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ON THE STORY

Tony Snow in White House Press Office; Iranian Citizens Talk Nukes; U.S. Tests Non-Nuke Bombs in Nevada Desert

Aired April 30, 2006 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Here are the top stories.
The recent immigration rallies were small compared to what's expected tomorrow, the Great American Boycott is being planned, immigrants are asked to join protests, to stay home from work, school, and not spend any money to show their economic power. CNN reporters are positioned in cities from coast to coast to bring you extensive coverage of the so-called "day without immigrants."

Tornados, strong winds and baseball-sized hail left homes damaged and trees and power lines down in parts of Texas this weekend. Cleanup is under way today. No injuries are being reported.

It's the last thing motorists want to hear. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman says it could take three years before high energy prices come down. He blames the rising cost of oil. Gas prices have risen about 60 cents a gallon in the past two months, it's close to $3 a gallon for regular unleaded as an average.

And famed economist and presidential adviser John Kenneth Galbraith has died at the age of 97. The Harvard professor advised Democratic presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, and served as ambassador to India.

Those are the headlines. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. More top stories in 30 minutes. ON THE STORY begins now.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN. And we are ON THE STORY from the campus of the George Washington University in the heart of the nation's capital. Our correspondents bring you the stories behind the stories they're covering.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI (voice-over): Suzanne Malveaux is ON THE STORY of change at the White House, and changes in how she digs out the news.

Aneesh Raman is in Tehran talking to Iranians, patriotic, proud of their nuclear advances, defiant of international objections.

Barbara Starr went to the Nevada desert where a test explosion may offer clues on how to attack deep nuclear bunkers in countries like Iran.

Sean Callebs is ON THE STORY in New Orleans, the runoff election in a town that's trying to tee up recovery.

And Deborah Feyerick reports on how someone could steal your identity, share your secrets, and stalk you online.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: Welcome. I'm Ali Velshi and I'll be talking about why gas prices are burning a hole in your wallet. Now with me here in studio are Suzanne Malveaux and Barbara Starr. All of our correspondents will be taking questions from our studio audience, which is drawn from visitors, college students, and people across Washington.

More changes at the White House this week. President Bush picked an experienced newsman to be the new public face of his administration. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux has been breaking the stories of this White House makeover.

Have a look at her "Reporter's Notebook."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: To see Tony Snow walk through the door into the briefing room, clearly it was a sense that things had come full circle. We had been reporting for about three weeks or so that Scott McClellan's job was in jeopardy.

He reached out to all of us to improve the relationship between the White House and the press corps.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Because believe it or not, I want to work with you.

MALVEAUX: In some ways it gives him a little bit more street cred, if you will, to the journalists in the room who see him as a fellow journalist, someone who knows about deadlines, who's willing to give information.

Some of it is gamesmanship. Some of it is theater. And really what we want to get to the bottom of is, what's the real story here?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: All right. The mikes are off. No one is really listening. What is the real story? Are we happy that it's one of us? Are we resentful that it's not us? Are we upset that it's FOX?

MALVEAUX: I don't want the job, no. I don't want the job, no.

VELSHI: I mean, it's weird. It's not normal, as much as it might seem normal. This is an unusual move.

MALVEAUX: Well, you know what's interesting is that I think what gives him a certain sense of credibility, at least for the journalists, is that he has been critical of the president in the past. He's, as you know, a FOX anchor, commentary, that type of thing.

But he has called the president politically impotent, guilty, an embarrassment. I think someone who has gone out on a line, he is an advocacy journalist. And that simply means he pushes for his view. He's willing to be critical of the president. And I think people respect that.

VELSHI: Let's see what our audience thinks. Sir, your name and where you're from?

QUESTION: My name is Neil (oh). I'm from Sacramento, California. My question is, although Tony Snow has criticized the president in the past, knowing that he has sort of a conservative bias, do you think that's good for having someone with certain bias for press secretary? Or do you think a press secretary should be completely neutral to report to the nation?

MALVEAUX: Yes, it's going to be very difficult, it's going to be very challenging for Tony Snow, because he is so vocal about his opinions. And we know that he is a conservative Republican, so it's really going to be up to him, his job to essentially put in check whatever he feels about the administration's policies and present it in an objective way.

So, yes, I mean, we're looking at him, thinking, well, you know, just a couple of months ago you slammed the energy policy. Now you're going to be selling it, you're going to be pitching it. So in some ways it's the challenge and the burden is really on him.

VELSHI: It's an interesting question though because it's a nuance. I don't think anybody thinks that the press secretary is necessarily neutral because you have got to sell somebody's story. But is he influencing policy or is he just conveying policy?

MALVEAUX: Well, I talked to Tony. And he really wants to be a part of the table, if you will, to really shape the policy of the Bush administration. He's not an insider and so it is going to be difficult. But what a press secretary does, what you can do, is go back to the president and say, hey, the Dubai Port deal is not flying. Hey, the press corps is glued to the cameras and Hurricane Katrina, you've got to come out, you've got get ahead of this story and do something.

In that sense, in that way, he does shape what the administration is putting forward, and in doing so, does shape policy in some ways.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: But this is an administration that over the years consistently has stayed on message, whatever that message may be. Is Tony Snow going to deviate from that? Is he going to give reporters, do you think, you know, an inside line on what's really going on behind the scenes? Is he really going to be different than Scott McClellan?

MALVEAUX: You know, it depends on how much information they give him, really. I mean, Scott McClellan did not have a lot of information to give. How open they're going to be, and the big question is whether or not he's going to be able to -- or as a part of changing the culture of the White House, whether or not he'll be more open with us.

VELSHI: Sir, your name and where you're from?

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Beau (ph). I'm from Tagen (ph), Montana. Is there any historical precedence for a member of the media going to work for the White House?

MALVEAUX: That's a good question. Ron Nessen was an NBC correspondent, and that was the time of Watergate. They brought him in, but I think that was the last time that you actually saw something like that.

And the hope is, and what we're expecting from Tony Snow, is, as an advocacy journalist, perhaps what he'll do is he'll change the job a little bit, he'll push a little bit more for the president's goals and his policies and be less reactive to the press corps.

VELSHI: Is that a criticism that the press corps has had of Scott McClellan, that they react?

MALVEAUX: I think the most frustrating thing has just been that there hasn't' been -- he hasn't given a lot of information. He hasn't really received a lot of information, in all fairness to Scott, from the Bush White House. They've been very closed. People are looking for a better relationship, more openness.

And Tony Snow, also being a journalist, knows the kind of pressure that we're under for the deadlines to get -- even if it's just a little morsel, to get out there and get out there quickly.

VELSHI: Sir, your name and where you're from?

QUESTION: My name is Andrew Drollet (ph). I'm from Hagerstown, Maryland. My question is, the new White House press secretary has said that President Bush is an embarrassment. Why would he be a good choice for this position in the administration?

VELSHI: Good question. I'm not sure I would have hired someone who called me an embarrassment.

MALVEAUX: And President Bush actually was very gracious about the whole thing. Because he said, oh, well, you know, he made a joke of it and said, well, just imagine what he said about the other guy. So he was trying to make light of that.

I think the reason why it works in their favor is they're saying, or at least trying to send a message to people that we can take the jabs, and we're willing to take the criticism and perhaps we're a little bit more open to hearing outside voices or critical voices.

VELSHI: Can I ask you one question? I was watching when you broke the story. How does that work? At the White House, how do you break a story? Because I get the impression you're all there. So how do you get an angle on somebody else? How do you get information that the person -- all those people next to you don't have?

MALVEAUX: Sure, sure. I think what happens, really the key to covering the White House is you go around the White House. You talk to a lot of people who are either somewhere inside of that building, a lot of people who are outside of that building. I think that's how you get information. And eventually you come back to the White House and ask them...

VELSHI: And say, I've got this.

MALVEAUX: You say, hey, you know, this is what we have. What can you tell us? Do you have a reaction? And sometimes no reaction, silence is a response.

VELSHI: That was good job. Suzanne Malveaux, our White House correspondent, part of the best political team on television.

Well, one country on the White House Radar is Iran. Aneesh Raman is on that story, he's there. And you may not realize what a rare opportunity that is for any reporter. We are going to talk to him about what he is seeing and hearing ON THE STORY right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: CNN is ON THE STORY at the George Washington University.

Now this week, Iran continues to defy the United States and the United Nations over curbing its nuclear development. Aneesh Raman was allowed into Iran during this important time and he finds Iranians patriotic, proud, and willing to buck international pressure.

Let's click back to one of his reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the noisy heart of southern Tehran, a blue collar bustling street of mostly repair shops, and home to some of the strongest supporters of Iran's move to develop nuclear energy. Olan (ph), who has owned this motorcycle shop for 20 years, is one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Nuclear energy is the Islamic republic's absolute right and it is the right of all Iranian people.

RAMAN (on camera): Everything changed here after Iran announced it had independently enriched uranium some two weeks ago. The country is now filled with fierce nationalist pride and in part is why the government and the Iranian people are refusing to back down.

(voice-over): The toughest words were again reserved for the United States, who most Iranians say is behind the growing crisis.

"The world has threatened us for 28 years," says Hadir (ph), "when the water passes over your head," he shows, "it doesn't make any difference how far over it goes. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): America is a good nation and deserves respect, but it is the politicians there who bully the people of the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: Aneesh Raman joins us now. Aneesh, your daily job when you're reporting, you're based in Baghdad, it's a tough job, it's a different job than what I do. Everything is a logistical struggle for you. I'm watching you and your reports from Iran and I'm thinking, is this easier? Is it harder? What's different about what you're doing this week, reporting in Iran?

RAMAN: Well, it's interesting. First, I don't miss the convoys, I don't miss the blast walls, I don't miss having to wear a flak jacket when I go out to interview people. But in Baghdad, Iraqis are very open about everything. I can go up to them, I can ask them about the violence, I can ask them about the hope they have. And they'll tell you everything.

Here you don't have those physical constraints. You can drive at will. No one is with us when we go out there. You can interact with the Iranians. But the biggest hurdle we face is really getting people to open up to us.

While we were out there this week, many voiced opposition to the American government, but one guy off camera said, you know what, I like President Bush. He got rid of Saddam Hussein. Iran, of course, had an eight-year war with Iraq.

But then we turned the camera on, I asked him the same question, and he refuses to touch the subject. So the taboos here are a lot more in terms of what people are willing to tell you than they are in Iraq. But, again, we can move about a lot more easily.

VELSHI: Let's go straight to our audience, Aneesh, we have a question.

Your name and where you're from?

QUESTION: Hi, I'm Molly (ph) and I'm from Maryland. And my question is, how have you seen the dichotomy between the opinions of Iranians versus Americans on the topic of Iran's nuclear program?

RAMAN: Well, it's interesting. Here -- and I didn't really realize it until I got here -- there is fierce national pride on this issue. They feel that Iran was able to do this on their own and it is their right to have this program, and it crosses all parts of the society, the rich, the poor, the liberal, the conservative.

There are huge issues here, of course, human rights, women's rights, there are people here who oppose the government. But when it comes to this issue, they back it. And they believe the government's denial that a weapons program is in the works.

Now, of course, in the U.S., given the statements -- the fiery statements we've heard all along from Iran's president, there is a conception that Iran is working toward a weapon. The government here denies it. But Iranians are really unified on this front. And it could be the wrong issue, if the U.S. is looking for one, to try to divide the society here and have some sort of change within the government.

VELSHI: Your name and where you're from?

QUESTION: My name is Humsa (ph), and I'm from Lawrence, Kansas. I was wondering how Iran's youth feels about their leader pursuing a nuclear program and its ramification for their future.

RAMAN: Well, the youth here is what I found to be the most fascinating. Seventy percent of this country is under 30. Many of them are educated. There are no jobs for them. Unemployment is roughly about 12 percent. So you feel it out on streets. They won't tell you it on camera, they often won't tell you it in person because you're a Western camera crew, we're from CNN, they know that.

But you feel that frustration that's brewing in this large percentage of the population. And, again, they have pride in this nuclear program, but they have very real concerns they want this government to deliver on, economic concerns. And it's only so long that those concerns can go unabated before you really sense this frustration is going to build to some sort of boiling point.

VELSHI: Aneesh, Barbara Starr has got a question.

STARR: Aneesh, with the Iranian youth being such a large proportion of the population, what do Iranian youth see and hear in terms of television, film, music? Are there Western videos? Do they see MTV, you know, perhaps on a bootleg satellite channel? Do they have access to this material?

RAMAN: Yes, they do, Barbara. It depends on where you go. The northern part of the capital is the more affluent, more liberal part of the city. There, if you talk to youth as I did, they're all wearing Chanel sunglasses. They know about the latest movies. They are getting DVDs. They have satellites. So they are seeing every channel that's out there.

If you go to the poorer areas, in the south, for example, the youth there really don't know much about America. One of the last guys I spoke to, the last U.S. movie he saw was "Terminator 2." And he wants to see more. He is a big Arnold Schwarzenegger fan. He just can't get his hands on it.

And so they rely on the local media more, which is much more sort of vitriolic against America and its people. So it depends on where you go, but a lot of the youth really have a great affinity for the Western culture. They're hoping that this society becomes more progressive. And it's all seeping in. It's impossible really for this government to keep it all out, the movies and the videos and the TV channels. So again, it just sort of depends on where you go.

VELSHI: Your name and where you're from? QUESTION: Hi, I'm Galen Quinsy (ph) from Lewistown, Montana. I was wondering, do you believe that the people of Iran were very candid with you?

RAMAN: Well, again, like I just said, that one guy told me something off camera and then told me something completely different on camera. It has been the biggest hurdle here.

I think on the nuclear program what we've heard has been genuine, the sort of collective pride that they have. But when we get into other issues, as we got later in the week, we asked about America, we asked about -- you know, it's 40 cents a gallon, gas here, by the way.

We went to a gas station, talked to some people about the fact that cheap gas is having issues, they might have to ration it. The more sensitive a topic you get internally, the harder it is to feel that you're really hearing from these people, because we sort of come and go. They know we're a Western news organization and they're very guarded.

And it takes a while to build that trust for them. But it really depends on the topic. So honestly, overall, I don't think I'm getting the complete answer from them. And we can just be here and try to get as much as we can and as good a picture as we can.

VELSHI: Aneesh, it's a real treat to have you on the show because we all see you reporting so much. And as you can see, a lot of questions for you. Aneesh Raman, stay safe and good to see you on ON THE STORY.

Here is another story that's linked to Iran. The U.S. is preparing to explode a huge bomb in the Nevada desert. The Pentagon wants to explore how to destroy deep bunkers in places like North Korea and Iran, bunkers that might hide nuclear facilities.

Coming up, we'll see how far Barbara Starr is willing to go ON THE STORY.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: We're about to enter this 1,100-foot tunnel and descend 130 feet underground. We have full safety gear, steel-tipped shoes. We have breathing apparatus if there is the unlikely event of a fire in the tunnel, safety glasses and hard hats if rocks start falling in on us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: CNN is ON THE STORY. Barbara Starr went to Nevada to learn about a huge explosion, a test explosion. Now some people say this is really an experiment to learn how to destroy nuclear facilities in countries like Iran.

Have a look at Barbara's "Reporter's Notebook." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: We came out to Las Vegas for a story that has nothing to do with casino gambling, but a bit of a gamble on the part of the national security establishment.

(voice-over): In a matter of weeks, the U.S. government plans to carry out one of the largest non-nuclear tests ever. It will take place 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas at the Nevada test site.

This giant hole will be filled with 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, essentially a fertilizer and gasoline bomb. It will take six days to fill the crater, just seconds to blow it up.

(on camera): We are standing directly under where the blast will occur during the test. If this were a weapons facility in North Korea or Iran, the hope is that much of what would be here would be destroyed.

There's an awful lot of concern here in Las Vegas, in the surrounding areas. There are very long memories here about decades of nuclear testing and a lot of concern that that chapter may open up yet again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: I love the outfit, Barbara. Points, points for just wearing the outfit. But tell me, what was it like to be in that kind of tunnel, deep underground? How big was it? I mean, what was that like?

STARR: Well, I didn't really know what to expect because they told us we would be climbing into this 1,100-foot tunnel, we would 130 feet underground, and standing right under where they plan to basically light off 700 tons of explosives.

So overwhelmingly, what you get a sense of is the explosive power of what will happen there on a test now scheduled for June 2nd and what they're trying to achieve. They're trying to blow up a mountain and see if they can learn how to do that if they had to, and if there was an order to do it in Iran or North Korea.

VELSHI: What's the betting, that they can or can't or they're...

STARR: The cold, hard, rocky facts of life are your enemies can always dig deeper than you can blow it up. It's a race.

VELSHI: Your name and where you're from.

QUESTION: I'm Bytrot (ph) from Austria. And I wonder, in times of disarmament, why do the U.S. further testing on bombs?

STARR: Well, to be clear, this is non-nuclear, but government officials say there are some targets out there, some facilities in places like North Korea or Iran that they could only get to, because of the depth of buried facilities, with nuclear weapons. So the question is terribly on point. There is a lot of concern in the world that this is all going to lead the Bush administration to testing a new nuclear weapon to do this type of work. The White House says no, but the test will go on.

VELSHI: And as you say, that area is reminiscent of nuclear testing.

STARR: Absolutely.

VELSHI: Your name, sir, and where you're from.

QUESTION: I'm Eric from Lewistown, Montana. I was just wondering how much this bomb testing in Nevada directly correlates with the issues going on right now in Iran.

STARR: Well, I think there's no question that there is a correlation, and a correlation with what the Bush administration, the White House, the national security community, the CIA sees going on in the world.

It is a fact that countries like Iran, North Korea, Libya used to do it, many countries are beginning to dig deep into the earth, as deep as perhaps 100 feet under hard rock, to try and build underground facilities to hide their weapons, nuclear, chemical, biological facilities, try and keep them out of the range of attack from the air of U.S. bombers.

And that is a major concern to the United States. They don't want these countries to have these weapons, and they sure don't want them to bury them underground where nobody can get to them.

VELSHI: Back at the Pentagon, interesting week. Donald Rumsfeld has been under fire for some time. Donald Rumsfeld was in Iraq. What's the feeling at the Pentagon? Has that noise settled about Rumsfeld leaving?

STARR: Well, the president certainly settled that by saying that he was the "decider-in-chief" and he decided that Don Rumsfeld will stay. But now it all really gets started. What is going to happen in Iraq?

We saw they finally have a new prime minister. Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Rice made quick trips to Iraq this week to try and voice their support for the new government. But the violence does go on. And right now the month of April that we are in has proven to be the deadliest month for U.S. troops. So far, so far, 68 U.S. troops died this month in Iraq. That is more than twice the rate that died last month.

VELSHI: The story continues to be one that will straddle both the Pentagon and the White House. So we'll be talking a lot more about it.

While from the Nevada desert, we are bound to New Orleans, moving through the mayoral runoff, even a flashy golf tournament. Sean Callebs is back on that story after this.

We're ON THE STORY from Washington and Tehran to the Gulf Coast and elsewhere. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Welcome to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, 20 years have passed, but this monster of 20th Century science gone wrong still casts a radioactive shadow. So grave are the health implications of living here, officials say centuries must pass before humans can safely stay.

SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three hundred thousand people beat drums, cymbals, and danced in the streets to mark the restoration of democracy in Nepal. After three weeks of noisy protests and lengthy curfews, Kathmandu looks like its usual busy self again. Empowered and encouraged after the battle with the king, these Nepalese now want their politicians to make peace with the Maoists.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN ROME BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): The HIV/AIDS crisis is prompting the Vatican to take a fresh look at condoms. Pope Benedict has ordered a study which could, could lead to a document allowing limited condom use, but only by married couples where one of the partners is infected by HIV/AIDS. And the aim is better health, not birth control.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. ON THE STORY continues in a moment. But first these top stories.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell weighs in on the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program. In an interview with a British TV network, Powell says he thinks there's still plenty of time for diplomacy to work. On Iraq, Powell says he advised the Bush administration before the war to send more troops to Iraq, but his recommendation was not followed.

We have these pictures in right now from the site of a coal mine explosion in northwestern China. Twenty-seven miners are dead, at least five others missing.

A star-led rally is gathering this hour. You're looking at live pictures right now of the Washington Mall. It's the last leg of the Save Darfur Coalition's Tour to Stop Genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Today is also the deadline set by the African Union for Sudan and Darfur rebels to end three years of fighting. Sudan's government has agreed to a peace agreement, but rebel leaders have rejected the plan.

Florida firefighters are working to contain a series of weekend brush fires. The fires have scorched more than 1,500 acres, and damaged or destroyed more than two dozen homes. Officials suspect the fires were deliberately set.

Those are the headlines. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. More top stories in 30 minutes. Now back to more ON THE STORY.

VELSHI: CNN is ON THE STORY here on the campus of the George Washington University in the heart of the nation's capital. Well, a Senate committee this week dumped all over the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA. It said it was such a bumbling bureaucracy, it should be killed off. Well, you can find that kind of talk down in New Orleans, too. The town is fighting back, working hard this week to pick a mayor, even to put on a PGA golf tournament.

Sean Callebs in on that story, check out his "Reporter's Notebook."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're actually at the Zurich Open here at English Turn Golf Course just outside of the city. They know that New Orleans is going to be under the public eye, and it's very important for the PGA, for this area, to have a very good showing. But at the same time, people don't want to forget what's going on outside this area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am so humbled by the support from this community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We in New Orleans will be one people. We will speak with one voice. And we will have one future.

CALLEBS: We had the big mayor's race on April 22nd, 23 candidates, enough to field two football teams. I talked to some pollsters, some political strategists. And they say basically it's a whole new ball game, that at this point, Nagin and Landrieu have to do everything they can to build up support, to get some kind of coalition together.

And really over the next month, it's going to decide who is going to this city over the next four years. And if you talk to people, it is the most important choice that people in this city are going to have to make.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: Sean Callebs joins us now. Sean, good to see you again. You have been covering this story for a long time and there are sort of turning points in every story. Even though the mayoral race is not over, there will be a runoff. That election, would you say, has been a major turning point or is it just one in a number of milestones for New Orleans?

CALLEBS: I think it is significant, and this is the reason, Ali. And I've talked to a lot of people. They say, if you think about it, the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for providing safety for the water just outside the city, with the levees and the new floodgates that are going in. And, secondly, the federal government is deciding exactly how much money comes in so they can rebuild and have a -- try to start again. But the one thing people here can choose is who is going to guide this city. And basically, almost everyone I talked to thought it would come down to Mitch Landrieu, the current Democratic lieutenant governor, and of course, Mayor C. Ray Nagin, who has run this city over the past four years.

So May 20th the runoff, and you really can't overstate how important that is going to be to this city.

VELSHI: Suzanne Malveaux, you've got family down there.

MALVEAUX: Right, yes.

VELSHI: What's your perspective outside of it looking at that? Do you see a big move forward for the region, or is it just another step?

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, it's interesting, because my relatives for the first time -- I went down there for a couple of weeks ago, there was a sense of optimism, like they were -- they had gotten over the mourning process, because a lot of it was grief and condolences of losing everything.

My parents were down there a couple of weeks ago as well. And I think this is really an opportunity for people to feel like they're taking control again of their lives.

VELSHI: Sir, your name and where you're from.

QUESTION: My name is Tyler and I'm from Montana. And I was wondering, what is the attitude of people in New Orleans now that they can finally host their first major sporting event, the first since Hurricane Katrina?

CALLEBS: Yes, a lot of people are very excited about it. They look at it kind of like the way they would look at Mardi Gras, it's a chance for them to show that they can put on a big event like this.

And if you look out at that course, I mean, it is amazing. It's plush, it's beautiful, it could be anywhere in the country. But after seeing areas Lakeview, New Orleans East, the Lower Ninth Ward, and then you know this is basically in the same area, it's almost surreal.

But it is a chance for the city to have a step toward normalcy. And I think Suzanne talked about it, it is that sense of optimism, the sense that there is change, the sense of something to look forward to.

VELSHI: Sir, your name -- I know you had a question. Your name and where you're from.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Sean (ph), and I'm from Maryland. How much does the economy of New Orleans benefit from the golf tournament? And does it outweigh the people's need for help? CALLEBS: Well, it kind of works with the people's need for help. And here's why. About 150,000 people are expected to attend this PGA event over the four days of the tournament. And they say a lot of these people are going to come in from the Gulf Coast region, from Texas and then all the way through this state and then Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

And these are the people who were affected the most, hit hardest by the hurricane, the people who have been digging out, cleaning up, trying to put their lives back together, fighting with insurance companies, fighting with FEMA.

And now they have a chance to just enjoy something. It's not going to be a make-or-break thing in terms of the economy. But what it does show is that the city is taking a step toward being able to host big world-class events like this again.

VELSHI: Sean, it was the same conversation during New Orleans. It applies to Jazz Fest. There have got to be some people who say that there shouldn't be any money spent on manicuring one blade of grass, following on our last audience member's question, while there are still homes to rebuild.

How do you as a reporter face that? How much credence do you give that? How many times do you say, oh, we're not going to have the same debate again? How do you deal with that?

CALLEBS: Well, it's worth having that talk. It's worth trying to hash it out. But let's point out that not one penny of public money is spent on that golf course. English Turn, a private foundation associated with the course, and the PGA itself funneled all the money in to fix that area.

Jazz Fest is something different. But it is also being held on the Fairgrounds, an area that was horribly flooded. And these are areas that eight months ago, you couldn't imagine having the venues that you have there today.

At the golf course, for example, the military or the New Orleans Police used it as a staging ground. It was ruined. I mean, there was no rain. The greens burned. You couldn't imagine they could turn that around that quickly.

So to say, you shouldn't use the money, perhaps the better argument is, maybe you shouldn't put all the effort, all the personal effort into it. But they also pointed out to me, and there are million-dollar homes all around that course, there are also FEMA trailers on that course where a number of the employees are living because their homes were destroyed.

VELSHI: Sean Callebs, always a pleasure to see you again. Stay well. Sean Callebs in New Orleans.

Well, coming up, gas prices are way up, so are tempers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what, $3.09. What are we expecting tomorrow, $4.05, four-something? You know? Where are we going? Where is all this going to? Who is getting all this money?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: I'll be answering that when we come back. ON THE STORY of the money and the myths in gas prices. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: CNN is ON THE STORY, including the story that we've all been facing. We're watching those numbers spin faster than ever at the gas station. That's not entirely true because the numbers don't spin for any of you who buy gas. But we've been digging deeper into our pockets to pay for it. And sometimes it gets too easy to get steamed at the owner of the gas station.

Well, take a look at one of my reports from this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: The average filling station has about 10,000 gallons of gas in an underground reservoir. Every time the station gets a new shipment of gas, the owner pays the current price. But gas prices change a whole lot more often than when they get a new shipment.

So when you buy gasoline, the price you pay usually has nothing to do with what the station paid for the gas. Rather, it's based on replacement cost, the amount that it is going to cost the gas station owner to replace the gas that you just bought.

And the gas station makes a surprisingly small markup. They usually make less than 10 cents a gallon, and that's before expenses. It could be as low as 3 or 4 cents after. That means that the gas station can make more money selling a cup of coffee than a 12-gallon fill-up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: So, Ali, I know that I paid $50 to fill my tank this week. And I know that that's just way too much. I don't know who's making the most money here, but the president this week outlined a plan to lower those prices. Nobody says that there's going to be any price-lowering any time soon. So when does this change? What actually changes?

VELSHI: Well, and I thought that was interesting that the president decided to do that because there's clearly a lot of outrage in this country about gas prices. I don't see there is any reason this is going to change anytime soon. We buy a lot of gas, and there has been no inclination for Americans to stop buying gas.

So there's only one way prices go down, and that is you either increase supply or you reduce demand. And there's no sign of any of that happening. We're right at the beginning of this driving season for summer. I think people can expect -- you can be expecting to shell out 50 bucks every single time that you fill up gas.

Now, are you a driver?

QUESTION: Yes.

VELSHI: All right. Well, let me see what your question is (INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: HI. Alexis Rudekevich (ph) from Glenside, Pennsylvania. I was wondering, how do you think President Bush's decision to divert deposits to America's oil reserves will affect consumers in the long run?

VELSHI: That was another announcement earlier this week, that they're going to refill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

MALVEAUX: Well, it's going to have very little impact, actually. I mean, when you think about it, because the reserves are huge, it's just a couple of months. It's a short-term solution and really it's very symbolic. Really It's the only thing that the president has the power to do, is to actually put more into the reserves. But ultimately, it doesn't make very much of a difference.

VELSHI: How about you, sir? You have got a question?

QUESTION: Yes. I'm Cale (ph) from Appleton, Wisconsin. And I was wondering, oil company profits are far lower in percentages than most other industries. Why is Congress so eager to tax them more?

VELSHI: Another excellent question. That's true. They make a lot of money because we buy a lot of gas, but their profitability is actually not as big as pharmaceutical companies or banks. But yet this week we've heard calls from Congress to investigate their tax returns and to look into capping their profits. I venture it has got more to do with politics than gas prices right now.

MALVEAUX: And certainly one thing the president doesn't want to do is tax the oil companies. And he has got a lot of criticism for that. They say, oh, well, you know, they're too cozy with the oil industry. You have two former oil men in the White House. But the president doesn't believe that taxing is necessarily the solution. He really wants the market to actually control the prices.

STARR: Ali, I only want to know one thing. How high, $4, $5?

VELSHI: I mean, honestly, I think a lot of people wouldn't have guessed we'd be at $3 right now. The average price in 2005 was about $2.25. We keep going at this rate? It's not inconceivable we would see $5 gas. The only thing to think about is that, as it gets to $3, and $3.50, and $4, we are actually all going to cut back a little bit, we are going to be carpooling to work.

(LAUGHTER)

We are going to take a break. Coming up, new technology, new customs, new risks, how you can have your identity stolen and end up slandered and stalked online. Deborah Feyerick is ON THE STORY right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: You are ON THE STORY. We want to hear what you want us to cover, so send us an e-mail, onthestory@cnn.com, unless you're worried about the Internet.

How many of you worry about your privacy online? Whether you're buying a book, paying a bill, finding a date, I want to ask you guys in the audience, how many of you feel that your privacy is at risk when you use the Internet? Give me a great big show of hands if you think that there is some -- oh, my goodness, me. All right.

How many of you think you're safe, there's no particular risk when you using the Internet? Show of hands. OK. I would have thought that would have been the other way around.

Correspondent Deborah Feyerick has been ON THE STORY of privacy, how someone can steal your identity and impersonate you online.

Click back to part of Deborah's report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Last September, out of nowhere, Claire Miller (ph) began getting obscene phone calls and sexually explicit e-mails. She shrugged it off, but then strange men started ringing her doorbell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were more scarier ones that showed up very late at night.

FEYERICK (on camera): What are they telling you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That I had set up a date with them online.

FEYERICK: Online on a hardcore adult Web site, someone had posted a personal ad pretending to be Claire Miller. It revealed where she lived and how to reach her, and said she was into swingers, group sex, and erotic e-mails.

The phony ad invited men to stop by Miller's Manhattan apartment, promising, "I can make you very happy and satisfied in my den of love pad."

Miller, a publishing executive, is being cyber-stalked. She has no idea who it is or why they're doing it. And says she has never posted her personal details on any Web site.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: Deborah Feyerick joins us from New York. That is seriously creepy stuff. Barbara Starr has a question for you.

STARR: Deborah, more than creepy, very, very unnerving. How did you find this woman? How did you get this story? FEYERICK: We got this story, we actually had read an article where this woman decided to speak out over the fact that she was being cyber-stalked. And so we contacted her, and she was very concerned. I don't know if you could tell, but she did disguise her identity, she was wearing dark glasses. And she also sort of changed her physical appearance just so in the event the cyber-stalker might be watching, at least they wouldn't be able to take the picture and put it on the sites that they're posting on her behalf.

VELSHI: Deborah, lots of questions on this in the audience, lots of reaction to it.

Your name and where you're from?

QUESTION: My name is Susan, I'm from Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. And my question is, has the popularity of Web sites such as myspace and friendster increased cyber-stalking? And if so, what are these Web sites doing to curb such behavior?

FEYERICK: Well, it has, because everybody's personal information is online. And all you need to do is Google somebody. You can get enough information so that if you really want to hurt them, you can actually post these phony ads on these adult Web sites. And that's the least of it. So whatever your imagination can conceive of.

The Web sites themselves, they don't really try to stop this. Yes, if they get a complaint that somebody is impersonating somebody else online, they'll hide the information or they will take the information off. But they don't necessarily go after these people.

Either you need to go to a local district attorney or a police officer and try to get this crime prosecuted, or you just sort of have to let it go.

VELSHI: So the assumption isn't that you have been stalked or that someone has taken your identity. In other words, it's for you to prove. It's not assumed if you say, I didn't post that ad, that's not me?

FEYERICK: Well, they will believe it. If you say, I have not posted this ad, and then the Web sites will definitely take the information down. But if you want to go one step further and say, this is really harassment and it's bothering me, then you do need to file a complaint.

You have to keep very, very detailed records of when they're contacting you. The difficulty here, this woman who you just met, Claire Miller, what happened with her is that somebody started stalking her, they were posting these phony ads. Maybe it started as a prank, maybe it was somebody she knew in high school, it turned into something much more sinister because then these men started showing up at her door.

She was able to convince the men that, no, she didn't put these ads on the Web site. However, some people may not walk away as easily. They might not say, oh, sure, I'm the victim of a prank. And as a matter of fact, there was one woman in California, somebody was cyber-stalking her, and they said that she had fantasies of home invasion, that is, somebody breaking in and entering. And it said, you know what, if I put up a fight, it's all part of the fantasy.

So this really can turn dangerous. The question is, if a cyber- stalker were to be found, would they be prosecuted as some sort of an accessory to a crime?

VELSHI: Your name and where you're from?

QUESTION: I'm Rebecca, I'm from Lewistown, Montana. And my question is, after reporting on this topic, do you feel any more strongly that you're at risk?

FEYERICK: Oh, absolutely. And as a matter of fact, we went all over all the details of what we should say and what we should not say, because we certainly don't want to be giving anybody ideas. But it can be very, very frightening to Google yourself and find out just how much information is really out there.

VELSHI: Deborah, good to talk to you. Thank you. This is an interesting story and one that makes us all think twice. Deborah Feyerick in New York.

Well, this week we took you from the White House to Iran to Nevada to cyber-sex. We're back with what our correspondents will expect that they might find ON THE STORY next week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Keep yourself ON THE STORY at cnn.com. Our Web site tells you about the panel, the topics, and how to get the coveted tickets to join our audience. We will take a quick look ahead ON THE STORY.

What are you working on next week?

MALVEAUX: I expect other changes in the administration. The White House shakeup will continue.

VELSHI: And you?

STARR: Three little words: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.

VELSHI: And everything I do gets trumped by these gas prices. If oil and gas keep going up, that's what I will be doing.

Well, thank you to both of you, thanks to my colleagues and our fantastic audience here at the George Washington University. Thank you for watching ON THE STORY. We are back each week Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Straight ahead, a check on what's making news right now.

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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