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Interview with Senator Joe Lieberman; WTC Movie Opens

Aired August 9, 2006 - 07:31   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris, in for Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: Senator Joe Lieberman last night vowed to seek reelection as an independent candidate after he lost to upstart challenger Ned Lamont. Listen.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand.


O'BRIEN: That was a concession speech.

Senator Lieberman's come under fire from the left for his support in the war on Iraq. He joins us this morning from Hartford, Connecticut.

Nice to see you, senator. Thanks for talking to us.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Why, in a nutshell, do you think you lost?

LIEBERMAN: Well, it was real close, and the good news is I was closing, closed more than 10 points from a bowl last week, so we're just going to keep on going in that direction and win in November.

But why? It was clear to me all along that this -- that if I had an opponent who had money, as this one did, they could make this, or would try to make it into a referendum on George Bush and the Iraq war, both of which are intensely unpopular among Democrats. And they would try to convince the Connecticut Democrats to send a message on those two matters, rather than focus on which one of us, Joe Lieberman or Ned Lamont, would do a better job as senator from Connecticut, and they just barely, through a lot of distortion, Soledad, were able to do that.

But the battle goes on, and now it's among Democrats, Republicans and independents, and I'm carrying it on because Lamont really represents polarization and partisanship, which is the last thing we need more of in Washington. O'BRIEN: Some people might say, and you represent, sir, status quo, which might also be the last thing they, your voters in Connecticut, need in Washington, D.C.

If an election is about voters sending a message, why aren't you taking that message and saying, I'm out, I lost?

LIEBERMAN: Well, the last thing I represent is the status quo. I've always represented progress, and you only make progress not by making noise and playing to the extremes in our country, but by saying what you truly believe, and then working with members of the other party to get something done.

And the people of America are fed up, the people in Connecticut are fed up, by all the partisanship in Washington that stands in the way of us solving some of their problems -- health care, energy, environmental protection, jobs, education. I could go on. And I'm fighting on for that cause, of a government of unity, and purpose and solving problems, not one that's spends all its time as Lamont has done and will do of distorting the opposition, speaking from the edges of our political system, and literally getting nothing done. That's has this is about. I don't want these folks to take over my party or American politics.

O'BRIEN: Do you think the voters, and you referenced angry voters in your concession speech last night, do you think they're more fed up about partisanship than fed up about the war in Iraq, which is the position that Ned Lamont's been very successfully able to ride to victory?

LIEBERMAN: Yes. Well, I think you've got to look at the numbers in politics. And I think basically what the vote yesterday showed was that three percent, three-and-a-half percent more of the Democrats who voted yesterday were more fed about President Bush and where the Iraq war is going. It looks -- none of us are happy where it is now, than they are fed up with the partisanship.

But I think among all the voters, there's too much domination of our politics by the extremes of both parties. There's a broad mainstream of American government that wants us to -- politics and people, that wants us to get our government together and do something.

And, listen, yesterday, Soledad, less than 15 percent of the voters in Connecticut voted. Less than eight percent, a little over seven percent, of the voters in Connecticut voted for Ned Lamont. That's not a mandate. I was elected three times by all the voters, and I want all the voters to have the final say on whether I continue to have the privilege of serving my state and country. I know I can do a better job for my state and country than Ned Lamont or my Republican opponent, and that's the message I'm carrying forward with a lot of optimism to the November election.

O'BRIEN: But you're painting Ned Lamont -- and a couple times now you've used the word "extremist." You're painting him very clearly as an extremist, on the fringe. When you look at the new polls, I mean, they show that 60 percent of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. Is he an extremist, or is he really representing a growing position within the American public?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I was really speaking of him across the board and about some of the people that have been supporting him. I mean, his No. 1 supporter, in and out of here, was Maxine Waters, congresswoman from California. Look, I respect her, but she doesn't speak for the majority of Democrats, Lord knows she certainly doesn't speak for the majority of Americans.

On the question of Iraq, Ned Lamont wants to set a deadline by which we will pull off of our troops out of there. We all want to get out of there. Because I supported the war, I feel a special responsibility to do everything I can to end it as soon as possible. But if you're say you're going to pull out by a deadline, you are sending a message to your enemies. They will wait. They will build up their arms, and Iraq will fall apart, which would be dangerous to our troops there, a disaster for the cause of peace and stability in the Middle East, and make us more vulnerable to enemy terrorist attack from there, because the terrorists would surely take it over.

I want to get us out, but I want to get us out in a way that doesn't leave a bigger disaster than we found and is there now, and I believe we can still do it. So we'll talk about that, but we'll talk about a lot more. We'll talk really about whether we can get rid of the division and form a new politics of unity and purpose in America, which I think is what the people of Connecticut, all the people, really want.

So I'm excited about this. I feel there's a turn here that was meant to be, and I welcome the opportunity on this first day of the rest of the campaign to carry my record and my hopes forward.

O'BRIEN: Elections, as you know, are all about issues, but they're also about getting people to campaign for you, getting people to speak on your behalf. What do you do, as we see the Democratic leadership saying, OK, Ned Lamont won, we're going to support Ned Lamont? What do you do when the Democratic leadership, if they come to you and say, you know what, it does not help us if you run as an independent? It's a problem, if you run, Senator Lieberman, as an independent. We want you to withdraw from the race. What will you say then?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I will respectfully say, no, no, no. I am in this race to the end. For me, it is a cause, and it is a cause not to let this Democratic Party that I joined with the inspiration of President Kennedy in 1960 to be taken over by people who are so far from the mainstream of American life that I fear we will not elect Democrats in the numbers that we should in the future.

O'BRIEN: Senator Joe Lieberman is joining us this morning. Nice to see you, as always, sir. Thank you.

Next hour, we're check in with the winner, Ned Lamont, talk to him about the impact the war on Iraq had on his victory and also what you just heard from Senator Lieberman -- no, no, no; he's staying in the race. That's coming up at 8:15 Eastern Time.



O'BRIEN: We heard from Senator Joe Lieberman just a few moments ago. Coming up, we're going to talk to the man who beat him, anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. We're going to see if he thinks his victory was a referendum on Iraq and not much more than that. That's ahead. Stay with us.

HARRIS: Also, the difficult issue facing a priest in Miami. He'll tell us how he's dealing with Cuban exiles essentially praying for the death of Fidel Castro.

O'BRIEN: Coming up next, a new 9/11 movie. This time it's coming from controversial director Oliver Stone. But there's been some surprising support. We'll explain. We'll continue right here on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: If you live here in New York it's an image truly you'll never be able to forget, a picture of the World Trade Center on fire and then eventually crumbling down, if you saw it on TV also. Today a movie that depicts that tragic day is going open in theaters nationwide. Now behind it is one of Hollywood's most controversial directors.

CNN's entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson has got a look at this story.

Good morning.


It is the second film about September 11th. The first was "United 93," which was released in April. Now we have World Trade Center, starring Nicolas Cage and the very controversial Oliver Stone opening in wide release today. But many are asking, is it too soon? And did Stone approach this very sensitive subject matter in the right way?



NICOLAS CAGE, ACTOR: OK, listen up. We got to evacuate the tower. Who's coming?


ANDERSON: No one in Hollywood or anywhere else expected this would be an easy film to make, certainly not the actors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to do right by the American people. MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL, ACTRESS: I think it has been used by all sorts of people to further different political agendas. So that was also in my mind, too, as we began it, how to avoid that.

ANDERSON: Then there was the question of timing. One of the rescue workers whose experience is dramatized in World Trade Center defends its release this week.

WILL JIMENO, WTC SURVIVOR: People say, well, it's too soon, too soon. Well, when is not too soon, when all of us are gone and people are assuming what happened? We have the facts today, and we need to face reality.

ANDERSON: But it was the particular director who was taking on the 9/11 subject that sounded alarms, especially in conservative circles, when the project was announced last year, Oliver Stone, the pundits wondered, along with some of those there that day.

LT. JOHN KASSIMATIS, WTC SURVIVOR: I always felt that Oliver roamed in the field of fiction.

ANDERSON: Could the lightning rod behind politically charged pictures like "JFK" and "Born on the Fourth of July" tell a September 11th story and not give it his own liberal ideological spin?

OLIVER STONE, DIRECTOR: Conspiracy one-two movies -- you know, there's no one -- don't pigeonhole me, I guess is what I'm saying. I like to surprise you.

ANDERSON: Most surprising perhaps is the flurry of effusive reviews coming from very unexpected places, "The Washington Times" to "The Weekly Standard," a chorus of hosannas from conservative quarters. Columnists calling it "required viewing for every American." Family groups have turned Stone into an American artistic hero. The Parents Television Council is recommended it to its one million members, an honor usually reserved for religious films.

MELISSA CALDWELL, PARENTS' TELEVISION COUNCIL: It's pretty unusual for us to get behind a movie that enthusiastically. It's rare for Hollywood to produce a film, these days anyhow, of such epic proportions.

ANDERSON (on camera): Producers will contribute 10 percent of the five-day opening box office proceeds to several 9/11-related charities, including the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, which is raising money to build a $510 million memorial here at the Trade Center site. And Paramount, the studio backing the pictures, has posted no outdoor advertising in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

(voice-over): Meanwhile, at a studio-sponsored screening for families and survivors, some are still wrestling with whether they're ready.

MARTY SILVIO, WTC SURVIVOR: It's on the cutting edge of too soon and not too soon. I guess it's time. You know. It's time.


ANDERSON: And Nicolas Cage has said he wanted to put his acting abilities to work here to make a film that is about healing -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Where people have issues, of course, with Oliver Stone is less about his directing credentials, and more about the fact that sometimes he makes stuff up.

ANDERSON: People think he takes liberties with the material.

O'BRIEN: Huge liberties with the material.

In this movie is there any claims that he did the same thing?

ANDERSON: Not really. Most people think he has been accurate here, and he is doing it in a sensitive manner. In fact, he worked very closely with the family members, from writing the script, all the way through the production. Family members were on set much of the time to try to attest to the authenticity of many of the scenes, and in fact a lot of times Oliver Stone says the actors weren't just going to cut it, so he would put the real people who were involved in the scene. So he has said, you know what, we did the best we could; I have worked really hard to get this right.

O'BRIEN: Maybe the most important thumbs up or thumbs down comes from the 9/11 families, which I get is a very -- you know, it's a big, wide swathe of people, who have very different opinions. What do they say?

ANDERSON: Thousands of people, family members of victims. Mixed reviews. Some have refused to see the film. Some are boycotting it altogether.

But on the other hand, a lot of people showed up to the studio- sponsored screenings. The reactions there were mixed, Soledad. Some said, hey, we decided we are ready for this, and we do appreciate the way it was told, while others say it was a bit too Hollywood.

I want to reed read something that one family member told us -- "Yes, it's a tragic story of this family, but in the end, they rejoice and this person is saved. This isn't what this day represented to me. To me, it was a really big tragedy. So the response is indeed mixed.

O'BRIEN: Yes, not everybody is going to have their story told.

ANDERSON: That's right, exactly.

O'BRIEN: Brooke Anderson, thanks.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: I don't know. Andy, you've seen this right? What did you think?

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: I saw it, and it's very tough to watch, as the other 9/11 movies are. You know, it's the kind of thing you want to see. It's like a historical, you know, portrayal of what happened. And if you want it see it, go see it. It's not going to -- it's going to make you cry, not laugh, obviously. So it's very emotional. It's tough.

O'BRIEN: I agree, but in the end, I think it's a story of hope amidst despair.

SERWER: Yes. It also, to me, felt a little dated, too, Brooke. It's about 9/11. It's not connected to what's going on in Iraq today. And so...

O'BRIEN: Interesting.

SERWER: ... there's that disconnect. There's the Five years of history that have happened since then, and it kind of feels like a timepiece. But, you know, that's what it was supposed to be.

O'BRIEN: All right, Brooke, thank you. Andy, thank you for playing movie reviewer for us.

SERWER: Yes, my new role. Sorry, Brooke.

O'BRIEN: Brooke, you want to do the business news, or should Andy do it?


SERWER: Yes, absolutely.

We do have business news coming up, you guys. The wireless airwaves are getting very, very crowded. The solution, a $20 billion option.

And uh-oh, it's happening again -- FEMA contracts are ballooning. We'll tell you about that, coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.



O'BRIEN: We're going to take a look at the day's top stories as well, right after this short break. Stay with us.



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