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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN
Rumsfeld Denies Trying to Stop Intelligence Reform Bill; U.S., British, Iraqi Troops Conduct Military Operations in Sunni Triangle
Aired November 23, 2004 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again everyone.
There is something fun, downright fun, about watching a politician squirm. In that regard, the last few days have been a hoot watching a member of the House explain away a line in a huge budget bill that explicitly, absolutely, without any question gave him or anyone he designated the right to look at your tax return or mine or anyone's, really, and that line was in a must pass budget bill and it would have made looking at tax returns perfectly legal.
Said Ernest Istook, the chairman of the committee responsible, "Hey, I didn't write it, I didn't approve it, I wasn't even consulted. It was the staff's fault." Boy, those wacky staffers.
Now, the truth is almost no one reads these budget bills and you can slip most anything in one and someone stuck this line in. Now, the chairman remarkably is blaming the media for this. No one's privacy was ever jeopardized, he incredibly explained. Wrong. Everyone's privacy was. There is no other way to read it. Even in the legalese it's clear.
Now, as you can imagine, everyone is now properly embarrassed, which doesn't solve the real problem. How about everybody in Congress actually reading these bills that determine how our money is spent before they vote? No, leave it to the staff.
The whip, however, begins with another bill, another battle and another mess it turns out. Intelligence reform and the Pentagon, reported by our Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre, Jamie a headline to start us off.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, it's not secret that some in the Pentagon have been out of step with their commander-in-chief and the issue of shifting some intelligence gathering authority away from the Pentagon. But today, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld flatly denied that he launched what amounted to a rear guard action on Capitol Hill to go against the president's stated policy.
BROWN: Jamie, thank you. We'll get to you at the top.
On to Baghdad, word of American and British forces, Iraqis too in a move to the south of the city of Baghdad, CNN's Karl Penhaul with a major development out of Iraq, Karl a headline. KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thousands of Iraqi, British and American troops are launching a campaign to mop up insurgents in Iraq's so-called triangle of death -- Aaron.
And finally to Dallas, the whys of this story unfathomable, the facts almost unimaginable; CNN's Ed Lavandera with the headline tonight.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN DALLAS BUREAU CHIEF: Aaron, we've heard similar stories in the past few years. A Texas child murdered, their mother reportedly suffering of mental illness accused of the crime. It's happened again and it's still just as disturbing to hear about -- Aaron.
BROWN: Ed, thanks to you. We'll get back to you and the rest shortly.
Also coming up on the program tonight a remarkable story, sad though it is, of a boy's death and his life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Myself, I feel I'm normal. I don't even think about me, myself. I think it's about time people start realizing that we all, infected people are the same. WE are human beings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: He lived with and he died of AIDS in a country on a continent that sees far too much of it. His life and death made a difference and correspondent Jim Wooten took note of it and gently and lovingly wrote about it. Mr. Wooten joins us in the second half hour of the program tonight.
And, as always, we'll end it all with a rooster crowing and morning papers, tomorrow's headlines, all that and more in the hour ahead.
We start tonight in Washington with orders in a memo, issued by the president last week and made public tonight, directing intelligence agencies to implement a host of reforms called for by the 9/11 Commission. This would handle administratively much, though not all, of what's contained in a bill now stalled in the Congress.
It does not, however, settle a feature of the bill that allegedly brought the secretary of defense to lobby against it, allegations the secretary today flatly denied, so here again CNN's Jamie McIntyre.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): The Pentagon is worried that the rapid flow of real time battlefield intelligence, the kind U.S. military commanders used to win a swift victory in Falluja, could be more cumbersome if a separate national security czar is in charge. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who opposed the plan, insists once President Bush decided to support it he saluted smartly.
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Needless to say, I'm a part of this administration. I support the president's positions.
MCINTYRE: Rumsfeld bristled to charges leveled by Connecticut Congressman Christopher Shays that he blatantly opposed the Senate version of the bill supported by the White House and flatly denied a "New York Times" editorial that said: "Despite Mr. Rumsfeld's denials, it seems obvious that he lobbied against the president's stated policy."
RUMSFELD: "The New York Times" is wrong. The Congressmen who are saying that I had blatant opposition to the bill is incorrect.
MCINTYRE: Joint Chief Chairman General Richard Myers did support a House version opposed by the White House which keeps Pentagon control of battlefield intelligence.
In a letter requested by and sent to Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, Myers writes: "The House bill maintain this vital flow through the secretary of defense. It is my recommendation that this critical provision be preserved." But General Myers, unlike Rumsfeld, is required by Congress not to allow politics to influence his military advice.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Chairman Hunter called and asked for my opinion on a certain matter that related to intel reform and I was obliged to give him my opinion and I did that.
MCINTYRE: Now, the congressional negotiators say they've come up with a host of concessions that should address the Pentagon's concern. Meanwhile, it's not clear when or if the bill will actually clear Congress.
Meanwhile, the White House insists that neither Rumsfeld nor Myers are in any trouble because they say both of them expressed their concerns through the proper channels -- Aaron.
BROWN: Was there ever a point where the secretary came out prior to this fuss and said, you know, I'm not crazy about this bill but I'm with it?
MCINTYRE: Well, he hasn't made any public statements of support until today where he said several times he supports the president but he never articulated any sort of argument in favor of the merits of the bill and he is on the record several times in the past as questioning the wisdom of this and saying that he didn't believe a consolidation was the best way to go.
But, Rumsfeld should know better than anyone that you have to go along with your boss. After all, he fired the Army secretary for doing just what he was accused of, going on Capitol Hill and lobbying behind his back.
BROWN: And just to be clear there are turf wars here and the Pentagon does lose some power it had, some considerable power it had in the intelligence area.
MCINTYRE: Well, under some of the negotiations that are going on now, they've agreed to leave the Pentagon in charge of military satellites, some of the specific intelligence gathering that relates to combatant commanders on the field, so congressional negotiators feel that they're going to address these concerns but still leave the budgetary and overall authority with the new intelligence director.
BROWN: Jamie, thank you, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon tonight.
Now, Iraq, and a major new battle underway in the area south of Baghdad informally known as the triangle of death. It's known that way because of attacks by Sunni insurgents on troops and especially Shiites traveling the road between Baghdad and Najaf.
About 5,000 American, British and Iraqi forces today launched operations in northern Babil Province there chasing Sunni insurgents some of whom commanders believe were flushed out in the fight in Falluja.
Today, combined forces pushed through one town in the region rounding up some 32 suspected insurgents, according to the military's reporting, including a number of what military people call high interest targets. In the past three weeks they say Marines and Iraqi forces have rounded up about 250 insurgents. No word yet on casualties today, American, civilian and otherwise.
We're joined now from Baghdad, more on the story from CNN's Karl Penhaul, Karl, good evening.
PENHAUL: Hi there, Aaron.
Yes, the operation has been dubbed Operation Plymouth Rock. It kicked off Tuesday morning in an area about 50 miles south of Baghdad and members of an Iraqi SWAT team, together with U.S. Marines and members of Britain's Black Watch started to go house to house in the town of Jabella (ph).
In that, as you say, they rounded up 32 suspected insurgents or suspected criminals because this is what the Marines are saying that in this area there seems to have been an alliance between insurgents, some of whom may have come from Falluja, and criminal elements that have traditionally operated in this area. The locals, in fact, know these gangs as the Opal gangs for the type of cars that they're operating in -- Aaron.
BROWN: I've heard lots of talk about this and this particular piece of road and one of the suggestions I heard today is that in some respects the Sunni attacks on Shias in particular are the precursor of a civil war or the low level beginnings of a civil war. Are you hearing anything like that from there? PENHAUL: Difficult to say. Often when we do see religious or inter-religious violence then people are very quick to talk about the start of civil war. We've seen that up in the northern areas where we've seen clashes between Arab original and Kurdish origin people.
We have seen it here in an area which is predominantly Sunni right now but we're also told that in the past Saddam Hussein, in fact, altered the ethnic balance and also the religious balance there to try and punish the Shiites as they moved south and that at a time when Saddam Hussein was fighting against the Shiites, so this is something that Saddam Hussein seems to have put in place rather than something that's just emerging now -- Aaron.
BROWN: And just one more question on this. Just as a practical matter. We're a month and a half or so away from elections. The Shias much better organized for the elections than are the Sunni population?
PENHAUL: Well, certainly as we know Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani has been one of the main leaders here in the call for free elections for all Iraqis and so that would indicate that he has been moving his people within the majority Shia community.
On the other hand, we've seen the firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr sending mixed signals as to whether he will get his supporters to participate at all, so I don't think we should look at the Shia community as one solid block but certainly the main calls for the boycott have come from the Sunni religious leaders -- Aaron.
BROWN: Karl, thank you, Karl Penhaul in Baghdad on a busy day there.
Tonight, like last night oddly, there were two lead stories. There's the hard lead and then there's what we call the water cooler lead. This clearly is the second variety. It is also the sort of story that no one but no one would want less to lead with than the man at the center of it.
Dan Rather, the anchor of the "CBS Evening News," who is stepping down in March, is, was and always will be the guy that goes for the hard news lead. We have two reports tonight, first his old colleague, now ours, CNN's Bruce Morton.
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been a long road for Dan Rather from Wharton, Texas to a TV station in Houston to CBS News starting in 1962 where he covered the war in Vietnam, covered President Richard Nixon during his fight to avoid impeachment and then in 1981 replaced Walter Cronkite as the anchor of the "CBS Evening News."
DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: I'm equally concerned about the warlord threat.
MORTON: But he never quit being a reporter, war in Afghanistan, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was there.
RATHER: Has suffocated Afghanistan's Taliban and al Qaeda problem.
MORTON: War in the Middle East, he was there.
RATHER: A bomb goes off, not on the bus eyewitnesses say.
MORTON: A (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with presidential candidate George Herbert Walker Bush over his role or lack of it in Iran Contra. He was the most controversial of the anchors, lightning in a bottle one CBS news president called him. You never knew what he'd do next.
Along the way we all learned some Texas-isms. That dog won't hunt. I feel like I've been rode hard and put away wet, and then endured. He's stepping down now from a job he always wanted to keep.
RATHER: You know I love my work. I love being in journalism. As long as my health holds and as long as they want me to do it, I'm really eager to do it.
MORTON: But the story about this President Bush and his National Guard service apparently got in the way.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's no question that Dan Rather would not be announcing his resignation today if it had not been for the botched National Guard story, a self inflicted wound, after a long career, a controversial career but a very distinguished career in many ways as well and it's too bad that this is the thing that will be uppermost in people's minds when they see Dan Rather giving up that coveted anchor chair.
MORTON: Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
BROWN: Think about this. You can just about count on the fingers of both hands how many evening news anchors there have been at the big three, Douglas Edwards and John Cameron Swayze in TV's infancy. John Charles Daly anchored at ABC during he week and then hosted "What's my Line" on Sunday. Times have changed and Mr. Rather's announcement today is another sign they are changing yet again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN (voice-over): It just doesn't happen very often.
WALTER CRONKITE: I'll be away on assignment and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years.
BROWN: CBS did it famously, of course, in 1981 switching out Walter Cronkite, America's most trusted man, for a young Dan Rather. Mr. Cronkite sat in that chair for 19 years. Dan Rather will have lasted 24. ROBERT THOMPSON, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: He was reporting during the golden age of broadcast journalism, civil rights era, the Vietnam era, getting dragged out of the '68 Democratic Convention.
BROWN: But with Rather's departure and the scheduled departure next week of NBC's Tom Brokaw, two of the big three network news icons will be changing, a golden age no more.
RICHARD LIEBNER, DAN RATHER'S AGENT: People will fill their shoes but they won't have the recognition of doing it because there's less air time available to broadcasters.
BROWN: Audiences for the network's evening newscasts have been shrinking steadily for a while now, viewers migrating to cable first, then the Internet, news on demand instead of news when we say so.
KEN AULETTA, "THE NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE: We're in a new period because the network audience has declined so much that the anchors don't have that kind of sway anymore. I don't know the answer to that and no one else does by the way.
BROWN: So, by next spring, only the 66-year-old Jennings of the big three will remain in the chair, the last of an era. And tonight, with kind words, for a long time competitor.
RATHER: Tonight, among other things, we recall his great love and sensitivity reporting on the military for more than 40 years. Dan said again today he's happiest as a reporter.
BROWN: For all the talk of cable, our audiences are not even half the size of the big three but that will no doubt change as well. It already has in some respects. The future belongs to something other than the big three we suspect but what exactly and with what credibility? No one really knows.
BROWN: More to say about Dan, about his career and his decision to leave. We'll be joined by Marvin Kalb, a former colleague at CBS and Howard Kurtz, as always, of CNN and "The Washington Post."
Then later, the strange and difficult case of a dying man and two legal documents that hold his life in the balance.
And later still, the fleeting, difficult but important life of a young boy in South Africa as told by an extraordinary reporter fortunate enough to know him, a break first.
From New York this is NEWSNIGHT.
BROWN: Well, we're joined from Washington tonight by Marvin Kalb. He worked with Dan Rather when Dan first came to CBS. Also in Washington tonight is Howard Kurtz. He's the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES" which can been seen Sundays at 11:00 a.m. on CNN. And, shockingly enough, this weekend a special edition of Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw and the changing of the network guard and we're glad to see you both.
Howie, you talked to Dan today. Was he reflective, sad, did he give you much?
KURTZ: It's a bittersweet moment for Dan Rather. He adamantly insists, Aaron, that he is not stepping down because of the debacle of the botched story about President Bush's National Guard service for which he has apologized and properly so.
He does, however, say that the timing of the announcement was very much designed to come after the election, which he wanted to finish, his last campaign, and before the outside panel's investigative report, which is expected next month, which is likely to rap CBS pretty hard on that story.
So, I think it's fair to say that while he might have been thinking before about stepping down before his contract was up, the incredible pressure he's been under because of the National Guard business may have concentrated his mind a bit.
BROWN: Just quickly, as a practical matter Dan is 73. The ratings have not been great for a while. There's a lot of internal, I believe, angst about where CBS News was going to go. Whether he stepped down this spring or this summer or this fall, it was there.
KURTZ: It was probably inevitable that CBS News was going to have to face the realities of aging anchors and move on but Rather, you know, loves that job so passionately that he was reluctant to give it up and also there's the question of succession. CBS now has to figure out who can step into his very large shoes.
BROWN: Marvin, they all love the job. Nobody leaves those jobs or these jobs willingly. Tom, I think, in many respects is the exception. I remember, at least I believe I do, seeing Dan 41 years ago yesterday reporting the Kennedy assassination from Dallas as a very young man. People, I think forget, as they do with anchors sometimes, what an extraordinary reporter the guy was and is.
MARVIN KALB, SHORENSTEIN CENTER AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, not only extraordinary but incredibly dogged. I remember him. When I first saw Rather it was covering a hurricane outside of Galveston, Texas in 1962 and I was in Washington and I was watching that on the monitor and I said, "That guy has talent."
And he is a curious man, persistent man. He simply hangs on to a story like a dog to a bone until he has got it. He made one huge mistake. He's acknowledged that mistake but we've got to remember the greatness of the reporter too.
BROWN: And I hope people do. There is also, there's something about Dan. I mean there is a kind of quirky -- Dan seemed to find himself more than once in kind of odd, uncomfortable situations.
KALB: Yes, he did and I have a feeling -- I've always wondered whether he did that deliberately and I don't think he did. It has to do with the nature of the beast. It's television that can conceal a great deal but it can't conceal the zeal with which this guy worked. And, if he felt that there was a phony at the other end, he was apt to suggest that by the look on his face or the question out of his mouth and that's not what you're supposed to do.
KALB: The anchor was always supposed to be in the middle, the calm force, but Dan was never all that calm. He's not that kind of person.
BROWN: Let me -- just, Howie, the last word. You've covered all of these guys, the big three, and they're all different in, I think, in many respects. I know them all. How is Dan different from the rest?
KURTZ: By far the most intense, the most colorful, the most passionate, the one who's least happy being chained to the anchor desk and I think we ought not to let the National Guard controversy overshadow the many exclusives and the hard investigative work he did in a lot of stories.
But, at the same time, that quirkiness you speak of, I mean, Dan Rather was a lightning rod. Conservatives are convinced he was biased. He was always getting himself into hot water. He once walked off the set for six minutes when a tennis match was running long and CBS went to black. Of course, maybe that just fueled the Rather legend.
So, he's a complicated man with a lot of twists and turns to his career and I think that we ought to look at the totality of it and not just -- particularly when this report comes out, the mistake he made with this National Guard story.
BROWN: Well, and I hope people do. Gentlemen, thanks a lot.
BROWN: Howie particularly on I know a very busy day for you. Thank you, Howard Kurtz and Marvin Kalb with us tonight.
Next on the program, two difficult stories about life and death and in some respects the mysteries of each, in Texas, the unfathomable motivation behind the killing of an infant. And, in Florida, the legal entanglement that ensues when a husband's living will and the wife's power of attorney collide, a break first.
From New York this is NEWSNIGHT.
BROWN: There are certain crimes we report that are simply unimaginable, even as we know, and you will too, that we've reported similar stories before. In the Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas tonight, a young mother is facing capital murder charges for killing her infant daughter. The how and the why break your heart.
Here's CNN's Ed Lavandera.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Inside this apartment in a north Dallas suburb, something unimaginable took place, the murder of a child, something parents could have nightmares about but one a mother is now accused of.
Police say Dena Schlosser murdered her 10-month-old baby daughter by cutting off both arms. Police say the baby was dying in a bedroom as her mother sat calmly in the family living room and had a chilling conversation with the 911 dispatcher as religious music played in the background.
911: OK, exactly what happened?
WOMAN: I cut her arms off.
911: You cut her arms off?
WOMAN: Uh huh.
911: OK, and is this your baby?
911: And it's a girl?
WOMAN: Uh huh.
911: Is he conscious?
911: Is she breathing?
LAVANDERA: The baby died in an area hospital. Schlosser's husband was at work. Her two other children were at school. Many neighbors describe Schlosser as a loving mother.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just like any other mother holding her baby, taking care of the baby, tending to her child's needs.
LAVANDERA: State social workers say they investigated Schlosser on allegations of abuse and neglect between January and July of this year. They say she was suffering from post partum depression but the mental health experts who treated her determined she was stabilized and the investigation was closed. One of the psychiatrists who treated Andrea Yates, who drowned her five children three years ago, said post partum depression is still misunderstood. DR. LUCY PURYEAR, PSYCHIATRIST: The psychotic symptoms often center around the children. Mother has thoughts and feelings about hurting the children that are often bizarre and delusional and if the woman is not treated, some bad things can happen.
LAVANDERA (on camera): Dena Schlosser sits in jail facing a charge of capital murder, which means she could face the death penalty. As for her two other children, they're now in temporary foster care.
Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.
BROWN: Well, that child never had a chance.
A man in Florida tonight took chance out of equation when he signed a living will. Safe to assume that neither he, nor his wife ever considered how tough it would be to pull the plug if either of them became incapacitated.
Reporting from Florida tonight, CNN's Eric Phillips.
ERIC PHILIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A judge's ruling upholding a living will means Alice Pinette may have to let go of her husband, 73-year-old Hanford Pinette, something she does not want to do.
ALICE PINETTE, HUSBAND ON LIFE SUPPORT: He is my lifelong partner. We've been married for 52 years.
PHILIPS: He suffered congestive heart failure earlier this year and is on life support at an Orlando hospital. She's convinced that he would get better, citing periods of responsiveness when he talks to her and other relatives, and even how much she enjoyed wearing his Korean War cap on Veterans Day, less than two weeks ago.
PINETTE: If you take your time in asking the question, yes, he can tell you yes or no.
PHILIPS: It's why she appeared in court, fighting to keep him on life support. The problem is, back in 1998, he signed a living will saying that in the event he became incapacitated, he did not want to be kept alive by artificial means.
The hospital sought to honor that request, stating in this court petition, The patient is terminally ill and has no medical probability of recovering from his current condition. He is being kept alive by artificial means, which is contrary to his stated intentions in his living will.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The hospital's obligation is to the patient.
PHILIPS: But there was a twist. Mr. Pinette included his wife as the health care surrogate in the living will. Plus, she had power of attorney over medical decisions on her husband's behalf. His wife says he wants to stay alive. That's why she wouldn't consent to taking him off life support.
PINETTE: To me that's killing the man, and I cannot do that and live with me.
PHILIPS: Now a judge has made the decision for her, one she cannot appeal.
Eric Philips, CNN, Atlanta.
BROWN: Tough stuff tonight.
Still to come, the whys, the wherefores and the unknowns of electronic voting.
And later still, bringing Alexander the great back to life. Who needs Oliver the Stone when we've got Nissen?
A break first. Around the world, this is NEWSNIGHT.
BROWN: Saw a poll today showing that 80 percent of the country believes the president won the election in a fair vote. The other 20 percent write me. We have no reason to believe the election wasn't fair, but, oddly, we have less than perfect confidence that the votes were counted accurately. No one, we suppose, expects 100 percent accuracy in such things, but how much error is too much error? And perhaps a better question still, will we ever know?
BROWN (voice-over): Bev Harris, a citizen activist who first brought national attention to the problems with voting software, is now in Florida pursuing internal computer records for what she calls a forensic audit.
BEV HARRIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BLACKBOXVOTING.ORG: I think we can talk, you know, until the cows come home about what might happen and could happen and what's theoretical, and the best thing we can do is just go get the records and see what did happen.
BROWN: She's not alone. A number of experts are now looking and looking hard at not only fraud, but the possible effects of simple computer error, the kind of dumb mistake that ruined the Hubble telescope and sent Mars missions astray. So how accurate was the 2004 vote count?
DR. REBECCA MERCURI, VOTING TECHNOLOGY EXPERT: Basically, 80 percent of our votes, for the most part, we really don't know. We haven't taken the time to look into it. BROWN: Some examples. In Franklin County, Indiana, a programming error was applying Democratic votes to the Libertarian Party. After a recount, the winner on election night is now the loser. In North Carolina, over 4,000 ballots are gone forever, lost when a voting machine passed its arbitrary limit. In South Florida, election officials were horrified to see vote totals start counting down after they hit 32,000.
What is even more disturbing, a statistical study done at U.C. Berkeley indicates that there could have been similar counting problems in all Florida counties that use touch-screen voting machines.
MERCURI: The type of testing that you need is really being done at Election Day, as opposed to being done before Election Day.
BROWN: In Washington today, in an office so new you could still smell the carpet glue, the Federal Election Assistance Commission admits it is only beginning the process of creating national standards.
DEFOREST SOARIES, CHAIRMAN, U.S. ELECTION ADVISORY COMMISSION: Every voting machine that was used this year was certified against standards that were 1990 standards.
BROWN: The chairman promises intensive federal audits, audits to guarantee eventually voter confidence.
SOARIES: We're going to go down to the ground on this much further than we've ever gone before. I don't take the opinion, and neither does my commission, that what you don't know won't hurt you.
BROWN: And the debate will go on.
Still to come on the program, a powerful story about life and death through the unflinching eyes of an extraordinary child.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM WOOTEN, AUTHOR, "WE ARE ALL THE SAME": You do understand that you are ill, right?
NKOSI JOHNSON, AIDS VICTIM: Yes. And I think there's nothing to be scared about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: We'll talk to the reporter who first told the world about the courage of Nkosi Johnson.
We'll take a break first. This is NEWSNIGHT.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: One of the most powerful stories I've ever seen was the story of a young south African boy named Nkosi Johnson. This child was one of tens of thousands with AIDS, an orphan who, in his short life, taught the rest of us a lot about the disease and a whole lot more about life and love and courage. His story was first reported by Jim Wooten, a friend and former colleague. Mr. Wooten took the experience and put it in a wonderful book called "We Are All the Same: A Boy's Courage and a Mother's Love." Half the proceeds of the book will go to Nkosi's foundation.
And it is always a joy to see Mr. Wooten.
WOOTEN: Thank you, Aaron. Nice to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
BROWN: Thank you.
You have -- I was driving in today thinking about this. You've probably written, I don't know, thousands of stories in your life, covered a lot of fascinating characters. What was it about this story that said to you, you know what, this is a book?
WOOTEN: Well, I never thought of it as a book. As a matter of fact, it had to be pointed out to me by a very good friend that it was a book.
I just always thought of him -- I found him to be a boy of such remarkable good cheer that I...
WOOTEN: He never departed from my mind and I think from my soul, even though he died and even though he was thousands of miles away before he did.
And so, as I told this story to friends about this rather unlikely friendship between this little guy and me, more and more of them suggested that perhaps there's a book. And so now there's a book.
BROWN: There's a book.
It's a story certainly of this child, but it's also the story, in many ways, of his adopted mother, who's quite an extraordinary character as well. And together they are more than either could ever possibly be.
WOOTEN: I think that's absolutely right.
It would be unfair to say that, had they not come together, that they would have been unimportant people. But in the larger flow of life in Africa, they would not have been as significant as they became in their chemistry together. They were dynamite together.
BROWN: What was it about him, do you think, that -- I mean, we all sat in the newsroom that day and watched that story, and we all were drawn into it. It's him. It is -- there's something in his soul that draws you to him, even as you know this is an unhappy ending coming.
WOOTEN: Yes. You know, I can't explain it really. And I don't explain it in the book. I try, but I don't think I do.
I will tell you that what really attracted me to this child was that I knew that he knew that he would never grow up to be a young man. He would never grow up to marry or to be a father himself. I knew that he knew he understood what kind of disease he had. And yet, despite all that, he became a boy of such remarkable good cheer, such joy and such joyousness about his life that to be around him was to feel better about one's own self.
BROWN: There's a point in his short life where he stands before the International AIDS Conference, and from which the title of the book ultimately comes, and talks about the disease and who he is.
WOOTEN: Yes. It was quite a scene. I guess -- this was in Durban in South Africa, maybe 20,000 people in a live audience and millions more watching on television. And he took on the president of south Africa, who had a very bizarre take on AIDS, you know, who said that anti-retroviral medicines were poison and that maybe the virus didn't exist. And he just took him on.
Unfortunately, the president of South Africa had left before Nkosi spoke. But it was an amazing evening, because here he was. He probably weighed about -- at that point, he probably weighed about 40 pounds. And he was 11 years old. And when he died, he weighed less than 20 pounds. So he was already very ill.
BROWN: You're a tough old coot. Did he change you?
WOOTEN: Yes, he did change me in ways that I thought I probably could not be changed, because, you know, having covered a lot of wars and a lot of ugly things in my life, I had seen what I thought were examples of real courage with men with weapons and men in uniform and etcetera. But he showed me that there are different kinds of courage, and he had a very special kind.
BROWN: I'm your friend, but I can be a tough critic. I will tell you, it's, not surprisingly, wonderfully written, elegant, and a terrific read. And congratulations.
WOOTEN: You're very kind. Thank you, Aaron.
BROWN: Good to see you, sir. Thank you.
Ahead on the program, Alexander the Great through the eyes of history and Beth Nissen. And we'll wrap it up, as we do, with morning papers.
This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: It's always been an ambition of mine to be known by an honorific, Aaron the wise, Aaron the honest. Heck, I'd settle for Aaron the tall or Aaron the somewhat nearsighted.
But, sorry too say, the honors, all of them, elude me and just about everyone else since Ivan, and before him, Alexander, as in Alexander the Great, also as in a movie by Oliver Stone, which opens tonight.
The story tonight from Nissen the wonderful.
BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His is one of the most famous lives in all history, yet there's no full account of it. Of the 20 books on Alexander written by his contemporaries, not one survives.
ROBIN LANE FOX, HISTORIAN: What we have for Alexander is a framework of dates, where he went, whom he conquered, what he is said to have said, and his relations with others.
NISSEN: Oxford University scholar Robin Lane Fox is author of the closest thing there is to a biography of Alexander. He was chief historical consultant on the new film.
FOX: Great pains were taken to make it an epic drama with unusual reference to history.
NISSEN: Example, the Battle of Gaugamela, fought in 351 B.C. near what is now the city of Mosul in Iraq. The battle was a turning point of the young Alexander's campaign to conquer Persia, the greatest empire in the world at the time.
FOX: Alexander, age 25, would knock it out in one fantastic victory.
NISSEN: His tactic, a draw play that pulled thousands of Persian forces to one side of the battlefield.
FOX: A gap opens in the center. And this is genius. He concentrates his force, swings the horses round, very difficult to do, and leads them back in a cutting move into the Persian center. It is supreme boldness, brilliant horsemanship, and he had a nerve of steel.
NISSEN: No enemy weapon could stymie Alexander, not the war elephants in India, not the Persians' dreaded scythe chariots, which could cut the legs off cavalry and infantry alike.
FOX: Troops part ranks and let the chariots come blinding through, kill the drivers with javelins. It worked.
NISSEN: It is harder to reveal the man behind the shield, although Fox says the film, tries captures Alexander's legendary capacity for drink, his thunderbolt temper and his passion for his wife, Roxane, and for his lifelong male companion, Hephaistion. FOX: Alexander lives in a pre-Christian age. It is widely accepted in the culture that you might have love or sex relations with a man as well as with a woman.
NISSEN: Alexander's ardent, brilliant, ruthless life came to an inglorious end in Babylon.
FOX: At a drinking party, he's said by some to have drunk too much and then to have slumped forward in pain. Nearly 14 days later, he dies. Did he have a seizure, a heart attack? We don't know.
NISSEN: In just over a decade, Alexander conquered lands from Greece to Persia to Egypt to India, 90 percent of the known world. He had laid the groundwork for the Roman empire, the spread of Christianity, all by the age of 32, a singular fact for those who find in ancient stories reminders of what is still true.
FOX: You're never too young to dream a vast great dream and act on it. That's a great story.
NISSEN: Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.
BROWN: That's a great story.
Morning papers next.
BROWN: OK, so many good papers, we may stay late tonight. Hope you'll stay with us.
"Stars and Stripes" begins. "Coalition Forces Launch Big Offensive South of Baghdad" is the lead. But this is the story that's just -- "How Far Is Too Far? Heading Into the Holiday Buying Season, Fear Over Controversial Video Games, Including a Recreation of the Kennedy Assassination, Reaches New Heights." And they say we'll do anything for a buck.
"The Enquirer" in Cincinnati." Video Game Violence, Nudity Blasted." I think I just talked about that. "Rather Leaving in March. CBS Anchor to Become '60 Minutes' Reporter." My goodness.
"Christian Science Monitor" leads with Ukraine. "Ukraine Democracy Tested. Protesters" -- look at that shot, how many people were out. I don't know if you can tell, but man, there's a ton. "Protesters Intensified Their Campaign Against Sunday's Election Results."
"The Detroit News" still leading basketball after the incident the other day. "Contrite Artest Ashamed For His Kids." He ought to just be flat-out ashamed for everything. "Philadelphia Inquirer," we ought to do this just because. "Rather to Sign Off as Anchor. Beleaguered CBS Veteran Will Work Full-time on '60 Minutes,'" written by Gail Shister, who was on vacation this week and came to work to write the story anyway.
"The Washington Times" leads Rather, also. "Rather to Leave CBS Anchor Chair in March. Retirement Follows Furor Over Bush Guard Report." Something else there? Maybe, but I don't remember.
"The Atlanta Journal Constitution" I just like this story and so I'm glad it's on the front page. "D.C. Tune. Roll Out the Pork Barrel. Congress OKs Funds to Feed Everybody's Pet Projects." That's because no one reads the bill. OK, I'll stop. I won't editorialize anymore, until I get this paper in my hand.
"Chicago Sun-Times," up here, OK? "Alexander the Mediocre."
BROWN: "Ebert says film's lack of focus and Colin Farrell's lack of madness slays Oliver Stone's epic." We didn't say it was a good movie, just a terrific story. By the way, "Hooters Waitresses Win $300,000 in Lawsuit Over Peepholes." Front page?
The weather tomorrow in Chicago, "thankless." Get it?
We'll wrap it up in a moment.
BROWN: Good to have you with us tonight. Remind me tomorrow to tell you about the Thanksgiving program, which is fabulous.
"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" next for most of you.
We'll see you at 10:00 Eastern time tomorrow. Until then, good night for all of us at NEWSNIGHT.
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