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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Search Continues For Kidnapped Americans in Iraq; The Schwarzenegger Way; Furniture Fires; Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes Prepare to Tie the Knot

Aired November 17, 2006 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you all for joining us tonight.
There is important news coming into CNN all the time. Tonight, we are choosing these top stories for a more in-depth look.

The "Top Story" in the war: captured contractors. As the search continues for four missing Americans and an Austrian, we look at what kind of people go to Iraq for some of the riskiest, most dangerous jobs in the world.

Then, on to the "Top Story" in politics: Governator, the sequel -- why Arnold Schwarzenegger easily won reelection, and why other Republicans may want to try politics his way.

And our top consumer story tonight: furniture fires, remarkable pictures none of us have ever seen before, just how quickly our furniture can go up in smoke and destroy our homes and lives. Tonight: Why won't manufacturers make the furniture you're sitting on right now any safer?

Let's get right to that "Top Story" in Iraq right now, the desperate search that continues at this hour for those five kidnapped security workers in southern Iraq. They were captured yesterday, when the convoy they were protecting was ambushed by militia fighters dressed as Iraqi police.

Joining me now, Arwa Damon in Baghdad, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Arwa, what are you being told about the search?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, the search is still ongoing right now for those five contractors.

They were kidnapped after their 43-vehicle convoy was ambushed. They arrived at a checkpoint believed to have been run by the Iraqi police. It turns out that it was a fake checkpoint. It was local militiamen masquerading as Iraqi police.

The five were kidnapped, initially, along with nine other drivers. The drivers, all of South Asian origins, were released a short time after the kidnapping took place. The five are still being held, at this point, captive. There is an intense military operation under way going on throughout that area. Plus, another incident also took place there less than 24 hours after that first attack, where, again, a private security company, a different one this time, was also ambushed in the same vicinity. That incident led to one British contractor being wounded. He was evacuated by the British military. And another British civilian was killed -- unclear right now who he was working for -- Paula.

ZAHN: Well, there's a lot unclear at this hour, Arwa.

Let's turn to Jamie right now to see if the Pentagon is clearing up any of the confusion tonight.

Anything that -- that you can add to that, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, no, you know, one of the reasons we're not getting a lot of hard information from the Pentagon is, they simply don't have a lot of hard information.

It's really not clear who was behind this hijacking, this attack that took place at this fake checkpoint. It's in the southern part of Iraq, which is a largely Shia area, although we're told that the actual location was also near a Sunni town in the south. And the local police chief says that he believes that a criminal gang was responsible, and that a ransom has been demanded.

However, the company involved, the security company, has not confirmed that. And we have not been able to confirm any ransom demand at all. So, it's -- it's all very confusing and somewhat conflicting. At this point, it's hard to say exactly what is going on.

ZAHN: Have you been to nail down any details about who these missing contractors are, Jamie?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, we -- we know a little bit about them.

We know, for instance, one of them has been publicly identified, Paul Reuben, a former police officer from Minnesota.

And back home, in Minneapolis, his family members are anxiously awaiting word to -- to try to clear up some of this confusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNNIE REUBEN, MOTHER OF PAUL REUBEN: I knew something had happened. There was something that told me. And, even at 3:00 this morning, something drained from me. I'm just -- I'm scared that something, an injury or worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: You know, when people take these jobs, they know they're dangerous jobs. But, still, a lot of security precautions are taken. They have been running these supply convoys for some time. But, still, you never know. On any given day, something can happen.

And the -- the contractors who do this work, they know that.

ZAHN: And, Arwa, this is an area where we have seen lots of hostage-taking. There's a big concern, is there not, tonight, that the Iraqi security forces have been infiltrated by militias?

DAMON: Well, Paula, that concern certainly highlighted by the events that we have even over the last 24, 48 hours.

And it is a concern that has existed for quite some time, if these are insurgent groups that are masquerading as Iraqi security forces, or are they actually security forces that have either gone rogue?

This whole issue of the Iraqi police, especially existing among the Iraqi police, that it has been infiltrated by any number of militias, has been one of the main concerns and main challenges facing this government right now. In fact, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior is going through this massive -- what they're calling this massive cleanup of their forces. They have fired, up until now, some 3,900 Iraqi police officers and employees of the ministry.

But that's most definitely one of the main concerns here, that the Iraqi police have been infiltrated by militias, or add to that the fact that it is quite easy to buy these fake uniforms -- Paula.

ZAHN: Which is so troubling for all of us to hear.

Arwa Damon, Jamie McIntyre, thank you for both of those updates.

Now, tens of thousands of people are working as private contractors in Iraq, and you have to wonder why they do it, given the dangers. It, of course, is one of the most dangerous places in the world. They risk their lives every day, as we could hair in -- in the voice from that mother of one of the missing men tonight.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson spent some time with one group of security contractors. Here's what he found out about this deadly industry.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

"GONZO," PRIVATE MILITARY CONTRACTOR: Locking and loading.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Being a security contractor in Iraq is often more dangerous than being in the regular army.

GONZO: The military doesn't even like to go where we're going.

ROBERTSON: They men do it because it pays so well.

GONZO: I have a good insurance policy, you know? Either way, it's a win-win situation for my wife and kids. Right now, they're collecting a paycheck at home. If anything happens to me, God forbid, then they will be taken care of.

ROBERTSON: But, as any of the 130,000 civilian contractors working in a variety of fields in Iraq will tell you, it doesn't always go according to plan.

GONZO: I have lost several -- several friends to IEDs, roadside bombs. I have been hit by an IED twice.

ROBERTSON: So far, in Iraq, more than 640 contractors have been killed, many in roadside bombings and shoot-outs. One of the most brutal involved employees at the Blackwater security firm who were ambushed, burned, and dismembered in Fallujah.

Most Iraqis are wary of the civilian security contractors. They have a reputation for shooting, with very little provocation, sometimes just to get through traffic.

But the reality is, whether you're the American ambassador, the Iraqi prime minister, or an engineer contracted to rebuild Iraq, you're a target for kidnapping and attack.

No matter the cost, you can't afford to leave your secure compound without private armed guards to protect you. Even though the reconstruction projects are slowing down, maintaining U.S. forces in Iraq still requires a constant flow of fuel, food and other supplies. That means civilian convoys that need protection from attack. The security business in Iraq has grown to an estimated 20,000 people.

COLONEL GERALD SCHUMACHER (RET.), AUTHOR, "A BLOODY BUSINESS": They have even developed our own quick-reaction forces. They have kind of become a surrogate army. We have been outsourcing a major element of this war to them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, Nic, you have just made it very clear how vulnerable these contractors are. You say they need private guards.

Tell us what else is being done to try to keep them secure.

ROBERTSON: Well, there are satellite tracking systems on the vehicles that they drive around the country. There's a monitoring system. They're in touch with a -- with a central base station, which will alert them to any issues on the routes that they are going to run.

The companies that hire them try to hire people with previous military experience, previous convoy experience; they know how to work their weapons from inside vehicles, and they know how to work -- they know how to work as teams. Ideally, they like to hire people with a sort of special forces background -- Paula.

ZAHN: Nic Robertson, fascinating and disturbing all rolled into one, thank you so much.

We now want to move on, introduce you to our "Top Story" panel that's going to be with us throughout the hour tonight, welcoming back two of our teammates here.

Joining us once again, the Reverend Joe Watkins, a Republican strategist, liberal radio host Rachel Maddow from Air America, and former GOP Committee Chairwoman Georgette Mosbacher.

You are outnumbered tonight, Rachel.

(LAUGHTER)

RACHEL MADDOW, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: As usual.

ZAHN: So, I'm going to start with the reverend, only because he's standing closest to me.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Has Iraq lost control of its country?

REVEREND JOE WATKINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, these things take -- it takes time to build a country. Consider the fact, in record time, they have -- they have ratified a constitution. That's pretty incredible, given the short period of time that they got that done.

ZAHN: But hang on one second.

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: It's expected that there's going to be turmoil there. This is not unexpected.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But we have said that we can only start withdrawing our troops, drawing them down, until the Iraqi security forces and Iraqi forces, the soldiers on the ground, prove that they have control of this country.

WATKINS: Well, that's right.

ZAHN: This is not an encouraging sign.

WATKINS: Well, it's going to take time. Things do take time.

It's not surprising that there are these incidents that are taking place, and that people are losing their lives, and that people are being kidnapped. These things happen. And it's so unfortunate when they do.

But consider the fact that this is a country that, at breakneck speed, has elected officials, has ratified a constitution, and is -- despite some of the sectarian violence, is really on its way to becoming a country.

MADDOW: Joe.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: You don't see a unified country in its future?

MADDOW: No.

I mean, the goal posts keep changing, as to when we can leave. It was that we were going to topple Saddam, right? And then we were going to set up a constitution. There was going to be a new government. There was going to be an Iraqi army. All of those things have happened.

Saddam has been toppled. There's a new government. There's a constitution. There's an army. What needs to happen next for us to go? Does it need to look like Wisconsin? Does it need to be a Jeffersonian beacon of democracy? Those things will never happen.

(CROSSTALK)

GEORGETTE MOSBACHER, FORMER GOP COMMITTEE CHAIRWOMAN: I think the problem is the goal posts.

MADDOW: Moving.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Do you have a problem with the changing goal posts?

MOSBACHER: Yes.

War is not something that you can just map out like a business plan, and say, when I reach this point, I'm going to do this.

MADDOW: What's the mission, though?

MOSBACHER: This is a democracy that is -- is a new democracy.

If you look at history, if you study history, there are no democracies, including our own, that was born...

WATKINS: Democracies take time. They take time.

MOSBACHER: ... that was born without bloodshed, without being ugly, without taking a long time.

(CROSSTALK)

MOSBACHER: And, if -- if it isn't -- if democracy and freedom isn't worth the time and the effort, then you need to tell me what is.

ZAHN: But, Georgette, let me ask you this. Isn't it a troubling setback, though, if it is true that these militia forces have infiltrated the Iraqi security forces?

(CROSSTALK)

MOSBACHER: Sure. Absolutely, it is. But that is war. It can't -- it isn't pretty. It isn't going to be very orderly. It's going to be ugly.

ZAHN: So, what's going to change this?

MOSBACHER: Look, we have got...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Will 20,000 extra troops change anything, as John McCain has suggested?

MADDOW: Twenty more years, 40 more years? How long should we stay?

MOSBACHER: As long as it takes.

MADDOW: Should we stay forever?

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: Until the mission is done. Until the mission is completed.

(CROSSTALK)

MOSBACHER: As long as it takes.

After all, we still have troops on the border between North and South Korea. How many years has that been? We still have troops...

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: Troops in Germany.

MOSBACHER: We still have troops in Germany.

WATKINS: And Japan.

MADDOW: If the American people had been sold the idea that we will go to Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction, if we don't find weapons of mass destruction, you can still sign up your grandchildren for the draft now, because we are going to be there for 50 years, we would not have said yes to this.

(CROSSTALK)

MOSBACHER: Wait. Wait. Wait. There's no draft.

(CROSSTALK)

MOSBACHER: There's no draft.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: Well, OK. Your grandkids will volunteer then. But my grandkids will probably be drafted.

If we're going to be there for another 50 years, we can't do it with a volunteer force, Georgette.

ZAHN: Are you suggesting we're going to be there another 50 years?

MOSBACHER: I'm not suggesting.

WATKINS: I doubt it. I doubt it. I doubt it.

MOSBACHER: She is suggesting that we're going to be there. I doubt we are going to be there another 50 years. I hope we won't be there another 50 years.

But we do have an all-volunteer army. And that is very different than during the Vietnam period. And I don't see that changing in the near future. I think that that's just a lot of liberal whatever.

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: It takes time, Paula. It takes time.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: You will be able to defend yourself in the next segment.

MADDOW: Wow.

ZAHN: Trio, we got to leave it there, Joe Watkins, Rachel Maddow, Georgette Mosbacher.

Please hang right there, because we have a lot more top stories to talk with you about, including a "Top Story" in politics. It's happening out West, where a heavily Democratic state has just reelected a Republican governor, and it wasn't even close. Coming up: What is Arnold Schwarzenegger doing right? And how might his strategy help other Republicans out there, after that bloodbath in this midterm election that was.

Georgette is not smiling about that one.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Later, the "Top Story" in entertainment. Tom Cruise -- Remember him? -- Katie Holmes in an Italian romance with a cast of thousands, their closest friends, there.

Plus: a closeup look at love and marriage, the Scientology way.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And we have picked Arnold Schwarzenegger as tonight's "Top Story" in politics.

A week ago -- you probably know this -- he won reelection as California's governor, the only big Republican victory on a disastrous election night for his party.

Senior political analyst Bill Schneider says the Republican Party can learn some very important lessons from how Schwarzenegger ran his campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): What do Republicans do now? To paraphrase some famous advice, go west, old party, and follow the example of one Republican who had a very good year. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an actor. In three years as governor, he has played three different roles. Call it the three faces of Arnold.

He started out as a moderate in 2004, campaigning side by side with Democrats to rescue the state budget.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R) CALIFORNIA: Up and down the state, we are campaigning together. When have you seen that the last time?

SCHNEIDER: Schwarzenegger won. Then he moved to the right, picking fights with the Democratic legislature and public employee unions.

SCHWARZENEGGER: This is a battle of the special interest vs. the children's interests.

SCHNEIDER: He called a special election to force a showdown with his opponents. He lost. He got the message.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I should have also listened to my wife, who said to me, don't do this.

SCHNEIDER: This year, Californians saw Arnold's third face. He's become sort of a liberal. He shifted positions.

SCHWARZENEGGER: When I ran for governor, I said that we could not afford an increase in the minimum wage, unless the economy bounced back. Well, the economy has bounced back.

SCHNEIDER: He signed the most far-reaching program in the country to combat global warming.

SCHWARZENEGGER: This is only the beginning, because, by 2050, we will reduce emissions by another 80 percent.

SCHNEIDER: Look what happened in two states on Election Day. In Pennsylvania, Senator Rick Santorum embraced a deeply conservative philosophy, and never wavered. He went down. Santorum lost the center. Independents voted overwhelmingly for the Democrat.

In California, Schwarzenegger carried independent voters handily. He reclaimed the center. Schwarzenegger did two things President Bush has never done. He flatly acknowledged his mistakes, and he changed course. SCHWARZENEGGER: I have absorbed my defeat, and I have learned my lesson.

SCHNEIDER: Schwarzenegger is now thriving. President Bush has already become a lame duck.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: In their leadership election today, House Republicans decisively rejected conservative insurgents. They seem to have made the same calculation that Governor Schwarzenegger made here in California, that moving to the right is not the way to reclaim the center -- Paula.

ZAHN: That calculation has served the governor well, hasn't it?

SCHNEIDER: It has, indeed.

ZAHN: Thanks, Bill.

We're going to move back to our "Top Story" panel. It's going to stay with us throughout the hour, because they're so valuable. They're so smart. They can talk just about everything.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Back with Republican strategist Joe -- Joe Reverend Watkins -- that would be Reverend Joe Watkins...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: ... liberal radio host Rachel Maddow, and former GOP Committee Chairwoman Georgette Mosbacher.

So, Georgette, a lot of people are diagnosing the governor with MPPS, multiple political personality syndrome.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: But it worked, didn't it?

MOSBACHER: Well, it worked for him. I mean, special interests won California, but California, by his own admission, that the special interests did win out there. But California isn't necessarily...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Will it work for other Republicans?

MOSBACHER: No, I don't think it will.

I think you have to be absolutely true to your -- to what you stand for as a Republican. I don't think you can kind of take a look at where the polls are taking you, or -- and then decide, oh, I'm going to change -- switch to be this person. Then I'm going to be that -- that's fine for an actor. (LAUGHTER)

MOSBACHER: And it works for a good actor.

But, in real life, it doesn't work. And...

ZAHN: There's no love here for the governor tonight, is there?

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: No, I love him. I love him.

(CROSSTALK)

MOSBACHER: I like him personally.

(CROSSTALK)

MOSBACHER: I think he's a great...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: His political instincts served him well in this election.

There was a very stiff Democratic, progressive wind blowing in this election. He saw that happening. And he decided to fly his kite with that wind. I mean, he knew what he was doing.

I agree with Georgette, that I think it's a bad idea for Republicans generally. On the left, we have heard a lot of very bad advice from Democratic strategists, that, in the face of Republican electoral victories, that Democrats should be Republican-light.

That was bad advice for the Democrats. And I think it would be bad advice backwards for the Republicans, too.

WATKINS: Well, just remember that not every left-leaning Republican was spared on Election Day.

I mean, Linc Chafee didn't even vote for President Bush, and he's a fairly left-leaning Republican. He was defeated a week ago last Tuesday in the elections. He was punished also.

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: But Arnold, what I like about Arnold is that Arnold has a sense of humor. He's willing to say he's sorry. He's willing to change course.

And he's so smart. He's so incredibly smart. He really has concentrated on the issues that affect the people of California. And they have rewarded him with a second term.

ZAHN: How critical to his success is it for a -- success -- for a Republican to be married to a really smart Democrat? (LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Maria -- you talk to anybody, and they will tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

MOSBACHER: I will always give the wife the credit.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MOSBACHER: You're not going to get any argument from me on that one, Paula.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: She's had a lot of impact, though, has she not, in steering him?

MADDOW: Well, he's certainly -- when you talk about him addressing the issues that matter most to California and to Californians, the way he's addressed those things is by taking a liberal perspective on things.

And, so, if Maria is the one who talked him into that, then, all credit to her.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: If it was just knowing what the right thing is to do, like on the minimum wage or on the environment, then credit goes to him.

MOSBACHER: Well, California is a liberal state. And he was able to to -- figure out what it was that the liberals in that state wanted. But that doesn't make it typical of all of the states.

ZAHN: But he has a big test coming, with how much access he is actually going to be able to provide to health care for all Californians.

WATKINS: That's a big challenge, a big challenge.

But he remains a fiscal conservative, which is a wonderful thing. I mean, he's been a fiscal conservative from day one. And he remains one now, and while also reclaiming the center. That makes him a powerful force.

MADDOW: Are you mad at him for raising the minimum wage, though, Joe?

(LAUGHTER)

WATKINS: Well, I wouldn't suggest it for...

ZAHN: Not once, but twice.

MADDOW: Not once, but twice.

WATKINS: I wouldn't suggest it for the rest of the country, because, right now, unemployment is at 4.4 percent...

MOSBACHER: You bet.

WATKINS: ... the lowest in decades. We want to keep it that way.

MADDOW: Yes, Wal-Mart jobs aren't exactly making people too excited about that stuff.

MOSBACHER: It's still 1.8 million jobs that might not otherwise exist.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: All right.

MADDOW: Part of it, when you have three jobs, the numbers add up a lot.

ZAHN: We are going to have to take a short break here.

Joe Watkins, Rachel Maddow, Georgette Mosbacher, we will be back to you in a little bit.

We move on to our "Top Story" in entertainment. Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, you know who they are, don't you? Tying the knot this week. Had you heard that?

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Coming up: the happy premarital chaos in Italy.

Their wedding is also putting a spotlight on the Church of Scientology and a marriage ceremony that is a real eye-opener. We have got an inside look coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Our "Top Story" in entertainment is all you hear about this weekend, the celebrity wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes in Italy.

It is expected that they will marry some time tomorrow. And, right now, a little town a few miles north of Rome is very giddy with excitement and anticipation. The wedding will make it the center of the universe, at least sort of the Hollywood universe.

But the town of Bracciano is also bracing itself for an onslaught of fans, celebrities, and, of course, paparazzi, all for a spectacle that will cost an absolute fortune.

Alessio Vinci is there, soaking it all up, as a who's-who of A- list stars arrives.

He joins us now with the latest.

Alessio, are you having any fun?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN ROME BUREAU CHIEF: Well...

(LAUGHTER)

VINCI: Well, yes. We're awaiting tomorrow, Paula.

You know, Rome may be the Eternal City, but Bracciano is the place to be. Or, really, is it? We still don't have the official confirmation that the two will marry here in Bracciano in the castle behind me.

Nevertheless, we have seen several Hollywood celebrities in Rome in the last couple of days, including Will Smith, who arrived earlier today, as well as Jennifer Lopez, accompanied by her husband, Marc Anthony, as well as Brooke Shields, and David Beckham, the international football star, accompanied by his wife, Victoria Beckham, formerly know as one of the Spice Girls.

One VIP who has not been seen yet is Tom Cruise's good friend and fellow Scientology member John Travolta. He was supposed to fly his own 707 into the Rome Ciampino Airport today, carrying even more Hollywood stars. But, so far, he has not been seen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VINCI (voice-over): It is one of the best locations in Italy money can buy.

Tom Cruise reportedly paid close to $400,000 just to rent Castello Odescalchi, overlooking Lake Bracciano, one hour north of Rome. The total bill for the whole wedding, around $1.5 million, reports say.

But money can't buy everything. Authorities rejected a request to close the airspace above the castle to keep paparazzi helicopters away. And, speaking of the media, they have taken the small town by storm, and they, too, appear to spare no expenses. A window overlooking the castle's main entrance is worth more than $1,000.

ALLAN HALL, "STAR": The photographers have got lenses that you can see craters on the moon on, hoping for a shot up there to get the bride and groom.

VINCI (on camera): Details of the wedding are a close-guarded secret. But many here speculate that the couple will reach the castle through this tunnel. At the end of it, hordes of journalists will be waiting for them on this side, before the couple will disappear beyond this gate, off-limits to anyone without an invitation. (voice-over): All the money in the world won't buy Hollywood's hottest couple a Catholic wedding either. Tom Cruise is divorced. So, no way, says the local priest, who, according to Catholic Church tradition, needs to authorize all marriages in his parish. The wedding won't even have legal status in Italy.

"I understand that it will be a ceremony with Scientology rights," says the mayor of Bracciano, referring to Tom Cruise's religion, which isn't recognized here in Italy. "We at city hall have not received any request for a civil wedding."

VINCI: Locals will be disappointed if all this proves to have been a ruse to keep reporters away from the actual wedding location.

EMIDIO FALCIONE, SHOP OWNER: The most important window that we make is the "Top Gun" window, if you see. And we sell a lot of pilot jackets, like Maverick in the "Top Gun" films.

VINCI: And, of course, this being Italy, food is playing a prominent role. The restaurant across from the castle main entrance is already fully booked for Saturday. The chef will prepare a special dish, the Tom and Katie risotto.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VINCI: And speaking of food, Paula, we understand, from an Italian newspaper report, that Tom Cruise actually was not able to enjoy all the good pasta dishes that have been prepared specially for him over the past week.

We understand from this report that he is actually on a diet, and his personal trainer has asked him to only eat salad and drink water, at least until tomorrow, because otherwise he won't fit in his Armani- provided suit for tomorrow. So we'll have to see what happens tomorrow, once he's going to try it for the last time before their wedding -- Paula.

ZAHN: Well, I guess Katie has made provisions for that, because apparently there are some five different Armani choices she has as her wedding gown. So not a great place to diet, in Rome.

Alessio Vinci, thanks so much.

And as Alessio just reported, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are expected to get married using the rituals of the Church of Scientology, which is making a lot of people curious out there. Coming up next, an inside look, see how a Scientology wedding ceremony is different from anything you might have ever seen.

And then later in tonight's top consumer story, furniture fires, startling pictures of just how dangerous the furniture in your home can be. A sofa literally going up in flames in four or five seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And welcome back. More now on tonight's top story in entertainment.

In just a few hours in Italy, we're told Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are expected to take their vows, unless they're trying to fool us -- but it may not be the traditional ceremony that most of us are used to seeing. Instead, they'll probably tie the knot Scientology style. But what exactly does that mean? Entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson takes us inside a Scientology wedding.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Newlyweds Nick and Erin Banks tied the knot just two and a half months ago.

ERIN BANKS: That was one of my bridesmaids.

NICK BANKS: And I was definitely feeling nervous.

ANDERSON: Flowers, bridesmaids, a walk down the aisle.

E. BANKS: (inaudible) and it was amazing.

ANDERSON: In many ways, it was a typical ceremony, with one significant difference. Theirs was a Scientology wedding.

E. BANKS: It's those fundamentals of Scientology that are put in throughout the ceremony. You know, you don't go to sleep on an upset. And that's something that you agree to in the ceremony.

ANDERSON: With all the curiosity over Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes wedding, Scientologists like Nick and Erin are having to answer a lot of questions about what it's like to get married in their faith.

E. BANKS: There's a part where the minister asks us, would I take Nick for all his sterling qualities as well as his faults.

ANDERSON: This couple, like Tom and Katie, can choose from five different ceremonies, as noted in Scientology fonder L. Ron Hubbard's "Book of Ceremonies and Sermons." Traditional, informal, single-ring, double-ring and concise double-ring, each with its own distinct vows.

In the traditional ceremony, the minister tells the groom, "girls need clothes and food and tender happiness and frills -- a pan, a comb, perhaps a cat. All caprice if you will, but still they need them." And the minister tells the bride, "hear well, for promise binds. Young men are free and may forget. Remind him then that you may have necessities and follies too."

KAREN PRESSLEY, FORMER SCIENTOLOGIST: It's kind of the frivolous side of L. Ron Hubbard. It's quite ludicrous.

ANDERSON: Karen Pressley, an ex-Scientologist who now embraces Christianity, says she's attended a handful of Scientology weddings.

PRESSLEY: They're nothing like a Christian, a traditional wedding ceremony. There's no mention of God in a Scientology wedding. Scientology bases a marriage on a concept called the ARC Triangle.

JEFF QUIROS, SCIENTOLOGY MINISTER: The minister holds the rings up to the -- to the audience and asks that the bride and groom imagine an ARC, affinity-reality-communication triangle inside the center of each one of those rings.

ANDERSON: Scientology Minister Jeff Quiros has officiated countless weddings. He says it's possible to incorporate other religious traditions into the ceremony, but Pressley maintains Scientology's techniques for freeing a person's soul don't mix well with other beliefs.

PRESSLEY: Tom Cruise specifically is very bold about saying that a Christian can be a Scientologist at the same time, and that to me is an oxymoron.

ANDERSON: Nick and Erin Banks say Scientologists and non- Scientologists raved about their ,wedding and they wish Tom and Katie all the best.

E. BANKS: They look like such a wonderful couple, and I think their wedding is going to be amazing, I'm sure.

N. BANKS: It is going to be a beautiful wedding.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And right now, we're going to get our top story panel's take on what this all means, all the Hollywood style.

Reverend Joe Watkins back, Rachel Maddow, Georgette Mosbacher.

Reverend, the last time you conducted a wedding ceremony...

WATKINS: Not too long ago.

ZAHN: ... did you make reference to a cat, a comb and a pan?

WATKINS: No, no, I didn't.

ZAHN: Do you understand what...

WATKINS: I don't agree with Tom Cruise when he says that you can be a Christian and a Scientologist. You know, you can only follow one master. You can't follow two masters. And either you follow Jesus or you follow L. Ron Hubbard.

I choose to follow Jesus. And the ceremonies that I do, of course, are Christ-centered ceremonies, where -- and hopefully the people love each other.

In this wedding, what I'm hoping is that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes love each other more than anything else, they love each other and they pledge themselves to each other.

ZAHN: Are you surprised, Rachel, that people care about this as much as they do? I mean, after all, this is a guy that was dumped by a studio he was associated with for a very long time, because it was felt that he had alienated women with his antics as of late, not the least of which was proclaiming his love for his newfound -- soon to be found wife on a sofa.

MADDOW: While jumping up and down on a sofa. I mean, it's true, if Katie Holmes had not become engaged to Tom Cruise, we'd all still be Wikipediaing her, looking her up, trying to figure out exactly why do I know her, what was she in, is she famous? They're not actually that big a deal on their own, but the pageantry around this -- we don't have royals as Americans, and so we have sports stars and movie stars. And those who choose to tap into our obsession with celebrity the way these guys have, can make -- you know, this will make their whole careers.

ZAHN: Are you feeling blissful about this one, Georgette? You know a thing or two about getting married, don't you?

MOSBACHER: I'll tell you what, Paula, I'll jump on a sofa for Tom Cruise. I mean, excuse me. This is a fairy tale kind of thing. It's tabloid. I mean, we have got a castle, we've got a beautiful woman, we've got a movie star, we've got a baby. Yes, it's the kind of thing that great for a diversion like this from the really important things in life. I mean, this is just one of those, you know, why people read romance novels.

ZAHN: Do you think people are partly drawn to this, besides the fantasy and the majesty or whatever it is we're going to see play out, that they just think he's one really odd guy?

MADDOW: I think that Tom Cruise does come across as a little -- and that's part of the fascination. He comes across as a little kooky.

ZAHN: Not to Georgette.

(CROSSTALK)

MOSBACHER: He comes across as a gorgeous hunk of a movie star.

MADDOW: You know that you would dwarf him, right? I mean, you would tower over him. Does that weird you out at all?

MOSBACHER: No.

MADDOW: No, that's no problem?

MOSBACHER: No, he's still cute. He's -- and "Top Gun," oh, let me see that movie again.

ZAHN: (inaudible) "Top Gun" windows like they had displayed in Rome this week. But a closing thought, and the fascination with Scientology and all kind of assumptions that people launch to about how -- I don't want to say it disparagingly. Do you think people misunderstand it?

WATKINS: I think so. I think a lot of people may misunderstand the faith. I've had a chance to read about comparative religions. I know a little bit about different faiths.

I choose the faith that I follow because I believe that that's the answer, but the good thing is that Tom Cruise is sincere, I think, about his faith more than anything else, and the fact that he wants to make sure that the wedding is done in concert with the faith I think is a good thing. People ought to do that who are Christians and Jews and Muslims and everything else.

ZAHN: All right, what are the chances this is one giant ruse and he's getting married in Cleveland tomorrow? I don't know. He could be fooling us.

WATKINS: Well, we weren't invited. None of us were invited.

ZAHN: Exactly.

MADDOW: That's actually where I need to get to right now.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Reverend Joe Watkins, Rachel Maddow, Georgette Mosbacher. Glad to have all of you with us tonight.

We're going to switch gears rather drastically in just a moment to bring you some incredible pictures of a fire danger that's undoubtedly in your home right now. Wait until you see these pictures. Virtually every piece of furniture in your home is an inferno waiting to happen. Why don't the feds do anything about that? We have an investigation.

And then a little bit later on, our introduction to people you should know. Tonight, a man whose influence will be felt from coast to coast. Mel Martinez. You'll get to know him a little bit better on the other side.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight's top consumer story is one we think you and your family need to see, because it involves potential deadly fires that can break out on sofas or chairs like the ones you may even be sitting on right now. In fact, nearly a dozen people are killed every week by furniture-related fires. And our consumer correspondent Greg Hunter has been looking into this for a very long time and has more in this original investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody in that room is no longer alive. GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You protect don't realize it, but when it comes to home fires, your furniture can be deadly.

Just weeks ago, a woman in Ft. Myers, Florida, woke up to smoke and a small fire on her sofa. She ran to get an extinguisher from a neighbor, but by the time she got back, minutes later, it was too late; her two toddlers were dead.

It was almost too late for Caroline Rouen Dixon back in 1987. A cigarette left carelessly smoldering on a sofa by a friend almost cost her her life.

CAROLINE ROUEN DIXON, FURNITURE FIRE SURVIVOR: The smoke was very black and thick.

HUNTER: She thought she had enough time to get out, but quickly the fire engulfed the house, and Rouen Dixon was trapped inside. She suffered third-degree burns over 65 percent of her body.

DIXON: The only part of me that doesn't have some sort of scar on it is my face.

HUNTER: Incredibly, even though almost 20 years have passed since Rouen Dixon was burned, there are still no federal regulations mandating furniture companies to make their products fire resistant.

On average, 10 people die every week as a result of furniture- related fires.

(on camera): Magazines, leather couches, curtains, all the things in your home just make you more comfortable. But if you study fire the way they do at Underwriters Laboratory, to them all this really represents is fuel, and they just have two main questions -- how fast will it burn and how long will it give you to get out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a synthetic room.

HUNTER (voice-over): The experts at UL, an independent, not-for- profit product safety testing organization say different furniture burns differently, and they showed us just how much that matters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one, ignition.

HUNTER: A candle was left burning on a microfiber coach in this room created for this demonstration. The furniture is made up and covered by synthetic materials.

After 1 minute and 48 seconds, the smoke alarm went off.

Less than two minutes later, the fire was out of control, and our crew forced out of the room.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one, ignition.

HUNTER: A second test, another candle. The difference, everything in this room was made of natural fiber -- leather, cotton, wood. It took almost seven and a half minutes for the smoke alarm to go off. And another five minutes before the rest of the room caught fire.

(on camera): Leather is heat resistant, flame resistant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's much more resistant to the flame, obviously, than the synthetic materials.

HUNTER (voice-over): We analyzed the two fires side by side with UL's fire safety expert Tom Chapin (ph).

When the smoke alarm went off in the synthetic room, the candle was still only smoldering on the leather coach in the room with natural materials. And remember how two minutes after the smoke alarm went off in the synthetic room, it was engulfed with so much fire, we had to clear out?

(on camera): What does that mean to home owners?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have very little time to get out of this fire.

HUNTER (voice-over): The bottom line, according to this test, if you have got a home filled with synthetic furniture, the experts say you have much less time to escape.

There are no mandatory fire safety standards for upholstered furniture, although safety advocates have been asking for them for decades.

JOHN DEAN, NATIONAL ASSOCIATE OF STATE FIRE MARSHALS: We have been waiting for more than a quarter century for someone here in Washington to answer our call for help.

HUNTER: The industry's largest trade group says the best solution at this time is to adopt a current voluntary standard as a mandatory national standard. The group, American Home Furnishings Alliance, says that compliance with what is known as the UFAC standard is in part responsible for the significant reduction in upholstered furniture fires over the last 20 years.

Fire marshals want national standards, like the ones California adopted decades ago, and are credited with a 25 percent drop in home fire deaths.

That's not without precedent. As of next July, the Consumer Products Safety Commission will require every mattress sold in the U.S. to be fire-safe. The CPSC says its staff is still researching and testing similar methods for upholstered furniture, but it could be years until a rule comes out. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So how fire resistant would the furniture actually be if this federal safety standard was approved? HUNTER: Well, who knows when they'll get a safety standard for furniture for flammability, but safety advocates tell me they want furniture to perform like the new fire-safe mattresses.

I have some video. Let's see what it looks like, OK? So this is an Underwriters Laboratory flammability test. It's a standard test, and this is actually a machine that hauls the fire onto the mattress. Both tested the same, but the big difference here is this is an old- style mattress. This is a mattress likely you're sleeping on. This is the new fire-safe mattress. Watch when they take the flame away. Take the flame away.

This old mattress, the one you're sleeping on, takes off. That's the fire getting to the foam.

Now, take a look at the new fire-safe mattress. The reason why it's fire-safe is that mattress is wrapped in a protective barrier that actually keeps the fire from getting to that very, very flammable foam. And so as of July 2007, you'll only be able to buy this mattress.

And what we're talking about here is time. Safety advocates want people to have more time to escape a fire in their living room, just like they're going to be getting more time to escape a fire in their bedroom.

ZAHN: I've never seen pictures like that that so clearly show the difference between the two.

HUNTER: Once they got the safety standard for bedding, the furniture industry is going to have to pay attention, because people say, hey, if you do that for beds, why can't you do that for my couch?

ZAHN: Thanks for bringing our attention to this, Greg. Appreciate it.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up in just about nine minutes from now, but we get a little preview at nine minutes before the hour of what he's going to be doing. Hi, Larry. How are you doing?

LARRY KING, HOST, LARRY KING LIVE: Hey, Paula. I'm fine.

Just ahead, the attorneys from the O.J. Simpson criminal and civil trials speak out on the news that has got everybody outraged -- O.J.'s new book "If I Did It," and his publisher claims that she did it because she's a domestic violence victim herself.

We'll talk with prosecuting attorney Christopher Darden, John Q. Kelly, who won the civil case for Nicole Brown Simpson's family, and more. It's straight ahead at the top of the hour.

Paula, good seeing you. Hang tough.

ZAHN: Hey, always will. And it's already 30th on the Amazon. Amazing.

KING: Can't believe it.

ZAHN: It's a couple of weeks before it comes out. All right, Larry, see you at 9:00.

KING: Thanks.

ZAHN: Going to take a quick biz break right now. The Dow set a record. For the fourth straight day in a row, the Industrials gained nearly 37 points. The Nasdaq dropped over 3 points, while the S&P eked out about a new six-year high.

The new figures show housing construction plummeted last month to its lowest level in more than six years.

The FDA today approved silicone breast implants again. Remember, it was 14 years ago the FDA had banned them over safety concerns.

And Universal music group is suing myspace.com, claiming the Web site illegally encourages users to share music and videos.

Next, our Friday night introduction to people you should know. Coming up, an important newsmaker who's just taken on an extra job. Find out who he is and what he's up to, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And every Friday night, we introduce you to an important newsmaker who you may not recognize at first, like a U.S. senator who's about to take on an additional job, as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

As Mary Snow reports, that definitely makes Senator Mel Martinez one of the people you should know.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's a former Democrat and the Senate's only immigrant. Now he's poised to become the fresh face of the GOP.

As general chairman, Florida Senator Mel Martinez will focus on media, fund-raising and promoting the party's cause while keeping his Senate seat.

SEN. MEL MARTINEZ (R), FLORIDA: It's not an easy time for our party. It's time for us to come together and to pick ourselves up and look to the future and be the party of hope and opportunity that we've been in the past.

SNOW: Known as a charismatic leader, Martinez put himself through college and became a successful attorney after leaving his native Cuba at age 15. He lived with a foster family until his parents joined him four years later.

BUSH: And it was Mel's first taste for the beauty of liberty and freedom. And he worked hard. He's going to be an excellent spokesman for the Republican Party. He'll be a person that will be able to carry our message as we go into an important year in 2008.

SNOW: Martinez gained national attention for speaking out in favor of Cuban exile Elian Gonzalez remaining in the U.S., and later became secretary of housing and urban development.

The 60-year-old will now be counted on to woo the growing Latino population, as Democrats won 69 percent of the Hispanic vote this Election Day.

Mary Snow, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: We're just about four minutes away from "LARRY KING LIVE." His topic tonight, the outrage over O.J. Simpson's new book. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. We will be back same time, same place Monday night. We hope you join us then. Until then, have a great weekend. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts in just about four and a half seconds.

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

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