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Dick Cheney's Fading Influence; Unspeakable Truths About Iraq?

Aired March 8, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you all for joining us tonight.
Here are some of the stories we're bringing out in the open tonight: four so-called unspeakable truths about Iraq and a plan to pull American troops out fast; why some Republicans are starting to look at Vice President Cheney as the enemy within the White House.

And is there ever any excuse for using the N-word more than 40 times on one TV show?

Out in the open first: what no one really wants to admit about Iraq. Something that we saw today on the Web magazine jumped right out at us. It is a story called "The Four Unspeakable Truths: What Politicians Won't Admit About the War in Iraq."

Here are those so-called truths: one, that the war was a mistake; two, that our wounded vets are victims, as much as heroes; three, our 3,187 dead are lives wasted; and, four, we're losing the war or have lost it already.

We're going to talk to the man who came up with those unspeakable truths in just a moment.

But now here is what American leaders are saying publicly today about Iraq. Democrats in the House, led by Nancy Pelosi, are proposing a complete withdrawal from Iraq by the fall of next year, at the latest. A senior administration official traveling with President Bush in Latin America says the president would veto that.

And the new top general in Iraq declares, to get peace in Iraq, sooner or later, we will have to negotiate with the insurgents.

Now to talk about what the claims no politician wants to talk about, the author of that story on, Slate editor Jacob Weisberg.

Welcome back.


ZAHN: Let's start out with your unspeakable truth number one. And that is the idea that politicians seem very reluctant to admit this war was a mistake, even though the majority of the American public thinks it is, according to most polls.

Let's listen to how Hillary Clinton has defended her vote on the war.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: If we had known then what we now know, there never would have been a vote, and I never would have voted for it.


ZAHN: Why is the M-word so challenges for politicians to use?

WEISBERG: Well, it's hard for all of us.

Look, Paula, I supported the war. It was a mistake. I made the wrong decision. I didn't vote for it. I didn't have the opportunity to vote for it. It's hard to say you're wrong. It's hard to say you're wrong if you're a person. It's especially hard to say you're wrong if it's a politician -- if you're a politician.

And it's especially hard about a subject as sensitive as this, both because of pride -- you don't want to admit you're wrong -- and because you're afraid of the way that admission will be used against you politically.

ZAHN: Somehow, that you're unpatriotic, that you're un-American, that you don't want this war to succeed.

WEISBERG: Yes. The attacks from the right are likely to be that you don't support the troops, that you're unpatriotic, that you're not to be trusted with defense, and, from the left, too, that you're inconsistent, that you're a flip-flopper, that, why didn't you get it right then?

I mean, in politics, an admission of error, which, for many people, is part of an important learning process, can be a sign of weakness and something that makes it easier to attack you.

ZAHN: I'm going to move on now to some of the staggering statistics from this war. And it's told in the numbers of loss and wounded right now, some 3,000 troops killed in Iraq, almost 24,000 wounded.

Obviously, the human cost of this war has been very high indeed. But you say that we need to view the soldiers who have lost their lives as victims, as much as heroes. Why do you think that is so important for the American public to embrace? And what difference does it ultimately make?

WEISBERG: It's just a reality. And I think it follows very much from the -- the first truth. If the war was a mistake, and an avoidable mistake, then, the lives lost there are lives wasted, as lives were in Vietnam.

It doesn't mean that those people aren't patriots. It doesn't mean that they're not serving their country. And it doesn't mean that they're not, in many cases, also heroes. But they are victims of this mistake in policy.

ZAHN: Let's remind our audience of what Senator John McCain had to say, using almost the same terminology about wasted lives.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We have wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, over there.


ZAHN: The senator getting creamed for that, apologizing.

You could only imagine -- and I know you have spoken to families members, as I have, who have lost loved ones in Iraq -- ones in Iraq -- how difficult it is, how insulting it is to have someone use a phrase like that, that, somehow, their sons and daughters wasted their lives in Iraq.

WEISBERG: Well, is it more insulting for us to confront the truth about what's happened in Iraq, or is it more insulting for us to just engage in euphemism, and just say it's sacrifice, which is the patriotically correct euphemism, when you don't want to say wasted?

I mean, this is so obvious to people, that two sitting senators now, Senator Obama, as well as Senator McCain, have blurted it out more or less in ordinary conversation. And they quickly apologize, but it doesn't make you think that they really misspoke. It makes you think they spoke the truth, but they spoke a truth that's not sayable in public by a politician.

ZAHN: The fourth point you made in your piece, that this war is lost -- and your critics say all you are doing is emboldening the enemy by making a statement like that.

WEISBERG: Well, do me the...


ZAHN: ... have general after general pointing to some successes in Iraq right now.

WEISBERG: Well, I think we're -- we're clearly -- clearly losing it.

And I think, even if things in Iraq -- Iraq miraculously turned around, it would still be a mistake, and it would still be a loss, because of the consequences, in terms of America's lost power and prestige in the world, because of the Sunni-Shiite conflict, which is now spreading that we have unleashed because of the chaos in Iraq.

It would very hard to tally this up, even if there's some kind of non-disastrous salvage, and say this was not a defeat for the United States. And, again, to me, that doesn't mean we should pull out immediately. I don't happen to agree with Nancy Pelosi or a number of other Democrats. I think we have made this mistake. We're responsible. We have to try to salvage the best possible solution. We can't let a civil war happen. But we're losing the war. And we can't win the war.

ZAHN: Well, I have a panel that wants to debate that point with you.

Will you hang around, Jacob?

WEISBERG: Sure thing.

ZAHN: Put him on the spot.


ZAHN: Of course he will hang around.

Let's introduce our "Out in the Open" panel right now, conservative commentator and constitutional lawyer Mark Smith, Karen Hunter, Pulitzer Prize winner and professor of journalism at New York's Hunter College, and syndicated radio's Neal Boortz, host of "The Neal Boortz Show." He's also the author of a brand-new book called "Somebody's Got to Say It."

Neal, are we losing the war in Iraq?

NEAL BOORTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, it certainly isn't going as well as it could have, obviously. Clearly, a lot of mistakes have been made there.

I think, when Al-Jazeera comes out, as they have lately, and says, hey, you know, actually, things are looking a little bit better in Baghdad right now, it's hard to reconcile Al-Jazeera's statements that things are calming down in Baghdad with the statement that we're losing the war.

It certainly isn't the great success that some people thought it might have been when they were dragging the statue of Saddam Hussein through the streets of Baghdad. But whether or not we're losing right now is debatable.

One thing that I do not think is debatable is whether or not we can win. I -- I get distressed when I hear somebody tell me that the United Nations cannot do something. We can win. Whether or not we're -- we will commit to it.



BOORTZ: Well, that's not the question.

HUNTER: Well, that is the question...

MARK SMITH, CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: We are winning this war. HUNTER: ... because the bottom line is, you're not even bringing up the main war, which is Afghanistan. By the way, NATO just went in and got beat back. The Taliban are in full -- full-fledged again. And...

BOORTZ: No, they're not.

HUNTER: OK. Well, that's debatable.

BOORTZ: I'm sorry. They are -- they are strong. They are...

HUNTER: All right.

BOORTZ: But they are not full-fledged again.


HUNTER: Did we get rid of them? Because that was the initial target. That's where bin Laden was, supposedly.


BOORTZ: Wait a minute.


BOORTZ: Now women are going to school in Afghanistan right now.

SMITH: Right.

BOORTZ: Women are working in Afghanistan.


BOORTZ: If the Taliban were full-fledged again, that wouldn't be happening.

ZAHN: Well, that wasn't what Jacob wrote about.


ZAHN: He wrote of -- made the point, one of his truths is that we are losing -- or the war has been lost in Iraq.

SMITH: Dead wrong.

This is a war that we are winning. Let's look at the results so far. We toppled Saddam Hussein and his psychopathic sons, who murdered over 300,000 of his own citizens. The Kurds today no longer live under the yoke of oppression of the Saddam regime. They are free to live.

Look at the Kuwaitis. They no longer have to worry about an invasion from the Iraqis. The fact is, although the war in Iraq has not gone perfectly, no war is perfect, including World War II. The point is that we are winning this war. (CROSSTALK)

HUNTER: This is the problem with America, that we refuse -- we refuse to accept the truth.


HUNTER: And, at the end of the day, we can spew mantra, and we can talk about all of these different stats, but the reality is, our soldiers are coming home in body bags, with missing body parts. We aren't taking care of them. And we're not winning this war.

SMITH: We are winning this war.

HUNTER: So, let's keep it real with the people.

ZAHN: All right.

SMITH: Yes, let's put this in perspective.


ZAHN: Let's put this in the perspective through the eyes of the American public.

SMITH: How many attacks have been on the United States?

ZAHN: Look at these numbers.

And I want all of you to -- to try to digest them and what they tell us, that -- that the majority of Americans think that we made a mistake by sending troops in Iraq -- into Iraq.

If -- if the public seems to be willing to say that, why can't politicians...


SMITH: I'm not surprised that the public says that.

WEISBERG: Surely, President Bush, when he is alone with himself, admits to himself that it was a mistake. And even he does not say we're winning the war. I mean, he says, we can't lose it. Even he recognizes reality, the extent that he will say that it's going badly.

But the reason we can't win it is that you can't put toothpaste back in the tube. I mean, I was one of a lot of people who thought things couldn't get worse in Iraq, because Saddam was the worst dictator on the planet.

Well, guess what? They got worse. I mean, it is -- we have -- it was -- it was a -- it was a sort of fake country that was artificially constrained by this form of totalitarianism. And it has fallen apart. And it can get better, or it can get worse than it is, if it falls into civil war. But it -- there is no successful outcome on the horizon. SMITH: George W. Bush is a victim...

ZAHN: Final point.

SMITH: ... of his success. We have not had another terrorist attack since 9/11. Who would have guessed that was the case?

Why? Because we have moved the war on terror from the streets of New York to the Middle East.

WEISBERG: But it's not just Iraq.


SMITH: That is where we want to fight the war on terror. That is what we're doing.

WEISBERG: You don't really think that, do you?


SMITH: We lost 3,000...


BOORTZ: I really think that.


SMITH: We lost 3,000 lives in one morning, one morning on 9/11.

ZAHN: All right. But -- but you know that...


SMITH: We have not done it since, in part because of the war in Iraq.

ZAHN: Saddam Hussein had absolutely nothing to do with -- with 9/11.


HUNTER: Where's bin Laden? Is he in New York?

SMITH: George Bush is a victim of his success.


ZAHN: All right.

BOORTZ: Now, Paula, I want to...


ZAHN: OK. Final -- Can I make a final point about -- about the most...


BOORTZ: I want to address this majority-of-Americans line, too, before we get too much further.

ZAHN: OK. But I have got -- I want to ask about the -- the point that you were making...


ZAHN: ... that these men and women who have sacrificed their lives in Iraq have wasted their lives.

HUNTER: I think that's ridiculous.

I think anybody that went out to fight for this -- on behalf of this country did so thinking that they're fighting for freedom. And I don't think that they thought that they were wasting their lives. Nor do their families. And I think that that's one point that I will disagree with you on.

ZAHN: All right.


ZAHN: We have got plenty to debate on the other side. Please stand by, team -- a lot more to address.

If you want to join in our conversation, please send an e-mail to us to Our panelists will look them over. And we will read some of them on the air a little bit later on in this hour.

Out in the open next: What happens when more and more people inside the White House treat Dick Cheney like the enemy within?

Also: Where is the outrage in a Texas town where a mentally disabled black man was brutally beaten by a white man?

We will be back with the details on the other side.


ZAHN: Tonight, we're bringing out in the open Vice President Cheney's downhill slide.

The perjury and obstruction of justice verdict this week against his ex-chief of staff, Scooter Libby, is focusing more attention on the vice president this week more than ever, and it's not pretty.

Look at the cover of the new "TIME" magazine, the vice president under a dark cloud -- the headline, "The Verdict on Cheney." The story inside even brands him as the enemy within the White House, dragging the whole administration down with him.

Tonight, Brian Todd takes a closer look at Dick Cheney's current status inside the White House.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A former aide tells CNN the trial of his former chief of staff was tremendously painful to Vice President Cheney, a trial that pulled back the curtain not only on Cheney's influence, but also his penchant for secrecy and payback, portraying him as so politically touchy, that he directed a campaign to publicly rebuke a prominent war critic.

The fallout for Cheney, according to one analyst:

STEPHEN HESS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think the vice president is the big loser, after Scooter Libby himself. It showed him involved in a degree of manipulation that most of us thought should have been well below his pay grade.

TODD: A former colleague tells CNN, Cheney's not a vindictive person, but says the company against Joe Wilson showed poor judgment.

The resulting criminal trial is the latest of several recent developments raising questions about Cheney's influence inside the White House, including the ouster of his close ally Donald Rumsfeld, the president's new initiative in Iraq, and the administration's diplomatic overtures to North Korea, Iran, Syria, regimes that Cheney always favored taking a tougher line with.

But one journalist who's written inside accounts of this White House believes those foreign policy moves actually spotlight Cheney's leverage.

RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR, "THE ONE PERCENT DOCTRINE": Well, I think the view is, is that, in the dance of force and diplomacy between nations, we need a bad cop who people really fear. And Dick Cheney, well, he's perfect in that role.

TODD: In response to our inquiries, Cheney's office would only say he remains a trusted aide, that the president depends on his counsel.

Publicly, White House officials shut down any talk of a chill.

QUESTION: Has his relationship changed in any way?


TODD (on camera): Those who know him and cover him point out that, although Dick Cheney may be losing some political arguments right now, he still has very close access to the president. How close? Only two people know for sure if Cheney's influence on President Bush is waning or not. And those two people aren't talking.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


ZAHN: And, when Brian Todd gets them on the line, hopefully, they will share that information with us someday.

With me now, Brian Bennett, one of the "TIME" reporters who worked on the story about Vice President Cheney, Thomas DeFrank, Washington bureau chief for "The New York Daily News." He's been covering Dick Cheney for more than 30 years now. And John Fund, columnist for

Welcome, all.

Brian, I want to start off tonight by reading a very small excerpt from this piece that you co-wrote, where you say: "Cheney has become the administration's enemy within, the man whose single-minded pursuit of ideological goals, creaking political instincts, and love of secrecy produced an independent operation inside the White House that has done more harm than good."

Who do you think Cheney is hurting the most, Brian?

BRIAN BENNETT, "TIME": Well, I think the vice president's office and the White House would be very uncomfortable places to work right now.

You have had all these storms blowing through. The Libby trial basically exposed exactly -- tore the roof off the vice president's office and exposed exactly how influential he was and how into the details Vice President Cheney was when it came to going after the critics of some of his major policy pet projects, especially the war in Iraq.

ZAHN: Thomas, there are certainly a lot of questions being raised about the vice president's judgment. And I wanted to read a -- a quick part of a piece in "The Washington Post" that stated: "The vice president is losing his influence or perhaps his mind. That question, even if it is phrased more delicately, is creeping through foreign ministries and presidential offices abroad, and has become a factor in the Bush administration's relations with the world."

So, as the vice president is defending this war, this piece would suggest that foreign leaders are saying he's lost it.

Have you heard anybody confirm that, Thomas?

TOM DEFRANK, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": No. No, I think that's a little bit over the top, Paula. He's not lost his mind.

As Cheney himself might say, that's -- that's hogwash. But what has happens is, the vice president's influence is not exactly what it used to be. There's a lot of reasons for that, the departure of Donald Rumsfeld, his mentor, the department -- the departure of Scooter Libby, his alter ego, the ascendancy of Condoleezza Rice, the decision by Josh Bolten, the chief of staff at the White House, and Steve Hadley, the NSC adviser, to take more control over the foreign-- policy-making apparatus of the government.

All these things, plus the fact that the Iraq war is not going as well as the vice president predicted it would be, all these things have brought, have come together to cause the vice president's star to have declined somewhat.

But this is not to suggest he's not powerful. He still is. I think his power is not quite as dominant -- not nearly as dominant -- as it was a couple of years ago.

ZAHN: But, John Fund, in spite of what Thomas was just saying, there are certainly calls for his resignation -- some Democrats saying he should be impeached.

What -- what kind of vulnerability do you think he represents to the Bush administration going into this next election?

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Look, Dick Cheney's role in the Bush White House was diminished a little bit starting two years ago. This is not a new story.

Any time you have a president that is in the low 30s in approval rating, you're going to get the search for scapegoats and you're going to get people settling scores within the administration.

The bigger story here is not what's happened to Dick Cheney. The bigger story is the civil war that's broken out in the administration. This is an administration that used to be very united, never leaked. And now you have everybody sniping at everybody else.

Dick Cheney has been caught in the crossfire. This -- the Scooter Libby story doesn't change materially Dick Cheney's standing. He's still first among equals among the president's advisers. What has happened is, it's exposed the incredible desire to settle scores and to assign blame within the entire administration.

ZAHN: Final question for you, Brian. So, is the vice president caught in the crossfire or did he cause the crossfire?

BENNETT: Well, it's been a very tough year for Vice President Cheney, when you look at it.

First, he accidentally shoots a friend in the face. Just before the midterm election, he hands the Democrats a piece of red meat when he all but endorses water-boarding as an interrogation technique. He had to stand by while conservative activists were attacking his daughter. And he almost got blown up in Afghanistan.

Things have just not been going that well publicly for -- for Cheney. And I think the Libby trial exposed the consequences of running a mini-operation inside the White House that was basically autonomous. His daughters called him the bull walrus when they were growing up, that he lived in his own little world occasionally, and had to snap him out of him.

Well, Cheney has been snapped out of it, and is not able to operate as autonomously as he used to.

FUND: But -- Brian, I agree with you, but let's remember one thing. No law was broken in the Valerie Plame case, no underlying crime. Scooter Libby was found guilty of committing perjury.

Joe Wilson -- for all of this talk, let's not forget...

ZAHN: Quickly.

FUND: ... Joe Wilson was discredited. The Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously, Democrats and Republicans, said Joe Wilson didn't tell the truth.

Dick Cheney was trying, within the bureaucracy -- perhaps very, I think, maladroitly -- to reveal that Joe Wilson wasn't exactly someone who had credibility.

ZAHN: All right. Gentlemen, we have got to leave it there.

Brian Bennett, Thomas DeFrank, John Fund, appreciate all your perspectives tonight.

Out in the open next: A mentally disabled black man brutally beaten, and the whites involved get just days in jail. So, why does it seem like there's so little outrage in the Texas town where it happened?

Also, the N-word over and over and over again -- how about over three dozen times on one TV show alone? Did the show make a point, or was it over the top?

And our "Out in the Open" panel is hard at work reading your e- mails. Get them in to us. We will see how they respond -- still ahead tonight.

We will be right back.


ZAHN: I need to tell you right now our next report has some language you're definitely going to find offensive. It is the story of a mentally disabled black man in Texas, a group of drunk young white men, and the beating that nearly killed a black man.

Well, a civil suit over the assault is scheduled to go to trial some time next month. But that is only part of the story.

What we're bringing out in the open tonight is what seems like a stunning lack of outrage among some of the people of Linden, Texas.

Ed Lavandera has the story.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The blues have a long history in the piney woods of Linden, Texas. What happened to Billy Ray Johnson here is the stuff of sad songs, a 42-year-old mentally disabled black man often seen hanging around the courthouse, a town fixture. But, one day, Billy Ray turned up beaten, bloodied, and left for dead -- four young white men from Linden accused of the attack.

BILL GLENN, NAACP INVESTIGATOR: Billy Ray Johnson, it was a hate crime. They didn't do it to a white person. Never crossed their mind. But let's get this "darky" and have some fun with him. And that's what they did.

LAVANDERA: Wes Owens, Colt Amox, Cory Hicks, and Dallas Stone came face to face with Billy Ray on a fall night almost four years ago.

The story of what happened emerged from witnesses, investigators, and the culprits' own testimony. It started when Owens brought Billy Ray to a pasture party.

(on camera): It was just after midnight when Wes Owens and Billy Ray Johnson pulled down this dark country road and arrived here at the Gates to this pasture -- inside, more than a dozen people, hanging out, drinking beer around a bonfire, all of them white.


LAVANDERA: We retraced the steps of what happened with Billy Ray's cousin and guardian, Lue Wilson.

WILSON: Yes, he was just like his little monkey, his little toy. And they went out there and made fun of him. That's all it was.

LAVANDERA: Police Chief Alton McWaters says the four men started humiliating Billy Ray. Some at the party didn't like what they were seeing and left.

ALTON MCWATERS, LINDEN, TEXAS, POLICE CHIEF: Getting him to dance, and carry wood to put on the fire, and -- and laughing at him, and making remarks to him, you know.

WILSON: They started calling him racist names and stuff like that. They mentioned the Ku Klux Klan. And that's when the jailer come up out there and said: "What that nigger doing out here? Somebody needs to whoop his ass."

LAVANDERA: Then some of the men say Billy Ray started getting angry, not about the name-calling, but about the music.

MCWATERS: One of the guys changed the radio station to country western. And Billy Ray said something about, you know, he wanted to listen to the other music. And that's all it took.

LAVANDERA: Colt Amox says Billy Ray Johnson aggressively came toward him. The muscular Amox says he felt threatened by the skinny, mentally disabled black man, punched him, and Billy Ray dropped cold, his head slamming into the ground.

(on camera): What goes through your mind, though, when you hear them say: Hey, I was just defending myself; he was...


WILSON: That's -- he -- that's a lie. That's a cheapskate lie way out.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Unconscious and bleeding, the men loaded Billy Ray into the back of a pickup and started driving. They left him on the side of this road about two miles away in an ant pile. Four hours later, two of the men told authorities where to find Billy Ray.

(on camera): And he was covered in fire ants?

WILSON: Yes. Fire ants just done ate him all up, yeah, just from here to all the way down.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): What also angers Lue Wilson was how the town of Linden reacted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. A hate crime -- I just think they kind of got drunk and messed up and did a stupid thing.

MARLON SULLIVAN, CITY COUNCILMAN: The alcohol took effect, and it just -- it just happened. And it's unfortunate that it did happen, very unfortunate that it happened.

LAVANDERA: And the jury felt the same way. Two of the men pleaded guilty, and the other two were found guilty of various misdemeanor and felony charges that could have meant up to 10 years in prison. Instead, jurors sentenced them to probation. It was the judge who added jail time, no more than two months for any of them.

The four young men and their families have denied our repeated requests for interviews.

MORRIS DEES, ATTORNEY FOR BILLY RAY JOHNSON: I don't think any of them showed any remorse. They received hardly no -- just a little slap on the wrist. The jury did not want them to serve one day in jail.

WILSON: Hey, you know, this -- this is -- this still is enough to make a dog cry. What kind of blood is running through those people's mind -- or veins?

LAVANDERA: Whether Billy Ray Johnson was beaten because he was black or mentally disabled doesn't really matter to Lue Wilson. He says, Billy Ray will never be able to take care of himself again.

Doctors say he suffered irreversible brain damage.

(on camera): That's how he walks, like that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. He's doing a little bit better, but that's the way -- you know how little babies when they first start walking, especially if you put them on some shoes and stuff -- that's what he's like.

LAVANDERA: Billy Ray Johnson lives in a nursing home now and can barely speak, unable to sing the words to his own blues song.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Linden, Texas.


ZAHN: We're going to get back to our "Out in the Open" panel now -- conservative commentator and constitutional lawyer, Mark Smith; Karen Hunter, Pulitzer Prize winner and professor of journalism at New York's Hunter College; and syndicated radio's Neal Boortz, host of "The Neal Boortz Show" and the author of...

BOORTZ: "Somebody's Gotta Say It."

ZAHN: Oh, he knows the title of his own book. What do you know about that?


ZAHN: Welcome back.

We just heard one young man basically write this crime off -- these guys were drunk, they got messed up, and they did a stupid thing.

Is this a stupid thing fueled by alcohol or out and outright racism?

HUNTER: I mean, it's a difficult question for me to answer. I want to actually speak on the jury, and it's something that really has been bothering me, because in Central Park, when young men allegedly raped a woman, the next day on the front pages there was a picture of the young men and the headline of "Wilding". And then we find out years later after these young men spent time in jail that most of them didn't do it. DNA evidence exonerated them.

ZAHN: What does this have to do with this case?

HUNTER: Because the jury let them go because I believe that in America, when people look at young white men, they see their sons, their nephews and their brothers. They don't see criminals. So it's easier to give them a free pass because, after all, they're worthy and they made a mistake, and they get to go on and live the rest of their lives.

ZAHN: Do you really think that's what it is? They got probation because they're white?

SMITH: Well, first of all, no.

ZAHN: And would they have gotten probation if they were white guys and they had done the same thing to a white man?

SMITH: Obviously this was a heinous crime and they deserve to be punished. And let's keep in mind they have been punished. They've all pled guilty.

HUNTER: Two months?

SMITH: And they've all been sentenced to a jail term. Now, we have to keep in mind...

ZAHN: How do you equate that with punishment?

SMITH: Well, no, here's the -- we weren't there. We weren't on the jury. We have to, to a certain degree, defer to what the jurors who heard all of the evidence, all of the evidence, made a decision.

Now, to me, being drunk and being stupid is no excuse. They deserve to be punished more than they were punished. But at the end of the day, I have to defer to the jury, because they heard all the evidence and I have not.


ZAHN: You keep saying to defer to the jury, and yet you wish they had gotten more time. What do you think would have been appropriate?

SMITH: Oh, I would say at least a year.

HUNTER: A year? Wow.

SMITH: What do you think should have happened to them?

BOORTZ: I think they should be beaten. And I'd like to know -- or shot. I'd like to know more about the jury.

This is one of the most distressing things I've ever seen. And I'm going to go along with the premise.

I don't know much about Linden, Texas, though I'm from Texas. But my guess is that if this had been four black men that took a mentally retarded white man out in the field and beat him like this, that those four black men would never see the light of day outside a prison again in their lives. And I think it's an absolute travesty and...

HUNTER: Well, he (ph) might have been dragged behind a truck.

BOORTZ: Well, sooner or later, these four guys are going to face some kind of justice, and I just want to know when it happens so I can...

HUNTER: Be around?

BOORTZ: ... applaud and cheer.

ZAHN: What does it reflect about the community? You're a Texan. We heard the "Texas Monthly" magazine talked with a fair amount of residents from Linden, Texas, and they described these four white teens as typical teenagers, good kids.

BOORTZ: Oh, yes, they're... HUNTER: Well, they're always good kids.

BOORTZ: ... and they fell in with the wrong crowd, didn't they? Oh, give me a break.

They're thugs. Sooner or later they're going to screw up again and they're going to end up in prison. And when they end up in prison, there will be some people there that will say, aren't you the guys that did such and such?

HUNTER: No, they'll get in with the neo-Nazis and then they'll become, you know, the next rage.

ZAHN: You hesitated on my first question. I'm curious whether you think these white guys are racists.

SMITH: Oh, it's hard for me to say. But it's certainly -- if you look at their actions, I would say absolutely. No one can do what they did unless they had some animus toward this victim.

But regardless of whether or not they're racists, the fact is, what they did was wrong and they deserve serious punishment.

ZAHN: A quick final thought?

HUNTER: Welcome to America.

ZAHN: All right. A brief one, but a potent one.

We're not done yet. We've got a lot more to discuss with all of you.

Hear what -- and also, we want to hear what you have to say to night. Please send us an e-mail at We're going to read them on our air, and our panelists will give their reactions a little bit later on.

Still ahead tonight, "South Park" controversial season premier. How could they justify -- Neal is laughing about this. What's so funny about this? They used the n-word more than 40 times.

BOORTZ: I was laughing at Karen sitting there rubbing her hands together. I was laughing.

ZAHN: Well, she's -- are you ready to take out the guys at "South Park"?

She's not happy about the gratuitous use of the n-word.

HUNTER: You might be surprised. You might be surprised.

ZAHN: All right.

Stay tuned. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: "Out in the Open" one hit TV show that goes over the line over and over again, over the edge. Nothing is off limits for "South Park," and last night's season premier took a racial slur that many people feel is so offensive it should be banned, and used it dozens of times. Well, at least over 38, as we counted it.

We're talking about the n-word. But what may surprise you is the reaction to the show.

Here's entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SOUTH PARK": I know it, but I don't think I should say it.

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice over): But he does say it. In fact, to kick off its 11th season, the hit cable animated series "South Park" uses the n-word more than 40 times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, "SOUTH PARK": I can't believe you said the n-word on national television.

VARGAS: The episode starts with one character reluctantly and mistakenly offering the racial slur as an answer on a game show. In an ironic role reversal, he finds himself the object of hate for actually using the word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SOUTH PARK": Please, I don't want any trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SOUTH PARK": Well, you got trouble when you first decided to slander an entire race of people on "Wheel of Fortune".

VARGAS: A man faces the same abuse, discrimination, and crime associated with the original African-American victims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SOUTH PARK": Hey, what do you think you're doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SOUTH PARK": I just need some aspirin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not welcome in this store, (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

VARGAS: While some find any use of the n-word inflammatory, some members of the black community praise the episode's portrayal of discrimination.

ANDREW MARKELL, "SOUTH PARK" VIEWER: It's not really the word that's important. Look at what's going on inside, you know? That's what I got.

VARGAS: Kovon and Jill Flowers, who co-founded the organization Abolish the "N" Word, tells CNN that in this case, using it was appropriate.

"This show in its own comedic way, is helping to educate people about the power of this word and how it feels to have hate language directed at you."

"Daily Variety's" TV editor Mike Schneider says it all needs to be taken in context.

MIKE SCHNEIDER, "DAILY VARIETY" TELEVISION EDITOR: You can't just take it on surface what they did on the show. To some degree, there's a complicated story line and you have to watch the entire episode to get to sort of the moral at the end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SOUTH PARK": I'll never really get how it feels for a black person to have somebody use the n-word.

SCHNEIDER: It's typical "South Park" M.O., which is, let's take something that people are talking about that's kind of uncomfortable and really throw it out there, really take it to the limit, take it to the edge.

VARGAS (on camera): While neither Comedy Central nor the show's creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, would comment on this episode, over the years the top-rated show has targeted just about every sensitive subject.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SOUTH PARK": Yes, we've got to stop these boys from going to the public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SOUTH PARK": They've got to know to keep their mouths shut.

VARGAS (voice over): Catholics have taken issue with some of the show's subject matter. So have scientologists, gays and lesbians.


SCHNEIDER: "South Park" is immune because they've been on for so many years. They've been so successful. They're cartoon characters. They can get away with a lot, and they have throughout the years.

VARGAS: Controversy that over the years has translated into big ratings.

Sibila Vargas, CNN, Hollywood.


ZAHN: And we'd like for you to still weigh in on what we're talking about here tonight. Please e-mail our "Out in the Open" panel. They're reading them right now as I speak. The address is

Then a little bit later on, one man trades the business he built from scratch for a new passion... honoring heroes who rescued priceless art from the Nazis. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Welcome back. We're talking about last night's "South Park" season premier in which the n-word was used anywhere from 38 to 42 times, depending on who's counting.

We've received your e-mails.

With me again, our "Out in the Open" panel -- Mark Smith, Karen Hunter and Neal Boortz.

Just to refresh peoples' memory of the tone of the show last night, I wanted to play another small clip from "South Park" season premiere.

HUNTER: I can't wait.

ZAHN: I bet you can't, Karen.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SOUTH PARK": Hey. What do you think you're doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SOUTH PARK": I just need some aspirin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "SOUTH PARK": You aren't welcome in this store (EXPLETIVE DELETED).


ZAHN: Are you offended by that?

HUNTER: Now I am that you guys think it's so funny.

ZAHN: Well, you said it was funny.

HUNTER: It was funny before you all thought it was funny. Now it's not funny.


HUNTER: I'm allowed -- you're not allowed -- you've got to know the race rules in this country.

BOORTZ: I know. I'm still learning. Still learning.

HUNTER: That's not funny for you. It's funny for me.

ZAHN: Well, I think people were kind of surprised at the end of the day what the over all reaction was to the show. It was supposed to be perhaps (INAUDIBLE). At the end of the day, people thought it was educational.


SMITH: "South Park" has been making fun of every single class of people out there. They have, you know, Saddam Hussein and Satan in a homosexual relationship. They have Christopher Reeve eating fetuses so he can walk.

I mean, this is what "South Park" does. They're shock-and-awe comedians. And they want to shock us and they want to draw attention, and then they want to make us laugh.

That's what they've been known for. That's why they've been so successful for the last 11 seasons.

HUNTER: But they're not the only ones. "Family Guy" -- "Family Guy" makes fun of everyone. "American Dad," they have a gay alien.

You know, and I'm embarrassed to say I watch a lot of cartoons, so I know.


HUNTER: But, you know, the reality is, using it that many times, I think on some level -- and I wish this were -- were removed from our lexicon, because it is very offensive and it has such a social history, unlike any other word in the American dictionary. And it is -- is it going to be removed? I think the NAACP has been moving towards it.

But in and of itself, that did not offend me. I actually laughed. And, you know, I'm keeping it real. It was pretty funny.

SMITH: You know, we've learned of course that any time you try to censor or prohibit things, it actually in some ways makes it more attractive, more appealing, because people are trying to figure out, what are they hiding from us? So that's why, for example, when you have a silly (INAUDIBLE) Madonna in a Brooklyn art museum that no one cares about, when Giuliani talks about it and is offended by it, then everybody goes to go see the episode -- or goes to see the museum.

So, in some ways, if you try to, like, censor something or say shame on you for using that, you actually, you know, you actually...


BOORTZ: Let's remember, in the show, yes, they used the word, what, 40 times? But almost every time except one they used it to condemn the man that used it on the game show.

ZAHN: Right. Good point there.

HUNTER: But let's...

ZAHN: Can I make a quick turn though...

HUNTER: Absolutely. Where we going?

ZAHN: ... back to the Iraq war? Because we got some really good e-mails on this. At the top of the show...

HUNTER: Wait, you're going from the n-word to the Iraq war?

ZAHN: Yes. I'm sorry. That's' just the way it works in cable TV, Karen.

I've got the whole world to cover here.

SMITH: That's true.

ZAHN: At the top of the hour we talked about a piece on that talks about the four truths of the war, according to Jacob Weisberg, the man that wrote the piece, that this war has been lost, don't call the sacrifice of American lives -- call it wasted lives.

Our first e-mail came in from Cesar in Phoenix, Arizona. He wrote, "Waste? Please, it's a war. War has casualties."

"People in Iraq now have freedom. They can have a chance to change. This is just another way to bring down the credibility of the president. Shame."

SMITH: Absolutely correct. That's exactly right.

We went to war in Iraq to move the war on terror from the streets of America to the Middle East. The Bush administration has successfully done that given the fact that there hasn't been an attack in America.

HUNTER: I'm sorry. I can't hear this anymore. This is not true.

We didn't go to Iraq because...

SMITH: It is true.

HUNTER: We didn't go to Iraq -- did Iraq attack us on 9/11? Can you just answer me that?


HUNTER: Did Iraq attack us on 9/11?

SMITH: Countries like Iraq supported the infrastructure and the support...

HUNTER: Yes or no? Is there not a yes or no in there? Come on. Come on. Iraq was not the place.

BOORTZ: It is not a war on terror. It is not the war in Iraq. It is a war against Islamic fascism. Terror is a tactic. You don't declare a war on a tactic.

HUNTER: Can we finish it in Afghanistan first?

BOORTZ: We can finish it wherever the terrorists are.

HUNTER: Can we get Osama bin Laden? Can we?

BOORTZ: And if the terrorists are in Iraq, fight them there. If they're in Afghanistan, fight them there.

HUNTER: They're there now because we are.

BOORTZ: Well, hey, good.

HUNTER: Hey, come on. Let's...

BOORTZ: If they come to our troops to be killed, that is absolutely fine with me.

HUNTER: But unfortunately, our troops are being killed and they don't really know what they're fighting for there.

BOORTZ: That happens. That happens.

ZAHN: But did they waste their lives, Karen? Did they waste...

HUNTER: No, they did not waste their lives because they went there earnestly to protect ours.

BOORTZ: Karen, I talk to so many of these people on my talk radio show. I talk to so many of them, and they come over here wounded. They can't wait to be healed and go right back.

ZAHN: We've got to leave it there tonight on that note.

Mark Smith, Karen Hunter, Neal Boortz -- she's got her...

BOORTZ: I like Karen. Want to go out for drinks tonight?

ZAHN: I can see a budding friendship going here.



ZAHN: Oh my god, they're going to be dating or something shortly.

HUNTER: No, we're not.

ZAHN: No, they're not.

Thanks again.

We're going to take a really quick turn now to "LARRY KING LIVE," who comes up about 11 minutes from now. Hi, Larry. Who's joining you tonight?


What a show coming up tonight.

Can you really get whatever you want out of life by thinking about it? That's the idea behind "The Secret". The book and DVD taking the country by storm.

We'll talk with several of the teachers and authors featured in it. A fascinating hour. It's at the top of the hour. "The Secret" right after you -- Paula.

ZAHN: And there are a lot of secret nay sayers.

Are you guys thinking positive right now?

KING: Oh yes.

HUNTER: Absolutely. I'm thinking...

SMITH: I want money. I want money. I want money. Where is it? Where is it?

ZAHN: We're going to check on you to see how you're doing.


ZAHN: World peace, Larry.

BOORTZ: World peace.

ZAHN: See you at the top of the hour.

Coming up next, how the story of the men and women who rescued masterpieces stolen by the Nazis gave one man a new passion for life after work. His story when we come back.



ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight, the greatest treasure hunt in history. The prize, precious works of art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The heroes, the men and woman who found and rescued these incredible treasures.

Now you're about to meet someone who's passionate about telling their story.

Randi Kaye has tonight's "Life After Work".


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Vermeer -- these masterpieces grace the walls of museums today but might have been lost forever if not for the work of a group nicknamed Monuments Men.

ROBERT EDSEL, AUTHOR, "RESCUING DA VINCI": The Monuments Men and Women are my heroes. They're -- it's a group of men and women, about 350 or so, museum directors, curators, art historians that volunteered for service during World War II and ultimately were involved in the leadership of what I refer to as the greatest treasure hunt in history, trying to find the great works of art throughout Europe, hidden in more than a thousand hiding places.

KAYE: Robert Edsel uncovered the story at a crossroads in his own life. In the late 1990s, Edsel sold the oil and gas company he built in Texas and decided to take a break from work. He moved his family to Italy to renovate a villa, study art, and discover his next passion. Little did he know it would find him on a bridge in Florence.

EDSEL: And I stood on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Florence, the only one of the bridges that wasn't destroyed and blown up by the Nazis when they fled Florence in 1944, and thought to myself, how did all of this stuff survive World War II? In fact, who were the people who saved it?

KAYE: And so Edsel discovered the story of the Monuments Men. And his new passion is sharing their story through a book he's authored, a documentary he helped produce, and speeches he gives.

EDSEL: Literally tens of thousands of paintings, hundreds of thousands of cultural items, hidden in more than a thousand caves, salt mines and other places by Hitler and the Nazis. It was a circumstance no one contemplated and resulted in an extraordinary effort on the part of this special group, these Monuments Men, and women, to try and find these things and ultimately restitute them to the countries from which they were stolen.

It's such a privilege for me to be able to go now and see these things and understand the labor of love and the sacrifice -- in some cases, loss of life -- to make them available so that we can all enjoy them.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: What an incredible story. And what drive is took to pursue that passion.

Just minutes away from "LARRY KING LIVE". Tonight, can you really get what you want just by thinking about it? Larry unlocks the key to "The Secret" at the top of the hour.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight.

Tomorrow night, a very special hour -- eating disorders "Out in the Open". People who are starving themselves to death, people who gorge themselves to death, and people who eat on average 10,000 calories a night.

It's all "Out in the Open" tomorrow night. We hope you'll join us then.

Until then, have a great night.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.


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