said the president made health care more accessible and affordable. That simply is not true, as everyone in this country who's struggling to pay for health care, I think, understands.
So we've seen a great difference between these parties. The Republican Party for three nights talking nothing at all about the agenda for America, for jobs, for health care, and I think these differences are like night and day.
BLITZER: But, Tad, do you dispute any of the facts that, for example, Senator Zell Miller had that he pointed out that Kerry voted against all these weapons systems over the course of his Senate career. Do you dispute any of those votes?
DEVINE: Wolf, I think your cross-examination of the senator really exposed the fact that he simply didn't know what he was talking about. I mean, Senator Miller says now after September 11, John Kerry changed his mind.
I mean, a few years ago, Senator Miller introduced John Kerry in Georgia as an authentic America hero. I mean, when did he stop being an authentic American hero?
I mean, listen, he's decided to come and do the dirty work for the Republicans. The vice president's been doing the dirty work for the president since the beginning of this campaign. So... And, listen, many of the systems that we're talking about -- weapons systems -- Dick Cheney tried to eliminate when he was secretary of defense.
I mean, there is no limit to the hypocrisy of what's going on on the other side. We're not going to be brought into it because the American people want this nation to go in a new direction, and really that's what our campaign's all about.
WOODRUFF: Tad Devine, let me ask you about what Vice President Cheney said about your candidate. He said John Kerry -- "his back- and-forth reflects a habit of indecision and sends a message of confusion." He went on to say he's been for and then against the No Child Left Behind Act, for and against the Patriot Act, for and against the North American Free Trade Agreement, and so on. What is the truth of that?
DEVINE: Well, the truth, Judy, is that the effort of the vice president tonight was not to inform the American people, but to mislead them.
For example, on No Child Left Behind, the president of the United States made a commitment to fully fund education reforms, and the president of the United States turned his back on that commitment. I mean, you know, unfortunately, this president does not believe in funding education.
This president has not come through with his commitments in respect to job creation. The vice president talked about tax cuts and what they yielded. In fact, what they have yielded is massive federal budget deficits.
So, you know, I think the vice president is simply not a credible spokesman on these issues at all.
GREENFIELD: Tad, let's broaden this out a bit. John Kerry came to public life like many Democrats as an opponent of the Vietnam War. Through the '80s and '90s, there was a substantial, if not majority, wing of the Democratic Party that was extremely skeptical about the use of force in American power, opposing things like Ronald Reagan's deployment of missiles in Western Europe and defense budgets in general.
Now as candidly as a Democratic operative can say, in the post- 9/11 conflicts, doesn't that record, whatever the details, pose a problem for John Kerry in attempting to say I would be the leader of a strong quasi-wartime America?
DEVINE: Jeff, I don't think it does because I think all Americans realized in the wake of 9/11 that we had to change our posture. John Kerry has said repeatedly -- and the vice president chose to ignore this tonight -- that he is prepared to use force to defend America, that he would use force without anyone else's approval, that he understands that his first priority and commitment as president of the United States is to defend the nation. Unfortunately, the vice president chose to ignore that, and I think I know why he chose to ignore it, because he -- if he didn't attack John Kerry, he would have to talk about the record of failure of this administration. If he didn't attack John Kerry, he might have to be accountable for his own failures, such as his work as the CEO of Halliburton, a company now under federal investigation on three different issues for work done while Dick Cheney was a CEO of that company.
So they don't want to talk about their record, either Cheney's record at Halliburton or the Bush-Cheney record in office, because it's a miserable record.
BLITZER: Tad Devine, the most effective and the most popular line against John Kerry is a line that comes from his own words when he said -- and I'm paraphrasing -- now first I voted for the $87 billion, then I voted against it -- the money to protect, to support U.S. military forces in Iraq. How can you explain that kind of vote? He was only among 12 senators, I believe, that voted against that $87 billion appropriation.
DEVINE: I think it's very simple to explain, Wolf. $20 billion of that $87 billion was a blank check to be given to companies like Halliburton, the vice president's old company, a blank check for a company that has received $7 billion and no big contracts. John Kerry stood up and said we shouldn't give Halliburton, Dick Cheney and their friends, the powerful special interests who George Bush and Dick Cheney are beholden to, a blank check.
And, also, that we should pay for it. I mean, this administration doesn't believe in paying its debts. That's why they've turned the greatest surplus in the history of American politics and government into the greatest deficits. So he voted for responsibility, something these Republicans don't seem to understand.
WOODRUFF: Tad Devine, let me ask you about something that Dick Cheney said that some people might say was a devastating criticism. He said, "John Kerry declared at the Democratic Convention, 'We will forcefully defend America after we have been attacked'." He went on to say, "My fellow Americans, we've already been attacked." How do you answer that?
DEVINE: I answer that, Judy, by saying that that is an absolute complete lie, and the vice president of the United States knows it. John Kerry has said repeatedly that he is prepared to use military force to defend America and is prepared to do it preemptively, if that is needed.
The vice president -- for the vice president of the United States to criticize John Kerry and his capacity to be commander in chief, I find that stunning, particularly given the vice president's own background and lack of military service.
So I think they're attacking John Kerry for a simple reason. They cannot attack the problems that this nation faces, and that's why the people of this country desperately want to go in a new direction. BLITZER: Tad Devine, a senior political strategist for the Kerry campaign.
Thanks for spending a few moments with us tonight.
We just want to remind our viewers that a month ago after the then vice president -- Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards spoke, we also gave an opportunity to the Republicans to react right away as well. That would have been Ralph Reed, a senior strategist for the Bush campaign, who spoke after John Edwards' acceptance speech.
Let's go down to Dana Bash, our White House correspondent, on the floor -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are questions being raised about the fact that one of Dick Cheney's daughters was not on the stage. She instead was in his VIP box. That's Mary Cheney. She is somebody who is gay, and the vice president has talked about that, talked about that being the reason he is not for a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.
The Cheney campaign called us, let us know that she was not going to be on the stage beforehand, that it was her particular choice to do that, didn't give that -- the reason why she made that choice, but already, Wolf, we're hearing from Democrats saying that essentially they're trying to hide her, that they're keeping her away from him because they say there are conservatives there who would have been very unhappy to see her.
BLITZER: Four years ago, both daughters, I remember, were, of course, on the stage when the then vice presidential nominee got his -- delivered his acceptance speech.
Thanks very much, Dana Bash, for that.
Much more coverage coming up from here at the Republican National Convention in New York city at Madison Square Garden.
A special edition of "NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown. That's coming up, complete analysis, a full hour's report, as well as "LARRY KING LIVE," a second edition at midnight.
We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: That wraps up our coverage from Madison Square Garden of the Republican National Convention here in New York City, but much more coverage coming up, a special edition of "NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown.
For Jeff Greenfield and Judy Woodruff, I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. Let's turn it over to Aaron right now -- Aaron.
AARON, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you very much. Nice job again tonight.
Good night again, everyone. There was enough red meat in Madison Square Garden to make the Atkins dieters happy for a year. I'm not sure the Democrats are very thrilled.
Quickly to Jeff Greenfield to start us off as we work our way around the convention floor and beyond.
Jeff, obviously, the speech people are going to talk about -- I don't know if anybody's going to remember the vice president's speech tomorrow morning, honestly. They'll remember the Zell Miller speech. Will it matter? Will it change the equation at all?
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The only way it could matter is that it -- it is -- it's kind of a throwback to the kind of speeches that were routine at conventions decades ago, when you were -- when the keynoter, which is what Zell Miller was, was supposed to come out and basically beat the other party upside the head.
Now we are in a different environment now in which that kind of an attack on a political party is considered often over the top, and I think you will see references from liberals and Democrats back to the 1992 convention where Pat Buchanan struck a very harsh tone.
I mean, when you say basically that the effort against terrorism is being weakened because of the Democrats' obsession with bringing down a commander in chief, you are basically saying that the other party is not part of an effort to defeat the enemies of the United States.
I have not heard language that rough at a convention in recent years, and the question is whether people are going to think of it as, you know, that's what happens in politics or whether in the current climate of politics, that's going to be seen as intense.
And the other thing is I think that the -- as you know, the Democrats have already been combing over Zell Miller's speech with a fine-tooth comb, and, if it turns out, for instance, as I asked Senator Miller, that President Bush used the same term "occupier," then that indignation that Zell Miller demonstrated is going to seem a little bit off kilter.
So I think -- I think we're going to have to see how the facts play out and whether the public thinks this is just good old- fashioned, rough-and-tumble American politics or something more.
BROWN: By and large, I think most voters aren't going to go to check the facts. They're not.
GREENFIELD: Well, I -- I agree with that, but I also think within the political community, within the community of bloggers, within the people who write about it, because the secondary impact of a speech like this in columns and on -- in the press, it's going to matter. Clearly, the people who are on George Bush's side, most of the dominant talk-radio personalities, are not going to have a problem with Zell Miller's speech. But if, in fact, voters say, you know, they're tired of the slam-bang American politics, the kind of politics that John McCain has often condemned, there could conceivably be fallout from this.
I simply -- look, I've often said to you, Aaron, if I could see the future, I'd buy a lottery ticket and I wouldn't be here. So I don't know how it's going to play out, but that's the -- those -- that's the terrain I'm going to be looking at for the next 48 hours.
BROWN: I'm with you. I don't think any of us knows.
John King, our senior White House correspondent.
Did the vice president's speech get lost in all of this, or is it just the way I saw it on TV?
JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I think most of the attention will be focused on Zell Miller's speech, and Democrats are doing just what Jeff said -- predicted they would do. They are saying it is angry in its tone, bitter in its tone, much like Pat Buchanan back in 1992.
The vice president tried to show a bit of a human side to himself. We'll see whether that gets through at all, a very serious and sober speech.
One thing most interesting in the vice president's speech, this is a man who does not back away. He still says the greatest threat in this country is the terrorists who get chemical and biological or nuclear weapons, a very sober assessment, and a very sharp attack, following Zell Miller's attack.
And, Aaron, the Republicans come in here, they say they have momentum, they say they're feeling a bit better about the campaign, but let's make no mistake about it: This president's approval rating is right at 50 percent. More than a majority of Americans think the country's on the wrong track.
Predictions are the economic report, the unemployment numbers will come out the Friday after this convention ends, won't be so strong. There's a reason they're hitting John Kerry so hard. They have to.
BROWN: John, thank you.
Candy, you were down on the floor. I'm not sure there's any brilliance in this question or, frankly, any question I ever ask. I'm just curious what it felt like down there during that. It was -- I think Jeff referred to it as old-fashioned political talk. It sure felt that way. Was it electric down there? CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Very. Yes. This was another speech where a lot of the delegates were on their feet. They did love it, and it's very different...
It wasn't so much that the vice president didn't say anything that was tough. I mean, he went through John Kerry's record. It's just the tone in which he says it was so different from Zell Miller who was so energized, so -- the crowd picks up on the style of the speaker.
So, while Cheney, they loved, it was Zell Miller that really got them -- you know, their juices flowing.
BROWN: I try not to ask questions like this one I'm about to. Do you think in retrospect the Democrats regret that they were not tougher, harder, more personal, edgy, or whatever adjective you want to come up with when they look at how a night like tonight played out?
CROWLEY: I think we have to wait to see how a night like tonight played out. I don't think they are at that point. They are still saying we held a positive convention, we were, you know, upbeat and optimistic and all of that kind of stuff, so I don't think until we get to, you know, November 3, will we know whether that was a mistake.
BROWN: Candy, thank you.
Bill Schneider is with us.
One of the things I think that happens during conventions -- you have these four days, there's this intense look at one party, their message or another, and we tend, I think, sometimes -- all of us, I mean. I don't mean just people in the business, but citizens, everybody -- to overstate the importance of any particular moment or any particular week.
So bring us down to earth a little bit. Did the needle move? Has the needle moved this week?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it might have for one simple reason. This speech and a lot of this convention is not aimed at swing voters, the way the Democrats' convention was.
BROWN: Who's it aimed at?
SCHNEIDER: It's aimed at the party's base. They think there is a majority of Americans that they can bring out to vote by getting them angry, by getting their juices flowing, by reinforcing some powerful...
BROWN: So this whole conventional wisdom, this whole notion that this election is about the several million -- however many million it is -- undecided voters isn't it. What you're saying is that this election is now about getting the people who agree with you to actually go and vote.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying, and that, to my mind, is exactly what the Republicans are aiming out.
Now they had all these moderate speakers, but the moderate speakers, we discussed last night, aren't giving moderate speeches. They're giving speeches in which they're echoing a lot of this red meat.
This is a very angry convention. It's a very belligerent convention. I mean, I've covered 16 conventions. Now Jeff said, in the past, you had speeches like this. I've never heard such an angry speech. Democrats will call it...
BROWN: Do you think this was angrier than the Buchanan speech?
SCHNEIDER: In a way, yes, I do. I do because it was basically accusing the Democrats -- there were some breathtaking accusations. Look at this.
"Our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief."
He's blaming the divisions in America on John Kerry. Most Democrats -- and I think most Americans -- would say, wait a minute, America was divided long before Kerry was a serious candidate. This country was divided over Iraq, and, to be fair, for one year after September 11, the country was united, and most Democrats supported President Bush.
So this was -- this convention and that speech is aimed at getting juices flowing among conservatives and among Republicans and among people who sympathize with this point of view. The idea is they want to bring them out to vote and overwhelm the Democrats. It's never worked in a presidential election. It's only worked in midterms. So we'll have to see.
BROWN: We'll have to see. That much I know.
Thank you, Bill Schneider, for being with us.
As we go along tonight, there are more people to talk to, but, if you missed some of what went on tonight -- and, obviously, it was quite an hour. The hour from 10:00 to 11:00 was the full meal deal, as my kid say -- here are the highlights from Madison Square Garden.
BROWN (voice-over): It was his second keynote address before a political convention. The first keynote, a dozen years ago, he gave to his party, the Democrats. Tonight, Georgia's Zell Miller went on the attack against that party.
MILLER: They don't believe there's any real danger in the world, except that which American brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided foreign policy. It is not their patriotism, it is their judgment that has been so sorely lacking.
BROWN: Twelve years ago, he roused the faithful. He did again tonight.
MILLER: Right now, the world just cannot afford an indecisive America. Fainthearted self-indulgence will put at risk all we care about in this world. In this hour of danger, our president has had the courage to stand up, and this Democrat is proud to stand up with him.
BROWN: Tonight was also the traditional night for the vice president to take center stage, and the vice president was as tough as his reputation.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: History has shown that a strong and purposeful America is vital to preserving freedom and keeping us safe, yet time and again Senator Kerry has made the wrong call on national security.
BROWN: And in case you missed it the first time, he offered the same thought again.
CHENEY: A senator can be wrong for 20 years without consequence to the nation, but a president -- a president always casts the deciding vote, and, in this time of challenge, America needs and America has a president we can count on to get it right.
BROWN: The vice president as he accepted the renomination of his party a short time ago at Madison Square Garden in New York.
In Nashville, Tennessee, earlier today, at the American Legion Convention, Senator Kerry seemed determined to give as good as he's been getting, and he has been getting and he got tonight. When it comes to Iraq, he said, "It's not that I would have done one thing differently from the president." "I would have done everything differently," he said.
Reporting on the Kerry day, CNN's Joe Johns.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Following strains of "Anchors Away," former Navy Lieutenant John Kerry weighed in on whether the United States can win the war on terror.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: With the right policies, this is a war we can win, this is a war we must win, and this is a war we will win.
JOHNS: Referring to recent controversial statements by the president, one of which Mr. Bush has retreated from, Kerry was back on the attack over U.S. foreign policy.
KERRY: I don't think we need what President Bush has defined as a catastrophic success. I think we need a real success.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, all. JOHNS: Speaking just a day after the president addressed the American Legion, Kerry played up his credentials as a veteran and a Legionnaire, telling them how he would have done things differently.
KERRY: I would have given the inspectors the time they needed to do the job. I would have made sure that we listened to our senior military advisers.
JOHNS: Even before he spoke, the Bush campaign slammed Kerry for inconsistency on Iraq, saying the only way to track his position is to follow which position benefits him politically. Kerry made no mention of the Swift Boat ads questioning his time in Vietnam, and, for some, that was old news.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I -- that doesn't matter to me. You know, what I care about is what you're going to do for veterans today.
JOHNS: And on veterans' health care and benefits, Kerry got some of his biggest applause.
KERRY: Those who fought for our country abroad should never have to fight for what they were promised back here at home.
JOHNS: Senator Kerry is back here in Nantucket where he started the week on vacation, but it all begins -- all ends, I should say, tomorrow night with a midnight rally in the Midwest, just about an hour or so after the balloons drop in New York.
Aaron, back to you.
BROWN: And then is he full-time on the stump basically over the weekend, over the Labor Day weekend, and beyond?
JOHNS: He will be pushing -- I hear there's not a lot to do on Sunday, at least the last I heard about the schedule, there wasn't, and he is basically beginning the fall stretch just about immediately after President Bush's speech -- Aaron.
BROWN: Joe, thank you.
Just as an aside and perhaps apropos of nothing, we'll see how it plays out. With this hurricane coming into -- and it's a big hurricane -- coming into Florida, it has a way, these events, of dominating the news. It's going to take some of the glare off of what both candidates do over the Labor Day weekend, I suspect.
Joe Klein of "TIME" magazine is with us. Joe has been in the hall watching all of this.
Good to have you with us again. Give me your quick take on what went on, particularly Senator Miller, and we'll go from there.
JOE KLEIN, "TIME": Phew!
BROWN: That works for me.
KLEIN: You know, I have been doing this for a fair number of years, and I don't think I've ever seen anything as angry or as ugly as Miller's speech. The difference...
BROWN: Why ugly?
KLEIN: Because -- because -- and this is to follow on to what Bill Schneider was saying. The difference between this speech and Pat Buchanan's speech in '92 is that Pat Buchanan was making a diffuse attack on -- you know, on cultural liberals. Zell Miller was making a very particular and very personal attack on a nominee for president of the United States. I have never -- and not only that, it was -- it was wildly inaccurate, and he said that Kerry would let Paris decide when America goes to war.
Now, you know, that's just a wild distortion of what we're facing here and it occurred to me as I was listening to this, I said to myself, fat lot of good Kerry's nuancing the war in Iraq has been doing. In this room here tonight, Kerry -- Kerry was a peacenik.
BROWN: It is, I dare say, the politically correct thing to say is, we all want our politics to be played at a higher plane. We admire that John McCain refers to this as a disagreement among friends. But in truth, I believe that this kind of angry stuff does work as long as it doesn't cross the line. I'm not sure where the line is. I don't know though any of us knows where the line is, and so it's what everybody is going to be trying to figure out for the next day or so, is whether the line was crossed or tomorrow, does the news cycle take us in a different direction, because the president speaks?
KLEIN: Well, I think that the president's speech will dwarf all the rest of this and the audience for the president's speech will be much larger than the audience tonight, but what we're seeing is a very -- probably the starkest difference in campaign strategy between two parties that I've ever seen. What you clearly have here is the Republicans appealing to their base, being over the top angry. What you really, what you saw with the Democrats a month ago was them being under the top, you know, benign and positive and that's because they believe their focus groups.
Right now in Nantucket I'm told, there's a big meeting going on among the top Kerry advisers about where to take their campaign now and I think that speaks as much as anything to what may be the effectiveness of what we're seeing here this week.
BROWN: When you say where to take their campaign, you mean what?
KLEIN: Well, to make it as angry as these guys are making it. I mean the Kerry campaign touted today's speech as a new direction, that he was going to be tough as nails, tougher than he ever was and he might have been a little bit tougher, but it still wasn't a very tough speech. It was a concise speech. He made his argument, but it wasn't nearly as pitiless and angry as these guys were.
Even, let me just point out, that even the vice president said that John Kerry says he sees two Americas. That's John Edwards' line. It seemed pretty clear to me that Kerry has been careful not to talk about two Americas. So you have angry inaccuracies by the basketful here tonight and I don't know how it's going to play.
BROWN: I don't either, sort of, that's part of the fun of it all. We don't know how it plays. Joe, thank you. Good to see you again tonight. We'll be joined by our Brown table regulars. After the break, the vice president takes us to break. This is NEWSNIGHT.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are so fortunate, each and every one of us, to be citizens of this great nation and to take part in the defining event of our democracy, choosing who will lead us. Historian Bernard DeVoto once wrote that when America was created, the stars must have danced in the sky. Our president understands the miracle of this great country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ZELL MILLER (D) GEORGIA: In this hour of danger, our president has had the courage to stand up and this Democrat is proud to stand up with him. Thank you. God bless this country and God bless George W. Bush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Madison Square Garden emptying out. Zell Miller, the senator from Georgia and the vice president of the United States the featured speakers tonight and up in that group there in that skybox is the Brown table. At our editorial meeting this afternoon, we were talking about how pressed for time we knew we would be and a member of the group who joined us, we won't mention her name, gallantly offered to take the evening off. Not going to happen. NEWSNIGHT always has the time for Nina Terry and John -- Nina Easton of the "Boston Globe," Terry Neal, thewashingtonpost.com and John Harwood of the "Wall Street Journal." Welcome to all of you.
Terry, even before the speech, you sent me a note saying I want to talk about Zell Miller. I want to talk Zell Miller. Your wish, go ahead.
TERRY NEAL, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Well, I just think that the political transformation of Zell Miller is very interesting. Six years ago, I wrote a story that appeared on the front page of the "Washington Post" where I went down to Georgia and I spent a lot -- two days with Zell Miller in the statehouse and in his family home in tiny young Harris, Georgia, up in the mountains. And he revealed a lot to me.
One of the things that he talked about was how sort of one of the pivotal moments in his political, long political career was how in 1994, he almost lost his reelection as governor of Georgia over a symbolic issue and that was his effort to take the confederate flag down from the state house in Georgia. He came back to office with a lesson learned and that was that he was never going to let the Republican Party get to the right of him and he started pushing things like welfare reform, boot camp for juveniles. All these states were pushing three strikes you're out. He pushed for two strikes you're out and got it through.
So he has been moving to the right really strongly since then and hasn't completely made this transformation until relatively late. I don't want to give a whole big lesson on this, but it's more than just his party moving. Zell Miller himself has moved significantly and in a relatively short period of time.
BROWN: John, I'm really curious how you would write the lead to tonight.
JOHN HARWOOD, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, Zell Miller is definitely the lead of the story and I think Cheney Aaron, Republicans like the emotion that he showed tonight in saying don't underestimate what real unvarnished emotion counts for in politics. You got to wonder whether other voters look at Zell and say, he looks like the guy, the spouse in a divorce proceeding who says and oh, yeah, she's a child molester too. How credible are those charges? But I think Aaron, there's a strategic purpose behind what we saw tonight.
I talked to a Bush strategist the other day who said, look, we're not going to get any of the undecided vote. What a speech like this can do is to discourage some of those undecideds for wanting to go out and vote for John Kerry, while encouraging Republicans to turn out, by making them fear John Kerry more. So far in this campaign Democrats have been more effective at getting their base to fear George Bush that Republicans have John Kerry. They turned up the dial tonight.
NINA EASTON, THE BOSTON GLOBE: (INAUDIBLE)
BROWN: Go ahead Nina, go ahead.
EASTON: I just want to jump in. I have to disagree with some of what I've heard on the show earlier tonight about the anger at this convention. Yes, I thought Zell Miller's speech was over the top and particularly because he questioned, came very close to questioning dissent and debate in this country. And he really did -- it was over the top. I saw Newt Gingrich sitting there with this joyful look on his face, New Gingrich who once questioned whether Democrats are normal. So yes, will go there and I'll say that he was a little over the top.
But this question of whether the convention as a whole has been angry, I think back to the Democratic convention and even though the message was they were supposed to be positive, I remember Al Sharpton ripped up his speech and he gave red meat to the audience. Jimmy Carter gave a very barbed, pointed critique of the administration's foreign policy. Ted Kennedy's speech was pretty angry. There was a lot of anger there and people forget that. Now people... (INAUDIBLE)
BROWN: But Nina...at least two out of three of those speeches were not in prime time and were hardly viewed.
EASTON: Right. That's true.
NEAL: Can I make a point here Aaron real quick about the speech too? One of the things -- I counted before I left. He said that he said Bush's name seven times. He said Kerry's name 16 times. The written text of the speech was five pages long. Two of the pages were devoted to ripping John Kerry and the Democrats, one page to giving his biography and one page to praise George W. Bush. It was much more critical of his party than it was about praising George W. Bush.
BROWN: I want to go back, we're running out of time here, back to Mr. Harwood here. John, why do the Republican strategists that you were talking to believe they can't get the undecided vote?
HARWOOD: Well, if you look at the contours of the undecided vote Aaron, our "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll, 70 percent of them think the country is going in the wrong direction. Very very large majority of them have an unfavorable view of George Bush. A lot of that is baked into the cake. There aren't that many of the undecideds and one of the questions is, they're certainly going to break for John Kerry if they vote, but it's not sure they're going to vote.
BROWN: And so just, OK, now with that, go back and explain why a night like tonight might convince them not to vote.
HARWOOD: Well, because when voters remember negative information about somebody, it gives them less of a motivation to turn out. It dulls the desire to go out and say, OK, well, we're going to change from George Bush to somebody else because in the back of their mind they think the other guy that they're going to change to is dangerous too. They may throw up their hands and say, what's the use?
BROWN: Guys, thanks. You're all welcome at the editorial meeting, but you've got to be careful when you come. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Are we taking a break or moving on here? All right. We'll take a break and we'll hear one liberal thinks about what went on in Madison Square Garden. This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT from New York City.
BROWN: That's west 34th Street, you probably figured that out and that's where Madison Square Garden is, between 7th and 8th Avenue down about 23 or four blocks from where we are now. Joe Conason it is fair to say, hasn't had a whole lot to cheer about the last three nights or the last three and a half years perhaps. He's a veteran political writer whose work can be seen in the pages of the "New York Observer" and online at salon.com and we're glad to have you here to talk from the other side as it were.
Are you angry? Do you think this changed the tone of the campaign (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I heard Senator Miller say he was surprised, people thought he came across as angry, and I'm surprised anyone who thinks didn't come across as angry. Do you think that up in Massachusetts we're saying, we got to get a little angrier, a little tougher, a little meaner, try a little harder.
JOE CONASON, NEW YORK OBSERVER: I think they ought to think that. I mean they have been now attacked relentlessly for three weeks or more, first by the Swift boats and now by Zell Miller, who's kind of the -- you know, the embodiment of that attitude about John Kerry who he once called his friend and once praised as a hero and once said that strength in our national security and our military and now comes out and attacks him quite bitterly. He didn't smile once during that speech Aaron. He looked like a very angry bitter man and among Democrats who I've talked to, they don't know why, although there are a few who say, well, after he left the statehouse in Georgia, he went to work for Philip Morris and therefore he switched sides. He wasn't a populist anymore. He became sort of a corporate, almost Republican and it's hard to see what's -- what makes him a Democrat anymore.
BROWN: To a certain extent I suppose it doesn't matter whether he's a Democrat or not. He was the guy in the spotlight most people probably won't remember whether he was a Democrat or not. Will they remember what he says? Look, did he land a couple of body blows today, tonight.
CONASON: Oh, sure he did.
BROWN: Or was it a knock down punch?
CONASON: No, it wasn't a knock down punch. They're playing to their base Aaron.
BROWN: I was just intrigued by this idea that now Bill Schneider and John Harwood and now you are arguing, which I think is really interesting, that this isn't about the undecided voter. This is getting your guys revved up -- not your guys in this case -- to the polls.
CONASON: Well, it's interesting. The "Journal," John Harwood's paper, had a really interesting story the other day about precisely this issue, that the Republicans now feel they have to try to move their base. They're worried that their base is not as motivated as the Democrats in this election and it's this kind of thing, where they take a risk with somebody like Zell Miller to push their base.
BROWN: Doesn't -- do you think there a commensurate risk that this sort of speech energizes the other side, that it makes the Democrats angry?
CONASON: Well, I think it will make some Democrats angry, but the question is whether John Kerry and his advisors and his vice presidential candidate John Edwards have what it takes to hit back hard, because I think what people look for in a president in a leader, is somebody who defends himself. If he defends himself, maybe you can trust him to defend you. If he doesn't defend himself and strike back, then I think people may feel he isn't tough enough.
BROWN: That's a really interesting point. Between now and November, will you come back one more time and we'll chat some more.
CONASON: That will be great. Thank you so much.
BROWN: Thank you. Nice to have you with us.
Few of us expect news to be made at political conventions these days. We're pretty far beyond that, but there is a story we think in how people get their news about the convention. Consider this premise. If the Yankees are playing the Red Sox and you're a Yankee fan, you'd probably rather watch the game on a Yankee's friendly station. Here on the east coast, that's the yes (ph) station. Should we then be surprised that the same applies to politics? Does it matter that it does? It seems to. Here's CNN's Howard Kurtz.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES (voice-over): If you're watching me right now, chances are you're not a hard core fan of that other cable network, the one owned by Rupert Murdock. Lots of people channel surf of course, but there are growing signs that television viewing, like presidential politics, is getting a lot more partisan.
When Bill Clinton and Al Gore were holding forth at the Democratic convention in Boston, CNN was the top rated cable network in prime time for the week. But for the first night of the Republican convention, when John McCain and Rudy Giuliani were the stars, Fox News has come roaring back, it's ratings up 127 percent from the Democratic gathering. CNN was down 39 percent and MSNBC dropped 28 percent.
Why the drastic change? In a recent PEW Research poll, more than half the regular viewers of Fox, which showcases such commentators as Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Newt Gingrich, describe themselves as conservative. Thirty-six percent of CNN's regular viewers said they are conservative and 20 percent liberal. But in party terms, 44 percent of CNN fans say they are Democrats and their view is different. One survey found Fox watchers were more likely than other media consumers, to believe the U.S. had evidence of a closing working relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
These shifts are changing the media landscape. Liberals flock to Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" while conservatives made Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" a box office smash. Liberals are snatching up books that call President Bush a lying liar and worse by the likes of Al Franken, while conservatives loved the Clinton-bashing books by authors like Ann Coulter.
Television used to be a communal experience in the days of Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley. More choices from Don Imus to Maria Bartiromo to John Stewart means more voices than when ABC, CBS and NBC ruled the airwaves.
And Fox has done well by offering an alternative to what it calls liberal media bias. But as the audience fragments, some people at least seem to want only programming that reinforces their point of view. Is that healthy? Probably not. But as Cronkite used to say, back when a journalist could still be called the most trusted man in America, that's the way it is.
BROWN: That is the way it is. Howard Kurtz is with us. Nice to see you.
Are we -- actually there's two things I want to talk about. Let me change my mind here for a second. There is I think a problem in the country in that we don't listen to each other. We don't listen to other points of view, OK. I don't often state my opinion, but that's mine. And that can't be healthy for democracy.
KURTZ: It reflects our politics increasingly and look, I wish everyone would read the "Washington Post" but I'm glad there's the "New York Times" and I'm glad there's a "New York Post." There's something disturbing, Aaron, about living in a red state, blue state country where one group listens to Rush and one group listens to Al Franken, where conservatives talk openly about boycotting the "New York Times" and protestors were down at Fox this convention week on Sixth Avenue protesting that network.
BROWN: Are we, and some people have suggested this -- do you think we are heading for a time which is really a back to the future when news organizations were clearly conservative or liberal or and it infected their news pages as well as their editorial pages? Are we going to see that in newspapers more? Is that where this is headed?
KURTZ: I hope not. With the exception of columnists and editorials, a lot of newspapers some people would disagree and news organizations like CNN and others, try to be fair and try to give both sides. But the great rise of Internet blogs and talk radio and other opinionated forms I think has added to the polarization.
I like hearing all these voices, but if I never listen to somebody on the radio, read a newspaper who has a different point of view, I can never say, hey, you know what, that guy has a point that I hadn't considered. The national conversation shrinks.
BROWN: Is this all just an extension of what has long been I guess the general distrust of media itself? If you don't trust big media, you go find someone you do trust and you say and you know, I mean people I believe this -- people who watch Fox, they know what they're watching.
KURTZ: A lot of this is fueled by anger and we're in a very politically polarizing time. Conservatives have been angry at the press for 30 years, nothing new there. Now that liberals are angry and depressed, a lot of us think that we're not hard enough on Bush, that we rolled over on the Iraq war and so that I think is fueling this polarization, this voting with your remote controls as well.
BROWN: I agree with that absolutely. It is unbelievably angry time and I see it in the e-mails. I assume you do, all the time and I guess it's just -- that's life and there's nothing I can do about it. I can't make the world less angry. I just wish people I guess would listen to each other a little more carefully. KURTZ: Everyone in America is a media critic, but I do wish everyone wouldn't limit their exposure.
BROWN: But not everyone gets paid to be a media critic and you do. It's good to...
KURTZ: It's a job. I'm glad they pay me for it.
BROWN: We're glad to have you with us whenever you come in.
We'll take a look at the morning papers, see how they're writing the day after the break.
BROWN: A little busy here tonight, time to check morning papers from around the country and around the world. I'll set those over there. I may need them before we go. OK, it's busy here tonight, you know -- international -- I don't know why I just said you know. I hate when I do that.
"International Herald Tribune," a lot of things went on in the world today we didn't get to. Insurgents seize a school in Russia, armed rebels threaten to kill children. Last time I check on this, there were 3 to 400 kids or kids and adults being held hostage. This is a -- this is madness, folks. That's "International Herald Tribune."
Miami leads local, I would too, "Miami Herald," all eyes on Frances, thousands told to leave, others prepare for the storm. Massive storm is going to happen. We've got one of those fancy maps down here. It was hitting the Bahamas I think earlier today when I checked, due to make land, we never know precisely where, south Florida probably on the east coast of Florida, sometime on Friday, maybe Saturday, but it's coming and they are getting ready. The governor of the state basically said to people, get out of there, OK.
"Washington Times," Cheney, Bush eager for the work ahead. Miller says Kerry lacks the backbone to lead, pretty straight ahead lead there from the "Washington Times."
"Philadelphia Inquirer" praising Bush, Democrat cites security but another story we didn't get to today, man, this is a heck of a news day, Bryant rape charge dropped out in Colorado. Prosecution withdrew charges, dismissed charges, could have done it a little more graciously, I mean put the guy through a pretty tough year. Anyway, the alleged victim in the case backed out of the case. Mr. Bryant issued an apology and it's all over a week before the trial was going to start.
On a different -- think about how crazy the news business is. On a different night, that would have taken up about 40 minutes of the program. How much time do I got? 40 seconds, I'll use some of it, now, probably all of it. "Chicago Sun-Times" plays Kobe Bryant at the top. I suspect they'll put some Republican convention stuff maybe on the front page but this is a really -- Keyes, that's Alan Keyes, slams gay Cheney daughter, says she is a sinner. I think he referred to her as a self hedonist, the vice president's daughter who as you know is gay.
Weather in Chicago tomorrow, lovely, it's about the only lovely thing we've had to talk about tonight.
Good to have you all with us. We're back tomorrow. "LARRY KING LIVE" with a special edition is up next. Good night for all of us.
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