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Bush Administration Increasing Pressure on Syria; '90-Second Pop'

Aired March 2, 2005 - 09:30   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody, 9:30, here in New York. Good to have you with us today. In a few moments hear, a movie that would have been rated 'R' had it not been so absolutely real. We'll talk to the filmmaker behind "Gunner Palace," a look at the actual experiences of U.S. troops working and serving in the front lines in Iraq. We'll also meet one of the gunners. It's a fascinating piece of work. We'll get to it in a moment.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And from the very, very real to the very, very fake, "90-Second Pop" is just ahead. We're talking about the Michael Jackson trial on TV. But it's actors performing out the court transcripts. It's certainly strange. Is it any good on TV? we'll take a look.

But first, let's get right to Carol Costello. She's got another check of the headlines this morning.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I think the actors look pretty good.

O'BRIEN: They look OK. The Mesereau guy is good.

COSTELLO: What's acting like?

HEMMER: Pretty marginal.

O'BRIEN; It's fine, fine acting.

COSTELLO: Oh, you two are so kind. I'm sure the 90-Second Poppers won't be as kind.

O'BRIEN: No, huh-uh.

COSTELLO: Now with the news this morning. We have a bit of breaking news to tell you about. There's a massive fire right now burning outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. Take a look. It's a big warehouse. This is Faxon Machining Incorporated; 160 people work in this plant. Apparently everyone was evacuated, so they're OK. As you can see, huge billowing smoke through the ceiling. The roof now in danger of collapsing. There may be some chemicals inside the plant that could potentially cause an explosion. We know the fire broke out a little over an hour ago, and we know there are a massive number of firefighters on the scene right now.

In Kansas, authorities say the man suspected in the BTK serial killings will get a fair trial despite widespread media attention. Dennis Rader was charged yesterday with 10 counts of first-degree murder. We spoke earlier this morning with the district attorney who will lead the BTK prosecution.


NOLA FOULSTON, SEDGWICK CO. D.A.: I've been in this business for 28 years. We've not had a change in venue. Just a few years ago, I tried a very high-profile case involving seven homicides. There was a motion for change of venue there. It's up to our community to be able to see if we can get 12 fair and impartial jurors in this case. That's the test. And I don't believe that it's unrealistic to be able to assume that we can do that in this case.


COSTELLO: In the meantime, authorities are looking into other unsolved murders in the Wichita area, looking for any possible links to the BTK suspect.

Pop star Michael Jackson, set to be back in a California courtroom for day two of testimony in his molestation trial. Jurors heard testimony from a British journalist yesterday who made a controversial television documentary about Jackson. They also heard Jackson's attorney suggesting the pop star himself might testify. That, however, remains to be seen.

And the newly engaged Prince Charles surrounded by dancing, topless women this morning. You're shocked, aren't you? But fiance Camilla Parker Bowles can rest easily, and so can you. The prince of Wales being greeted earlier today by a group of aboriginal women in Alice Springs (ph). He's touring Australia's Outback as part of a whirlwind visit to the country. And sorry, we couldn't show you the aboriginal women dancing.

HEMMER: It's cable.

COSTELLO: We showed it very briefly, but that was it.

HEMMER: You had me for a moment. Thanks, Carol.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Carol.

The Bush administration is increasing the pressure on Syria. It is not only insisting on an immediate withdrawal from Lebanon, but now blames Syria-based terrorists for last week's deadly suicide attack in Israel. White House correspondent Dana Bash is with us this morning.

Dana, we're hearing more tough language from the White House towards Syria, aren't we?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We sure are, Soledad, and it was just yesterday on this program we discussed the fact White House is really try to put screws on Syria right now, and the latest, and perhaps most striking example, is the fact that administration officials are now saying that they have firm evidence that a Syrian- backed terrorism group, that is the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, authorized an actively planned attack last Friday in Tel Aviv that killed five people.

Now it's important to note that White House officials will not say exactly what that firm evidence is, but the president did meet with members of Congress at the White House yesterday, and the secretary of state brought it up publicly while traveling in London. There, she was quite tough on Damascus.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECY. OF STATE: The Syrians should recognize that they are a destabilizing factor right now in the Middle East, and they're isolated. The Syrians need to recognize that this is not a question about other people's policies, this is a question about Syria's policies.


BASH: Now, the dynamics surrounding all this right now is really that the White House thinks that they have Syria back on their heels. The Syrian government, for sure, and they want to keep them there, and the other interesting thing to note is that this is an area, an issue where bush officials and some of the European allies, that they fought bitterly with, for example, France, they really are in sync on this and want to keep up that unity right now -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Dana, let's talk a little bit about Social Security, big on the president's agenda, obviously. Senate majority leader made comments yesterday on the timing of when a bill could be introduced.

Let's listen first then to what he had to say.


SEN. BILL FIRST (R), MAJORITY LEADER: The timing of it on the floor, I'm going to have to sense the rate, rhythm, the sort of pulse of the American people. I don't want to take something to the Senate floor where I've got every one of the members across the aisle, saying there's no problem, in terms of whether it will be a week, a month, six months, or a year are as to when we bring something, of course, is too early.


O'BRIEN: Is the fact that Senator Frist is even raising possibility of putting it off, a Social Security proposal, off to next year, a blow to the White House, Dana?

BASH: Well, here's what they're saying at the White House. They're saying what Senator Frist was doing is stating obvious, that this is going to take time. However, in talking to several senior officials involved in this strategy on Social Security, there definitely is more of a concern, and that concern is not only about -- of the overall fate of this bill, in the end, but it's also, at this point, about what they say is losing control of the story. And what they mean by that is Bush officials are well aware that lawmakers came back from a week back home with their constituents, saying there just isn't a ground swell right now for overhauling Social Security. So they worry here that that is the conventional wisdom and that it will become -- that this plan is doomed.

So there definitely is a noticeable shift in talk to senior officials, hearing them say over and over that this is still very early in the process, that the president and his top aides are still very much in what they call the education phase, traveling around, explaining the problems in Social Security, but one official did note that this is not going to go on forever. They're not putting a time on the calendar, but they're said at some point, they're going to have to say go or no go -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Dana Bash at the White House for us.

Dana, thanks -- Bill.

HEMMER: Soledad, there's a new documentary presenting a soldier's eye view of Americans at war on the ground in Iraq. At first "Gunner Palace" received an 'R' rating for its adult language. But after an appeal from the filmmakers, it was then changed to PG-13. The director is Michael Tucker, and Captain Jonathan Powers, now retired, served with the Army's 2-3 Field Artillery Company.

Welcome to New York. Good to have you with us. Michael, you did the film. What was the controversy? Why was the rating changed?

MICHAEL TUCKER, "GUNNER PALACE": Well, it's a film about soldiers in war. And when soldiers are in war, they tend to use language that may not be so appropriate in other situations.

HEMMER: Language issues then?

TUCKER: Completely about language. No violence. Obviously, no sex. Lots of expletives in the film. But that is the language of war. And we initially received an 'R,' which didn't surprise us, but it was very disappointing, because the whole issue was context.

HEMMER: What this means though is a lot more people will be able to see your documentary with the PG-13 rating. You went to Iraq to do a story about an armored-car salesman. How did you end up with "Gunner Palace?"

TUCKER: Yes, I went in May 2003 to follow an armored-car salesman, who actually was selling cars to people like CNN, Fox and the CPA, and I followed him in twice. And it was a very kind of exciting time. There was a lot of optimism, a lot of hope. And at the same time, the violence was rising up. At one point, the violence kind of overtook the situation, and I realized that the real story was what was happening with these soldiers and the Iraqi civilians kind of caught in the middle of this.

HEMMER: So you get access to the place where the captain is now stationed, back last fall, last summer. Do you remember Michael being there at the palace? CAPT. JONATHAN POWERS (RET.), 2/3 FIELD ARTILLERY: Absolutely. We had a lot of camera crews come in and do pieces. But they'd come in for a couple days at a time, and they'd have a whole team. Mike was there by himself, and he was there for an extended period of time, so guys got comfortable around him. And after a while, Mike just became a gunner.

HEMMER: You say they got comfortable. Do they change their behavior over time because there's a camera in front of them?

POWERS: I don't think so. Especially when we go out on the street, it doesn't matter if there's a camera there or not. It doesn't matter if there's a camera behind you or there's a movie going on behind you, you're focused on what's happening in the street. Around the palace, guys probably joked a little more, but not really. For the most part, got pretty comfortable with it. We knew Mike was around.

HEMMER: What did you learn from making this?

TUCKER: What did I learn from making it? I think most of the country has looked at the war very politically, and once you're in the middle of it and you're with these guys -- I mean, four of them were killed, 16 of them were wounded. John and I have just been going around the country, meeting mothers who have lost their sons. You tend to look at it emotionally. Whether you're for it or against it, or whether it was right or wrong, it's a war, it's gone on for two years, and you can't help but think of it any way but emotionally.

HEMMER: I'm looking forward to seeing this. So job well done to both of you. Captain, thank you for coming in. Jonathan Powers and Michael Tucker.

O'BRIEN: Time for "House Call" now and an update on the flu season. March is the peak time to catch the bug. According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control, the red states on the map, 33 of them are reporting widespread outbreak, and hospitals are really feeling the strain.

Dr. Harry Fisch of New York's Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University is with us this morning to talk about that.

Good morning. Nice to see you again.


O'BRIEN: Thirty-three states reporting a widespread outbreak. I thought, well, it's almost spring, shouldn't we be winding down from the flu?

FISCH: You would think that, right, spring is here, almost here, but it's not true. The peak season for flu is February and March, and it's amazing that you have 33 states where it's an epidemic, which means over half the state has the flu.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about the confusion over the flu shots. First, there are not enough flu shots, so you couldn't get them. Then there were more flu shots than anybody needed, because so many people were trying to help out by not getting them. Is there a link between not getting flu shot and this flu outbreak?

FISCH: Well, of course. If you're not going to take the flu shot, you're more likely to get the flu. And that's what we're seeing, we're seeing a lot of people getting the flu, and it's a virulent strain of the flu.

So it really would have been a lot better if everybody would have taken it and if it was available earlier on, but it really teaches us something, that for next year, more people should be taking the flu, because we see what happens when you don't do it.

O'BRIEN: Certainly ridiculous to have a surplus. Some hospitals, like in Cincinnati, for one example, they're running out of room to admit patients, and they're also saying that certain patients actually shouldn't come to the hospital. That's strange. Why not?

FISCH: Well, we see this all over. We see it in New York, in New York Presbyterian in the wintertime, especially this winter. We were just packed. I mean, people couldn't get in if they had serious illnesses. If they needed surgery or whatever, we had to divert them to other hospitals, and that's a problem, and that really is a problem. So in essence, if you have the flu and can stay at home and take care of yourself, you have to do that, for the most part. But if you have a major illness, the flu makes it worse, and you may have to go to hospital.

O'BRIEN: Let's take a look at what the recommendations are from the CDC. They seem straightforward and simple to me. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, stay home when your sick, cover your mouth and nose, avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose, pretty straightforward. Sounds actually like just good hygiene. Does following those very simple and simplistic rules actually make a big difference in whether or not you're going to get the flu?

FISCH: Actually, it's true, you've to listen to your mother. The CDC is telling you what your mother would tell you.

I would tell you what you just mentioned is washing your hands is really important if you want to avoid the flu, because you could be coming in contact every single day who has the flu. People go to school, they go to work, they come in contact with people, they take trains, planes. Planes are a really bad place to catch the flu. But if it comes in contact with your hands, you know how people touch their eyes, their nose, their mouth, you really need to wash your hands. And in the hospitals, we have real strict recommendations that we need to wash our hands between patients, because we as doctor can spread the disease and the flu.

O'BRIEN: I've heard it said, sing happy birthday. You should wash your hands as long as it takes to sing happy birthday.

FISCH: That's a good idea.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Harry Fisch, nice to see you again. Thanks for talking with us -- Bill.

HEMMER: In a moment here, Andy is back "Minding Your Business." He'll tell us how you can download a free scoop of ice cream. No kidding.

Plus, the theater of the absurd moves to TV. Is the fake Michael Jackson trial ready for primetime? "90-Second Pop" takes a shot at that in a moment.



O'BRIEN: We're going to be playing a lot of Michael Jackson, I fear, for the next few months. Welcome, everybody. It's time for "90-Second Pop" on a Wednesday.

Our pop panel this morning, Andy Borowitz from Amy Barnett with "Teen People." And Toure, CNN's pop culture correspondent.

Good morning.

TOURE, CNN POP CULTURE CORRESPONDENT: You look so hot today, I don't think I can even pay attention.

O'BRIEN: Forget the segment. Let's just talk about me. No, I'm joking. Let's talk a little bit about this new show, program, thing on E!

TOURE: Snore-fest.


O'BRIEN: Snore-fest, I think it's fair to call it. Let's show everybody what we're talking about. They basically are reenacting the trial, which I thought would be kind of exciting. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She claimed that she was the victim and her children were the victim of battery, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress. This was in July of 1999. Almost a year later, she amended that complaint to add sexual assault by a security officer.


O'BRIEN: Oh, my god, that was only 10 seconds of the trial.



O'BRIEN: I'm, like, falling asleep in my chair. BOROWITZ: Instead of "Man in the Mirror" we should have played "Bad." This is, like, what is this? This is like blurring the line between news and karaoke. I mean, this is just unbelievable.

BARNETT: It's American pop culture goes Vegas. That's what it is.

TOURE: Right, right, right.

O'BRIEN: So, they're reenacting the trial. The guy who looks like -- who is supposed to look like Michael Jackson, not so much.


BARNETT: How much is he getting paid? Because he's not going to testify, so all he's going to do this entire reenactment is just sit there and look very pensive.

BOROWITZ: My prediction is the No. 1 Halloween outfit this year is going to be Mesereau. A Mesereau wig.

O'BRIEN: I think...

BOROWITZ: It's going to be awesome, though. The...

O'BRIEN: He looks good.


O'BRIEN: He looks a lot like Mesereau.

TOURE: It's like we're back O.J.-land, right?


TOURE: It's a multimedia Greek tragedy, replayed here, and the smoking gun giving you blow by blow, and...

O'BRIEN: Didn't you think it was going to be more exciting, though?

TOURE: No, this couldn't be more boring.

O'BRIEN: I was like...

BARNETT: Yes, I think so.

BOROWITZ: This is, I think, evidence of why people try so hard to get out of jury duty. I mean, this is like torture.

O'BRIEN: I actually started feeling sorry for people like Jeff Toobin, who are in the courtroom now. Poor Jeff. He must be so bored if this is really how it is.

BOROWITZ: No, no, that is a Jeff Toobin look-alike. It looks a like a lot like him. They nailed him, I thought. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk about my favorite topic, rappers and rapper wars.

BOROWITZ: Rapper wars.

O'BRIEN: Why not? OK. The Game, huge debut, big deal, protege of 50 Cent.


O'BRIEN: They were friends.

BARNETT: It was very...

O'BRIEN: Now they're not friends.


O'BRIEN: And now, like, gunshots going each and every -- what?

TOURE: Do you know...

O'BRIEN: Didn't I sum it up well, kind of?

TOURE: Do you know the phrase...

BOROWITZ: Totally, and you got the "fitty" pronunciation.

TOURE: Do you what we mean when we say "my people?" "My people?" Like, oh, god, what are you guys doing? But it's like we have this marketing tool now as getting shot or getting shot at, right?

O'BRIEN: Well, for a rapper, it's a good tool.

TOURE: Yes, like, 50 Cent got shot at when his album first came out and then, like, not get again until then album was almost done. Now, his album comes out again tomorrow.

O'BRIEN: There's a downside to that marketing strategy.

TOURE: Exactly, if you get hit with a bullet.

O'BRIEN: If you get hit, you could die.

BOROWITZ: You know, the one part -- Toure, maybe you can explain to me -- the part of the story that confuses me is I guess this all got started because 50 Cent -- Fitty Cent, I'm sorry -- threatened to kick The Game out of the G-Unit.

O'BRIEN: He did, his label.

BOROWITZ: OK. And then here's what I don't get. What are the advantages of being in the G-Unit? Is there dental? I mean, are there benefits?


BARNETT: The rap wars are so 1990.

O'BRIEN: It's like 1988.

BARNETT: They're so...

BOROWITZ: We're so over the rap wars.

BARNETT: Aren't you, though? I mean, we're so over them.

TOURE: I know. It happened at Hot 97. Nothing good happens at Hot 97 these days, right? Which also is the focus of the Lil' Kim shootout, right?


TOURE: Well, she's now on trial for lying to the grand jury for a shootout with, I kid you not, a rap group known as CNN.

BOROWITZ: Oh, really?

TOURE: Tony Noriega (ph) of CNN.

O'BRIEN: Nobody we know in that, right?

TOURE: Nobody we know. They're not related to us.

O'BRIEN: Whew!

BARNETT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) rappers over there?

O'BRIEN: I just don't want any, you know, gunshots flying here because we got the rap wars going on.

BARNETT: I'm wearing a vest, so I'm OK.

BOROWITZ: And, there's also this rapper now named Lou Dobbs. Did you know that?

TOURE: No, but Wolf Blitzer is a great rap name.

BOROWITZ: That is true.

O'BRIEN: And on that, we're going to leave it there. You guys, as always, thank you.

Bill -- back to you.


HEMMER: All right, Soledad, thanks for that. You can already download music and movies, and now one side is out there to allow you to download free ice cream. Andy explains in a moment here. Right after this.


HEMMER: Welcome back, everyone. Bill Gates receives a very special honor and Yahoo! has a bit of a birthday to celebrate. Back to Andy Serwer, "Minding Your Business." Morning.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Morning to you. Big day for Microsoft, big day for Yahoo!.

Let's look at the market, though. Not a big day for investors so far. Down 43. Greenspan going to be testifying at 10:00 Eastern. We'll wait, and see what happens there.

I'm calling this one revenge of the nerd. Bill Gates getting an honorary knighthood today. Word is just in from across the pond. Let's see if we can take a look here. There's Mr. Gates on your left. That's the queen in the middle and that's Mrs. Gates on your right. Of course, it's honorary knighthood. You have to be a British citizen to be called Sir. You get the KDE, Knight Commander of the British Empire, after your name. Other Americans include Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope and Colin Powell and Tommy Franks. Interesting bunch.

Tenth anniversary, tenth birthday of Yahoo! today. Founded in 1995 at Stanford University. Two graduate students. There they are. Jerry Yang, David Filo, today each worth over $2 billion. Isn't Yahoo! a great company, though? To be a customer of Yahoo!, I don't know about being an investor. But I use it all the time. Not too many companies have an exclamation point after their name like that.

And today if you go to their Web site and you have an account there, which you can do right away, you're getting yourself some free ice cream, right here, Baskin Robbins. One scoop. And you know where I'm going after the show. I don't know where -- Jack, you're usually out of here pretty quickly. Maybe you and me can go out and get a little Baskin Robbins.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I actually have to have a meeting today, however, with my accountant, to get my taxes done, so I'll need something stronger than ice cream.

SERWER: All right. I'll see you at Mitchell's liquor shop.

O'BRIEN: There's no coupon for that.

SERWER: No, unfortunately.

O'BRIEN: Andy, thanks. Final look at the "Question of the Day."

CAFFERTY: Should the Ten Commandments be displayed on government property?

Russ writes this: "Why is it so difficult for people to see that most of the hot spots in the world today seem to be run by religious theocracies and although it seems trivial, the Ten Commandments are an endorsement of a religion that has nothing to do with our judicial system." Shirley writes from Florida: "Even a heard of wildebeests has some kind of social parameters. The Ten Commandments is a sensible bottom line for anyone and has worked for thousands of years. A couple of them are little outdated, but I don't see a problem, even for a heathen like myself."

And Ben writes from Texas: "The real reason we can't have the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, you cannot post 'thou shall not steal,' 'thou shall not commit adultery' and 'thou shall not lie' in a building full of lawyers, judges and politicians. It create a hostile work environment."

O'BRIEN: All the defendants, too. All right, Jack, thanks. Coming up in the next hour, "CNN LIVE TODAY" helps you clean up your finances. Are you getting enough bang for your buck with your 401k? Rick and Daryn have the top five tips to set you on right path. AMERICAN MORNING is back in just a moment.


HEMMER: Before we get out of here, want to check in with Aaron Brown, what's coming up later tonight on "NEWSNIGHT." Here's Aaron.


Tonight on "NEWSNIGHT," for eight years Alex Kelly (ph) was a fugitive, fleeing rape charges in the United States and skiing the slopes of Europe instead. He was eventually brought back, eventually convicted. He has served half a prison term and now wants to be paroled. And the two women he raped almost 20 years ago are doing everything they can to keep him in prison. You'll hear their story, plus all the day's top news, morning papers, everything else that makes "NEWSNIGHT" "NEWSNIGHT." CNN tonight, 10:00 Eastern -- Bill.

HEMMER: Thanks for that, Aaron. See you in about 12 hours.

O'BRIEN: And we're out of time here on AMERICAN MORNING. Let's head it right down to Daryn Kagan and Rick Sanchez. They're at the CNN Center, going to take you through the next few hours on "CNN LIVE TODAY."


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