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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Religious Intolerance in U.S. Army?; Rosie O'Donnell Leaves 'The View'; Congress Prepares to Vote on War Funding Bill

Aired April 25, 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. Glad to have you with us tonight.
Here's what we're bringing out in the open tonight: a showdown in Congress, voting moments from now on setting a date-specific timetable for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

New outrage over the death of a hero -- Pat Tillman's family angry tonight over religious intolerance from an Army investigator.

And a mother fighting for the life of her desperately ill baby. Should doctors have the final say on ending the child's life, and not the mother? We will be debating that.

Out in the open first tonight: drama in Washington -- right now, Congress about to vote on a bill that would start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq as early as October. The debate is going on right now. If it passes tonight in the House, tomorrow, in the Senate, it sets up a showdown with President Bush, who is promising to veto it.

Well, today, the White House sent the top U.S. commander in Iraq to Capitol Hill to try to convince Congress the surge is working and deserves more time.

The question now is whether General David Petraeus has changed any minds.

Let's go straight to congressional correspondent Dana Bash, who has the latest on that -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, from what we heard after those briefings, the answer to that is no. It does not seem as though General David Petraeus changed any minds.

The general did make clear that it is going to take several months for him to really know whether or not his new strategy in Iraq is working. Republicans, as you said, said he deserves that time. Democrats said, time's up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): The U.S. commander in Iraq walks through the halls of the Capitol hours before the House vote on a Democratic plan to start bringing troops home.

His assessment of how things are going was mixed.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: We are actually ahead of where I wanted to be in some areas, and probably behind where we might have hoped to be in some other areas.

BASH: He highlighted progress in Baghdad, sectarian murders down by a third since January, but reported failures, too.

PETRAEUS: The ability of al Qaeda to conduct horrific, sensational attacks, obviously has represented a setback, and it is an area in which we are focusing considerable attention, as you might imagine.

BASH: Republicans were hoping General David Petraeus could help reshape the political battle lines over the war in a way his commander in chief has failed to do. But the general refused to engage in what he called the mine field of legislative proposals.

PETRAEUS: I am a soldier. And I am going to give a forthright assessment. And that's all that I will provide. And I'm not going to be pressured by political leaders of either party.

BASH: An attempt to change minds would have been mission impossible anyway. Democrats emerged from their briefings arguing the general's behind-closed-doors assessment bolstered their argument a timetable for withdrawal will pressure the Iraqi government to take more responsibility.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: General Petraeus specifically indicated that he is relating to the Iraqis that expectation of the American public.

BASH: Republicans came out saying, the Democrats' plan to start bringing troops home would send a dangerous message to the enemy.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: What was said by -- by the general and others is that that would not be helpful to his cause, and, quite frankly, went on to say that it would be -- it would hurt the very cause that we seek to win there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And the debate is now raging on the floor of the House of Representatives. There, you see Jerry Lewis, a congressman from California, making his case there on the floor.

We're going to see this probably, Paula, for about the next hour. And then we are going to see the final vote. It is going to be a nail-biter. Democratic leaders do say they are confident that they can pass their plan to start bringing troops home from Iraq in October, with the goal of bringing all combat troops homes by this time next year.

But we're certainly going to watch this carefully, because it's unclear exactly what the vote will be -- Paula.

ZAHN: But it really doesn't matter, does it, Dana, because the president has promised to veto it.

BASH: You're exactly right. This is going to go to the Senate, where they expect to pass it tomorrow, probably go to the White House either later this week or early next week.

And the president has made very clear he's going to veto it. So, the battle really -- political battle really is already: What next? What happens after that?

And it's really unclear how Democrats, especially, are going to deal with the bottom-line issue, which is that they are dealing with a bill that funds the Iraq war. They have made clear that they are not going to take any money away from troops who are in harm's way. But they're also making clear that they do want to not give what they call a blank check to the president.

How they find a way to do that is going to be interesting to watch.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: We will be coming back to you live when that vote total comes down.

Dana Bash, thanks so much.

BASH: Thank you.

ZAHN: Now I'm going to turn to three journalists who have covered the war on the ground in Iraq, Pam Hess, United Press International's Pentagon correspondent, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "The Washington Post" former Baghdad bureau chief, and our own Michael Ware.

Welcome, all.

Michael, I'm going to start with you tonight.

And I want you to listen in on more of what General Petraeus had to say in defending the troop surge and what it might ultimately accomplish.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETRAEUS: There has been progress, and that is in the reduction in sectarian murders in Baghdad, which is about one-third now of what it was in January.

That's an important development, because the sectarian murders can be a cancer in a neighborhood. It is something on which our commanders and the Iraqi commander have focused quite a bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: So, Michael, do you see any indications that the surge is working?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, in Baghdad, in one particular form, yes. General Petraeus is absolutely right. The number of sectarian killings are down.

But that does not come without cost, Paula. The number of U.S. deaths in Baghdad has almost doubled. And what you're seeing is that the sectarian killings aren't happening in Baghdad, where the surge is. They're happening outside.

So, what we're seeing since the surge began is that, basically, American troops are still dying just as much as they were before the surge, and Iraqis are dying just as much as they were as well. It's just that they're all dying in different places now and in different ways than before.

The surge will work in Baghdad in one form. You really want to fix Iraq, surge the whole country.

ZAHN: Do you agree with that, Pam?

PAM HESS, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL: I think that, from the start, everyone has been concerned that the surge is too small and it might be too late.

But I think it does make a difference if Baghdad is -- is secure. The question is, will there be enough time on the political calendar to allow that to happen?

I think one of the problems that we have in covering this is that, in Washington and the United States, we like to look at numbers and try to project trends. But counterinsurgency campaigns don't work that way. They sort of go along, go along, go along, and then, all at once, if it's going to work, it will start to work.

But it's not something that you can stand right here and look out six months from now, using your current data, and say, by our indications now, we will be here in six months. So, it's a really hard thing for us to cover.

ZAHN: And, Rajiv, what numbers are we talking about, when Michael suggests, yes, it's working in Baghdad, but you have to sort of match those numbers across the country if you're going to make a real dent in the sectarian violence?

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Indeed.

And what we have seen of late is that the sectarian violence is growing in areas outside of Baghdad, particularly to the northeast, in Diyala Province, where nine U.S. paratroopers were killed the other day in a very bold, audacious suicide bombing on their outpost.

And this was a less guarded sort of smaller outpost, which is part of this whole surge strategy. And, so, it clearly exhibits the vulnerabilities that -- that exist as the U.S. military is reshaping its force posture under this surge. But, you know, if you want to flood the zone in Diyala, if you want to get enough troops in Al Anbar Province to deal with the sectarian violence there, I mean, you're talking about tens of thousands of more soldiers. And the U.S. military just doesn't have that right now.

ZAHN: And, Michael Ware, you're just back from Diyala. What did you see there?

WARE: Yes, absolutely. I have...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Are you pretty pessimistic about what you saw?

WARE: The 5,000 American troops there are taking the fight to the enemy, but that is now the center. That is the new front line with al Qaeda. And it's -- it's the perfect barometer for what's going on.

You have seen, in Diyala Province, sectarian murders have dropped by 70 percent. But attacks on Americans and American casualties have increased by 70 percent. So, it's a very tough fight out there.

I was at these outposts, one of which was just most recently blown up. The brigade, the 5,000 troops who spent a year there last year lost 19 people in a year. The same brigade, the same size force there now, has lost 50 in six months.

ZAHN: Pam, quick final question for you. We heard some of the Democrats coming into this segment saying, time's up. As they repeat that call, is that undermining the U.S. troop effort right now in Iraq?

HESS: I heard from a battalion commander who is getting ready to head over. And he said it does, if they don't feel like their political leaders are behind them or that they understand the time that this takes.

The problem, I think, has been maybe the Pentagon, certainly the White House, hasn't done a very good job of explaining the process that has to happen. It's one thing to get all the U.S. troops' part of the surge into Baghdad and into Diyala to do the work, and it's quite another for the work to actually get done.

The work, it involves mostly confidence-building on the part of the Iraqi people. You have to win them over and make them think that the Americans and the Iraqi forces can secure them. And, until they think that, they're not going to give you the intelligence that you need in order to root out the bad guys.

So, they're on this sort of weird, vague, cognitive battlefield that they're fighting, and there's just no way you can, from the outside, say we will give you two weeks, and, if it's not done then, it's automatically -- it just -- it can't work on -- in that way.

ZAHN: Pam Hess...

(CROSSTALK)

HESS: I don't know that we have the patience left for this, though.

ZAHN: Well, that's -- a lot of patience is being sorely tested by this.

Pam Hess, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Michael Ware, thank you, all. Welcome back home for a little bit.

When we come back: So far, the National Rifle Association has been quiet about the Virginia Tech massacre. But, tonight, you may be shocked at what the biggest gun rights group in the country wants the government to do about gun control.

Also ahead: Why did an Army investigator call a hero who died in Afghanistan "worm dirt" and insult his family's beliefs?

And a young mother going to court to keep a hospital from taking her baby off life support. Would you want doctors deciding whether your baby lives or dies? We will debate that later on tonight.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Out in the open tonight: As the memorials continue on the campus of Virginia Tech, more shocking details of the shootings are revealed.

Today, police highlighted the extraordinary scope of the deadly rampage. Seung-Hui Cho fired an incredible 170 rounds or more in only nine minutes at Norris Hall. He killed 30 people there, before turning the gun on himself. And he still had ammunition left. But police still haven't been able to find a motive for the shootings.

Well, the shootings at Virginia Tech have brought out in the open a firestorm of debate on gun control. Tonight, we have the first reaction from the National Rifle Association.

The NRA's Wayne LaPierre has been on the front lines of the battle against gun control for years, but he says the campus killer should have been barred from buying a gun because of his mental health problems. Is that better gun control or an invasion of privacy? Some of what we will be talking about here tonight.

Mr. LaPierre, welcome.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Let me share with you what the mother of one of the victims who was shot three times had to say, that her anger is not directed at the school at all, but at the gun control issue in the United States and the fact that guns are too easy to get.

What is it that you're proposing, or re-proposing, that would keep guns out of the hands of a madman like Cho?

LAPIERRE: Well, I don't think it's a question of availability at all.

I mean, Washington, D.C., has a complete gun ban. It's one of the most violence cities in the country. Other areas that don't are much safer. If you look at Europe, despite every gun law that has ever been talked about in the United States, these homicidal maniacs do similar situations. In Germany, one walked into a school and killed 16 kids.

ZAHN: Right.

LAPIERRE: In Switzerland, they walked into the legislature, killed 14.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But let's come back to what happened at Virginia Tech, and how it was that this man got his hands on these two weapons -- you heard about how many rounds he fired -- and what it is that you suggest that would stop someone like him from getting guns.

LAPIERRE: Well, he went through the federal instant check system to buy that. When the dealer called the federal government to do the check -- and the FBI does it -- he wasn't in their files.

The NRA has long said that someone adjudicated by a court as mentally defective, suicidal, dangerous to himself, dangerous to others, should be prohibited from owning a firearm, and a record of that court adjudication should be in the federal instant check system.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: How are you going to make that happen? What has to happen in this bureaucracy?

LAPIERRE: Well, the Virginia case, it was a situation of a glitch between the federal law and the state law in Virginia. The federal law would have absolutely denied him. The Virginia law only looked at the court order, which put him in -- the judge put him into voluntary treatment. It didn't look at the finding, which said he was suicidal, dangerous to others, dangerous to himself.

So, you have got to do a change in the Virginia law to bring it in sync with the federal law, so those Virginia records are turned over to the federal instant check system done by the FBI, and he would have been denied that purchase in that store.

ZAHN: All right. The NRA has been supportive of screening gun buyers for years. Why are you finally talking about this in a more assertive way? What took you so long? LAPIERRE: No, it's not a question -- we have been saying this for 15 years. I mean, NRA has always protected the rights of law- abiding people to own firearms.

But we have been vigilant in keeping guns out of the hands of people that shouldn't have them, criminals, mental defectives. I have been saying for 15 years they need to put the records of somebody adjudicated by a court as mentally defective, suicidal, dangerous to others, into the federal instant check system.

At the same time, we're protecting the rights of the law-abiding to have the check done fairly and quickly, because 99.9 percent of the people that go through that system are law-abiding.

ZAHN: Wayne LaPierre, we have got to leave it there tonight.

Thanks so much for your time.

LAPIERRE: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Appreciate it.

There is some new outrage tonight over the friendly-fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman from his mother, testifying before Congress about an Army investigator's statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY TILLMAN, MOTHER OF PAT TILLMAN: He also said that it must make us feel terrible that Pat is worm dirt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And that's not all. You're not going to believe the religious insult leveled at the Tillman family.

Also ahead: a gripping, emotional battle over who should have the final say on whether to remove life support from a desperately ill baby, his mother or a hospital?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: There is some new outrage out in the open tonight over the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman. Congress this week is investigating the military's handling of Tillman's death. He was killed in Afghanistan three years ago, and, at first, hailed as a hero who died under enemy attack.

Only later did the Army admit Tillman died from friendly-fire. And now we're hearing about shocking, insulting, and religiously insensitive language an Army investigator used to describe Tillman's family.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jampy -- Jamie, that is, McIntyre has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It came as a shock. Halfway through a day of testimony about the Army's mishandling of the death of Pat Tillman, Tillman's mother, Mary, shared her outrage at remarks from one Army investigator that Tillman's family found highly insulting.

MARY TILLMAN, MOTHER OF PAT TILLMAN: He said that we were -- we would never be satisfied, because we're not Christians, and we're just a pain in the ass, basically. He also said that it must make us feel terrible that Pat is worm dirt.

MCINTYRE: The offending comment was posted on ESPN.com last summer. It suggested the Tillman family's dissatisfaction with the Army was due in part to a lack of religious faith. And it quoted Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, who conducted the second investigation into Tillman's death.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LIEUTENANT COLONEL RALPH KAUZLARICH, U.S. ARMY: Well, if you're an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what -- what is there to go to? Nothing. You're worm dirt. So, for their son to die for nothing, it's pretty hard to get your head around that.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA), GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Did you examine these comments as part of your investigation?

THOMAS GIMBLE, ACTING INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Well, we did not investigate those comments. I saw the comments in the paper. And, frankly, I was shocked by them, too. But we didn't investigate.

BRIGADIER GENERAL RODNEY JOHNSON, COMMANDING GENERAL, ARMY CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION COMMAND: Sir, I don't know of any regulation prohibiting that, but I find it totally unacceptable.

WAXMAN: Is there anything such as a conduct unbecoming a member of the United States armed services?

JOHNSON: There is such a charge as conduct unbecoming an officer, yes, sir.

WAXMAN: Yes, well that sounds like it's a pretty unbecoming statement for an officer to have made.

MCINTYRE: At Pat Tillman's memorial service in 2004, his younger brother acknowledged Tillman was not a religious man. But the Army would not say if he had ever declared himself an atheist.

Tillman's other brother, Kevin, says the reason the family pressed for more answers was because the Army wanted them to sink quietly into their grief and sweep the unsavory episode under the rug. KEVIN TILLMAN, PAT TILLMAN'S BROTHER: However, they miscalculated our family's reaction. Through the amazing strength and perseverance of my mother, the most amazing woman on Earth, our family has managed to have multiple investigations conducted.

MCINTYRE: According to Pentagon statistics, there are some 5,000 acknowledged atheists in the U.S. military, along with another 700 who call themselves agnostic. But more than 100,000 don't list any religious affiliation, and it's unknown how many of them are believers.

(on camera): Lieutenant Colonel Kauzlarich is now a battalion commander in Iraq and could not immediately be reached for comment in the war zone. The Army would not reveal his religious affiliation, but a spokesman said he does not face discipline for the remarks.

However, Kauzlarich does come under intense criticism from the inspective general for this inadequate investigation of the Tillman death.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And now we want to turn to Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists.

Welcome back.

ELLEN JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ATHEISTS: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: We should make it clear that the Tillman family has not confirmed whether they are, indeed, atheists. But you had this Army investigator essentially saying that reason this family can't find peace with the death of Pat Tillman is that they are atheists, and Pat is just, in his words, worm dirt now.

JOHNSON: Right.

ZAHN: How insulting was that for you to hear?

JOHNSON: It's very -- that's very hurtful to the poor family who are the bereaved family of this very brave man.

ZAHN: Of course.

JOHNSON: And he -- of course, he's trying to distract attention from the investigation into how Pat actually died.

But his point was that he -- and he said, Christians will have family members who die from friendly fire, and they get past it, because they think that their sons and daughters are going to go to a better place; they're going to go to heaven; therefore, they get past it.

But this family can't get past it, because -- and I think he called them atheists -- they don't think that there is a heaven or a hell. So, his point is that atheists take death a little bit more seriously.

And I'm all for that. I agree. We atheists say the this is the only life you will ever have. You really have to make the most of it. We do take death very seriously. We don't take it lightly. We want to know -- we want to have these kinds of accidents investigated.

And I think more people should agree with us and be like us, and the world would be a much more peaceful place.

ZAHN: So, you didn't find the fact that he used the word atheist, though, inflammatory. It was the fact that he viewed the life of Pat Tillman as worm dirt?

JOHNSON: Right.

I mean, to me, atheist is a compliment, is a complimentary term. But the fact that he would use that kind of a term to hurt -- be so hurtful for Mary Tillman, for Kevin Tillman, the family, and to treat somebody who died wearing the uniform, is an outrage.

ZAHN: Mary Tillman has said that it was pretty clear to her that a lot of these remarks made to her family were made to them with the kind of tone she was talking about, because they're not Christians.

Do you think there is a pro-Christian bias in the military? We just saw some of Jamie's numbers up there on the screen.

JOHNSON: As the president of American Atheists, we know it. Christian extremists are all throughout the military. In fact, we...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: What is a Christian extremist?

JOHNSON: Somebody like this man.

In fact, there are Christian extremists who are delivering Bibles at the military entrance and processing stations all throughout the country, the Gideons who are in there handing out military Bibles with camouflage tops on them. They're...

ZAHN: So, who is that hurting? What's the damage in doing that?

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: Because there's conflict now.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Is there pressure, you think, that's put to bear on people who are non-believers to subscribe to these views?

JOHNSON: The atheists in the military have to attend -- you're obligated to attend ceremonies where there are organized prayers. It's causing conflict. Our brave men and women are fighting wars outside of the United States. They shouldn't have to be fighting a war when threat yin the service with their own government over this. They're -- they're -- they feel like they have to go along, or they -- they -- they will lose their position, they will lose their rank, they will be reprimanded for it.

They're in a very difficult position. And they have to go along with this. And they wouldn't like it. I mean, you can put the shoe on the other foot and say, what if Christians were told that they had to listen to Muslim prayers or Jewish prayers or anything like that, or somebody talk about atheism? They wouldn't like that either.

ZAHN: Ellen Johnson, we have got to leave it there tonight.

Thank you...

JOHNSON: Thank you.

ZAHN: ... for coming back and joining us.

We're going to change our focus quite a bit now. And this one is really going to get you. Any of us that have heard about this story, it's gotten us right in our guts. The life-and-death struggle over a baby in Texas is out in the open tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're trying to play God by saying who lives and who dies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: A mother desperate for more time with her terminally ill infant -- what would you do if doctors told you they were pulling the plug, and you had no choice?

Also: across America, a shocking epidemic of loneliness -- why do so many of us have so few friends?

And breaking news earlier today: Rosie O'Donnell resigns her seat on "The View." Did that nasty battle with the Donald have anything to do with it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Just try to imagine this. You're a parent with a terribly sick child. And the hospital says there's nothing more that it can do for your baby. It's time to let the child die. But you're not ready to give up. Who gets to choose? Well, that is a crisis facing one community in Texas, and medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen brings the heart mf wrenching story "Out in the Open" for us tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Emilio Gonzalez doesn't have long to live, maybe a month, maybe two. This hospital wants to pull the plug on his ventilator in which case Emilio would die much sooner, probably within hours.

The hospital says it's the only humane thing to do because the ventilator and other treatments are causing the 17-month-old to be in pain.

MICHAEL REGIER, GEN. COUNSEL, SETON FAMILY OF HOSPITALS: We are inflicting suffering. We're inflicting harm on this child.

COHEN: But the toddler's mother says Emilio is on so much morphine, he's not in pain. Catarina Gonzalez says she knows her son only has a month or two to live, but she wants him to have every possible minute of life. Even though a rare genetic disorder has left him unable to speak or see or eat on his own, she says his life still has value.

CATARINA GONZALES, EMILIO'S MOTHER: I put my finger in his hand and I'm talking to him and he'll just squeeze it. He'll open his eyes and turn his head towards you. . And he'll look at you and look at you for a good while.

COHEN: So the question is, who gets to decide whether Emilio will live or die? His mother or the hospital? In an unusual law, the State of Texas says the hospital. If doctors feel treatment is inappropriate, they can take someone off life support even if the family disagrees.

Doctors say for them it's a matter of ethics, according to this hospital spokesman.

REGIER: We have to have balance. We have to have a point at which it will be permissible for a physician to say, I have my sense of professional ethics and I have my moral values and I'm simply not going to do this anymore.

COHEN: Emilio's mother has taken the hospital to court because she says it has overstepped its bounds.

GONZALES: They're trying to play God by saying who lives and who dies.

COHEN: A lawyer for Austin Children's Hospital says it's not playing God and that as a Catholic hospital, the church's teachings are clear.

REGIER: In the Catholic tradition, we're obligated to use ordinary means to pursue and preserve our lives. We're not required to use extraordinary means.

COHEN: So how did this Texas law come about giving hospitals the right to decide when it is time for someone to die? President George Bush, when he was governor of Texas, signed the law. Many see an irony given his stance six years later that Terri Schiavo should be allowed to live.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The legislative branch, the executive branch ought to err on the side of life.

COHEN: Dr. Lainie Ross, a pediatrician and bioethicist disagrees with the Texas law.

DR. LAINIE ROSS, BIOETHICIST, UNIV. OF CHICAGO MED. CTR.: I think the mother should absolutely make the final decision. I would definitely not pull the child off of the ventilator.

COHEN: Bioethicist Art Caplan says the hospital should decide.

ART CAPLAN, BIOETHICIST, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: So there are situations where even though a mother's love would say, I don't ever want you to give up, medicine does have to set some limits to the continuation of care.

COHEN: In Texas, the legislature is reconsidering the law giving hospitals the right to make life and death decisions. It's not clear if a decision would be made in time to change the fate of Emilio Gonzalez.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Austin, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And the next court hearing in this case is scheduled to take place on May 8th. Now to our "Out in the Open" panel tonight. Air America radio host Rachel Maddow, newsmax.com columnist and radio host Steve Malzberg, and Keith Boykin, host of BET's "My Two Cents."

Correct me if I'm wrong. When now-President Bush was governor of Texas, this law was passed that allowed hospitals to override parents' decisions about keeping someone terminally -- essentially (ph) terminally ill alive. Didn't he go to opposite way with the Terri Schiavo case?

KEITH BOYKIN, AUTHOR: I think he did. I think this is a clear case of hypocrisy. On the one hand in Texas, we want to let the hospitals decide, but then in the case of Terri Schiavo, I think we said we want to let people outside of the system decide, want to let the government make the decisions.

These are family decisions. Families should make these decisions. This to me is Terri Schiavo meets Elian Gonzalez. The government doesn't need to be involved in telling everybody how to run their own lives and how to take care of children. And we really need to be concerned about all children, not just some children.

ZAHN: Well, this is panel of medical ethicists. And you heard one of the doctors saying that he believes that this ventilator creates pain. It's cruel and unusual punishment to a child. Do you buy that...

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO HOST: Yes. I...

ZAHN: ... or do you still think the mother should have the right to allow this child to live? MADDOW: Both. I have a tremendous sympathy with the doctors in this case, because the Hippocratic Oath. They feel like they are doing harm to this child by prolonging this treatment. I think the mother is wrong, honestly, to want to prolong the treatment, but the fact remains that she does. And as a matter of public policy, it ought to be her choice. I don't want hospitals able to make this decision over and above patients and their families. I don't.

ZAHN: Would we be having this discussion tonight if this mother was rich and if she had the resources to take this child to another hospital, maybe where she wasn't on Medicare and you know could pay for the next five years?

STEVE MALZBERG, COLUMNIST, NEWSMAX.COM: Probably not. Probably the hospital administrative staff that has come to the decision that they're causing pain to the child, probably it's a pain in their pocketbook.

ZAHN: They've denied that.

MALZBERG: Well, yes. But I'm just saying, because this kid is on so much morphine, according to the mother, that he's probably not feeling the pain. He's squeezing the mother's finger. He's reacting to the mother. I mean, for the hospital to say he has two months to live, but we're going to pull the plug now and kill him is outrageous.

MADDOW: The doctors are saying by putting this ventilator down his throat and by pounding on his chest every day to clear fluid out of his chest, we're hurting this kid...

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: Oh, so better kill him, right? Better kill him, that's your answer?

MADDOW: Yes (ph)...

(CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: I actually agree with you, Steve. I think that in this case we really want to give the mother the decision power here.

MALZBERG: Absolutely.

BOYKIN: I don't think you want to let the hospital decide that this is -- this is not right.

MADDOW: I don't want to let the hospital decide. But I think the doctors are probably right and I wish the mother felt differently about this. I think that she's essentially torturing her child. But it's her call to make.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: You think it is her call to make. But are you going to completely disregard what these doctors are saying? BOYKIN: No, no...

ZAHN: Art Caplan, who is this medical ethicist supreme, I think a lot of people trust his judgment, said this is a very thoughtful panel of doctors that waded through tons and tons of information to arrive at this decision.

BOYKIN: It's a tough decision. It is not easy. But if we really talk about a culture of life, which a lot of people say that they believe in, then we should be promoting everyone's right to life, not just to certain people.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: The medical ethicist in the Terri Schiavo case almost to a person were against letting Terri Schiavo go on and survive. They call themselves ethicists, but their interest isn't necessarily right to life, it's usually the opposite.

MADDOW: What about the right...

MALZBERG: And this is a culture of death. These are the same people who were outraged about the abortion decision that the Supreme Court made last week. And they don't understand that you have to...

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG: We have a culture of death in this country.

(CROSSTALK)

BOYKIN: You've got that exactly backwards. What's happening here is that people who say that they believe in life only care about life in the fetus but they don't care about life afterwards. I think the religious right has a responsibility to go more than just what goes on inside a woman's body.

MALZBERG: The religious right is favoring the hospital here? Where do you get that assumption from?

BOYKIN: I think we all have a responsibility to let the families have these decisions.

MALZBERG: Absolutely.

BOYKIN: But the fact...

MALZBERG: And the religious right would be on that side.

BOYKIN: Well, that is not always the case though. I think what is happening here is that there's inconsistency with George Bush's position.

MALZBERG: He made a mistake...

(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: If you were this child's mother, what would you be doing tonight?

MADDOW: If I was this child's mother, I would be unbelievably sad and in the worse place I can possibly imagine. I think that the kid has a right to die in dignity and in comfort and they ought to make that happen. But you -- only the mother can decide.

ZAHN: Rachel Maddow, Steve Malzberg, Keith Boykin, thank you all.

Onto another really cheerful subject here, loneliness. There's a lot of it out there in America tonight. Coming up we're going to meet a guy who put his phone number on YouTube. And this is what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN FITZGERALD, PUT PHONE NUMBER ON YOUTUBE: Hey everyone, my name is Ryan. I'm doing a little phone experiment here. I want to see how many people will actually call me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Well, guess what the numbers are? Up to 9,000 we are told have called, exposing a shocking number of desperately lonely people. We're going to meet the man behind that -- I don't know if you want to call it stunt or project or whatever you want to call it.

MADDOW: Experiment?

ZAHN: Experiment, coming up.

Plus, what's the real story behind Rosie O'Donnell's announcement today that she's quitting "The View"? Do you guys think the advertisers just got fed up? Or Barbara got fed up?

MADDOW: I think it's illegal to be a liberal on TV.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Oh, is that what it is?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight, a new epidemic across America, an epidemic of loneliness. Earlier this week we talked with Ryan Fitzgerald, the young man who put his cell phone number on YouTube for anyone who needed to talk. He says he has gotten nearly 10,000 calls just in the past few days alone. The amazing response got us thinking about the millions of lonely Americans who are desperate to make any kind of connection.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): In the '60s, Timothy Leary coined the phrase, "turn on, tune in, drop out." Who would have thought that it would have a completely different meaning today. Even with lightning-fast technology and a nationwide obsession with being connected, more and more Americans say they are more lonely than ever before.

Turning on computers and BlackBerrys, tuning in to TV, and dropping out of person-to-person contact. A national trend surfaced in the last U.S. Census figures which showed a significant rise in single-person households, from fewer than 10 percent in 1950 to 25 percent in 2000. That's more than 27 million Americans living alone.

Last year, a landmark study in the American Sociological Review, found that the number of people who say they have no close friends to confide increased from 10 percent in 1985 to nearly 25 percent in 2004.

No one is immune to loneliness. College kids away from home for the first time, singles, empty-nesters, and the elderly all suffer. But why so many lonely people? There could be many reasons. Everything from spending more time in front of the TV and Internet to longer working days, to suburban sprawl.

Americans spend more time alone in the car, alone at their desk, alone in their lives. But they still want to connect, which might explain the incredible popularity of Web sites like MySpace and Facebook. It's a way to reach out and communicate, sometimes anonymously.

On the Web site postsecret.com, people send in anonymous post cards revealing their innermost secrets and confessions. Some incredibly personal. There are want ads for friends on Craigslist. Clearly America is lonely. So lonely that we'll reach out to anyone who's willing to listen.

FITZGERALD: Hey everyone. My name is Ryan. I'm doing a little phone experiment here.

ZAHN: Like Ryan Fitzgerald, who just this week says he has gotten some 10,000 calls from people all over the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And Ryan Fitzgerald is back with us tonight. Also here, clinical psychologist Jeffrey Gardere. Welcome. All right. The last time you were on, the phone didn't stop -- there it goes again. They just won't quick ringing you up.

Do you think they are really looking to you for some kind of a connection or do they just think you're the cool guy from YouTube? What is it about?

FITZGERALD: Well, I honestly think -- there are a lot of people out there that might look at it like the whole cool guy connection. I think most of it is the fact that people are lonely and people are reaching out. Like I discussed before, there are a lot of peoples' parents obviously that don't even give them the time of day. And I think right now people just need genuinely somebody to talk to and somebody free of a title. And I think that's why people are looking to me.

ZAHN: And some are looking to you for some very serious advice. You got a call from one young man that was really ready to hurt himself. Now that has got to be pretty dicey for you because you're not a trained psychologist or psychiatrist or any of that. So what happened and what did you tell him to do?

FITZGERALD: He said to me that he wanted to cut himself because his ex-boyfriend -- or his boyfriend actually was trying to leave him. I tried to take the time to tell him that obviously people -- a lot of people first of all that say they cut themselves don't necessarily do that. It might just be a cry for attention. And I tried to address it as that. I wanted to treat it seriously. I let him know that there are people out there that care. And just be...

ZAHN: And you knew that about cutting because something you'd read about it somewhere along? How did you know that?

FITZGERALD: I just -- it's hard to explain. Everything I've ever -- I'm not a textbook kind of person. I don't believe in reading something out of a textbook and taking that and believing it. I think a lot of stuff in life, the best things you can learn in life are just things that you will learn through life experience, just experience in life and that's how I've always been.

ZAHN: Well, you're sitting next to a man who's had more than a decade of school to learn this stuff and make sure he is dispensing accurate information.

FITZGERALD: Exactly.

ZAHN: What kind of a vulnerable position is Ryan putting himself in and potentially some of the people he is giving advice to?

JEFFREY GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, I think he's putting himself in a very dangerous situation and those people who are getting some of that advice. Now what Ryan is not telling you is that we got to know each other backstage a little bit and his father is actually a clinical psychologist also. So he has some of that basic knowledge.

That being said, however, I would like to see Ryan at least find some sort of a support network of trained professionals, perhaps working with his dad, to be able to at least refer people right away, look at some of the basic signs and say, hey, I really can't talk to you about this. Let me refer to you to somebody else.

ZAHN: We have the phone fairly muted now. You are only hearing the ring come through softly. And it has never stopped ringing. What does it say to you that because of what he has done on YouTube that he has gotten close to 10,000 calls?

GARDERE: Well, I think what he has done is he has actually hit a nerve. And that is that 1 in 4 Americans, the studies show are, in fact, lonely. They don't have family members. They don't have friends that they can reach out to when it comes to serious issues. So now he's not saying, hey, listen, if you have mental health problems call me. He's saying, I'll talk about anything. And that's a back way in for people to talk about the issues.

I think you're going to mind more mental health associations now stealing his idea, putting their numbers on YouTube to be able to reach out to this younger generation.

ZAHN: Ryan, you've got 10 seconds left. How much longer are you going to do this for?

FITZGERALD: I'm going to continue to do it. I actually just got a call from T-Mobile before I came in here who -- a nice guy named Jesse, is an executive over there who is going to be possibly picking up my tab for me. So if he could do that, that would be tremendous.

ZAHN: Well, that would be very helpful, because you don't have a job right now?

FITZGERALD: No, I do not. It's sad to admit, but I do not have a job.

ZAHN: Well, we'll be watching as you keep it going. Doctor, thank you.

GARDERE: My pleasure. Thank you.

ZAHN: And good luck to you. Ryan Fitzgerald, Jeffrey Gardere.

Another story that's "Out in the Open" tonight, Rosie O'Donnell quits "The View" and guess who's smiling tonight?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: Rosie is a very self- destructive person. Rosie is basically a loser. I believe ABC wanted her out and they wanted her out badly and fast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: What do you really think, Donald? Who will Donald Trump kick around now? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight, changing "The View" for Rosie O'Donnell and ABC. Today she announced on the show that she's leaving. And during her short and stormy stay, Rosie, of course, helped boost ratings, but she also caused a lot of controversy, especially during her war with Donald Trump.

We asked entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson to find out the real story behind today's announcement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROSIE O'DONNELL, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Breaking news. Did you hear? It's on CNN, it's breaking news?

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By the time "The View" went on the air today, everyone was already talking about it.

O'DONNELL: I've decided that we couldn't come to terms with my deal with ABC, so next year I'm not going to be on "The View."

ANDERSON: After a turbulent eight months on the daytime talk show, during which she always seemed embroiled in controversy, the outspoken host announced today she'll leave when her contract is up in June.

Tmz.com's Harvey Levin's sources say she wasn't pushed out.

HARVEY LEVIN, TMZ.COM: What I'm being told is, she just wanted to leave. I mean, it's purely Rosie's decision.

ANDERSON: It's no secret O'Donnell's presence has boosted ratings on the once-fading program.

LEVIN: "The View" would kill to keep her there because their ratings have just sky-rocketed and the show is just becoming relevant again when she got on it. I mean, I'm telling you, that show needed CPR.

ANDERSON: Contributing to the show's success has been the constant media attention given to a string of O'Donnell-related spats.

O'DONNELL: Ching chong ching chong...

ANDERSON: That strange outburst led some Asian-American activists to slam the host back in December and then just days later, O'Donnell entered a very public feud with Donald Trump that ultimately escalated into one of the nastiest name-calling wars in recent TV history.

O'DONNELL: He left the first wife, had an affair. Left the second wife, had an affair. Had kids both times, but he's the moral compass for 20-year-olds in America. Donald, sit and spin, my friend.

TRUMP: Taking money out of her big fat ass would be probably something that's very easy.

ANDERSON: Hardly a forgive-and-forget situation, Trump was quick to react to react to O'Donnell's departure, telling CNN that he believes both ABC and Barbara Walters had had enough of what he calls O'Donnell's abusive behavior.

TRUMP: Rosie is very self-destructive person. Rosie's basically a loser. I believe ABC wanted her out and they wanted her out badly and fast. I mean, she's a slob. Everybody knows it. And they wanted her out and the one that wanted her out the most was Barbara Walters.

ANDERSON: But the broadcasting legend and executive producer denies that, telling viewers she had nothing to do with this decision. BARBARA WALTERS, PRODUCER & CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": This is not my doing or my choice.

ANDERSON: Whether O'Donnell left "The View" on her own volition or because she became just too much for the show to handle, a final testament to there no hard feelings, O'Donnell and "The View" say she'll return for several guest appearances next season.

Brooke Anderson, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And guess who is Larry King's guest tonight? In just a few minutes, Donald Trump himself.

ZAHN: Right now though we're going to take a "Biz Break." The Dow shot up today, gaining almost 136 points, blasting past 13,000. The Nasdaq gained 23. The S&P picked up 15.

The Commerce Department reportedly reported new home sales only gained 2.6 percent in March, less than analysts had expected. New home sales are down more than 23 percent from last year.

And foreclosures surged during the first quarter of 2007. RealtyTrac reports foreclosure filings jumped 27 percent over the last quarter of 2006. That's up 35 percent over a year ago (INAUDIBLE) follow those numbers, not good no matter how you cut it.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Tomorrow night, we're going to take a surprising look at the amount of gang activity within the U.S. military. Please join us tomorrow night. We'll be back same time same place. Until then, have a good night.

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

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