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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN

Hurricane Wilma Pounds Mexico; President Bush Losing Control?; Flattery Key to Landing Job Promotion?

Aired October 21, 2005 - 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: Interesting program tonight. Good evening again, everyone.
Hurricane Wilma has slammed into Mexico. Is Florida up next?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Wicked Wilma makes landfall, pounding the Mexico resort island of Cozumel. Will it now make its move to Florida? The Sunshine State braces for impact.

His party's top lawmaker arrested, his Supreme Court nominee treading in dangerous waters, and two top aides in potential legal jeopardy -- why some say the so-called CEO president is losing control.

And brownnosing, bootlicking, toadying, anything to get ahead, but does it really work? Tonight, why sometimes it is not your resume that counts. It's how well you have mastered the fine art of flattery.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEWSNIGHT. Live from the CNN Broadcast Center in New York is Aaron Brown and, from Naples, Florida, Anderson Cooper.

BROWN: Well, we have much to get to tonight.

Wilma has arrived in Cancun, 140-mile-an-hour winds. Those winds, that storm, may soon reach Florida -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: yes, 140-mile-and-hour winds, Aaron, an extraordinarily strong storm at this point, Category 4.

Good evening, everyone. I am in Naples Florida, a city that may be the next target for Wilma. But the people here are hoping it simply passes them by. Mandatory evacuations are already under way here in parts of Naples, also along the -- the Florida coastline. Right now, the Category 4 hurricane is literally parked over Cancun. It's moving about five miles per hour over Mexico.

We are going to bring you the latest in just a second.

But, first, here's a look at what's happening with the storm at this moment. A deadly virus has spread. The bird flu has reached Britain. Officials there say the strain was found in a quarantined parrot. The bird was from South America, which is yet to have a reported case of the disease. So, that is certainly troubling. The flu has also been detected in other European countries. To date, it has killed more than 60 people.

The mother charged with drowning her three children in San Francisco Bay pleaded not guilty to murder today. She's being held without bail. Authorities say she hurled her three young boys into the water, now all of them believed to have died. If convicted, she could face the death penalty.

In Northern California, CNN has confirmed that this teenager, 16- year-old Scott Dyleski, has been charged with the murder of Pamela Vitale. Now, she, of course, was the wife of prominent defense attorney Daniel Horowitz. Bail for the teen suspect has been set at $1 million.

And more time will be needed for the Iraqi army to operate on its own, a lot more time, that according to the U.S. commander -- the commander of U.S. forces in Baghdad. Today, he said, it may take as long as two more years before the Iraqi force can provide security and protection for their own country.

We turn now to Hurricane Wilma. For the last few hours, the eye of the storm has been fixed over Cancun, Mexico, bringing a massive storm surge, torrential rains and catastrophic winds, 140 miles an hour, to the resort area.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A relentless pounding from Wilma, as it pummeled the coastline of evacuated seaside hotels, about 20,000 tourists put out of harm's way, residents holed up at schools and motel ballrooms in the center of town.

Not since Emily hit in July have conditions been so bad. CNN clocked winds of nearly 130 miles per hour. At one hotel about 40 straw tiki huts on the beach were swallowed into the surf, looking like toothpicks in the waves.

(on camera): There is debris in the roadway. Look at this pole over here on the left, this traffic light just bent over and is sitting on the highway, with the wind and the rain whipping around it.

(voice-over): The force of winds strong enough to blow out one of these windows on a hotel balcony.

(on camera): The post from this fence ripped out of the ground. And this thing is just ripping back and forth and back and forth, relentless pounding from wind gusts doing a number on what used to be a nightclub.

You can see that the covering has sheered off. All that's left is the frame. Listen to that canopy at Pat O'Brien's (ph). It almost sounds like gunfire.

(voice-over): Back at a hotel, chandeliers swayed precariously from the ceilings. A glass-walled foyer burst under the pressure. Pieces of sky roof wobbled, cracked and eventually crashed to the floor, one right after the other. And the word is, the conditions could last another day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, it is no one better to track to storm than CNN severe weather expert Chad Myers. He joins us now from Atlanta.

Chad, I -- I just cannot get over that this is 140 mile-per- hour...

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes.

COOPER: ... sustained winds.

MYERS: Yes.

COOPER: We're not talking about gusts.

MYERS: Right.

And the -- some of the gusts, even at the airport -- they do it kilometers per hour, but almost at 160 kilometers per hour. And that's inland. That's not even on the shore, where the hotel zone is. They're going to wake up tomorrow and maybe this thing isn't even going to be gone enough to take pictures.

But the pictures that you see out of the hotel zone and also downtown Cancun are going to be devastating, along with Cozumel right there, still getting lashed with the southern eyewall, with west winds at about 115 to 120 miles per hour, and then the northern eyewall here. We do have the Cancun radar back. Some time -- somehow, these guys got this back up and working again. It was down for a while.

Here's downtown Cancun, the little seven part, the hotel zone there, very strong squalls here, and the northern eyewall. There are two eyewalls, one and then two. But, from the Royal Hideaway down to Xcaret, the entire area, the Moon Palace, just getting pounded this evening.

And the storm just refuses to move. In fact, it may be less than 20 miles from right where it is now by the time we wake up tomorrow morning. The storm has essentially stalled right over the Yucatan -- Anderson.

COOPER: Well, Chad, if the storm stalls over the Yucatan, what does that mean for us, in terms of the arrival time, the strength of it, if and when it does get here?

MYERS: The longer it's over land, the weaker it gets. The more it's over water, the stronger it gets. So, it is kind of 50/50 right now, kind of half on, half off. There are your latest wind gusts, at 140 miles per hour, gusting to sometimes to 160 to 165, although I think a lot of winds, those gusts may be above the surface, 105 as it gets back into the water for Sunday, and, then, for Monday afternoon, making landfall somewhere in Florida, we still think, at about 90 miles per hour, all the way across the -- all the way across the entire peninsula as a hurricane, so, a backside hurricane for West Palm, Fort Lauderdale, Miami-Dade.

Actually, winds will be coming in from the west. Most of the time, you prepare for storms and winds coming in from the east, as storms typically don't come that way across Florida -- Anderson.

COOPER: We will be getting more storm updates throughout the...

MYERS: Oh, sure.

COOPER: ... over the course of the next two hours.

MYERS: Yes.

COOPER: Of course, Chad will bring them to you as soon as we get them.

Chad, thanks very much.

Aaron, you know, you see those images out of Cancun. I -- I -- I mean, I have said it now multiple times, but, again, 145 -- 140 mile- per-hour winds is just staggering, that that is just hour after hour after hour. And to think, they are going to wake up tomorrow and maybe the winds are the same speed as they are right now. It's extraordinary.

BROWN: And when -- when those winds pass, I mean, Cancun counts on a winter tourist season that starts Thanksgiving week for American tourists and goes on through the winter. They don't have that much time to repair every hotel, to repair everything that's -- all the nightclubs, everything else that's going to be taken down.

COOPER: Yes. It is going to be a total mess. It's -- let's hope, you know -- let's hope it at least moves offshore quickly and just dissipates somewhere over the water south of Florida. But we will see.

BROWN: It's the weekend story, Anderson. Thank you.

Perhaps it's a cliche or perhaps it is simply what it is. Natural disaster and political misfortune invite the same language. Storm clouds gather. Controversies swirl. Winds gather force. People hunker down. At the White House, they do seem to be hunkering down these days.

This much is clear. And so is this. You can't get much done when you're hunkering down.

Here's our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Somewhere between reelection...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Harriet, thank you for agreeing to serve.

CROWLEY: ... and Harriet Miers...

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I think it's been a -- a chaotic process.

CROWLEY: Even Republicans think the A-team has morphed into the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The last six or nine months have been as difficult as anything the party has gone through in over 30 years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will never get to see him again.

CROWLEY: A cold shoulder to a grieving mom, a Social Security plan that faltered off the launchpad, Katrina, and the specter of indictments out of the CIA leak investigation. The very disciplined, aggressive team of Bush loyalists, lauded for their ability to control the message, seems to have lost control.

BUSH: There's some background noise here, a lot of chatter, a lot of speculation and opining. But the American people expect me to do my job. And I'm going to.

CROWLEY: Analyzing the president's year of living badly, Democrats and Republicans see a combination of bad luck, bad policy and bad relationships. Democrats seethe over the partisan style and, worse..

JACKIE CALMES, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": The word I hear over and over again on the Hill from Republicans is hubris.

CROWLEY: Republicans and Democrats in and out of government complain, the president is both perpetrator and victim of an insular White House.

CALMES: Their complaint is not enough information is getting through to him and that he is making his decisions -- let's say Harriet Miers -- based on his own gut instincts.

CROWLEY: Having governed from the right, the president has always found comfort there. It is all but gone.

REED: Economic conservatives started to get a little wobbly this summer on spending. The Harriet Miers nomination caught some social conservatives off base, some of the more self-appointed leaders of the social conservative movement. And they riled up. It seems like it was a tipping point. CROWLEY: Navigating the roughest terrain of his presidency, George Bush finds himself with no soft place to land. The go-it-alone Texan may need help.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Still ahead on the program tonight, where to draw the fine line between good etiquette and just kissing up to the boss? And under which category do you place, "Dear GWB, you are the best governor ever"?

Also tonight, found at sea -- a 20-year-old rescued after five days adrift in a sailboat, but he can't exactly say it's a happy ending. We will explain why.

From Florida and New York City, this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Congressman Tom DeLay made his first court appearance as a defendant today. He went before a judge in Austin, Texas, on charges of conspiracy and money-laundering. That's what the case is about, the law and whether the former majority leader broke the law.

It is not, however, all that the case is about.

Reporting from Austin, Texas, tonight, congressional correspondent Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tom DeLay is known for never backing down from a fight. And, true to form, immediately after his first court appearance, he went right outside and attacked prosecutor Ronnie Earle.

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Because Ronnie Earle and the Democrat Party could not beat me at the ballot box and could not beat me on the floor of the House of Representatives, they are now desperately trying to challenge me in a courtroom.

JOHNS: Delay's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, was also on the attack -- his target, the judge, his goal, to get him removed from the case. DeGuerin said the judge, Bob Perkins, has a conflict of interest. Why? Because he gave money to a liberal political group, MoveOn.org. And that group was selling anti-DeLay T-shirts. But tell that to the judge.

JUDGE BOB PERKINS, TRAVIS COUNTY CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT: Let me just say, I have never seen that T-shirt, number one. Number two, I haven't bought it. Number three, the last time that I...

(LAUGHTER) PERKINS: Number three, the last time I contributed to MoveOn that I know of was prior to the November election last year, when they were primarily helping Senator Kerry.

JOHNS: But, in a statement, MoveOn said it's all a Texas tempest in the teapot, that it never sold such T-shirts, that DeLay's attorney has either bad information or lied in court. Reached by CNN, DeLay's lawyer conceded he'd made a mistake. Politics as usual, right? But lost in this is the indictment against DeLay, political money- laundering.

(on camera): Essentially, the prosecutor's case is that Tom DeLay and his allies found ways to circumvent Texas law to help select candidates get elected to the statehouse. Why would a national congressman do that?

Well, if Republicans controlled Texas, they could redraw the congressional boundaries in favor of Republicans. And, in fact, Republicans did send five new members of Congress to Washington, who, in theory, at least, would have owed a big favor to Tom DeLay. It is all about power.

DELAY: I committed no wrongdoing whatsoever.

JOHNS (voice-over): Again, that's now for the judge and jury to decide. And that's why Ronnie Earle, who's been mostly engaged in prosecuting DeLay, suddenly found himself defending the judge.

RONNIE EARLE, TRAVIS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: This judge has a record of fairness to all who come before his bench. And, again, membership in a political party does not determine the quality of justice in this country.

JOHNS: Democratic attorney Chris Feldman (ph), who argued a related civil suit just this year, says the facts are on Earle's side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very legitimate investigation. And anyone that's going to make fun of it or dismiss it as political is just ignoring the law and the facts.

JOHNS: The jousting in this case has so far been mostly about legal procedure and scoring political points. It could be some time next year before they get down to arguing the merits of the case.

Joe Johns, CNN, Austin, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: A quick look now at some of the other stories that made news today.

Christi Paul joins us from Atlanta.

Good evening, Ms. Paul.

CHRISTI PAUL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Aaron. We start off in Baghdad, where the lawyers for Saddam Hussein are demanding protection. The fearful defense team wants the trial moved out of Iraq. The pleas come after the body of their fellow lawyer was found dumped in the street with two bullets to his head.

In Washington, D.C., a major bomb scare. Police detonated suspicious packages in a car near the U.S. Capitol after the vehicle's two occupants said they had an explosive inside. The driver of that car is in custody. The other occupant, an apparent hitchhiker, was released. By the way, no explosives were found.

A president, his beloved plane and a shrine -- President Bush and Nancy Reagan dedicated a new exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library today, the Air Force One most used by the former president. During his speech, President Bush likened Reagan's struggle against communism to the current war on terror.

And, finally, in New Hampshire, a 20-year-old man who disappeared with his father while on a sailing trip was found alive in the vessel five days later. A shaken Asher Woods was rescued 130 miles from shore. But the search for the father was called off. Woods told authorities his father had been swept overboard without a life vest.

That's the news right now from Atlanta -- Aaron, back to you.

BROWN: Thank you.

Could have been a better ending there. Thank you.

When NEWSNIGHT continues, the resort towns and beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico have an unwelcomed visitor tonight -- an update ahead on Hurricane Wilma and what she has done.

And residents of the Florida Keys hoping for the best, preparing for the worst yet again, as the hurricane season seems to be painting a bullseye on the Keys some time Monday. We will go there.

You're watching NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Hurricane Wilma is proving to be a more elusive storm than most to get a handle on. Its path, well, it kind of resembles a drunken sailor's.

This time around, people living in hurricane-weary Florida are taking few chances. Many schools are closed until further notice. Many weekend activities have been canceled. A lot of people living in the Florida Keys have already boarded up their homes and their businesses and they have gotten out of town. Some, of course, as always, refuse to leave.

CNN's Gary Tuchman has met several of them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the mayor of Key West, Florida, preparing for Hurricane Wilma has been quite a whirlwind.

(on camera): How long have you been the mayor of Key West?

MORGAN MCPHERSON, MAYOR OF KEY WEST, FLORIDA: A grand 14 days.

TUCHMAN: Mayor Morgan McPherson has began a stressful initiation in his brand new job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, the water will come up here.

TUCHMAN: Along with his commissioners, the effort is now under way to convince people to leave a city that could be demolished by a major hurricane.

MCPHERSON: It's a good idea for you to evacuate.

TUCHMAN: And many of the 30,000 residents say they're going.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not staying here -- definitely not. It looks too strong.

TUCHMAN: But a significant number of people say they're staying put.

MCPHERSON: I'm encouraging everybody to leave, because I think it is dangerous. But I respect your decision. And be safe and be careful.

TUCHMAN: Many of those born and bred in Key West, people affectionately known as "conches," say they have stuck it out before, and, therefore, they can do it again.

MCPHERSON: What do you guys think about this storm?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be a five.

MCPHERSON: It's going to be a five?

Are you going to stay or are you going to leave?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay.

MCPHERSON: You guys are going to stay, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay.

MCPHERSON: You're ready to weather it out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You conchs don't leave? (CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say, we conchs, we tough.

TUCHMAN: The city has set up a bus system for free rides to shelters.

MCPHERSON: I'm Morgan McPherson, the mayor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi.

MCPHERSON: Appreciate you (INAUDIBLE)

TUCHMAN: But, as of now, the buses are not exactly full.

(on camera): Did you see what happened in New Orleans with all the people who stayed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Doesn't that scare you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

TUCHMAN: How come?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I -- I can't run from God. If it's my time, you know, he is...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is going to get me.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The mayor says nobody will be physically forced to leave.

(on camera): How big of an issue is the conch pride?

MCPHERSON: Very real.

TUCHMAN: People staying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very big. It's -- it's a big issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a big issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will probably find the ones that are staying are conchs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the way of life. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rightly or -- right or wrong, that is just the way they are. They like to make their own...

TUCHMAN: The more stubborn mentality?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, they are proud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're proud.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We conchs are proud people.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Like New Orleans, elevation here is very low. Key West's highest point is one-and-a-half feet above sea level. That's why Mayor McPherson has evacuated his wife and children.

MCPHERSON: It could rearrange Key West. And, you know, that is -- that is -- that is we're looking at.

TUCHMAN: But the new mayor will stay in town as he runs the city.

(LAUGHTER)

TUCHMAN: And, apparently, will have plenty of company.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN: There's another reason a lot of people don't want to evacuate. There are no shelters whatsoever on the Florida Keys. So, it's a 150-mile drive to the nearest shelter in Miami.

There is a couple of closer shelters. They're 90 miles away, but it would not be physically or politically practical to go to those shelters, which are in Havana, Cuba -- Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: And -- and, Gary, I mean, are there restaurants still open? Are bars still open?

TUCHMAN: Key West, Anderson, is still a party city this very evening. Most of the tourists are gone. They were told to leave Wednesday. But the residents are still here. And most of the restaurants, most of the stores are still open.

And this street, Duval Street, the main drag in town, is still very loud at this hour.

COOPER: All right.

Gary Tuchman, thanks very much for that.

Aaron, you know, as soon as I asked Gary that question if the bars were open, I realized what an idiotic question that was.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: Well, you know, people have to do something.

Are you getting any weather yet there? Are the winds picking up? Are you getting any rain?

COOPER: No. Absolutely not.

I mean, it -- it's -- you know, it is a beautiful evening here in Naples, frankly. I mean, there are -- you see stores boarded up. A lot of restaurants are -- are kind of closing down already. But, you know, I -- we ate at -- at Chili's tonight. And -- and there are places to eat and places to go.

So, it -- it is...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: You know, a lot of people are just waiting and kind of watching.

BROWN: It is -- thankfully, it is early in the season for the people of Naples. Another month, month-and-a-half, the population in the city about doubles.

COOPER: Yes. It absolutely does.

I mean, this is a -- a beautiful community. A lot of people here have second homes. So, it's -- it's -- you know, it -- it could be much worse if it was later on.

But, you know, I got to tell you, people watching that storm over Cancun now, 140 miles-an-hour winds. That is getting a lot of the people's attention here right now tonight.

BROWN: I will bet it is getting their attention.

Up next, speed up or slow down, turn to the north, if so, how soon, how far, how quickly? We will update the projected course of Wilma, a storm that has, so far, confounded the experts, to a degree.

Also, the day's top headlines, including the plea from the mother accused of tossing her three young children into the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay.

We will take a break first. From New York, Florida and around the world, this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: You are looking at the scene in Cancun, Mexico, 140 mile-per-hour sustained winds, gusts up to 160 miles per hour -- this storm moving at about five miles per hour, just inching over Cancun.

It is most likely residents, they're going to wake up tomorrow morning, and the same level of winds will still be battering the downtown area.

For a little comparison, here are the waves in Naples, Florida, right now, calm as can be. No hint of the storm that is out there, a deadly storm, which could be heading this way.

Coming up later on in the program, we are going to take a look at a much different subject, the fine art of kissing up. Was "Leave It to Beaver"'s Eddie Haskell on to something?

First, a look at the news at this moment.

A bird has tested positive for bird flu in Britain. Officials say the parrot was imported from South America, died while being held in a routine government quarantine program. Bird later tested positive for the flu. It's not yet known if it's the same potentially deadly bird's flu strain that has reached Europe from Asia.

Former House majority leader Tom DeLay's arraignment on conspiracy and money-laundering charges was delayed today pending a request on his request for a new judge. DeLay's attorney challenged the impartiality of the Texas judge assigned to hear the case, alleging he's contributed to Democrats and liberal causes.

A California mother accused of tossing her three young children into the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay pleaded not guilty to murder charges today. Relatives say that this 23-year-old mother has a history of mental health problems, and recently stopped taking her medication. Rescuers have found the body of one of the children. The other two are missing, presumed dead.

Google is becoming the little search engine that could. For the first time, Google's market value briefly topped $100 billion today. Google shares jumped more than 12 percent after the online search company reported earnings and revenue numbers that astonished even seasoned investors.

Sustained winds of 145 -- 140 miles per hour right now, and storm surge 11 feet. And the worst for Cancun, Mexico, may be far from over.

CNN's Susan Candiotti is directly under the eye of Hurricane Wilma. She joins us on the phone from Cancun. Susan, what's the -- what are you seeing?

CANDIOTTI (on phone): Well, Anderson, (INAUDIBLE) storm, and I've covered a lot of them over the course of 20 years, is how slowly it is moving, it is just plodding along, Wilma is. And it's been eight hours now, saturating the Yucatan with water, and it won't let up. I would describe it as relentless and loud even at this hour. I don't know if you can hear it in the background. But it is just roaring away over my shoulder.

And as a matter of fact, that's why we couldn't get our video signal up, because the conditions are so bad.

You've heard a lot of people describe tornadoes like freight trains. That's what this is like. And in terms of the Gulf of Mexico, and this hotel where we are located, 27 feet above sea level, you can't even make out the water, especially in the daytime, because it's like a white-out. We've clocked wind speeds on our meter at at least 150 miles per hour.

Now, a hotel (INAUDIBLE) they got out of here, up to 20,000 of them scattered at schools and at shelters and downtown Cancun and in Cozumel. Downtown Cancun, about half-hour away from here, of course. As important as all of this, the residents of the country, of this region, how are they doing? We have no way of knowing at this hour. We tried to get downtown earlier today, and we could not, because the roads were impassable.

And, of course, as I'm sure you have heard, there are predictions that these conditions could last throughout the day tomorrow, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, it is horrific to think about that, Susan. How difficult is it just covering this storm?

CANDIOTTI: Well, I tell you, you know, and I should know better, but this morning, when I was out, before conditions got worse, as bad as they are now, I just walked down into the hotel. There's a cement sort of sidewalk that opens out onto the beach. I was on the sidewalk, kind of looked down for a second, when, out of nowhere, it seemed, a wave came crashing up, knocked me over, onto my -- off my feet. And there was a railing there. I was sitting literally on the cement. And it took at least two waves to push me forward to get back to the railing so I could right myself. And I was chest-deep in water.

So again, a warning to people, (INAUDIBLE) hurricanes all the time, you want to come out and take a look around, it can be dangerous.

CANDIOTTI: Susan, thank you. We'll check in with you a little bit later on in the program.

Aaron, of course, it is not just that -- those 140-mile-per-hour winds, it is that storm surge, and, of course, inland flooding, always a problem that often causes more deaths from a hurricane than the actual wind speed itself.

BROWN: All right. So now, where it's going, or, in this case, where it's not going, we turn to our severe weather expert, meteorologist Chad Myers. Chad, what are the forces that are moving it, or not moving it, as the case may be?

MYERS: Well, it's called a KOL, it's a K-O-L kind of a storm. There's a high pressure here, little high pressure here. It's right kind of smack-dab in the saddle of that. And so that's why it's not moving one way or the other. We have to wait for one of those highs to move away. And it will. But Aaron, this storm, I finally have the 11:00 advisory, or I got it a little early, I suppose. Six hours, the last six hours, the storm has moved 18 miles. So you can imagine, if you've got wind at 130, and it's blowing at 130 for six hours, how much more damage that would actually do than if it just came through, blew, and then left.

So this storm is not losing any strength. It is still a category 4 storm. Here is the very latest. That is the 11:00 advisory. I know it's not 11:00, but you get the idea. They put it out early for us. Sustained winds, 140, category 4. Latitude and longitude, not more than 14 to 18 miles away from where it was at the 5:00 advisory.

Here's Cancun. Here's the little 7 right there, where our reporter is, Susan Candiotti, getting a very large squall in the eyewall here. Still getting winds here in Cozumel off from the west, and that -- you think, Oh, that's good, because it's off land, it's not going to be that bad. Wrong. Because the little town of Cozumel is actually on the west side of the island. It would be better if it was blowing the other way.

And Cancun is getting it from the east, which is bad, because it's on the west side of land. Just couldn't be a worse situation for this thing. And if it's not going to move overnight tonight, the rain's going to pile up, the wind's going to pile up, and it's going to be a disaster there, Aaron.

BROWN: Chad, we'll check again. Thank you very much. Chad Myers in Atlanta.

About 160 miles to the northeast of Cancun, if you're looking at the map, western tip of Cuba, tonight, it is getting a taste, a hearty taste of Wilma. In fact, the entire western half of Cuba is having a pretty rough night.

Lucia Newman joins us from Havana.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): A loudspeaker announces a hurricane alert is in effect, urging the people of this fishing town in Cuba's southwestern coast to speed up preparations for their evacuation.

"We're expecting waves, five, six, even seven meters, which poses potential danger for this area. So we're rushing to conclude the evacuation," says civil defense chief Ediberto Lugo (ph).

In the city of Pinar del Rio, coastal residents, like Myfu Martinez and her son, are relieved to spend the next few days at least in this school, a shelter about an hour inland.

"Two years ago, when my son was born, the sea inundated my town. And you can imagine the desperation to be surrounded by water. So, they say leave, we leave," she says.

According to Cuba's chief meteorologist, the long, wet wait for Wilma poses a special threat to the western tip of the island, where it's expected to rain nonstop until at least Monday.

"There'll be a substantial accumulation of water. And this is an area where it's already rained so much this season that the soil is saturated. The water can't be absorbed, so there's flooding," says Roservu Viera (ph).

But in historic old Havana, where the rain isn't expected to let up until at least early next week, the worst threat isn't flooding.

(on camera): Here, the dilapidated and overcrowded buildings, like this one, soak up the rain for days. And when the sun finally comes out, and they begin to dry, they often crack and just simply collapse.

(voice-over): These residents will be evacuated soon.

"Can't you see? All of this can just cave in. The water comes in everywhere," says Pedro Martinez.

Those who are waiting out the storm in one of 1,000 state- organized shelters will have food, water, and medical attention. What's harder to supply is patience to ride out this slow-moving storm.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEWMAN: And Aaron, just to give you an idea of the atmosphere here, what you see behind me is 23rd Street, Havana's emblematic La Randa (ph), which is usually packed with people on a Friday night, chockablock. Nobody, practically, is out here, even though, really, the serious weather isn't expected to hit Havana for another 24 hours, Aaron.

BROWN: Ah, Lucia, thank you. Lucia Newman in Havana tonight.

Still to come on the program, the city knows destruction, deadly Donna came ashore, category 4, in 1960, and 50 people died. So how's the current mayor of Naples, Florida, preparing for Wilma?

And later tonight, business-casual makes its debut in the NBA this season. Former league superstar Dennis Rodman, who once appeared in a wedding dress, and, honestly looked quite fetching, shares his thoughts on the dress code crackdown.

That's still ahead here on NEWSNIGHT on a Friday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Coming to you from Naples, Florida, a beautiful city that could be hit hard by the ferocious Hurricane Wilma, but a city that has -- well, they've seen this sort of thing before.

You see, Naples was a sleepy retirement community back in 1960. Hurricane Donna changed all that. It forced the city to rebuild from scratch, though a lot has changed in the last 45 years. Some people who survived Donna are still here. We look back now at the last hurricane to strike Naples head-on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Deadly Donna, that's what they called it. September 1960, Donna made landfall as a cat 4 hurricane, slamming into Florida. It was a monster. Homes flipped upside down. Beachfront resort towns were blown apart, reduced to ghost towns. Donna claimed 50 lives. It was the worst folks here had seen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's kind of like a -- covering your eyes, let's hope it goes away.

COOPER: Bonnie Vinshoden (ph) and Becky Riley (ph) have always lived in Naples. They work at "The Naples Daily News." They were both 12 years old when Donna hit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We lived in a split-level house, and a third of our roof came off and went into our swimming pool.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had a boyfriend at the time that rode a canoe from 14th Avenue South to Lake Park, to my house.

COOPER: This 1960s weather loop tells Donna's story. After striking Florida, it turned tail and headed up the East Coast.

MYERS: Rolled up through the Florida straits, almost the exact opposite direction that Wilma's going to be taking, and then slammed right across the middle keys very close to Marathon, Florida, into Florida Bay, across Naples and Fort Myers, hanging a right-hand turn across Tampa, just to the south of Jacksonville, and then literally hugging the coast all the way up through North Carolina, and then finally out into the North Atlantic.

COOPER: Donna ranked sixth on CNN's top 10 list of the most intense hurricanes. Its remnants live on in photo archives, streets under water, a causeway ripped apart, washed away, marinas turned into boat graveyards. This dramatic photo of a rescue in Boston Harbor, the shipmate was saved, but the schooner smashed into a sea wall. Looking at this damage, though, we need to remember, in the 1960s, the Florida coastline was a very different place than it is today.

MYERS: From 1960, when Donna hit, to now, we've built hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of homes and condos right along the water, because everyone -- everybody wants a view of the Gulf of Mexico. And that view may be taken out if this storm comes in better than a cat 1 or a category 2.

COOPER: Hurricane Donna was the last major hurricane to strike Naples directly. They have a saying here, "God has a condo in Naples. That's why it never gets hit." Tonight, many are hoping that 45 years of good luck still holds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm planning on staying in my own -- in the little house that I own, that was built in 1949, and it went through Donna, and I'm hoping that it'll go through whatever Mother Nature throws at us next.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Joining us now is Bill Barnett, the mayor of Naples, Florida.

Mayor, thanks very much for being with us.

MAYOR BILL BARNETT, NAPLES, FLORIDA: Thank you.

COOPER: So nice to see you.

BARNETT: Thank you. (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: It's a beautiful city. Let me just say that.

BARNETT: Thank you.

COOPER: And I hope it passes very quickly.

You know, you look back at those old pictures of Donna, and what happened to the city then. There's not a lot of people around who were here back then. Do you think, do you worry that people have sort of forgotten what can happen?

BARNETT: I don't think that's the case. You know, we've had so many near-hits, or I should say near-misses, over the years. People are pretty used to the preparation and getting ready for these hurricanes.

COOPER: If it is a, you know, a category 1, a category 2 storm that hits here, is Naples ready?

BARNETT: We're ready. We're definitely ready. I mean, I want to look at it, and I'm always the eternal optimist, but I think we're ready for whatever -- whatever nature deals us, we're going to be ready for it. I mean, how we're going to withstand it, I can't tell you. (INAUDIBLE)...

COOPER: Are there shelters in town?

BARNETT: Yes. There are shelters throughout the county. We have schools that are opened up. We've got our emergency operations center, that are, you know, they're all working and ready to go. The biggest question is the buildings and the high-rises that you see, and the homes that you see. They've never been really tested. That's -- because everything came after Donna.

COOPER: Right. Do -- but you think they can pass the test.

BARNETT: Well, you know, I'm -- it's going to be an educated guess. I think some of them will, and I don't know what's going to happen with some of them. I don't know what's going to happen with the storm surge. You know, these are all unknowns.

COOPER: Some parts of the town are under mandatory evacuations. Where is under mandatory evacuations, and how have you made those decisions?

BARNETT: Where we are right now, anything west of U.S. 41 and south of U.S. 41, in other words, all your beach -- the majority of the city of Naples is under mandatory evacuation now. And we have extended it to Sunday at 8:00 a.m. that with the people need to leave. And based on tomorrow, and as you said, you've been reporting so well on that, you know, where the storm is now, if it's still stays stalled, if we don't know it's going to turn, we might extend that, you know, mandatory evacuation.

COOPER: Mandatory evacuation, of course, I mean, it's kind of misnomer. It doesn't really mean mandatory evacuation.

BARNETT: Thank you. You are so right. I have been well -- I've been fighting that battle. It's -- the word "mandatory" is a little bit ambiguous...

COOPER: Right.

BARNETT: ... because if you decide you're going to stay in your home, and you're not leaving, nobody's coming in and going to drag you out. However, once the police, fire, emergency services, everybody's called in, you're on your own.

COOPER: And yet, as we saw even in New Orleans, you know, police are still motivated to try to go out and respond, because that's what they do.

BARNETT: Right. But, you know, with Charley here last year, when we were called in, we were just -- I mean, we were in. We just could not go out, because the conditions were so bad.

COOPER: Yes, we talked to some people who talked about having an emergency preparedness kit. What do you recommend people have? I mean, if they are trying to weather the storm, what do you recommend they have?

BARNETT: Well, you know, they have to have their water and flashlights and some food, hopefully not frozen food, obviously. They're not going to be cooking. But some canned food, ways the open that food, and their medicine, if they need it. But I just can't imagine, after watching what we're watching today, that anybody would say, Hey, I'm -- you know, I'm going to -- would say, I'm staying, I'm not getting out of here.

COOPER: Right.

BARNETT: There was an attitude that people have been (INAUDIBLE), there was an attitude, even after Charley, about, you know, you heard the hurricane parties, right? Everyone, Well, we're going to say and have a hurricane party. After what Katrina did, I don't see -- I don't feel that. I don't see that. People are serious. They're not joking. They're not -- I don't hear any hurricane jokes either.

COOPER: That's right, yes, certainly (INAUDIBLE). Mayor, thank you very much for (INAUDIBLE)...

BARNETT: My pleasure, and thanks for being here.

COOPER: All right.

BARNETT: OK, be safe.

COOPER: Oh, I know you don't really want me here if I know -- because (INAUDIBLE) bad news.

BARNETT: I -- no, no, I want you here. But come back and visit us when we don't have a threat of a storm.

COOPER: OK, all right.

Up next, the president and his choice to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Harriet Miers, nothing but good things to say about each other. But in the world of politics, that might turn out to be a bad thing. We'll explain why ahead.

Also later, the mystery of a missing airman may be closer to being solved. Officials are thawing a body recovered high in the Sierra Nevadas.

This is NEWSNIGHT, from Naples, and New York, and around the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We have a cool, cloudy night in the city.

Harriet Miers may or may not make it to the Supreme Court, but she's already earned a spot alongside some of the greats.

But before we go through anymore on this, something needs to be said. The executive producer who came up with the idea for this piece -- and we don't say this lightly -- is a genius.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now you're operating. Get in there and pitch, lover boy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN (voice-over): Eddie Haskell most certainly set the standard for sycophants back in the '50s. But since then, everyone from Hollywood honchos to powerful politicians have done their best to raise the bar.

So it's not surprising that some have turned a suspicious eye on notes written by Harriet Miers to her boss, back a decade ago. She was the head of the Texas State Lottery. Her boss was Governor George W. Bush. Like any smart employee, she sent her boss a birthday card, cute little puppy on the cover. And on it, she wrote, "Dear Governor GEORGE W. BUSH, You are the best governor ever, deserving of great respect." And, "At least for 30 days, you are not older than me." In another note, she made sure to mention the kids writing, "Hopefully Jenna and Barbara recognize that their parents are 'cool,' as do the rest of us."

Chances are, speaking as the father of a teenager, they did not.

Her notes were filled with superlatives, like, "Great speech," and "The dinner was great, especially the speech." Some would say this is simply good etiquette. Others might call it classic kissing up.

RICHARD STENGEL, CEO, NATIONAL CONSTITUTION CENTER: Sycophantic behavior has been around for a very long time, but particularly around presidents and leaders. And I would bet, if you look back in the archives, you know, there are plenty of notes to Abe Lincoln saying, Abe, your beard looks great, or, You're so brilliant.

BROWN: If it was just flattery, did it do her any good? Well, it certainly didn't hurt. Just ask the now-Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers. If ingratiation is an essential part of politics, imagine how big it is in Hollywood.

STENGEL: In Hollywood, you can't just say a movie is good. If it's not great, the person thinks that you didn't like it.

BROWN: In film and in television, they celebrate the need to, well, suck up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, Larry.

BROWN: In "The Player," producer after producer, one more desperate than the next, never failed to toss the idle compliments to any studio head around. From politicians, to players, to just plain folks, no doubt we all can benefit from a few well-placed words, as long as we remember the rules.

According to the experts, be specific. Don't go too far. And as Mark Twain said, "Don't offer a compliment and ask for a favor at the same time."

STENGEL: If you praise upward well, you have a better chance of getting that corner office than if you don't say anything at all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: By the way, y'all look great tonight.

Still ahead, serious stuff. What happens when a brutal storm takes a powerfully long time to leave? We'll update the path of Wilma. Also tonight, is the new NBA dress code really code about race?

And later, Michael Jackson's journey from Neverland to where?

A break first. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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