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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi Visits Syria; College Loan Kickbacks Exposed

Aired April 3, 2007 - 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: Good evening, everybody. Thanks so much for being with us tonight.
Here are some of the stories we're bringing out in the open.

Is the speaker of the House aiding terrorists by taking the road to Damascus?

Plus, you're not going to believe the nasty e-mails a military recruiter sent to a man who was simply being honest about being gay.

And a dying trucker wanted you to see this. It's how you will end up after a short life on meth.

Well, tonight, President Bush is absolutely outraged. And the reason why is all out in the open, and, in all places, Damascus, Syria. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the highest-ranking U.S. official in 13 years to visit that country. The Syrians just love that.

But President Bush says it's counterproductive and sends all the wrong signals.

We asked Jill Dougherty to look into why the White House is seeing red and doesn't want Pelosi in Syria at all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN INTERNATIONAL U.S. AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice- over): Syria and its president, Bashar al-Assad, embody much that the U.S. finds wrong in the Middle East. And that's precisely why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes she needs to spend some time there.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Of course, the role of Syria in Iraq, the role of Syria supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, the role of Syria in so many respects, that we think there could be a vast improvement.

So, therefore, we think it's a good idea to establish the facts, to hopefully build some confidence between us. We have no illusions, but we have great hope.

DOUGHERTY: Syria is on the State Department's list of nations that sponsor terrorism. Washington accuses Syria of supporting dangerous Islamic fundamentalist groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah. During last year's war in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah, U.S. and Israeli intelligence claimed Syria was arming and funding Hezbollah fighters and also allowing Iran to ship weapons to Hezbollah through Syrian territory. But the U.S. released no evidence.

The Syrians have admitted giving money to the guerrilla groups, but no weapons. Another major cause of friction, when former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was assassinated in 2005, many blamed the Syrians. More than a million Lebanese protested in the streets.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, the presence of Syrian forces in Lebanon was at least partly to blame. Syria denied any involvement, but eventually pulled its troops from Lebanon.

In the Iraq war, the Bush administration charges, Syria allows insurgents to cross from Syria into Iraq to attack. Syria denies that charge as well. Despite all the problems between the two countries, the United States does have lower-level diplomatic relations with Syria, unlike with Iran.

U.S. officials, Democrats and Republicans have visited the capital, Damascus, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit hit a nerve with President Bush. He says it sends mixed signals.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror.

DOUGHERTY: The speaker says she's just following recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which calls for constructive engagement with Syria to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq.

(on camera): President Bush says, visits to Syria aren't having any effect, except to hand President Assad a public-relations victory. The Bush strategy is to show Syria that it's isolated, that its behavior is unacceptable. But, so far, that approach doesn't seem to have produced any concrete results.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, let's look into the question a little bit further, why the president is so outraged over Speaker Pelosi's trip to Syria.

To bring that out in the open tonight, we asked White House correspondent Ed Henry to check with his sources.

So, Ed, what is the big deal here? We have heard that we obviously have diplomatic relations with Syria. The bipartisan group the Iraq Study Group says that we should actually be talking to Syria. So, what's the big deal here? ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The story behind the story, really, is, the White House is feeling on the defensive already in how it's handling foreign policy.

They feel like they're on the defensive, because you have got this new aggressive majority of Democrats on Capitol Hill, who, all of a sudden, are flexing their muscles. And the bottom line is that this White House feels that Nancy Pelosi is trying to hijack their foreign policy, upstage the president, go around the U.S. president, go directly to the Syrian president.

And what you heard from the president today in the Rose Garden is that he basically believes that this is providing comfort, in a way, to President Assad, that, essentially, these kinds of photo-ops give him what he wants, and basically doesn't push him hard enough on the issue of sponsoring terrorism.

Take a listen to President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The best way to meet with a leader like Assad or people from Syria is in the larger context of trying to get the global community to help change his behavior. But sending delegations hasn't worked. It's just simply been counterproductive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, I spoke a short time ago by phone with a member of Speaker Pelosi's delegation. He insisted that this is not trying to hijack the White House's foreign policy. This is just a fact-finding mission.

And, as you noted, the Democrats feel like they have some cover here, because the bipartisan Iraq Study Group did point out they believe it is time for a new diplomatic outreach to Syria -- Paula.

ZAHN: Ed, we also can't ignore the fact that a Republican delegation was also in Syria over the weekend. We didn't hear the president single them out for criticism.

HENRY: You're absolutely right. The White House did not mention the Republicans in the Rose Garden today. The White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, has said in the last couple days that there's a blanket policy against Democrats or Republicans going to Syria.

But you're absolutely right. There is one Republican member of Speaker Pelosi's delegation along for that trip. And, this past weekend, there was a delegation of about three or four Republican lawmakers that met with President Assad.

So, the bottom line is, there seems to be a bit of a double standard, when you look at the fact that it's not just Democrats going. There are Republicans going and meeting with President Assad as well -- Paula. ZAHN: Ed Henry, thanks so much...

HENRY: Thank you.

ZAHN: ... a member of the best political team in TV.

We are going to get some more reaction now to Speaker Pelosi's trip.

P.J. Crowley is senior fellow and director of national defense and homeland security at the Center For American Progress. He served as a special assistant on national security in the Clinton White House. Also with me tonight, Jed Babbin, editor of "Human Events" and HumanEvents.com. He was deputy undersecretary of defense for President George H.W. Bush.

Good to have both of you with us tonight.

P.J. CROWLEY, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL DEFENSE AND HOMELAND SECURITY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Hello, Paula.

JED BABBIN, FORMER DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Thanks.

ZAHN: All right, Jed, we just heard Nancy Pelosi defend her trip, saying she was following the guidelines of the Iraq Study Group, among other things.

What is so damaging with her making this trip, when you had a bunch of Republicans doing the same thing just a couple days before she got there?

BABBIN: Well, I don't think the Republicans are trying to do the same thing.

You heard Pelosi's words. She's trying to negotiate better understandings with the Syrians. This is following the script that was laid out...

ZAHN: What's wrong with that?

BABBIN: Well, number one, she doesn't have the portfolio. She's speaker of the House. She does not speak for the foreign policy of the United States. She has no authority to do that. And she is, in effect, hijacking foreign policy out from under the Bush administration.

She's going to directly to one of the central enemies in this war. And she's saying to them, effectively, we want better understandings with you, i.e., wait out President Bush, and we will cut and run; we will surrender to you; just give it another 18 months.

ZAHN: Well, let me try to understand this, Jed. On one hand, you say she's hijacking foreign policy...

BABBIN: Yes.

ZAHN: ... but she doesn't have anything in her portfolio that allows her to assert any foreign policy or change foreign policy.

BABBIN: Paula -- Paula, listen to what the Syrians are saying. Their deputy foreign minister said, in reaction to Pelosi's trip, that the help from all these things is cornering the administration. The Democrats are cornering the administration. And that's a good thing.

That's what the Syrians want. They're getting a separate peace deal from Pelosi. Whether or not she has the authority, she's saying, let's wait out President Bush; let's wait out this thing; and we will surrender to you as soon as we have got the White House.

ZAHN: P.J., you have got to admit that you would be pretty happy if you were the Syrians tonight. A pretty good photo-op for the Syrians, isn't it?

CROWLEY: Well, wait a second.

I think the first issue is not why Nancy Pelosi is in Damascus. The real issue is why Condi Rice has not been there. You know, we have no high-level representation in Damascus, no meaningful conversations with the Syrians since 2003, as Jed has said, and we have nothing to show for it.

And, as the Iraq Study Group did say, if we're going to solve the problem in Iraq, and we're going to solve the greater challenge in the Middle East, we have to engage all these countries, including the Syrians, including the Iranians.

Yes, the North Korean experience shows us that, when you have direct dialogue and meaningful discussions, even with the countries that you have major problems with and do not like and do not admire, but yet you can have potentially fruitful results.

ZAHN: You say potentially fruitful. What are the chances, P.J., of her accomplishing anything? Jed says this is nothing more a photo opportunity.

BABBIN: That's all it is. Look, she's not going to do anything.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Let P.J. a chance to finish...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: I remember, President Bush gave a very eloquent inaugural address in 2005, where he talked about the promotion of democracy.

What better message to an autocratic leader like Bashar Assad than having the newly elected speaker of the House, who happens to be a woman, coming to Damascus and demonstrating that we have a vibrant and multifaceted political system in the United States? Bashar, by comparison, is the son of a dictator. He himself is an autocrat.

(CROSSTALK) CROWLEY: He has a rubber-stamp congress -- or parliament that serves his interests. I mean, this is exactly what we're supposed to be doing.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: And the issue is not what Nancy is doing. It is what the Bush administration is failing to do.

BABBIN: Absolutely not. This is what Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, said a month ago in an interview: We are going to make approaches to all these different countries, and tell them that there's a change coming, that the Democrats are going to take over. And we will have better relationships with you.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: There are Democrats and Republicans who are both...

(CROSSTALK)

BABBIN: That's not the policy of -- that's the policy of Howard Dean.

ZAHN: Jed, let me just answer -- I just need a really brief answer.

Jed -- Jed, do you wish the Bush administration was doing more with Syria? Do you wish Condi Rice was over there right now?

BABBIN: No, absolutely not.

ZAHN: Would it make any difference at all?

BABBIN: It would not make any difference.

You try that. You can go back to daddy Assad, and you had Warren Christopher sitting there in the anteroom. We have been trying to talk to these people for 20 years. It has never worked once.

ZAHN: Got to leave it there.

Jed Babbin, P.J. Crowley, thank you both.

BABBIN: Thank you.

ZAHN: And I want you to listen to part of an e-mail a potential soldier received from a military recruiter, as we change gears here. You are not going to believe this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COREY ANDREW, OFFENDED BY RECRUITER'S E-MAILS: She says, "You go back to Africa and do your gay voodoo limbo tango and wango dance and jump around and..."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: What kind of military recruiter sent that? We are going to bring it out in the open next.

And then a little bit later on: an expensive secret about student loans that thousands of college kids and their parents never knew.

And why is Senator Barack Obama talking about obscene amounts of money? And why is he taking obscene amounts of money?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Out in the open now: The nation's leaders clash over Iraq.

Today, President Bush accused Democrats of ignoring the needs of U.S. troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Democrat leaders in Congress seem more interested in fighting political battles in Washington than providing our troops what they need to fight the battles in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fired back, accusing President Bush of misleading the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: He should become in tune with the fact that he is president of the United States, not king of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Well, the fight over funding may send some troops back to Iraq sooner or make them stay longer than they expected. The Defense Department said today soldiers from Fort Hood and Fort Drum could go back to Iraq before they finish a one-year break at home.

And filling the ranks gets harder and harder, as recruiting troubles continue here at home. One Army recruiter goes ballistic in a volatile e-mail exchange with a New Jersey job hunter. The combative tirade rips the cover off of hidden prejudice.

We asked Jim Acosta look into this incendiary episode.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Corey Andrew has never served in the military, but knows combat of a different sort. Consider the nasty e-mail exchange he, an openly gay man, waged with a U.S. Army recruiter. It got so far out of control, it came to this. COREY ANDREW, OFFENDED BY RECRUITER'S E-MAILS: She says, "You go back to Africa and do your gay voodoo limbo tango and wango dance and jump around and prance and run all over the place half-naked there, and practice your gay morals over there. That's where you belong."

ACOSTA (on camera): You had to think, this person is out of her mind.

ANDREW: Well, you know, actually, I have to say that I questioned was it really a sergeant?

ACOSTA (voice-over): She was really an Army sergeant. It started when Andrew was job hunting on the Web site CareerBuilder.com, where you can post your resume and wait for employers to contact you.

Andrew received an unsolicited e-mail from Sergeant Marcia Ramode, an Army recruiter working in this Brooklyn office. Curious, Andrew responded that he was interested in joining the Army, but was up front about his sexual orientation.

ANDREW: After I said, well, I'm an openly gay man, her response, in all capital letters, mind you, is, "Well, if you are gay, we don't take you. You are considered unqualified."

ACOSTA (on camera): What did you make of her response?

ANDREW: Her -- her response was appalling.

ACOSTA (voice-over): He fired back with a volatile e-mail, accusing recruiters of preying on young prospects, like pedophiliac predators. The exchange escalated.

ANDREW: She tells me to "head off to the gay land of people who have no morals and get rid of yourself. Personally, I think being gay is disgusting and immoral."

ACOSTA: Andrew says the recruiter never bothered to spell out the military's don't-ask/don't-tell policy, barring openly gay men and women from serving in the military.

ANDREW: This would have never transpired had she just said, "I'm sorry, but don't ask/don't tell means this."

ACOSTA: The recruiter is now suspended from her post, pending an investigation. In a statement, the Army's Recruiting Command told CNN, it "expects its recruiters to conduct themselves in a professional manner in all dealings with potential applicants and members of the public. We are ambassadors for America's Army."

(on camera): This controversy has stirred up so much outrage, that some recruiters here in the New York area have told CNN, off camera, that they have received death threats.

(voice-over): Critics of the don't-ask/don't-tell policy aren't surprised by the skirmish.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This law fosters anti-gay bigotry in the ranks.

ACOSTA: Retired Army Captain Sharon Alexander (ph) now defends gay service members against what she calls blatant discrimination, discrimination, she says, that ends with gay service members booted from the ranks and labeled homosexual on their discharge papers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they should be leaving, when they leave, with a thank-you from the American people for all they have given to our country.

ACOSTA: Corey Andrew admits he could have avoided the confrontation.

(on camera): You made a couple mistakes of your own in all of this?

ANDREW: Of course. Of course. I mean, someone asked me, why didn't you just stop, you know? But, again, I felt like I needed answers. And she presented a question. And I needed it answered.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Fourteen years after the passage of don't- ask/don't-tell, and still no cease-fire.

Jim Acosta, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And still to come tonight: Thousands of college students and their parents are learning a very painful and expensive lesson. You can't always trust the people who give you financial aid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL SOLOMON, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY ALUMNUS: I was naive and young and excited to go to NYU.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Out in the open next: a developing story and a CNN investigation of a problem all over the country. Wait until you hear what they're getting away with.

And a little bit later on: the reason why presidential candidate Barack Obama is complaining about an obscene amount of money.

We will explain when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight, we're bringing out in the open a shocking scandal hitting thousands of college students and their parents struggling to pay for an education. As you know, college tuition is already a heartbreaking burden, often leaving students reeling with debt for decades.

But would you believe that some banks have actually been paying colleges kickbacks to steer students their way?

Gerri Willis has been investigating this developing story, and brings us the latest details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR (voice-over): Graduation is supposed to be an exciting time for students.

For Rachel Solomon, graduating from New York University was time to face reality.

RACHEL SOLOMON, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY ALUMNUS: I'm currently $100,000 in debt, and growing, with interest, of course.

WILLIS: Rachel is not only frustrated with her huge debt, but also with how she got it.

SOLOMON: I was naive and young and excited to go to NYU. And I would, you know, take their word for whatever it was. And if they, you know, suggested Citibank, Citibank it was.

WILLIS: NYU, Rachel's alma mater, and Citibank, Rachel's lender, were at the heart of an announcement yesterday by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo about kickbacks in college loans, unethical lending practices benefiting both schools and lenders, and potentially hurting students like Rachel Solomon.

ANDREW CUOMO, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: The college loan industry has developed practices over the years that we believe are deceptive. We believe they're unethical.

WILLIS: In the settlement, NYU and five other schools agreed to reimburse students for money they received through revenue-sharing with Citibank.

Here is how the scheme worked. The schools direct their students to preferred lenders to get loans, and then the bank gives the school money in return. NYU's preferred lender is Citibank. In return for using Citibank as its preferred lender, NYU officials say Citibank gave the university a quarter-of-a-percent of the value of certain private loans, for a total of $1.39 million over five years.

NYU declined our request for an interview, but said in a statement that it used that money to give financial aid to its students. The university said Citibank was selected through a competitive process, because it offers the best loan rates to the most students.

Critics say the entire practice is unfair to the students who took out those loans.

RAZA KHAN, FOUNDER, MYRICHUNCLE.COM: It's really the school saying, you, who already need to borrow money, we're going to tax you a little bit more, so we can use these moneys, whether it's to fund other students or infrastructure. WILLIS: And critics say the practice of using preferred lenders leaves students thinking they are getting the best loan possible, when they might be better off shopping around.

CUOMO: When a college says, this is a preferred lender, the students believe it's preferred in their interest. That's why 90 percent of the students take a preferred lender, because they're trusting the school.

WILLIS: Citibank declined CNN's request for an interview, but said in the letter to Attorney General Cuomo, "We firmly believe that students who borrowed from Citibank at the few institutions with which we had referral fee arrangements have received the best terms, benefits, and servicing available in the market."

Rachel Solomon has a 7.25 percent interest rate on her private Citibank loans, which one industry expert says is a good deal. But she thinks she might have done better had she shopped around.

SOLOMON: I wish that the financial aid officers had told me other options to -- that told me to -- had told me to shop around, because there are some competitive rates out there.

WILLIS: Rates students don't explore, because they trust that their school is protecting their best interests.

Gerri Willis, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: We thought you might want to know what some of the other unethical lending practices are that were revealed by New York's attorney general. They include lenders giving financial aid officers all-expense-paid trips to high-end resorts, providing schools with computers, and putting representatives from colleges on their bank advisory boards, also setting up financial aid call centers for colleges staffed by lenders' representatives.

Moving along now, does Senator Barack Obama worship at a racist church? Out in the open next: His church's priorities for black America, and what happens if you change the word black to white?

And a man whose appearance will absolutely shock you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you used to drive trucks? You used to drive big trucks?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can't answer, son, just nod your head yes or no.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. You can just tell me yes or no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't worry about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: This one-time truck driver wanted you to see what happens if you spend your life taking methamphetamines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Out in the open now: "obscene amounts of money." Those aren't my words. They happen to be Senator Barack Obama's description of the cash he's raising in order to run for president. It's expected to be close to $20 million for the quarter.

But he probably hasn't come up with as much money as Senator Hillary Clinton. Brand-new numbers show she's taken in $26 million in just the first three months of this year. Never in U.S. history have presidential candidates raised this much this early on in a campaign. Let's turn to Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley to find out what's going on here. We'll put the numbers up on the screen. If it's true that Barack Obama is part of the $20 million club, how significant is that?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty darn good. Look, Hillary is still the king -- she's still the queen of fund- raising here. $26 million is a darn good amount. However, one has to assume that because the Obama campaign has really drawn this thing out over a couple of days, clearly is having fun just sort of winking and nodding about the number, that he's going to come in with a pretty good number. And what it will mean is that he's competitive. And what it will mean is that money begets money. If he has a really strong showing, that only helps him in the second quarter.

ZAHN: Senator Obama, though, seems to want it both ways here, Candy. In responding to harsh criticism from a woman at a town hall yesterday when she said that big government was nothing more than a facade for big money, Barack Obama said "the fact that I'm raising obscene amounts of money for this presidential race doesn't make me a hypocrite. I want to see public financing of campaigns implemented."

Is he selling out to the system in spite of his expressing his distaste for it?

CROWLEY: The fact of the matter is everybody has to sell out to the system as long as the system exists. And that was the point he was trying to make. He said, listen, I'm for public financing of campaigns. I'm for keeping a lid on this spending, but in order to stay competitive to be able to fly around to all these places, most importantly, to be able to put those ads up on the air when you need them, they're very expensive, especially in those big states, you need to raise a lot of money. And what he was saying was, I'd prefer this, I'd like to move toward this, but the fact of the matter is that I'm raising an obscene amount of money to stay in the game and that's what you need to stay in the game.

ZAHN: I wanted to close off tonight with a new CNN WMUR poll which shows Hillary Clinton losing some support and John Edwards gaining ground as well as Al Gore. What do you attribute her drop to?

CROWLEY: Well, I attribute it to John Edwards and Al Gore. If you look at the numbers she's dropped eight points. John Edwards has gone up five points, Al Gore up three. And why is that? In the month since the last poll was taken, Al Gore has been to the Oscars and his movie has won an Oscar. John Edwards has been out, obviously, with Elizabeth, Edwards talking about her illness, her incurable cancer. So those are two things that put them in the spotlight. And if you are in the spotlight, it is not for a negative reason that tends to give people to give you a second look. Oh, I remember that guy, oh yes, I remember him, I liked him. And that tends to move the polls.

ZAHN: And Candy, we'll be counting on you to keep us posted on all these numbers as they go up and down as this campaign go on. Again, thanks.

Senator Obama's campaign is bringing lots of questions out about race relations right into the open, including the question of whether the senator's church is racist. Senator Obama attends the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's historically black south side. Its Web site used to trumpet the church's commitment to 12 precepts including the black community, the black family, the black work ethic and the black value system. That was before conservative blogger Eric Rush replaced the word "black" with "white" pointing out that no political candidate would ever belong to a church committed to the white community, the white family, the white work ethic and the white value system.

The church quietly revised its Web site. It now speaks of commitment to the historical education of African people and a nonnegotiable commitment to Africa. But Eric Rush's blogging provoked an angry response from "Chicago Sun-Times" columnist Monroe Anderson. He all but accused Rush of playing the race card. Both men join me now.

Great to see both of you. Eric, I want to start out with a statement from the Trinity United Church and what appeared on the Web site when it said, "we are a congregation that is unabashedly black. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expressions of a black worship service and ministries which address the black community." We know that if you feel you replace the word black with white, this is nothing more than a racist statement. How offended do you think people really would be by that?

ERIC RUSH, INTERNET BLOGGER: Well, if it were any other ethnic group, particularly whites, I think that people would be up in arms about it, quite honestly.

ZAHN: And Monroe, why do you think this is playing the race card when you look at the foundations of this church and what it has tried to accomplish over the years?

MONROE ANDERSON, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: OK, there is no white -- white is not an ethnic group. There are Jewish Americans, there are Italian Americans, there are Irish Americans, there are Polish Americans. When you say white, you're talking race. African Americans are an ethnic group. We are the oldest ethnic group in the country and, ironically, one of the newer ones in sense that we've been here since around the time of the Mayflower, but we only became fully vested citizens in 1984 when the voting rights act was passed where we could participate fully in the process.

But we are, in fact, just another ethnic group. So rather than talk about black and white, if you talk about Mexican and African American or Serbian and African-American, then all of this brouhaha that Eric has gone through is for naught. It turns out to be silly.

ZAHN: Eric, let's listen to a second about how Barack Obama defends his church and these harsh attacks on it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believed and still believe in the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change. The black church understands in intimate way the biblical call to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: So Eric, do you deny that this church is not at all responding to the needs of its community? And what's wrong with that?

RUSH: No, it is responding to the needs of its community. And I think that's commendable. The problem that I had with the -- what I saw on their Web site and the readings of their pastor in and some of the subsequent words that I heard is that they were preferentially giving to the black community. They are, as I said in my article, not afro-centric but African-centric in a time when I think that's divisive. I think that we should really be looking at ourselves as Americans and not giving preferentially to one side.

I think that my colleague Mr. Anderson, you know, when he talks about Mexican Americans and Serbian Americans and et cetera, et cetera, that is a good semantic argument, but it goes against the conventional wisdom in this country that there are monolithic whites as are perceived by most blacks and that blacks are monolithic, too. Also, I have to -

ZAHN: Gentlemen, unfortunately, we've got to move on, because we've got three folks that want to debate with both of you. Thanks so much. In one respect, Senator Obama is pretty typical of most Americans. His church's congregation is almost entirely one single race. It's just one of the ways Americans practice what is called self-segregation. We're bringing that out tomorrow night in a special hour we're calling "divided we stand."

Let's bring our out in the open panel right out right now. CNN contributor Roland Martin, Alan Johnson president of American Atheist. Also Reverend Jesse Lee Peters president and founder of "Brotherhood of Organization of a New Destiny or BOND.

You laughed when you heard Eric try to defend his charge against playing the race card here. You don't think there's any issue of playing the race card?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: First of all Eric is wholly ignorant of the church and what it does. I know Pastor Wright, I've been to the church, I know what the church has done. When you speak from a position of ignorance, that's exactly what happens.

ZAHN: Wait a second. If you were to talk about the goals of the white community, the white work ethic, the sense of white discipline-

MARTIN: We live in a white dominated society. Let's be honest here. People recognize the reality of a black church. This is a black church in a black neighborhood serving black folks. They're serving their members. That's what they're doing. So we have seen African American pastors and churches all over the country be focused on the black community. You have you Latinos who have been focused on the whole issue of illegal immigration. And so we've seen this. This is not something that's rare in America. It's the reality of America.

ZAHN: It is the reality of America, is it not, Reverend?

REVEREND JESSE LEE PETERSON, PRESIDENT OF "BOND": My question is what are black values? What are those values? Why it is that we have a double standard in another country whereas a black liberal male can get away with being a member of a racist church? If Barack Obama is so tied to this preacher that he names his recent book after a sermon that he preached, we saw --

MARTIN: How is the church racist?

ZAHN: Look what happened with Trent Lott. And they ran this guy out of town accusing him of being a racist. They also wish -

ZAHN: Well, we've been trying to debate this. What is so racist about the goals of this church? What is wrong about teaching your community that you should aspire to get a job and support your family and educate your kids?

PETERS: But that's not what they are teaching, they're teaching to hate.

MARTIN: No, they're not. You're wrong, Jesse you haven't been there.

PETERSON: They are teaching to hate. Can we teach white values? You know they also pledge allegiance to the so-called black leaders who espouse black values. Morality has no color. Morality is about treating your fellow man the way you treat yourself, loving God with all your heart, soul and might. Uniting a family, loving your country. This man is a racist. And if Barack Obama supports that, he's a racist as well.

ELLEN JOHNSON, AMERICAN ATHEISTS: You know what's ironic here is that the members of this upper black congregation are prostrating themselves in abject submission to a white man. Jesus, I would like to see Barack Obama or somebody go into that church and tell people that -- physical slavery is over. It is time to get up off their knees and get away from this mental slavery. But you're not going to do that are you, Reverend Peters because you like black people right where they are, on their knees. You want them in submission to the white man, the white Jesus. It is time to get black people up --

PETERSON: You don't believe in God at all so we-

Let me just say there is a double standard. I guarantee you if Barack Obama had been a white man running for president and a member of a racist church, he would not be allowed to run. We saw this same thing with Al Sharpton. Al Sharpton never apologized for the Tawanna Brawley situation in New York.

JOHNSON: That's a different thing.

PETERSON: But because he's black, he's allowed to get away with it.

JOHNSON: You're saying when you talk about whites, you know, that we're monolithic in society, we're the dominant race, why wouldn't you have a problem with a white church would be espousing white family values?

ANDERSON: OK, because it is reality. We are expected to accept what is mainstream. That's the reality.

PETERSON: That is not true. That is absolutely not true.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: One at a time

ANDERSON: First of all there are people who have never been to the church, don't even know what they do. That is the reality. You look at black churches, Hispanic churches, that is what they do. This is America. That is the reality of it.

ZAHN: I have to move on.

PETERSON: Why is Barack Obama backing off then if it's the reality? Why is he backing off?

ANDERSON: Jesse, please.

ZAHN: Roland Martin, Ellen Johnson, Reverend Jesse Lee Patterson-

PETERSON: Peterson.

ZAHN: Peterson. Sorry. I don't want you guys to fight me, too. I'll let you guys go fight. I know what that would spur on. Again, thank you all. "Larry King Live" is coming up in a few minutes but guess what? Larry King won't be there. Lou Dobbs will. Hi Lou, what are you going to do tonight?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi Paula, why don't you lead us all in a chorus of

"Let's Come Together" after all of that.

ZAHN: Do you want to sing "Kumbaya" with me right now?

DOBBS: Exactly. That works, too. Coming up at the top of the hour, Paula, we'll be focusing on Iran, its role in the Iraqi civil war. We're going to be talking with our correspondents from literally all over the world. We'll be going to Michael Ware in Baghdad, Matthew Chance in London. And we'll talk about the political impact of this showdown between President Bush and the democratically-led congress. I'll be talking with Michelle Laxalt, Republican strategist, and James Carville, and we'll be joined by David Gergen as well, presidential adviser to four presidents as we explore the truth and consequences of the war in Iraq and the policy that's been driving our presence in Iraq.

And we'll also look at the very latest as to what is happening with those 15 British sailors and marines held captive now for just about two weeks. All that and a lot more coming up on "Larry King Live" at the top of the hour.

ZAHN: Wait a minute, I didn't hear anything about Anna Nicole Smith? You're not touching that tonight?

DOBBS: Well, I would refer to you on that subject.

ZAHN: We don't do it on this show either, Lou. Give me a break. Good to have you back. We might have done one out of the 60 everybody else did. We've got a story that could end up saving your life. It is very difficult to watch, but one man wishes his son had seen it. Coming up next, how meth ravages your body and ruins your life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: I have to warn you the pictures you're about to see are really, really tough to look at. We're bringing out in the open the terrible toll of methamphetamine addiction.

This happens to be the story of a man who hoped his death would scare people and helped turn his deadly struggle with drugs into a documentary. Ted Rowlands has the disturbing and powerful story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Shawn Bridges' family says he would want people to see this. A man who is should be in the prime of his life instead in a coffin, dead at the age of 35.

JACK BRIDGES, SHAWN'S FATHER: That in itself should scare any kid half to death. And keep them away from these kind of drugs.

ROWLANDS: According to his family, Shawn Bridges, a truck driver from Missouri, used drugs, mainly methamphetamines for most of his teenage and adult life. At 26 he had his first heart attack but kept using meth and, by 29, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

This is Shawn Bridges before he died, unable to speak, his body ravaged. It's part of a documentary that his family says was Shawn's idea.

BRIDGES: It was Shawn's wish to help other people and to make them see what these drugs was doing to society and to lives and to the family members and the people around the people that were using.

ROWLANDS: The documentary "No More Sunsets," shows graphic images of Shawn as he's dying while his family tells the story of how Shawn's decision to use drugs not only created misery in his life but also in the lives of those around him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shawn knows that he's got a death sentence.

ROWLANDS: Shawn was one of the millions of Americans that have used meth, a highly addictive drug made from an array of chemicals, including the over-the-counter medication ephedrine. The documentary, thanks to the Internet, has been seen around the world. Schools are showing it to kids. And according to the filmmaker, the message that Shawn wanted to deliver is getting through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is one woman in Australia that watched the trailer, e-mailed the link to her daughter, her daughter watched it and immediately checked herself into rehab.

ROWLANDS: Shawn's family believes his death is his final message to people to learn from his mistakes, and they vow to keep using these horrible images of the person they love to convince other people to stay away from meth.

BRIDGES: I don't want his life to be lived and forgotten. Shawn's message isn't going to be buried in that coffin. It will get out farther. That's my son. I don't want his message to die.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Tans, Illinois.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: I hope folks listen to that message. For more information about getting help from meth addiction, you can go to the national institute of drug abuse Web site or the crystal meth anonymous Web site.

You're about to meet a man who has dedicated his life to winning respect and decency for every citizen of the world. He's one of the people you should know. You're about to meet him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And we're back right now with a quick biz break. On Wall Street the Dow soared 128 points, Nasdaq jumped 28, the S&P gained 13.

Pending home sales showed a surprising rise indicating the housing market may actually be stabilizing. The association of realtors said today the pending sales index gained about .7% in February. And two weeks before taxes are due Federal authorities are moving to shut down 125 Jackson Hewitt tax preparation centers. The feds allege that fraudulent tax preparation is being encouraged in those offices.

We change our focus now to our "people you should know" segment. We'll meet someone who has devoted his whole life to taking a stand against bigotry and intolerance. But he's doing more than just speaking out against it, he is teaching others why it is important not to remain silent the face of evil.

Once again here's Ted Rowlands with tonight's "people you should know".

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: Intolerance, racism, hate, genocide. Many say the worst we can do is nothing.

RABBI MARVIN HIER, FOUNDER & DEAN, SIMON WIESENTHAL CTR: If the whole world decides not to pay attention to these bigots and go about our business and pretend they don't exist, we'll pay a dear price later.

ROWLANDS: As a leading authority on human rights, Rabbi Marvin Hier says that history has shown that unless we tackle these haters head on, history will repeat itself.

HIER: By the time the world took action against the ultimate evil of Adolf Hitler, he had already swallowed up all of Europe. The attitude was, he's a lunatic. Nobody's ever going to follow him. But there weren't enough people to confront him. And in the end, 50 million people lost their lives.

ROWLANDS: Hier decided that something must be done to protect future generations from crimes against humanity. In 1977, he formed the Simon Wiesenthal center, one of the country's foremost Jewish human rights agencies and its acclaimed museum of tolerance. Now the recipient of two academy awards for his holocaust films, Hier says you don't need to win Oscars to make an impact.

HIER: We all have the potential to contribute. Just being a good citizen and trying to make the world a better world, if we can recruit an army of young people for that, we'd hang over a better civilization in the future.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: No matter where you work or eat, go to school, people separate themselves from one another simply because of race. Coming up next, why is self-segregation so widespread? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: A generation ago Martin Luther King complained that 11:00 Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in our country. It still is that way. We no longer practice segregation at church but also at work and at schools. I recently asked some students why that is. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I tend to gravitate toward, you know, people of my culture because they know what I'm going through at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I have a choice to sit next to a black person or a white person who i know, yes, I'll sit next to the white person who I know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't really notice, oh I'm sitting with all black people until somebody says something to you, then you look around and you're like, oh.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: When you walk into this school, it is clear just how racially diverse this is. A school made up of whites, blacks and Hispanics. You see all of these kids mix. But what happens in the cafeteria is a completely different story. You see a huge racial divide. Just look at this one table. All the white kids at this end eating together and then at the other end of this table all of the black students together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can see it in corporate America when you walk into the corporate dining rooms. You can see it in colleges and universities; certainly you can see it in lots of different countries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Tomorrow night we're bringing self-segregation out in the open join me right here 8 eastern for a special hour of "Divided we Stand" thanks for joining us tonight.

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