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AMERICAN MORNING

Teen Driver Implicated in Deadly Huntsville Bus Crash; Syria, Iran Offer Diplomatic Ties to Iraq; Diplomatic Meeting to be Hosted by Tehran

Aired November 21, 2006 - 07:00:00   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: And a test drive. A new list just out of the safest cars on the market. Ahead, on this AMERICAN MORNING.
Good morning, to you. Tuesday, November 21, I'm Miles O'Brien.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: I'm Soledad O'Brien. Thanks for being with us. We begin this morning in Alabama. Teenager driver is now under suspicion as investigators search for the cause of a deadly school bus crash. Three high school students died on Monday. And dozens were injured with their school bus plunged 30 feet off the side of a highway overpass. Let's get right to CNN's Rusty Dornin; she's live in Huntsville for us.

Good morning, Rusty.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning, Soledad.

And of course this is an example of how this community is responding to what was really a freak accident. The bus is still here, right under the underpass. NTSB investigators will be on scene today to try to piece together the puzzle of just what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DORNIN (voice over): It was just after 10 o'clock Monday morning; 43 students from Lee High School were taking the bus to the local technical center for classes. A witness told police as the bus crossed the overpass. A small car seemed to swerve towards it.

REX REYNOLDS, HUNSTVILLE POLICE CHIEF: The car may have come close to and or struck the bus. Causing the bus to strike the rail and ultimately leaving the elevated part of the interstate.

DORNIN: Police now say the car was driven by another high school student, but it's still unclear whether the car hit the bus. The bus plummeted 30 feet and crashed onto the street below. Three teenage girls died in the crash. Several suffered serious injuries. Some had to be pulled from the front portion of the crushed vehicle.

LAWANDA JEFFERSON, SCHOOL BUS ACCIDENT VICTIM: They were bleeding real bad and couldn't walk and they have blood every where on them.

DORNIN: Lawanda Jefferson was battered and bruised, but she was alive.

JEFFERESON: I hope they get much better and I'm sorry the ones that just died, hope they can take it OK.

DORNIN: The families were frantic, following news of the crash, desperate to find out if their children were on the bus, or what their condition was. Many survivors were conscious when they arrived at the hospital, but not coherent.

DAVID SPILLER, HUNTSVILLE HOSPITAL: There were many who were not able to tell us who they were, and they had no means of identification on them.

DORNIN: A freak accident in a tight-knit community, something people here are having a hard time getting their arms around.

KEITH WARD, MADISON COUNTY SCHOOLS: It just reaches down and clutches your heart and you're just -- you're in shock. You want to cry. You just don't know what you can do to make the pain go away because you know it's not going away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DORNIN: Just looking at that bus, it's incredible that 10 students actually walked away from the accident. And the bus driver was apparently ejected from the bus before it went over the over pass. From what we understand, police have questioned the 17-year-old student. He has not been charged with anything as of yet, but it will be going to a grand jury, as do all cases of fatalities involving minors -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Rusty Dornin, for us this morning. What a sad, sad story there. Thanks for the update -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: In Iraq this morning, the makings of some unlikely and uneasy alliances that could change course of the war. Syria and Iraq resuming diplomatic relations after a 25-year rift, and Iran is inviting leaders of both countries to come to Tehran for a summit. Is it really about peace making or is it just another ploy to gain a foothold in Iraq, and ultimately humiliate the U.S.?

We have two reports now, CNN's Arwa Damon in Baghdad, Aneesh Raman in Tehran. Let's begin with Arwa in Baghdad -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Miles, that historic agreement, that document was signed earlier this morning, both countries, Iraq and Syria pledging to restore diplomatic ties. The two countries severed ties in 1982 after Syria sided with Iran during the Iran/Iraq war.

Now, Iraq has a very complex relationship with both of its neighbors, Syria and Iran. When it comes to Syria, both the U.S. and the Iraqi government have, for quite some time now, accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters, weapons, funds for the insurgency, to come across its borders. The U.S. military still estimating some 50 to 70 fighters are coming through Syria to Iraq. But both countries have now pledged to cooperate together to ultimately stabilize Iraq, and to work together towards an effort to secure that very, very long and challenging border.

Now, when it comes to Iran, the relationship is much more complex. Both the U.S. and British intelligence have accused -- directly accused Iran of training and funding and of arming militias that operate here. They've also come under that accusation from senior high-ranking military and political officials on the ground here, but the Iraqi government maintains a very close -- some people's view here, both the American and some Sunni Arabs, many Sunni Arabs, and many of Iraq's secular Shias, they view that relationship with Iran as being uncomfortably close -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Arwa Damon in Baghdad. Let's go live now to Tehran. Aneesh Raman is there.

Aneesh, Syria is a predominantly Sunni, Iran, predominantly Shiite. Given the warfare that we've seen in Iraq, between Sunni's and Shiites, is this an unlikely alliance?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: It is. We haven't seen Iran and Syria close in some time. They are now growing closer than ever. Iran has no secret, Miles, it feels it has leverage over the U.S. and Iraq. Again, this morning, it is hitting home that point.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN (voice over): It's an alliance many in the West would like to break, but Iran and Syria seem closer than ever. Both support Lebanon's Hezbollah and both claimed proxy victories after the Israel/Hezbollah war. And now both are now quite publicly turning their focus to Iraq.

First came the historic trip to Baghdad by Syria's foreign minister. There to restore full diplomatic ties with Iraq. Now, word Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, will be heading to Tehran this weekend to meet with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The Bush administration is skeptical the talks will lead to change on the ground. But if nothing else, it shows Iran and Syria pushing ahead with Iraq policies of their own without the U.S.

(on camera): But what about the people? How big an issue is Iraq? They're all following events next door closely, of course, but for many of them, concern is trumped by domestic issues, like high inflation and unemployment.

(Voice over): When it comes to Iraq, the answers like those from Ali, seemed all the same, and all seem to go back to the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The Iraqis that come here, that come to my store, they say the U.S. is the problem, is the reason there is unrest. Otherwise there would be no Shia/Sunni divide. RAMAN: But there is. And Iraq is consumed with sectarian violence, fueled in part, the White House says, by Iranian influence. Iranians say it's because of the U.S. but don't see the U.S. leaving Iraq as the exclusive solution.

"The Americans should leave," Bahi (ph) told me, "as soon as possible, but when it comes to solving this, the U.S. and Iran should talk directly. Because that way there will be no misunderstanding."

Iran is a country President Bush has called unambiguously evil. While the leadership here doesn't yet seem eager to sit down with the U.S. just because they're asked, the people are hoping it might just happen. Not just to bring stability to Iraq, but, perhaps, to bring American investment to a faltering Iranian economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN: Miles, as you mentioned, Iran and Syria, not obvious friends. What's fueled this friendship has been growing isolation from the world. And both countries finding strength in each other -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Aneesh Raman in Tehran, thank you.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning, President and Mrs. Bush are in Hawaii. It's the end of a week-long trip to Southeast Asia. Mr. Bush is going to have an early breakfast with the troops. Then get a briefing from officers of the Pacific Command. He heads back to the White House tonight.

New CNN poll out this morning, on the first family, shows 61 percent of those surveyed by the Opinion Research Corporation think that 41, President George Herbert Walker Bush made a better president. And 25 percent chose his son, who is the current President Bush. Most said they trust the incoming Democratic Congress over the current president when it comes to Iraq, the economy, Social Security, and healthcare.

Near Atlantic City, Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, police are investigating the deaths of four women. They were found dead behind a strip of motels. Someone walking by found the first body. Then police later found three more. Autopsies on all the bodies will be performed today.

Parents listen up. Mattel is recalling some of those popular Polly Pocket dolls. You know those tiny weenie little dolls with all those little parts. Apparently they have these little itty-bitty magnets that come loose. And the kids swallow the magnets. Couple of cases they've had to have surgery to remove them. Some of the recalled dolls have been on the market since 2003. So check and see if you have them at home -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, crash test results are in, as is the newest list of the safest cars on the road. We'll tell you which ones made the cut and why.

Plus, Michael Richards tries to make amends for his racist rant at a comedy club. Will it be the last word? You decide. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Top stories we're following for you: FOX pulls the plug on O.J. Simpson's book and TV interview about how he would have killed his ex-wife and friend. Rupert Murdock personally apologizing to the family of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman.

A former Russian spy turned Kremlin critic, still fighting for his life. New pictures now show just how sick he's become after having his food poisoned in London -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Michael Richards says he's sorry. The actor and comedian who played Kramer on Seinfeld is apologizing for screaming racial slurs at a group of people who were heckling him during his standup act. His apology, and the reaction to the apology this morning. Brooke Anderson has more. Of course, this segment contains some very offensive language. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL RICHARDS, COMEDIAN: For me to be in a comedy club and flip out, and say this crap, you know, I'm deeply, deeply sorry.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING (voice over): Actor and standup comic Michael Richards making a public apology on the late show with David Letterman.

RICHARDS: I got heckled, and I took it badly, and went into a rage. And said some pretty nasty things to some Afro-Americans, a lot of trash talk.

ANDERSON: Richards is attempting to make amends for the angry, racist vitriol he spewed from the stage at the Laugh Factory, Friday night, in reaction to some unruly audience members.

RICHARDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Throw that guy out, he's a nigger! He's (bleep) a, he's (bleep).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was uncalled for you (bleep) cracker-ass mother (bleep).

RICHARDS: Cracker-ass? You calling me cracker-ass you (bleep) nigger?

ANDERSON: Comedian Sinbad was in the audience and witnessed Richards' rage. He says the apology on Letterman was unacceptable.

SINBAD: That was the worse apology I've ever seen. That apology was a piece of trash. You can't go on Letterman. That's the punk way out.

You've got to go to the heart of the people. You've got to go to the club -- you're got to up there on black night, Sunday night, is Chocolate City Night at the Comedy Club. You've got to walk up there and face that audience.

ANDERSON: Richards, himself, second-guessed his decision to appear on the late-night talk show.

RICHARDS: Hearing your audience laughing, I'm not even sure that this is where I should be addressing --

JERRY SEINFELD, COMEDIAN: Well, they're so used to --

RICHARDS: -- the situation. I'm really busted up over this and I'm very, very sorry to those people in the audience.

ANDERSON: A number of black leaders have condemned Richards and after watching his mea culpa.

NAJEE ALI, OPERATION ISLAMIC H.O.P.E.: I don't see that as an apology.

ANDERSON: They, too, want more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He needs to come apologize to the community and come back to the scene of the crime.

ALI: We need to be able to then enter into some dialogue and, perhaps, then determine where his sincerity is.

WILLIS EDWARDS, NAACP: We want him to get help. He needs help.

ANDERSON: Whether he gets help or not, Sinbad maintains in Hollywood, nothing is unforgivable.

SINBAD: There's always a chance to come back. He had has to make amends the right way.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: Just ahead this morning. We'll talk to a comedian Paul Rodriguez, he's a Laugh Factory regular. He was there performing the night all of it happened. Get his take on what happened and the apology, too.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's get a check of the forecast.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, it's a buyer's market, a seller's despair. News about your biggest investment, your home. We're "Minding Your Business".

And a new list of the safest cars on the road, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: The U.S. insurance industry is out with its list of the 13 safest cars for 2007. Two things they have in common, one, they're all equipped with electronic stability control. Two, not one is an American vehicle. CNN's Susan Candiotti live with us at the Institute's headquarters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Good morning to you.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning, Soledad.

And the Insurance Institute says it's disappointed American car makers haven't done what it takes to make the list. Nine non-domestic car makers have, including Honda, the maker of this SUV.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (voice over): As bad as this head-on collision looks and this frightening bang up from the side, in real-life crashes, safety experts insist drivers in these cars would have walked away with nothing worse than bumps and bruises.

And 13 vehicles were named top safety picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And for the first time, more than half are SUVs, thanks, in part, to ESC, electronics stability control. Engineer Dave Zuby says ESC was a requirement.

(On camera): What's so important about it?

DAVE ZUBY, CAR SAFETY ENGINEERS: Cars with ESC are 40 percent less likely to be involved in fatal crashes than those without.

CANDIOTTI: It's easy to see why. Here's a car with ESC, and without. Top to bottom, the comparison is impressive.

RICK KRANZ, AUTOMOTIVE NEWS: It adjusts engine speed, it adjusts the anti-lock braking system to keep you in the path the driver intended. I mean, it truly is a big, big step in terms of safety.

CANDIOTTI: Another requirement to make the list, top-performing head restraints and rear end crashes, by far, the most common. We watched a rear collision test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That didn't look like an especially good seat.

CANDIOTTI: That restraint did not protect the neck well enough from snapping back.

Is your car on the list? Here are the 13 top safety picks. Only one large car, the Audi A6, mid-size, Audi A4, Saab 9-3 and Subaru Legacy with optional ESC. Two mini vans won awards, the Hyundai Entourage and KIA Sedona. Luxury SUVs, the Mercedes M Class, Volvo XC90, Small SUVs, the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester; and mid-sized SUVs, the Acura RDX, Honda Pilot and Subaru B9 Tribeca.

Safety experts say it all in the design. Look at the aftermath.

ZUBY: It's really even with the outside of the seat. In the worst-performing cars, we see this pillar is driven in half way or more across where the seat would be.

CANDIOTTI: But with this design, experts say the driver would easily survive even this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Now, here's something you might not have known. Experts say they use short female dummies in side-impact collisions. Why? Because the female's head tends to come flailing out of the side when hit from the side by another vehicle. So, they're trying to force carmakers to install these side airbags curtains as one way to provide better protection -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Why does that happen with the women and doesn't happen with the men?

CANDIOTTI: Well, they tend to use that, they can use a short male dummy, too. They use a short female dummy only because it fits better into this particular kind of car.

S. O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right, Susan Candiotti for us this morning. Thanks, Susan.

That's disturbing pictures, huh?

You can go to our website, cnn.com, if you want to get a complete list of the safest vehicles. If you missed it on the screen, we have it on our website -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: I guess the question is, is your house crash proof? Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business" this morning with a word on housing sales.

ALI VELSHI, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN MORNING: Housing sales, housing prices, sales across the country in the third quarter, which is July, August and September, down by almost 13 percent. Of course, when sales are down, that affects prices.

There are more houses on the market, so you're getting less for your house. And you're going to get about 1.2 percent less than you did last year same time.

Now, take a look at major markets across the country. Of 148 major markets, about 102 were up, and 45 were down. Some of the biggest gains in major markets, Salt Lake City, up 19.2 percent, Seattle, Tacoma, Washington area, a 14.6 percent. S. O'BRIEN: In sales?

VELSHI: These are prices.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, in prices.

VELSHI: The median price in Seattle is $372,000 --

S. O'BRIEN: So a lot are up?

M. O'BRIEN: So, 102 are up, 45 are down.

VELSHI: The 45 that are down, skew the average. They skew the median. So, you've got Canton, just one example of a number of Midwest, Rust Belt cities down 9.2 percent. That's common around the Midwest, you know, Rust Belt. Detroit down 10.5 percent. That's easy to understand because of the number of closures in that area, plant closures, people laid off, got to sell the houses.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, the moral of the story is it's not a national market, it's a local thing, right?

VELSHI: That's exactly right. All these national averages and median prices, $225,000 for the median existing home, doesn't make any difference if you're not living in a market where it's either up or down. It affects if you're selling in an area where it's low, and having to buy where it's high, Southwest, California, Florida. All these markets that we knew were overly heated are now coming down.

S. O'BRIEN: How about New York?

VELSHI: New York is actually going to be up about 4.2 percent. The median price in the New York area is about $558,000 for an apartment. Now, most people will tell you in Manhattan that's not a possibility. That takes into account the boroughs and surrounding areas. But it's actually up a little bit. Because a lot of people want to come here to work. It still is the center of work.

S. O'BRIEN: It doesn't feel like it. It's good to hear.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, thanks.

VELSHI: OK.

M. O'BRIEN: What else is coming up?

VELSHI: I'll have some better news for you. Potties, Potty Palooza from Times Square.

S. O'BRIEN: Bathrooms? Parties, or potties?

VELSHI: Potties.

M. O'BRIEN: Don't squeeze the Charmin.

VELSHI: A party potty. M. O'BRIEN: OK, thank you. Ali, our potty mouth here.

Coming up, Iraq, Iran and Syria, the three countries appear headed for some kind of an alliance. Is this a diplomatic nightmare in the making for the U.S., or could it bring peace to Iraq?

Plus, the latest on the deadly school bus crash in Alabama. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Crash fallout: A teenage driver is now facing serious questions this morning about that bus crash that killed three students.

M. O'BRIEN: Pushing for peace, Iran opening its doors to Iraq and Syria, hoping to open a door to a peaceful Iraq. But will it end a bloodshed or stir up new problems for the U.S.?

S. O'BRIEN: And saying sorry, Seinfeld's Kramer apologizes for that racist diatribe at a comedy club. But is it enough? We'll talk to one of the comics who was there.

M. O'BRIEN: O.J. Simpson's book and TV interview, called "If I Did It" getting the ax. What now for those books already in hand? That, and more just ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome back to the program, Tuesday, November 21st. I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien.

Let's begin this morning with that teenage driver who is now under suspicion as investigators search for the cause of that deadly school bus crash that happened on Monday in Huntsville, Alabama. CNN's Rusty Dornin has more for us from Huntsville.

Good morning to you, Rusty.

DORNIN: Well, Soledad, as you understand, three teenagers died in that crash. As a matter of fact, any time there are fatalities involving minors, there is a grand jury investigation. They have talked to that 17-year-old, but it's unclear whether he will be charged. The grand jury maybe looking into some of the investigation.

But just to give you an idea here, this is from "The Huntsville Times." This is the Orange Celica that was involved in the crash. And if you look at it, you can see where it looks like it has hit something.

Now authorities are saying they're not sure whether it crashes into the bus or not. There are some reports he might have had a blowout or something. And if you look across the overpass, you can see down here, 30 feet below, is the bus. That's where it did crash some time after this car swerved and either clipped the bus. As I said, it's unclear right now. That's what authorities and that's what the NTSB investigators are going to be looking at -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Do we have any information on what this teenaged driver of that car, that orange Celica, has told investigators at this point?

DORNIN: It's very unclear. They're not releasing much of the interviews that they have had with the teenager so far, other than to say that they believe the car somehow lost control, and he did clip the side of the bus. That's all that they are releasing at this point.

S. O'BRIEN: Interesting. Well, obviously the investigation continues.

Rusty Dornin for us this morning. Thanks, Rusty. Appreciate it.

The latest on the investigation into this accident. We'll have more on that in our 8:00 hour. We're talking with the NTSB's Debbie Hersman right here on AMERICAN MORNING -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: In Iraq this morning, there is a push toward a diplomatic solution from the war, not from the U.S.; it comes from Iran and Syria, two countries the Bush administration has repeatedly accused of stirring up trouble in Iraq. So what's really behind these unlikely alliances?

For some answers, we turn to Vali Nasr, the author of "The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future." He joins us now -- to answer some of these questions.

Vali, good to have you back on the program.

What does Syria and Iran really want? What is their motivation?

VALI NASR, AUTHOR, "THE SHIA REVIVAL": Well, they're watching all the debate in Washington about whether or not the U.S. should be talking to Iran, and they want to make a point to the United States that they do matter in Iraq, and that they do not need U.S.'s invitation in order to get involved in Iraq.

M. O'BRIEN: So is this about exerting influence, or is it truly about making peace?

NASR: About both. They know that they might be talking to the U.S. They want to talk to the U.S. from a position of strength. They want the United States to realize that they hold a lot of cards in Iraq, and that they can bring peace and they can potentially help the situation.

M. O'BRIEN: From the perspective of Iran, instability in Iraq, some instability is, perhaps, good, because it makes the U.S. look bad and, perhaps, gives Iran some leverage in that respect. But too much instability, to the extent it might spill over their borders is a problem, correct?

NASR: Yes, Iran definitely does not want Iraq to completely fail. It does not want Iraq to breakup. It does not want to cause a civil war. And it would like the current Shia government, which is very close to Iran, to succeed. It wants to achieve all of these things, hopefully some kind of an arrangement with the United States.

M. O'BRIEN: The Iraqi government, as you say, predominantly Shiite. And of course, Iran, Shiite. Syria, predominantly Sunni. Explain how they fit into this mix, and given the warfare, the outright warfare, we've seen between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, how would Syria fit into some sort of an alliance here?

NASR: Well, Syria has been Iran's regional ally since the 1980s. We have seen this alliance play itself out in Lebanon in the last summer during the Israeli/Hezbollah war. Now the same alliance that made a powerplay in Lebanon is playing a powerplay in Iraq. Also the current Shia government in Iraq, many of its politicians spent years of exile in Syria and have their own relations with Syrian government.

M. O'BRIEN: So it proves that Shiites and Sunnis can get along in some realms?

NASR: That's correct. But also the government in Syria is a minority government, which has very close ties with the Shias in the Middle East.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. Could they, do you think, do they have the power, these two countries together, to stop the violence in Iraq, to stop the insurgency?

NASR: Not to stop it cold, but they can greatly help bring more stability to Iraq. And they play in different arenas. Syria is important to shutting down the insurgency. Iran is important to containing the sectarian violence in southern Iraq.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about shutting down the insurgency. How could they do that? What could Syria do?

NASR: Well, the United States has already identified Syria as the main conduit point for arms and money going into Syria. So if Syria was to get really serious about shutting its border to Iraq, it could squeeze the insurgency greatly.

M. O'BRIEN: And Iran, when you start talking about the sectarian violence, what could they do?

NASR: Well, they could do more things. In other words, they can also shut down money and weapons going to sectarian militias. But given their very tight relationship with Shia politicians, they can also bring the Shias to the tables for serious negotiations.

M. O'BRIEN: What will they want in exchange for all of this?

NASR: I think the most important this is that they want that -- they don't held the United States only for the U.S. to come out of Iraq and then focus on them. They would like to see some kind of a degree of normalization of relations with the U.S. out of this. M. O'BRIEN: Do you think any of this that we're seeing right now has to do with James Baker's efforts to try to come up with some sort of solution to the Iraqi war and his efforts to speak with Syria and, perhaps, although we haven't seen the report yet, perhaps encourage the U.S. administration to make some diplomatic efforts toward Syria and Iraq?

NASR: Yes, absolutely. First of all, Syria, before their foreign administer went to Iraq, their ambassador in Washington said that he had met Mr. Baker, and was -- his country was willing to help in Iraq. So very positively tied the overtures to Iraq to the Baker plan. And the Iranians also know the big debate in Washington about talking to Iraq, has to do with the Iraq Study Group and Baker Plan, and therefore this all has to do with that.

Vali Nasr is the author of "The Shia Revival." Thanks for your time -- Soledad.

NASR: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Straight ahead this morning, a new twist to that Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl, remember?

Yes, that's the photo right there.

Now CBS is turning the tables. We'll explain straight ahead.

Plus, the plug is pulled on that controversial O.J. Simpson book and TV special. We'll take a closer look at all that backlash that lead to O.J. getting the axe, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Booksellers and other people are saying that Fox finally came to its senses, pulling the plug on O.J. Simpson's book and his two-part TV special where Simpson describes how he would have killed his ex-wife and her friend, Ron Goldman, if he did it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: On Monday November 27th, the interview that will shock the nation.

S. O'BRIEN: If you were waiting to be shocked by that O.J. Simpson interview, you're going to have to wait a while longer, maybe indefinitely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You wrote, "I've never seen so much blood in my life."

O.J. SIMPSON: I don't think any two people could be murdered without everybody being covered in blood. S. O'BRIEN: The clip is no longer on the Fox Web site. That's because Fox took the extraordinary step of canceling plans to air the O.J. Simpson interview just days before it was supposed to be broadcast.

Also canceled, "The Simpson Book," called if I did it. It had already cracked the top 20 on amazon.com. In both the book and the interview, Simpson spoke hypothetically about how he would have done it, killed his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, back in June of 1994, if he did it.

The book and the interview created a storm of criticism over the past few days for many people, including Fox's Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera.

STEVE ZEITCHIK, "VARIETY": I think there was really a whole chorus of criticism and backlash here, and I think that's everyone from, you know, Fox's own affiliates, Fox's own personalities and the market in general.

S. O'BRIEN: So on Monday, Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of News Corp, the owner of both Fox and the book's publisher, Reagan Books, issued a statement saying this, "I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project." He also apologized to the Brown and Goldman families.

KIM GOLDMAN, RON GOLDMAN'S SISTER: They did the right thing, and to take responsibility for the havoc that has come about in the last week.

S. O'BRIEN: She may be grateful, but Ron's sister, Kim Goldman, told Larry King, she doesn't think it's over. She expects to see the book start popping up.

GOLDMAN: I definitely think it's going to end up in somebody's hands and we're going to read excerpts about it, and it's going to be on the black market somewhere.

S. O'BRIEN: She could be right.

ZEITCHIK: I think it's downright unprecedented for it to be pulled after it was already shipped. In this case, the book was actually, and in fact is at this moment on its way to stores, and stores are being instructed to turn around and send it back, and that's just something i've never heard of before.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: And despite the publisher's recall, several copies of "If I Did It" are already on sale on eBay. Meanwhile, a new CNN Opinion Research Corporation Poll suggesting that more Americans than ever believe that Simpson is guilty of murder. Forty-six percent say the murder charges are definitely true. Another 36 percent say they're probably true.

And over the past 12 years, the number of people who are convinced of Simpson's guilt has risen dramatically from 10 percent in 1994, to roughly a third during the trial in 1995. The numbers still at that level back in 2004. And now almost half believe that Simpson murder charges are definitely true.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up in the program, go long, go big, go home, are those really the Pentagon game plans for victory in Iraq? We'll try to separate fact from fiction.

S. O'BRIEN: Plus, comedian Paul Rodriguez joins us live. He was there for Michael Richards' racist rant and a comedy club in L.A. We'll have his take on Richards' apology next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Comedian Michael Richards is apologizing now for his racist rant at a Los Angeles comedy club. He went on the late show with David Letterman last night, along with his friend Jerry Seinfeld. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL RICHARDS, COMEDIAN: I'm really busted up over this, and I'm very, very sorry to those people in the audience, the blacks, the Hispanics, the whites, everyone that was there that took the brunt of that anger, and hate and rage and how it came through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: Richards, of course, best known for playing Kramer on "Seinfeld," went off on hecklers, using the 'n' word over and over and over again. Still he was invited back to the Laugh Factory that night, and the next night, too.

Comedian Paul Rodriguez witnessed the meltdown. He's in Hollywood this morning.

Nice to see you, Paul. Thanks for talking with us.

PAUL RODRIGUEZ, COMEDIAN: Hi, Soledad, how are you?

S. O'BRIEN: I'm well, thank you. A couple of black guys started heckling him. And you can kind of pick it up on the tape that now you can see on the Web. And here was his reaction when these guys were heckling him from the audience. Let's listen first.

Every single time he says the 'n' word, you know, that's where you hear the little bleep going on. What was your reaction? You were there when he started saying calling everyone, those guys in the audience, the 'n' word, the 'n' word, over and over and over again?

RODRIGUEZ: You know, at first, I thought it was -- that these guys were in with him, you know, because, first of all, when they announced him, the place went crazy. I mean, the name Michael Richards didn't really ring too much of a bell. But when the emcee said you know him as Kramer, the place loved him, I mean, went crazy. I didn't think it was as much heckling as people were telling each other different episodes their favorites. I overheard some girl going, oh, the one, the guy that did the salad, and when he maximized his time in the shower. They were all positive things.

But you've got to understand that Michael is a very avant garde comedian. I don't think he set out to do that. Even if he was saying those words that certainly caught our attention, I was convinced that there was a punch line at the end of this rant, you know, and then there wasn't. I think things that don't end well, you know, will persist. I think if he would have apologized right then and there and said, look, I was trying to use this word to take the venom out of it. Or if he would have done this in the context of a character, if he would have done this as Kramer, let's say, people would have said, you know, Kramer is a nut; he's not all there.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, but you know, it kind of went on, too. Let's play the next part, because he says something more besides the 'n' word, and there's a couple more instances of that. He says this. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARDS: Shut up! Fifty years ago I'd have you upside down with a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) fork up your (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: OK, so basically he's saying shut up, we would have lynched you 50 years ago is what he's telling this couple of black hecklers in the crowd. What was the reaction to that? Now it sort of sounds like, boy, it's not funny anymore at all.

RODRIGUEZ: No, well, what it is, it's reminiscent of what Andy Kaufman used to do, when he used to do his misogynist stuff, you know, but we all knew that this was an act. It's like watching wrestling, championship wrestling, WWF. But the thing that made it out of character is that he wasn't even going for a punch line. He was trying to incite something inside him. I think he even surprised himself. I saw his...

S. O'BRIEN: You saw the apology, right, and when he told Letterman, you know, I'm not a racist.

I guess the question is, if it's not a joke, if it's not a character, then you say this is what you believe. Isn't that a fair assumption? No?

RODRIGUEZ: It's absolutely a fair assumption. You know, I saw the apology, and I think he's contrite, I think he's sincere, and I hope the African-American community accepts it. Because when it's all said and done, he's a very talented man. I mean, he's been doing this for many years. I must have seen him perform well over 100 times in this club alone, and he's never even come close to that. He does things that, perhaps, he's not all that funny. I think what happened here, Soledad, is that people had really high expectations of this man being extremely funny on the "Seinfeld" show. They wanted that same guy. Well, Michael isn't. And he's not truly -- well, I wouldn't say he's not a standup, but this is not really his forte. The Laugh Factory is a place where guys who were famous stars like him come here to workout material. This is not where you have the material that's finished and polished.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think it's career ending, Paul? I mean, do you think -- some people say he's got to go back and face the black audiences and really do a real apology. Those who didn't like the apology last night. And other people say, you know, this could the end of his career. What do you think?

RODRIGUEZ: I sure hope not. I think we would all miss a great talent. I do think that he's not ready to come right back. I think he does have to make amends to the African-American community. What that is, I have no idea, anything from, you know, going out with Monique, I don't know what he's going to have to do. You know, maybe get jiggy with the people. I have no idea. But he's going to have to do something.

I saw a side of Michael that I never knew had existed. I still think that it's -- let me say that that this is a down payment on what's yet to come with the invention of the videophone, we are going to be privy to a lot of ugly things that have gone on. This is what's equivalent, in my opinion, to the Rodney King beating, you know, beatings here in Los Angeles, from the police, was notorious (INAUDIBLE) in the barrio and the ghetto. WE knew what was going on, but we couldn't convince the whites in suburbia that these things were uncalled for until the video.

S. O'BRIEN: I think that's an interesting point, you know, because until people start seeing it, nobody really necessarily completely believes it. NO one would have believed it without the videotape.

RODRIGUEZ: Everyone's doing this morning.

S. O'BRIEN: Paul, we're out of time. It's super early for you. We really appreciate you getting up and talking to us from L.A.

RODRIGUEZ: I'm going to bed.

S. O'BRIEN: You can go back to bed now - Miles.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, a mysterious poison plot leaves a former Russian spy on his death bed. Now some former KGB officers say they think they know who did it.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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