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Crossfire Hosts Relive Show's History

Aired June 1, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: From the left, Michael Kinsley.
MICHAEL KINSLEY, FMR CROSSFIRE CO-HOST: We're for it because it's the right thing!

ANNOUNCER: From the right, Pat Buchanan.

PAT BUCHANAN, FMR CROSSFIRE CO-HOST: I understand perfectly.

ANNOUNCER: From the left, Bill Press.

BILL PRESS, FMR CROSSFIRE CO-HOST: If I were a Muslim -- if I were a nonbeliever, Ralph, I don't see any room for me in your party.

ANNOUNCER: From the right, Mary Matalin.

MARY MATALIN, FMR CROSSFIRE CO-HOST: Why would you want to do this?

ANNOUNCER: From the left, Paul Begala.

PAUL BEGALA, CROSSFIRE CO-HOST: We'll beat him like a bad piece of meat.

ANNOUNCER: From the right, Robert Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, CROSSFIRE CO-HOST: I am searching for hidden agendas, and I think I see one.

ANNOUNCER: Today, remembering 25 years of CNN and more than two decades of CROSSFIRE, live from the George Washington University.


BEGALA: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Like the man said, we are celebrating 25 years of CNN, and more than two decades of CROSSFIRE. Of course, our celebration would not be complete without some of the legends who have filled the chairs on the left and the right over the years. They made us mad. They made us scream at our TV. They probably made a few of you want to cancel your cable subscriptions. But good, we don't want you to watch! We want our loyal viewers!

Through it all, these folks made their points and with courage and clarity and a good bit of humor. So, I want to welcome back to the CROSSFIRE the people who made this show successful, Pat Buchanan, Michael Kinsley, Bill Press, Mary Matalin, and the inimitable Robert Novak.

Welcome back.

Let me, if I can, Mr. Buchanan, begin with you, since you were present at the creation that very first CROSSFIRE. Do you recall it by any chance?

BUCHANAN: It was 11:30 at night. No, I don't. We don't recall many of those shows.

BEGALA: We actually saved a clip from it, from the first CROSSFIRE of June 25, 1982. You and Senator Charles Mathias, the great liberal Republican, were debating the resignation General Alexander Haig, who'd stepped down then as secretary of state. Look at that handsome devil.


BUCHANAN: Are you concerned that none of you or none of your colleagues were even consulted as to who the secretary of state might be?

ALEXANDER HAIG, FMR SEC. OF STATE: Well, of course, the appointed process is divided between the president's suggestion, his nomination and the Senate's confirmation.

BUCHANAN: Would it not have been correct for the president to call up and say, listen, fellows, I've got a couple of people in mind. Who do you think could work best with you?

HAIG: I don't think that's normally done, Pat.

BUCHANAN: Consultation is not done with the Senate, or members of his own party?

HAIG: It is done on occasion. I think this happened too fast for that.


BUCHANAN: Well, Paul, you know, consultation -- do you think they ought to consult on Supreme Court justices?

BEGALA: Well, I do these days, now that my party is in the minority, but I didn't when my boss was in the White House.

BUCHANAN: Actually, the McCain seven believe so, don't they?

BEGALA: Yeah, absolutely.

PRESS: Oh, I think the minority should have a veto power over Supreme Court justices.

BUCHANAN: But let me tell you a story about that. Mack Mathias (ph) was a guy who enjoyed a good evening, and as I recall, he came in, as a lot of our guests did, at 11:30 at night, and they were -- you know, they were doing a us a favor, and they were pretty well loosened up. And Mac -- Mac really was, and there are a number of others who came in that way, as well. We used to do that right in the room over in Wisconsin Avenue, right in the newsroom. We would have the CROSSFIRE right here, and these news guys would be working. It's 11:30 at night. It was TV at its -- at its best. The Chicken Noodle Network, as they called us.

NOVAK: Weren't the -- weren't some of the co-hosts fairly well- oiled, as well, Pat?

BEGALA: Speak for yourself, Novak!

BUCHANAN: You're speaking of my friend Tom Braden who was a wonderful man and, wonderful guy. Just a quick note, he was the guy -- June of 1940, joined the British army when the Nazis overran France because American wasn't at war. He was a trip. He was a liberal, a very gutsy guy and he made for a great show and gave us a great start.

BEGALA: In fact, Bob, if I can come back to you, in one of those early shows you had quite a contretemps, I guess, with the former secretary of defense, Bob McNamara.

NOVAK: Yes, he was a great friend of Tom Braden. Tom used to bring him in, and I didn't like him very much. There's a lot of people I don't like, and I thought he was too soft on the communists and said so, and he indicated that he would never come on that show again. And Tom was very embarrassed, very angry at me, and you know what, McNamara never did come on again.

BEGALA: Well, we actually have that clip, and McNamara is a little peeved with you, Bob. Let's take a look at that, if we can.


ROBERT MCNAMARA, FMR SEC. OF STATE: Mr. Novak, let me say something to your face.


MCNAMARA: I deeply resent the implication. You are implying I'm a communist.

NOVAK: I did not imply that at all.

MCNAMARA: You sure as hell did, and I deeply resent it.

NOVAK: I never said you were.

MCNAMARA: You said it four times.

NOVAK: I say your judgment is bad, and I think you are performing a disservice to the country.

MCNAMARA: A service -- a service for the Soviets. That is absurd.


BEGALA: Wow, that was a little harsh there, Bob.

NOVAK: See how much I've mellowed, Begala?

BEGALA: Now you just call me a communist.

PRESS: Or me, for a long time.

BEGALA: Yes, Mike, that is an epitaph that I think some of our friends at the right have thrown around a few times in your presence, as well, haven't they, Mike Kinsley?

KINSLEY: I thought Bob was accusing McNamara of being an economist, so I was a little confused. Bob is -- well, he said it. He said there's a lot of people I don't like, and that was an astonishing revelation to me because, you know, I think of him being as this pussycat.

NOVAK: A lot of people don't like me either.

KINSLEY: Oh, I don't know any.

BEGALA: Mike, you had a moment that we actually also pulled the clip of, too. One of the few times, maybe the only time, that a host got a guest so hot under the collar that he couldn't take the heat or didn't want to stay in the CROSSFIRE as it were, and guest John von Hartz (ph) walked off the set live on national television under your grilling. You want to take a look at that and tell us what happened.



KINSLEY: Did you not say...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you read the public apology we published? Maybe you should, you know, find out your facts...

KINSLEY: Did you not...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...before you blather on on national television.

KINSLEY: Did you not -- well, wait a minute. I'm being accused of making things up. Now, you did not say it was a form of overexuberance in an effort to be fresh and sprightly?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, Michael, we published -- you know...

KINSLEY: Did you say it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry, good-bye.

BUCHANAN: Well, I think we ought to continue right here, I'm afraid. Let me go on, Jim, get back to you, look. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Now, notice that Buchanan is smooth as silk. He's just going right to the liberal...

BUCHANAN: Michael, you were after the neoconservatives early.

KINSLEY: Yes, well, now, I leave them to you, Pat.

As I recall, this was about some fake journalism and there was a bit of fake journalism that Mr. van Hartz, who was actually a very good journalist, usually had been involved in, and he seemed to think, as a lot of CROSSFIRE guests seemed to think, that they could come on and discuss questions in the abstract and any particular that involved them, you shouldn't bring up or you were somehow cheating, and I think he was a little disillusioned when that turned out not to be the case.

BEGALA: Mary, you never drove anybody off the set, though.

MATALIN: I think Bill once or twice. Just ripped it off and walked out.

PRESS: Deservedly so.

BEGALA: What's the right tone? Frankly, I think, when you were on -- and Bill, particularly -- the chemistry was never better. What was the tone, Mary, for you?


PRESS: Careful.


BEGALA: My suspicion is you did your fighting at home with your husband.

MATALIN: Well, there is that, yes.


BEGALA: And so you were more pleasant when you got to the show.

PRESS: Now, I used to say she would warm up with James, you know, so by the time she walked in, poor me, you know, I got the brunt of it.

MATALIN: Actually, compared to James, he's so easy. James is -- there's no spitting. There's no stuttering. There's no screaming. There's no crying. You know, even when James agrees with you he cries and carries on.

BEGALA: And...

MATALIN: You're actually rational. James makes you rational. PRESS: I was thinking watching the clips that some of the shows that Mary and I didn't quite get up to the intellectual -- we had fun. I'm not sure they got up to the intellectual firepower of the clips we just saw, Mary.

MATALIN: I don't know -- was that intellectual or was that just...

BEGALA: One of the more intellectual shows, you all strayed away from politics and into diet and nutrition. You had Dr. Atkins on, and the closing of that is great moments of CROSSFIRE. Don't know if you remember that. We're going to play the tape and ask you to tell us what was happening.


PRESS: I have never in my life -- this is a present for Thanksgiving -- never in my life have I had a fried pork skin, but these are allowed on this stupid diet you are on.

MATALIN: How Busharian (ph) of you! I eat these just in tribute to George Bush. Ew!

PRESS: Oh, people eat these? Wait a minute...

MATALIN: Well, look. You're not going to die from a heart problem -- you're going to die -- you're going to choke.


BEGALA: You know what, the pork rind -- as Mary pointed out, our current president fainted because of a pretzel, but his father could eat a pork rind. He was a real man.

PRESS: First of all, Mary's the only person I know that went on the Atkins diet and gained weight. So, you know, so she was on the diet. We had Dr. Atkins on, and I was making fun of the diet. But, believe it or not, you're allowed -- you can't eat potato chips but you can eat those stupid pork rinds, so we decided -- pork skins -- to try them. They have -- we figured if the first President Bush liked them they couldn't be all that bad. They are wretched.

MATALIN: This is why I was laughing, it's not because he was choking, although that was pretty funny. But, the guest that night was -- Bill says to her -- I don't know if it was Atkins, there's so many -- he goes, you would have a smaller waist if you had a bigger brain. Just totally blows the woman away, who was a bit of a fat head. Do you remember?

No, we actually had real shows. But, the secret of these, as you guys know -- maybe the audience doesn't know -- is, on a holiday, you put a bunch of evergreens in the can, which is not a -- probably not what you want to think of there, but that was a Thanksgiving show.

PRESS: I think it was a Thanksgiving show, exactly.

BEGALA: So, you almost keeled over on Thanksgiving.

PRESS: After the turkey...


PRESS: After the turkey come the pork skins.

BEGALA: All right, we're going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we're going to talk about some of the big political hotshot who have stepped into the CROSSFIRE, including two U.S. presidents. We'll ask our hosts about some of their more memorably interviews in the CROSSFIRE.

Plus, you're not going to want to miss the clip of Michael Kinsley debating Rush Limbaugh on the topic of Nelson Mandela. Stay with us to see that.


BEGALA: Welcome book. We are celebrating 25 years of CNN and more than two decades of CROSSFIRE. And a lot of famous people have stepped into the CROSSFIRE over the years, from Richard Nixon, Pat Buchanan's old boss, to the first President Bush, Mary Matalin's old boss, to Bob Hope, Clint Eastwood, or Hillary Rodham Clinton, who in many ways was my old boss.

Hosts always pretend that they like all their guests equally. And I'm sure mom and dad told you they loved you as much as the cuter little brother. It's not true. Today we're going to put the cards on the table and ask about their more memorable, if not favorite encounters in the CROSSFIRE.

And Michael, let me start with you. You debated Rush Limbaugh, a man not often given to debate. He likes having his own program for three hours, and who can blame him.

But the topic was Nelson Mandela, a war criminal or peace activist. Tell us about that.

MICHAEL KINSLEY: Well, what I remember mainly about that show is that I had never heard of this guy, Rush Limbaugh. And then that error was corrected very shortly for me and the rest of the country. And we haven't got rid of him since. In fact, I think there's a lot more of him now than there was back in this clip.


KINSLEY: They have concerns about what is going on in other parts of the word just like American whites do, just like American Jews are concerned for the prosperity of Israel, it doesn't affect them. They want Israel to be free.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Oh, but it does. Oh, but it does.

KINSLEY: Blacks want -- are you say saying the Jews only support Israel out of selfish motives?

LIMBAUGH: No, I didn't say selfish motives at all.

KINSLEY: What about people who are concerned for freedom in Eastern Europe, in the Soviet Union. It doesn't affect us, especially. We're for it because it's the right thing.


BEGALA: Wow, Mike, go get 'em.

KINSLEY: I destroyed him. He hasn't been heard of since.

BEGALA: You did frighten him into losing a bunch of weight. He looks a lot better today. I don't know if you can that about many of us. But Rush is looking a lot better today. Don't worry, Rush, in a very nongay way. In a macho, manly way.

But Pat, your conflict with -- you had a lot of them -- but one with Phil Donahue we pulled the tape of.

PAT BUCHANAN: Well, I think that's the one where Phil Donahue wanted to put on television some electrocutions in North Carolina. Is that not right?

BEGALA: I think so.

BUCHANAN: That was his idea at the time. And I didn't think that was a good time. I thought it might be an invasion of privacy at that point, I think.

BEGALA: Let's take a look at that tape.


BUCHANAN: Phil, come on, what's the problem here? The lesbian midgets not pulling anymore? Oprah has the big numbers? We have to go for the long ball? Go for an execution. Come on.

PHIL DONAHUE, TELEVISION TALK SHOW HOST: What is so special about you that you can watch this...

BUCHANAN: I was a reporter. It was a reporter and it was 30 years ago. And I asked the warden for his permission.

DONAHUE: Why did you want to see those executions, Pat?

BUCHANAN: Because I was supporting the death penalty and I wanted to know if I could stand up there and pull the switch.


BEGALA: Could you?

BUCHANAN: We went to a couple of executions down in Missouri. Yes, you could. And the guys deserved it, but it wasn't pleasant to see. And it was a long ride home of 100 miles. And you thought about it all the way.

BEGALA: Bob, how about some of your favorite guests. Who did you enjoy having on the show?

NOVAK: Who did I enjoy? I don't think I enjoyed anybody on the show, because I had to be very mean to them.

The most memorable one, Paul, was Bob Dole. This is when we were on Wisconsin Avenue and Washington. We were in sort of a garage. And he came on. And he -- I don't know whether he had a bad oyster or something, but he started attacking me, said I was Jack Kemp's campaign manager. I was a disgrace to journalism. And it was -- the Brandi Dowson (ph), who was producer of the show, said it was the best show they ever had. He loved it. And he tried to get Bob to come back several times. And he came back, but he was never in that bad of mood.

We have tried to find the tape of him doing that. And that show is missing. I think Dole had his -- the Watergate burglars in the night or something. His version of, steal that tape, because we can't find it.

BEGALA: Well, OK, Bill. You are up. Some of your favorite guests?

BILL PRESS: My favorite guest 6 of all time is now in federal prison. Where a lot of former CROSSFIRE guests probably are. They meet every once in a while. They do mini CROSSFIRE in prison. James Traficant. Remember Traficant?

NOVAK: Oh, yeah.

PRESS: Oh, one of the most colorful congressman, one of the most colorful guests we ever had. And he always showed up, Pat, drunk, which made him even more fun.

This is traficant.

BEGALA: He also makes my all hair team, too. I think, in fact, the hairpiece did not make it to the pen. But Jim did. And when Traficant comes out, we want him back.

PRESS: The thing is his wife is a hairdresser. His wife did his hair. His wig.

MATALIN: His wife does his hair. That's not a wig. That's his real -- I'm a hairdresser, that's his real hair and his wife makes his clothes. Come on, get with it.

BEGALA: Is that right? I thought it was piece.

OK, Mary, some of your favorites.

PRESS: That's either a wig or a raccoon.

MATALIN: Takes one to know one, huh? Look at that. Oh, I'm just kidding.

BEGALA: You see, you get the little tension going.

MATALIN: No. No tension. As I'm watching these, I'm thinking how much nicer we really were. You guys were screamers and...

BUCHANAN: Well, it was a tough show in those early days.

MATALNI: Yeah. We were in the pussycat era.

BUCHANAN: If I can mention one. One of the first shows Braden and I did, Brandi Dowson (ph), was an imaginative producer. We were up there at 11:30. So, we come downstairs. Sitting in the chair is the head of the Ku Klux Klan in full battle regalia. He has his cone hat on. I sit down with the opening. I'm looking over at Braden and I start reading the introduction. And Braden says, what the hell are you doing here with that get up? And the fellow says your producer told me to wear it.


BEGALA: Excellent. Thank God for producers.

PRESS: There was a night that Pat Buchanan and I had Jerry Falwell on and a prostitute from Los Angeles.

BEGALA: Who could tell the difference? I'm just kidding.

PRESS: Pat asked the prostitute whether she was always a prostitute. She said, no. She used to be a Los Angeles police officer. Pat said why did you change jobs? And she said because she thought she needed a more honorable profession.

BEGALA: Wow. Well, on that thought, let's take a quick break.

On the air, you may think we bicker like old married couples. But how do the CROSSFIRE hosts get along with each other off the air? We will tell you when we return.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from the CNN center in Atlanta. Coming at the top of the hour, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reacts angrily to a human rights group's claims about Gauntanamo Bay.

It's happening again in Southern California: Million dollar homes simply sliding down hills.

And what goes through your head when you fall in love? We'll report on a new scientific study. And talk with relationship expert Laura Berman.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Well, a question I get asked most is how can you stand Bob Novak? Well, of course, the answer is CNN pays me a lot of money.

But no, actually, we get along great. Bob is, in my mind, one of the greatest minds of the 12th Century, so we get along just fine.

But what about the other hosts, how do they get along?


KINSLEY: From the left, I'm Mike Kinsley -- he'll never understand -- good night for CROSSFIRE.

BUCHANAN: I understand perfectly.


BEGALA: Mike, that little segment -- the producers used to call it yip yap. You guys would yip and yap at each other pretty good, huh?

KINSLEY: Yeah. I think the truth is that we were never friends, actual friends, but we were always friendly or most of the time. And the occasions when you saw anger, the anger was genuine. Which to me is a tribute to democracy and a good thing.

NOVAK: I don't think Mike was ever friendly toward me. He was friendly toward Pat.

The first host on the left that I ever had any kind of nice relationship with was Bill Press. I was the -- in the first years I was a substitute mainly for Pat. And when went into politics I would go on permanently. And Braden couldn't stand being on with me. And I don't think Kinsley could either.

Kinsley once said...

KINSLEY: Oh, I loved it.

NOVAK: No, you didn't.

KINSLEY: Yes. Yes, I did.

NOVAK: Kinsely once said to Buchanan after I'd been on for two weeks, thank God you're back, Pat.

BEGALA: Pat, how about you?

BUCHANAN: Well, look, I think Michael makes a very good point. There's -- I mean, Michael and I incidentally both agreed against the war in 1991. And So we would bring on two guests who were for it.

But I think Michael make as point. Your beliefs are authentic and sincere and deep. And we really went at it. And that affected you. And it affected you in somewhat emotional I guess. Until you got walked off there sometimes -- and I did it with Braden -- not talking to somebody, just walking out of the building. But you'd show up the next night. As you say, the pay was good.

BEGALA: Well -- Bill.

PRESS: Well, I was just going add. You know John Sununu who is not here tonight, would help co-host for awhile. And John and I really one night we got into it. Badly. And I called him the next morning. And we talked. And John said, I thought the smartest thing all of us followed is life is too short and the show is too short to really let it get inside of you. That it was important to disagree, but still remain friends.

BEGALA: So, it's not the burning animosity that gets you up in the morning everyday? You leave it there.

In fact, Mary, when you concluded your run to go into oblivion, well actually into the White House.

MATALIN: Your acting as if it's your White House.

BEGALA: You had a wonderful sendoff. I want to show a clip of the left and right agreeing on their love for you, Mary.


MATALIN: I can't believe I'm going to miss you. And you prince of darkness, you taught me everything I know.


BEGALA: Well, I guess if you can kiss Carville, you can kiss anybody, huh Mary?

MATALIN: There is that.

Look what I've learned. We always were friends and we were friendly. And he just had bad opinions. I didn't feel any compulsion to listen to anything he was saying. That's why I loved you in perpetuity.

PRESS: I was just a smart, sassy and wrong about everything. Mary Matalin.

BEGALA: Ah, that's a fine summary.

Next, we will ask our guests to do something they haven't done in years. Stay with us to see if they can still do it. Stay with us.


BEGALA: Well, it's more than a signoff, it's a signature. For some of us, it's a way of life. From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE. KINSLEY: From the left, I'm Mike Kinsley.

PRESS: I hate to see CROSSFIRE go. I'll say it one more time. From the left and proud of it, I'm Bill Press.

BUCHANAN: From the right, I'm Pat Buchanan.

MATALIN: Always right from the right, I'm Mary Matalin.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.




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