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Massive Midwest Floods; Space Shuttle Landing; Recycled Toilet Water; Tim Russert
Aired June 14, 2008 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DAN SIMON, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. Well, this is turning into a very scary situation for the neighborhood called the Birdland Neighborhood. Earlier today, there was a levee breach a mile from where I was standing, it was behind a high school. It is a 100- foot breach and water just began toer pour into that area. That high school has taken in a significant amount of water. The National Guard came in to put up a temporary levee, a sand barrier if you will, and that effort to keep the water in check has failed.
I'm going to step out of the way, and you can see where the water is now, it is about two blocks away, it is slowly creeping toward these homes, this area now under a mandatory evacuation order, 250 homes are told or homeowners have been told to evacuate. There is an emergency shelter that has opened. Also as a precautionary move, the power has been cut to this area. So, we are keeping a close eye on the situation. Again, you can see the water slowly making its way up towards these homes. It is clear there is going to be some amount of flooding in the neighborhood; we just don't know how much -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: And so, Dan, can you give me an idea of the kind of emergency response? Are they relying strictly on emergency response teams, there from Iowa, or indeed our National Guard troops and other help coming from other states, as yet?
SIMON: Well, they have city workers out there, they also had several members of the Iowa National Guard. They were the ones who put that temporary levee up, but it gave way. At this point, I am not really sure what efforts are being made to keep that water in check. They were strictly relying on that sand barrier to keep the water from coming into the neighborhood, but because there is water intrusion now, they have put in place this mandatory evacuation order, and it is just really unclear what they can do now to patch up that levee -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Dan Simon, thanks so much from Des Moines. Let's go now over to Cedar Rapids about 100 miles away. That's where we find Sean Callebs.
So the, Cedar River is receding. Is that still the case?
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is actually backing up, I would say somewhat significant amount, but boy, such long way to go. Look behind me in downtown, you can see the Cedar River running through it, you can see a new set of rapids here in this parking lot, and also some debris building up at that is going to be a big problem for emergency crews. They expect it is going to be at least four days before they can get the water out of this downtown area, completely.
We just got some new pictures back in, Fredricka, I want to show you, of the southwest neighborhood. Boy, this is bad. This has been the worst flooding in Cedar Rapids. This is where a majority of the 24,000 evacuees came from. Now, we are talking about out of the city of 120,000, so a lot of evacuations. There are rescue boats going back in, they're looking for animals. They're also trying to find out if any people tried to ride the storm out in those areas.
Our crew caught up with Tina Fleischacker, she left her house with virtually nothing, and she is simply devastated and doesn't know what she's going to return home to. Listen to what Tina has to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TINA FLEISCHACKER, FLOOD VICTIM: Your life is there. We didn't think it would get this high. We moved everything upstairs, and -- it's gone. It's gone. We left with the clothes on our backs. And luckily, where I work, they -- I got food and a few pieces of clothes for us and our kid, and -- because we had not even a toothbrush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CALLEBS: Well, your heart goes out to Tina and all of the other people in the southwest area. But, there is a hint of good news. Look a this, this is a rescue undertaken by members of the emergency team here, in boats. They went back into Tina's house, they got her cat, "Sugar," not without a few scratches and bites, I will point out, she was locked up in that house for a couple of days, but after putting her in this plastic tub, she was returned safely to Tina Fleischacker. I can tell you that, Fredricka, so a hint of good news.
I want to show you over here, though, look at the side of this building, Fredricka, you asked me how far the water has come down. Look at that water line, you can see it's come down about four feet. So, it's dropping somewhat significantly, but boy it just has so far to go and people trying to get back to this downtown area, to their homes, their offices, businesses to try to see what kind of damage they're going to return to once -- once this floodwater does begin to recede, more significantly -- Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: Well, I know it brings some relief to some relief to a lot of people, there, that they're seeing the water recede just a little bit. I know for that one family, they are so glad that their "Sugar" didn't melt in all of that water. Sean Callebs, thanks so much. Of course, we'll continue to keep check with you.
Let's check in now with Reynolds Wolf in the Weather Center.
And well, it is a little encouraging to see some water is receding, but when you cresting taking place just hours ago, less than 24 hours ago, you kind of wonder, you know, it's a hit or miss on who just might be feeling the brunt next.
REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. Well, you saw the water line that Sean was talking about, moments ago, the marker where the water was at it's crest, well, it has dropped significantly, but you have to remember that water has to go somewhere. It doesn't all just evaporate. It's gone someplace and the place it's gone is farther down river where it's going to affects many more people. So, this story is far from over.
Right now, thankfully up in Iowa, way up in here, we don't have much in terms of rainfall, much of that is farther to the sought in parts of Arkansas and into Texas. However, we still have watches and warning that are in effect for a good part of the Midwest and 13 states are dealing with the flooding situation, at this time.
One place where we are going to see a lot of the water that we were talking to go to is a place like Keokuk, where you have the Des Moines River, right here -- this is Missouri, just for your reference, this is Iowa and this is Illinois. This happens to be the Mississippi River, so all of this water that has been falling for all of the days is all going to flow to this community.
And to give you an idea of how extreme the flooding is going to be, the latest river gauge we have right now in that area, right around 22.95 feet. Now, in Keokuk what you get that would normally cause flooding is just if that water would rise, say to 16 feet. Already at 22.95. It is flooding where we speak and look where this line going, indicating that we have a ways to go as that big bubble, that big mass of water makes its way downstream. It should top out around 26.2 feet as we get into Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. So, this thing is far from over. We're going to continue to see this water march it's way downstream and affect many people. Then eventually move into places like St. Louis as we get into Thursday, Friday and Saturday. So, although we have seen the waters drop in parts of Iowa, it is still going to affect millions more farther downstream in Mississippi. So, we have got a lot to watch, a lot to keep our fingers crossed for, and hopefully the rain can move off.
One quick item to show you, though, is there is the possibility of more development of rainfall, right up here. You can't see it yet, but we're going to see an area of low pressure develop with a frontal boundary and that's going to make it's way back into parts of the Midwest. What is alarming, Fredricka, is the next 48 hours we see more rainfall, possibly anywhere from two to four inches of rainfall in some of these flood-prone areas, places that are completely saturated, so more rain is on the way precisely where we don't need it. Back to you.
WHITFIELD: Near summer like this, usually we are getting into the dry spell, so it is pretty remarkable that this spring is just kind of being elongated like this with all of this rain.
WOLF: Oh, no question about it. And I mean, you have to remember now how it's not affecting just people, but it's affecting just the industry, the agricultural industry. I mean...
WHITFIELD: Transporting things and all of it.
WOLF: No question, all of it. And in Iowa, corn is a big deal. This time of year, there is a saying that the corn is supposed to be knee high by July, well, all the cornfields have been wiped out in many places because of all the floodwaters, so there's no telling what kind of an impact this is going to have on the economy.
WHITFIELD: Wow. A pretty significant one.
WOLF: You bet.
WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Reynolds.
And of course, seeing all of the images, hearing this information, we are sure that your moved to want to make an impact, want to make a contribution in some way to the victims of the Midwest floods. You can find out how on "Impact Your World," right at cnn.com, the address is cnn.com/impact.
So, perhaps you are watching here on CNN, just less than a hour ago you may have seen the space shuttle "Discovery" glide home. It is a buteautiful picture landing trouble-free at the Kennedy Space Center. Our correspondent, Miles O'Brien always making it so easy to understand all that's taking place way up there and then of course, as they approach down here.
Good if see you in person, again.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: It's good to see you, Fred, and we hoped for a gentle impact when we were talking about the space shuttle, "Discovery."
WHITFIELD: And it was.
O'BRIEN: Let's take a look. It happened less than an hour ago at Kennedy Space Center, precisely on time as shuttles want to be. The "Discovery" with 5.7 million miles on its odometer, this mission, over a two week period, 15 seconds before landing, gear goes down, the pilot Ken Ham, that's the most important job he does on the mission. Commander Mark Kelly, bring the craft down. This is the first time he has flown a shuttle, for real.
WHITFIELD: Tell me about -- and he does not have complete steering ability, right?
O'BRIEN: Oh, yeah.
WHITFIELD: Or is it steering he has, he just doesn't have...
O'BRIEN: He just has no engines. There's no go round, there's a little detail. It's a glider. It is a 250,000-pound, $2 billion glider. And so there's no do-overs on this, you know, so you wonder why the weather is important, that's why the training is so important. The crew is still onboard.
Take a quick look at the live picture from NASA, if you would, I just show you what's going on. There is this huge convoy that descends upon them, and you see this little doohickey, here, with the hose thing, there?
O'BRIEN: That is all part of an important effort to purge the shuttle of gases and provide cooling to it. When it lands, it actually continues to heat up and there are parts of it -- this is also part of the cooling system, here, they plug it into the back and send cool air across the shuttle, because it -- actually in some places is hotter than a frying pan as it comes down, it takes a while for the heat to build up.
In any case, the mission, let's talk about it just briefly. Of course, we talked a lot about the toilet beforehand. They brought the toilet part up, the toilet is working, that of course is the No. 1 priority.
And then, this, the Kibo module -- of course the folks in Japan would disagree, because the Japanese built this wonderful laboratory, Kibo. You are seeing some time laps of tinker-toy-type construction that goes on up there, as they use the robot arms to just kind of plunk it right on. And what amazes me is these these parts that are connecting, they never see each other before space and then they all connect.
WHITFIELD: That is incredible engineering.
O'BRIEN: That is a cool engineering thing, if you think about it. Now, Kibo, let's talk about Kibo for just a moment.
WHITFIELD: I love the name.
O'BRIEN: It's big. How big is it? Well, take look at Garrett Reisman, he was up in the space station for quite a long stint, 95 days, and maybe getting a little bit of, what do you call it, cabin fever? Station fever? And he wanted to show us the swimming strokes in Kibo.
WHITFIELD: Or punch drunk, as they say.
O'BRIEN: He is currently on the shuttle. By the way, when they bring a guy home like that after a long duration stay, you come back in like a space barko laundry (PH), you're actually lying down, because they don't want you sitting up. You become so adapted to weightlessness, that the blood will rush out of your head, you become very light headed, dizzy and so forth, so it takes a while for these guys to get their land legs or their gravity legs back.
WHITFIELD: So, whish is why I was wondering for a moment when you were talking about the long arm to kind of pull out all of the gases, et cetera, are the astronauts still onboard for that -- because their bodies go through things...
O'BRIEN: Yes, they take their time, they want to make sure the orbiter is safe, that the term. It's not just the cooling, there's also all the rocket motors out there have all of these nasty gases like hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. In both cases, and they're all, you know, these little rocket motors all along and you want to make sure it's not leaking, so a lot of this has to do with make sure it's safe and clear to be near it.
Then they roll up the astro-transport van and it's right there, it's just like those people movers at Dulles Airport. As a matter of fact, that's exactly the same thing. And off they will come, Garrett Riesman, being the long-term, he'll probably come off horizontal, they would prefer that and the other guys will take off their suits and they'll walk out, but some of them will go kick the tires, and others might want to go, and you know, get their bearings, if you will, because it does a lot to your system.
WHITFIELD: Oh, certainly, all this time up there. And I wonder for the space shuttle program, as a whole, for NASA, they are considering this a great success and if this is really is kind of that shot in the arm, that encourage that they need to continue on with the future of the space shuttle. Because it's gotten a lot of hits lately.
O'BRIEN: Well yeah, and we are in the waning days of the program. There are only 10 more shuttle missions left. Every mission counts. These are the money missions to finish out the space station and move on to the next thing. They want to go fly back to the moon, maybe Mars one day. That is going to be a whole new vehicle, and these missions, were going to just start counting them down, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, and it will all be over. Next one is going to be a good one, though. In October, last repair mission to the Hubble space telescope, and those are always interesting to those space walks and see how they can get Hubble in shape to last a few more years.
WHITFIELD: Is that a day launch? Because I know sometimes at nighttime launches are cool.
O'BRIEN: I think it is going to be a nighttime launch with nighttime spacewalks. So I'll be up all night.
WHITFIELD: Really? This is going to be funky and cool.
O'BRIEN: But don't worry. You get to stay up with us.
WHITFIELD: You're going to keep us posted. I know.
O'BRIEN: Yes, or we can just put it no the blog or something for you.
WHITFIELD: No, we'll be watching it live. Thanks, Miles, appreciate it.
O'BRIEN: You are welcome.
WHITFIELD: All right, well let's talk about Japan. We were talking about the Kibo, that being of Japanese nature. Well, look at this, this is something else, shaking them up in Japan, the earth moved, buildings shook and roads crumbled. A strong earthquake leaves behind brumble (PH) and fear, that is straight ahead.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: A tough day facing firefighters near the northern California town of Paradise. Today's problem? Shifting winds. Fifty homes have already been destroyed, thousands of people evacuated and all roads into Paradise are closed. Paradise is about 50 miles north of Sacramento. The fire has burned almost 36 square miles, there.
And northern Japan now, shaken awake this morning by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, rattling nuclear power plants, burying people under massive landslides and ripping apart highways. Japanese officials report at least six dead and more than 140 injured. They are still searching for 11 missing people. The quake was followed by more than 150 -- 150 aftershocks. Japan is prone to earthquakes. In 1995, a shaker killed more than 6,000 people.
A roadside bomb killed four U.S. Marines in Afghanistan's Farah Province. Another is seriously wounded, and according to CNN's figures, it is the single deadly attack against U.S. troops in Afghanistan, this year.
And in southern Afghanistan, hundreds of Taliban inmates escaped during a brazen attack on the main prison in Kandahar. Afghan authorities say militants used a suicide bomber, trucks loaded with explosives and rockets to shake down the building.
And now, remembering a man who with something of a giant, a veteran journalist, Tim Russert. The NBC newsman died yesterday after suffering an apparent heart attack at work. He was 58. Russert was one of the most influential political journalists of our time, known for his tough, but fair interviewing style on "Meet the Press." Condolences are pouring into Russert's family from news watchers and newsmakers including President Bush at a news conference in Paris.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America lost a really fine citizen, yesterday, when Tim Russert passed away. I've had the privilege of being interviewed by Tim Russert. I found him to be a hard-working, thorough, decent man. And Tim Russert, you know, loved his country, he loved his family and he loved his job, a lot. And we're going to miss him, all, and we send our deepest sympathies to Maureen, his wife, and Luke, his son.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: The president expressing what so many people feel. And I will tell you about my own experience working with Tim Russert later on this hour. Right now, here now is CNN's Joe Johns, who also worked with Russert at NBC.
JOE JOHNS, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: First time I met Tim, actually I was asking him the be a player on the local NBC basketball team. He laughed and said, "no." As I think back, he was much better suited to be a coach and what a coach he was. In a lot of ways, Tim Russert was the defining figure in my career. As the NBC News bureau chief, he basically took me out of local TV.
TIM RUSSERT, NBC MEET THE PRESS: Joe?
JOHNS: Tim, this is Rockville Pike...
And he put me into my first network news job covering Congress with the "Peacock" back in 1993. On top of that, while I worked for the "Today" show, I went to him about this crazy idea about going to law school, which any other news executive would have outright refused. Tim said, "Why not? Go do it. It'll be good for you." He was like it. If you wanted to take a chance that was going to involved a lot of hard work, he'd probably say OK. He had his own incredible work ethic.
He would come to work early in the morning, do the "Today" show, then he was back at night for "Nightly News" and it sort of set a standard. When the boss comes in early, works all day and then goes on the do the evening news, it was pretty hard for anyone else to grumble about the long hours.
The other thing about Tim was his Boy Scout loyalty and sense of family. He was loyal to NBC. He once told me that he had every intention of spending his life there. He was also loyal to the people he worked with. When NBC anchor and correspondent, David Bloom, died suddenly in the Iraq war, Tim called me up and said, "We've got to start an award in David's honor," so we pulled some strings, did some cajoling and twisted some arms with our colleagues on Capitol Hill and now there is a David Bloom Award given every year by the Radio TV Correspondents Association.
Here to present the first David Bloom Award are Melanie Bloom and Tim Russert of NBC News.
But probably the most important thing about Russert is that he was a role model, especially to broadcast journalists who cover politics. The rules were very simple, be prepared, be polite and always, always ask the tough questions.
Once after the Million Man March in Washington, Tim invited me to be on his interview show on CNBC and for some reason I thought it was going to be a polite academic discussion, before I knew it, Tim had thrown in a couple zingers that, frankly, I didn't know how to answer. And he was so nice about it. And that's how I found out what it was like to be interviewed by Tim Russert.
WHITFIELD: That's Joe Johns remembering Tim Russert who was 58 years old and leaves behind his wife, writer, Maureen Orth, and his son, Luke.
Well, we've been worried about too much water in the Midwest, but parts of California are worried about not enough water. Recycling water, what exactly does that mean?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: Flush it? Forget about it? Well, not in Los Angeles. There is such a severe drought in the southwest that the city of Los Angeles is desperately seeking water that's fit to drink. Under consideration, turning toilet water into drinking water. CNN's Chris Lawrence explains the process.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In Los Angeles, image is everything. The world sees beautiful beaches, but residents live in a bone-dry desert. The film "Chinatown" dramatized L.A.'s battle over water rights, but in this environmentally conscious age, officials can't just divert distant rivers to supply the city.
MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, LOS ANGELES: The days of just thinking that water is unlimited are over.
LAWRENCE: L.A.'s mayor is promoting a plan to add nearly five billion gallons a year, by recycling waste water into something fit for the faucet. Skeptics are squeamish.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eew.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yuck.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The mere thought of what some people do with their water kind of grosses me out.
LAWRENCE: Orange County residents went through that yuck factor when they started to recycling sewage this year. Jack Skinner wondered how it might affect his grandchildren.
DR JACK SKINNER, USES RECYCLED DRINKING WATER: They're going to be drinking this water for a long time and I just wanted to be sure in my mind that it's safe.
LAWRENCE: Skinner served on the committee that reviewed that plan. He was especially worried about removing pharmaceutical drugs, like birth control pills, which are excreted into the water.
SKINNER: There is no shortcuts to this type of project.
LAWRENCE: But in Orange County, state-of-the-art reverse osmosis is just the beginning.
(on camera): And there's really no such thing as toilet to tap. The water is actually filtered through microscopic membranes to weed out any virus or pharmaceutical drugs, then it's hit with an ultraviolet light and treated with hydrogen peroxide to remove anything that's left.
(voice over): After all of that, the water is pumped back into the ground, traveling for months or even years before coming out of the faucet. L.A. is modeling its plan on Orange County, but it will take years to win approval and even longer to build the plant. (on camera): San Diego and south Florida have similar plans, and all of them cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, state and federal money will help, but no one's ruling out a increase in water bills to pay the tab.
Chris Lawrence, CNN, Los Angeles.
WHITFIELD: They learned their motto, "be prepared." And they also learned, it's not just the words that count. Boy Scouts who saved lives, when we come back.
And we will talk a little politics, coming up. And then we will remember the colleague, a mentor, and a friend when we come right back.
WHITFIELD: Well, stories we're following right now in the NEWSROOM: Discovery's astronauts back on Earth, home after a two-week shuttle mission to the space station. The shuttle landed safely this morning at the Kennedy Space Center.
In Iraq, a female suicide bomber detonates an explosive vest in the Kurdish town of Karakaaba (ph) east of Baquba. Officials say she was targeting an Iraqi police patrol. Twenty-five civilians and four police men were wounded.
And water troubles in Iowa. The Des Moines River broke through a levee and water is pouring into an area just north of downtown Des Moines, hundreds of homes are unprotected.
And while the water is receding from the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, it certainly doesn't mean that people can get back to their lives. The Red Cross is in full force there in Cedar Rapids.
Tracy Keist is with us now, a spokesperson for the Red Cross in Cedar Rapids. So, give me an idea, Tracy, exactly how you're able to help the people there in Cedar Rapids?
VOICE OF TRACY KEIST, RED CROSS: The Red Cross workers have been on the scene for several days opening up shelters and getting people safe. We have two shelters open here in Cedar Rapids, we had several hundred people staying here last night. At the Red Cross shelters, you have a safe place to stay, you know, you can share a warm meal with somebody and we also have mental health workers that can provide the comfort and support that people need at this time. It's really, really difficult.
WHITFIELD: It is very difficult, and we've heard that from a number of people there who've been evacuated from their homes. They didn't see this coming, they didn't have flood insurance and they certainly never thought that this river would crest like this and there would be floodwaters. So, what exactly are your mental health workers able to say to people, so many who are grieving? KEIST: You know, what they do is they walk around and they just stop and visit with people. They give them a hug, sit down to visit with them, let them share their stories, and provide some advice and some things that they might be expecting as far as -- what we're going (ph) to expect as far as the coping process. You know, sometimes people forget to eat and drink during this time, so they're making sure that they're doing that and just being there to provide that support and that hug.
WHITFIELD: Well, you have two shelters in place there, you've got an awful lot of families who are displaced now. What are they saying to you about how they would like to handle this transition period? They're asking questions like how long am I going to be out of my home? How long will I be able to count on this shelter? What can you tell them?
KEIST: You know, the Red Cross works with several partner agencies and at a Red Cross shelter, we try to get as much information as we can to share with our residents, because we do know that they have a lot of unanswered questions and we try to help them answer their questions. So that's what we do at the shelters, keep them posted as much as possible.
WHITFIELD: And what about food and money, because I'm sure the Red Cross could use a lot of donations, how do people help out?
KEIST: You know, the best way people can help is to make a cash donation to the National Disaster Relief Fund. That enables us to help people, you know, shelter and food and provide emotional support and help people impacted by disasters.
You know, we've been responding to dozens of disasters. In fact, we anticipate spending about $15 million (ph) just on the disasters of the last three months. So, if you can make a cash donation, you can do that by going to 1-800 -- calling 1-800-RedCross or going to redcross.org.
WHITFIELD: Tracy Keist of the Red Cross. Thanks so much for your time and all the best as you try to help out so many people in great need there.
Reynolds Wolf is in the severe weather center. And Reynolds, it really is something else, because we're talking about the same state Iowa, very different scenarios even though you're dealing with high flood waters. In Des Moines, you're talking about levees breaking, in Cedar Rapids you're talking about the water receding. How do people make sense of it?
REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's really hard to believe. Well, you know, the whole thing has just been mind boggling to so many people to see this kind of flood, of this magnitude affecting so many people. And the thing that we really have to remember is that it's not over yet, it's still going to be affecting a lot of people even when the flood waters really begin to recede in places like Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, all that water's got to go someplace. Right into the Mississippi and it's going to move down stream, affecting people say like in St. Louis. As you get to next week, it's going to be a big factor in many locations there andthen as it travels even farther south into places like say Memphis. But the farther south it goes, it will begin to fan out, so it will be less of an issue.
WHITFIELD: All right, politics. The presumptive presidential candidates on the stump today. Town halls are taking place both live and virtual. Democratic hopeful Barack Obama tells voters in Wayne, Pennsylvania, that he'll cut taxes for the middle-class, raise taxes on the wealthy and pour money into what he calls green energy. Obama praised this week's Supreme Court decision giving detainees at Guantanamo Bay the right to push for their release.
And Republican John McCain in Washington. He'll reach out to Democrats, women and independents later on today in a virtual town hall meeting. Yesterday, he called that Supreme Court decision one of the worst in history, and of course, we'll be talking about that issue with our legal guys coming up.
And now, in Washington and really across the country, newsman Tim Russert is being remembered. He helped to redefine political journalism. The host of NBC's "Meet the Press" is being mourned today and throughout the weekend. He died suddenly on the job yesterday of an apparent heart attack.
Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us to share some of the memories. Good to see you, Bill.
Well, you know, Tim said it best, you know, if it's Sunday, it's "Meet the Press," but also if it's Sunday, it's Tim Russert, because he was part of the Sunday ritual for so many Americans, me, including. I mean, I watched his show and watched Tim to get a gauge for where politics is today, this weekend, this week. How did he impact your life particularly as you cover politics?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, of course, he had become part of the political process. It was part of the ritual of running for office, whether it was the presidency or another high office, an interview with Tim Russert was one of the gateways you had to pass through. It meant you had been examined and certified.
And I think one reason why we're seeing this outpouring of shock and grief is that most Americans saw him as what he really was, one of them, that is one of the ordinary people in the United States, not one of the Washington establishment, though that is what he was. But they saw him as somebody who went after politicians, who held them to a tough standard, always fair, but tough.
And he would call them into account for what they had said and done in the past, try to work out inconsistencies. He was relentless, he was persistent and American viewers and voters saw this as really part of the process of certifying a candidate. I don't know of anyone else who can do that.
WHITFIELD: Boy, his word was trusted, wasn't it? I mean, he asked the tough questions. Clearly, he was very well researched before he asked those tough questions, but what a lot of people maybe didn't know about him is that he was a real teddy bear, so-to-speak as well.
I mean, I was a correspondent, a national correspondent for "NBC News" when I had a chance to work with him while working in and out of the Washington Bureau. And I just remember my first encounter with him, I thought very intimidating, this is the moderator of "Meet the Press," this is the tough guy.
I happened to be meeting him during the Olympic Games when it was here in Atlanta and I saw him running down the stairs of the hotel where all the NBC folks were staying. We had to check in at this counter to reserve our car service to whatever venue that you were going to be covering that day. He comes running down in his t-shirt and his shorts and socks, no shoes.
Now, I say to myself, this is the guy, the "Meet the Press" guy and I introduced myself, you know, hi, Mr. Russert, you know, and he's like oh, how are you doing? I'm like, so are you hosting your show from here? And he goes, oh, I wouldn't miss this for the world. And at that point, I realized this guy really loves sports and we all saw that at the end of many of the "Meet the Press" shows where he would said say "Go, Bills."
SCHNEIDER: Well, he really was like the --
WHITFIELD: Sports were important to him.
SCHNEIDER: He was really like a big kid. I mean, he was from Buffalo. He always had a sense that, you know, here he was dealing with high level politicians and cardinals and popes, and sports heroes and celebrities, but yet, he still always came across as the kid from Buffalo. And that was really one of the secrets of his success with viewers, because that's how they saw him and identified with him. He embraced them, they embraced him. He never got over his excitement in dealing with all these important people.
SCHNEIDER: When I first met him, I had been a professor. He always called me "the professor" and he felt you know, that somehow that -- was he really up to the standards of all these Ivy League educated people that he had to deal with, the answer was absolutely yes.
I knew him before he became a journalist, before I became a journalist and he was a staffer for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the great intellects of the Senate. And I can tell you, he was no piker when it came to dealing with Moynihan. They -- the two men respected each other very much and then he went to Mario Cuomo ...
WHITFIELD: Wow. SCHNEIDER: ...who is also one of the giant intellects of American politics ...
SCHNEIDER: ...and he was perfectly comfortable dealing with them.
WHITFIELD: Wow, he really was a great guy, so well rounded and just so bubbly and vivacious about everything. Eager about politics, eager about news, and certainly his family. And he will not let you forget how important his family was to him.
WHITFIELD: Luke and Maureen of course, all of our hearts collectively go out to the Russert family. And thanks so much, Bill, for helping to remember a great friend and great mentor.
WHITFIELD: All right, coming up next, our legal guests, they're going to be talking about some of the big political or rather legal stories to tackle this week. And Avery, I know you had a chance to encounter Tim Russert as well, we can talk, too, about your memories of Tim Russert right after this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on over.
VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What's your lane? TSA would like to know.
ERIK TORKELLS, BUDGET TRAVEL: No one likes the security lines at airports, but the Transportation Security Administration is testing a new method that might make a difference. TSA is letting travelers self-select which line they should be in.
DE LA CRUZ: If you're traveling light or are familiar with travel rules, you have the option of a faster line. You decide.
TORKELLS: At Southern California's Burbank Airport, the TSA is testing a zip lane for people who have only one small bag.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The zip lane works great for me, especially --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The lane is -- it seems to be working really well.
TORKELLS: The theory is it'll work like an express lane at a grocery store. And Denver has an expert line for people who travel frequently and know the rules and a line for families and people who need special assistance.
DE LA CRUZ: Other airports are testing similar ways to move security lanes along faster and overall, passengers seem to be pleased.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For business travelers, it's terrific because you just generally have one briefcase and you're out of there.
WHITFIELD: A powerful blow this week to President Bush's anti- terror policies. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo detainees have the right to be heard in a civilian court.
CNN's Jamie McIntyre looks at the significance of this decision.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At issue, whether foreign prisoners held in Guantanamo, some for as long as five years, are entitled to a fundamental right guaranteed to every American: habeas corpus, the right to petion for relief against unlawful detention.
Charles Swift is a former military attorney who vigorously defended a Yemeni man accused of being Osama bin Laden's body guard and driver.
CHARLES SWIFT, FMR. MILITARY DEFENSE ATTORNEY: They want to look their accusers in the face, they want to be able to say this is what I did, they want to have an opportunity to exonerate themselves.
MCINTYRE: But the Bush administratistration argues that the more than 300 detainees held in Guantanamo are enemy combatants whose rights are adequately protected by the Military Commissions Act, passed by Congress.
DAVID RIVKIN, FMR. JUSTICE DEPT. LAWYER: Frankly, the detainees under MCE have more due process than any captured enemy combatant, lawful or unlawful, ever heard in any war in human history, including anywhere in which the United States was a party.
MCINTYRE: But attorneys bringing the case before the Supreme Court argue military officials, not independent judges are deciding the fate of detainees in a process that does not allow prisoners to have lawyers or present their own evidence.
The defendants in the case are an Algerian arresteded in Bosnia in 2001 and a Kuwaiti citizen captured in Pakistan in 2002.
EDWARD LAZARUS, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW EXPERT: I do think that's a going to trouble a number of the Justices, particularly the one from Bosnia where the Bosnian government conducted an investigation, decided these were not implicated in the alleged attempt to bomb the U.S. embassy over there. MCINTYRE: The Constitution says a "Writ of Habeas Corpus may be suspended only in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion," it's a high standard.
SWIFT: But it -- is a greater threat than the Nazis, this a greater threat than the Civil War to our union and our freedom? That's difficult for me to swallow.
MCINTYRE: Jamie McIntyre, CNN, at the Supreme Court.
WHITFIELD: All right, so let's see what our legal guys have to say about this decision. Avery Friedman is a civil rights attorney and law professor, good to see you.
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Hi, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And Richard Herman is a New York criminal defense attorney and law professor. Good to see you as well.
RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Hi, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, Avery, want to begin with you. So, I have to wonder where are we going with this? Does this mean that we are now on a path to ward the eventual release of all detainees because the way in which they'd been treated and from a legal standpoint, there are just too many holes in it according to the U.S. Supreme Court decisions? Three new (ph) decisions.
FRIEDMAN: Well, yes, there are a lot of holes, but what's going to happen this coming week, Fredricka, is the Chief Federal Judge of Washington meeting with his colleagues will be hearing detainee cases, but that doesn't mean it's over.
The truth is there are 270 left, 80 maybe some of those bad guys you really want to get your hands on, but it's time. You can't wait six years without charging somebody.
WHITFIELD: So Richard, how do you ensure that all of these detainees will indeed have the right to an attorney?
HERMAN: Well, Fred, that's what the Supreme Court just held, that they do have now, have a right to an attorney.
WHITFIELD: Yes, but how are you going to have enough, I guess that's the better question. How do you have enough attorneys for all of these detainees?
FRIEDMAN: Right, right.
HERMAN: Well, Fred, look, there are problems, but there's a lot of attorneys out here, a lot of guys who want to get women who like to get involved representing them. So, I mean, it's happening. We should salute the Supreme Court. We should not have the doom and gloom that Judge Scalia has here. We should salute them, this was a powerful decision.
Habeas corpus is a right of first importance, written by Alexander hamilton quoting Blackstone. Without it, we're in tyranny. It's really, Fred, this is powerful decision and we should hang our heads high, we are not like the hell holes out there. We are the United States of America, and we should be proud of this decision.
WHITFIELD: All right, let's talk about another case that either holds water or didn't hold water. R. Kelly, Grammy award winning singer, composer, musician, et cetera, all of that.
Richard, I think you called this one, you said even after six years, this case is likely to be acquitted, and he was.
HERMAN: Well, because he's a celebrity and because of all of the witnesses the government put on, the main witness who said, that's me in the tape with R. Kelly and the alleged victim, it's me in there, it's me in there. They cross-examined her, it turns out she stole a $20,000 bracelet or watch from him, her credibility was shot. Hey, you know what, Avery ...
WHITFIELD: Who was ...
FRIEDMAN: Terrible, terrible.
HERMAN: ...you can't see the -- if the mole you can't see, R. Kelly, go free.
WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh. You guys kill me.
FRIEDMAN: Hey, hey.
FRIEDMAN: Hey, hey, I believe he can fly. All right, I get it. But the fact is that you wait six years, it is celebrity -- actually, that was one of your questions last week, Richard got it right. He's a free man.
WHITFIELD: OK, Avery, let's talk about Tim Russert.
WHITFIELD: You knew him to be a very studied lawyer as well. He went to law school, he went to undergrad, that's how you know him.
WHITFIELD: Tell me about your thoughts.
FRIEDMAN: Well, actually yes, I was teaching at the law school and he was a student there. Very much like Buffalo, this is a blue- collar town here in Cleveland. He was very devoted to everyday people, that was his style, but you know what? He set the gold standard in your world, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: Yes, he really did.
FRIEDMAN: In journalism, but the bottom line, the skills that he learned in cross-examining we would like to think came here in his legal education. Obviously, both Richard and I send along our sympathies to the family.
WHITFIELD: Yes, thank you so much. And I know that his family appreciates all the love that's coming out to so many people who have been touched by him in so many ways and are honoring him.
Avery and Richard, thank you so much.
HERMAN: Thank you, Fred. Take care.
WHITFIELD: Straight ahead, the heaviest rain in 100 years and I'm not talking about the U.S. right now. I'm talking about China. The evacuations and landslides, it doesn't seem to end there. Straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.
WHITFIELD: Well, we've been bringing you the flood disaster in the Midwest and lots of images of that. Now, you're looking at a similar situation in southern China, right there. Torrential rains have killed six people, some 87,000 people are being evacuated and authorities say this is the strongest rainfall one city has seen in 100 years there. All that rain triggering landslides and floods.
Town hall styling: McCain or Obama? Who has the edge? We'll check it out.
WHITFIELD: Welcome back to the NEWSROOM. A town hall, a favorite political forum for both Barack Obama and John McCain, but when it comes to style, who has the edge?
Our Jeanne Moos sizes them up.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Phil Donahue may be the gold standard when it comes to roaming around with a mike. The current town hall mania the presidential candidates ...
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We'll do it the right way.
MOOS: ...are getting pretty good at it with the occasional exception.
(on camera): The award for best way not to use a microphone goes to John McCain.
(voice-over): A few weeks ago ...
MCCAIN: I -- whoops.
MOOS: ...he talked into the wrong end, but made a great recovery. Lately, McCain has taken to resting his chin on the mike.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The expectations are -- and I am certainly committed with ...
MOOS: Neither candidate seems able to make a point without finger pointing.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We're going to pay for it.
MCCAIN: Learn the lessons of it.
OBAMA: The scandal ...
MCCAIN: No mention ...
MOOS: When it comes to picking the questions, Obama tends to pick by outfit.
OBAMA: Yellow blouse over there. Is that yellow? I think it is. Is it pink? I'm sort of color blind. And that is pink, I can tell.
MOOS: Talk about picking by the outfit.
(on camera): The award for fearlessly choosing hostile questions on purpose goes to Senator McCain.
(voice-over): He once took a question from a 14-year-old wearing a t-shirt saying "John McCain doesn't care about our future."
MCCAIN: I don't know who printed your shirt, but here's the microphone and you can explain.
MOOS: She asked about equal pay for women.
The award for toughest question goes to this one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does life mean to you?
MOOS: After humming a bit --
OBAMA: You know, when I was your age, I think life was all about me.
MOOS: Senator Obama said that now, life revolves around the kind of world he leaves for his daughters.
Witiest prepared joke goes to Senator McCain. MCCAIN: If you took all the economists in the world and put them end to end, you wouldn't reach a conclusion.
MOOS: And best ad libbed quip goes to McCain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're the same age, sir.
MCCAIN: You're looking good.
MOOS: Let's drink to that.
(on camera): The award for most sips per town hall meeting, well, it depends on whether you count almost sips.
(voice-over): Senator McCain had a couple of near sips, he also had the longest run-up to a question.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe as a Christian voice in general for this nation.
MCCAIN: Can I have a question?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MOOS: So long that McCain and the audience ...
MOOS: ...repeatedly tried to cut him off.
As for the line that got the biggest laugh -- it didn't come from a candidate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to request that George W. Bush be appointed U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.