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CNN ELECTION CENTER

Obama in Israel; Hurricane Dolly Makes Landfall; Preview: 'CNN Presents Black in America'

Aired July 23, 2008 - 20:00   ET

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


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: In the ELECTION CENTER tonight: Barack Obama in Israel trying to reassure Israelis and to his voters here at home of his commitment to Israel's security.
John McCain, meanwhile, is talking gas prices and pocketbook issues and tweaking the media for what the McCain camp calls adoring coverage of Obama. We are going to have all the news from the campaign trail coming up in just a moment.

Plus, campaign gaffes, both candidates have had their share. But what was in the water that might explain what's been going on in the last 24 hours? We will look at that.

Meanwhile, we have break news out of Texas where Hurricane Dolly made landfall on South Padre Island. Dolly tore off roofs, shattered windows, and flooded streets. Well, now the region along the Mexican border is being slammed by heavy rain and by 85-mile-an-hour winds. We're going to be live on the scene coming up in just seconds.

And, tonight, we are going to preview a major television event, CNN's "Black in America." As Barack Obama makes a historic run for the White House, what is the state of the union for all African- Americans? This is a special CNN investigation. You have probably heard about it. It is on tonight. We're going to preview it tonight right here in the ELECTION CENTER.

But, first, let's get right to the breaking news on Hurricane Dolly. The storm is lashing the South Texas coast. Port Isabel, Brownsville, South Padre Island, all summer getaway spots, they are taking direct hits right now. On South Padre Island, they have been battered pretty much all day by high winds and heavy rain.

And that is where we find CNN's Brian Todd. He's joining me live right now.

And, Brian, looking a little quieter there now that the storm I guess has died down. How do conditions compare now to what you were seeing earlier?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, the wind has died down considerably. That's a big break because it's been pounding us all day.

As you can see, we're still being bracketed by a lot of rain. Rain is still very strong here. But this island is not out of danger yet. There are a lot of downed power lines. We were just out, trying to get around the island and view some of the damage, a lot of downed power lines.

They have a big problem here with some of the roofs either caving in or just being shredded off in whole parts. We saw that earlier today. We just talked to an emergency management person here who said that that's a big problem. The sustainability of the roofs, they're very worried about. There's also just huge pieces of debris from roofs, other debris from buildings that is scattered around here.

And the police are not letting people drive around very much. They really were limited where we could go. We had to walk a good bit of the way to get -- just to get back to this location.

So, a lot of downed power lines. That's the main danger here. They're warning people, do not go out. They're not out of the woods here yet, Campbell.

BROWN: And, Brain, I was just looking at some of those pictures behind you. It looks like flooding may be an issue in some areas.

TODD: It certainly is.

There's a big storm surge behind me. The water's coming up a little bit from the surf, not so bad right here, though, as it is a little bit inland on the island. A lot of roads are still flooded. And, again, it's hardly passable, even walking. So, they're really watching that. And the police are out in force right now.

BROWN: All right, Brian Todd for us -- thanks, Brian. Appreciate that.

The question we have all got right now is where Dolly is headed next.

So, let's go to CNN severe weather expert meteorologist Chad Myers.

And, Chad, did the storm make landfall, first of all, I guess the way we expected it to?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: A little bit farther to the north, Campbell, I think than we expected it to.

It took a little jog in the overnight hours. This thing just took a little bit of a curve up and north of Brownsville. If you were with us last night at the same hour, you knew that this storm was going to go over Brownsville. And that was the forecast. Well, the line didn't go over Brownsville. That's why we always show you the cone. The line actually made a little bit of northward jog and to the north of Brownsville it went.

So, what did that mean? Well, that means that Brownsville and McAllen didn't really get the amount of wind that it could have received. Those areas could have received 100-mile-per-hour wind gusts. They did not.

Also, one thing that we talked about last night was the amount of damage that we expected as the storm went through Brownsville, all of these counties here. Now, this is from the FEMA people. And they put out a number last night of about $3.6 billion in damage.

Well, with the storm moving to the north, you know what? That number today is only $520 million. So, that's how much of a difference a little wiggle can make.

BROWN: Indeed. Chad Myers for us -- Chad, thank you very much. We will be checking in with you as there are developments tonight.

Still to come, Barack Obama in the Middle East, was he sending a message for Jewish voters back home?

Plus, a reality check on the candidates. Missteps are getting Obama and McCain in a little bit of trouble tonight.

This is the ELECTION CENTER. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Another day, another helicopter ride for world traveler Barack Obama, although he didn't fly over Iraq today. This was the Holy Land, where Obama got a look at one of the toughest problems any U.S. president has to face, moving along the Middle East peace process.

The senator met with the Israeli and Palestinian officials today, posed for plenty of pictures, and took some uncomfortable questions from reporters.

Candy Crowley joining us now from Jerusalem with the very latest -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Campbell,

Barack Obama has pretty much wrapped up this trip here to Jerusalem tonight. He met with and had dinner with Prime Minister Olmert, the two of them talking about a wide range of issues.

But, before they went into the meeting, the prime minister told reporters that one of the things -- the thing of utmost importance to Israel is the situation in Iran.

And that is pretty much what Barack Obama heard all day long.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Yet another picture postcard home: Barack Obama in front of the remnants of rockets launched from Gaza into Israel, navigating the land mines of Middle East diplomacy by saying as little as possible.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America must always stand up for Israel's right to defend itself.

CROWLEY: But it begs the question whether the U.S. would back an Israeli attack on Iran to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon.

Obama sidesteps.

OBAMA: I will take no options off the table in dealing with this potential Iranian threat.

CROWLEY: A nuclear Iran is a top concern for Israeli officials and political leaders.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, LIKUD PARTY CHAIRMAN: The main focal point of our conversation, the need to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

CROWLEY: Like some American Jewish voters, Israelis were uneasy a year when they heard this:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to meet separately without preconditions during the first year of your administration in Washington or anywhere else with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?

ANDERSON COOPER, MODERATOR: Senator Obama?

OBAMA: I would.

CROWLEY: There were no caveats to that statement, and Obama has been trying to finesse it ever since.

OBAMA: But I think that what I said in response was that I would, at my time and choosing, be willing to meet with any leader if I thought it would promote the national security interests of the United States of America.

CROWLEY: Obama's picturesque news conference was part of a jam- packed day intermingling photo-ops with private meetings which often took on the feel of virtual reality, a kind of almost state meeting, a man who wants to be U.S. president meeting with a string of prime minister wannabes in Israel.

Obama's itinerary also took him past the security checkpoint into the West Bank city of Ramallah for a meeting with an obviously pleased Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Four months ago, when John McCain passed through Israel, there was no visit with Palestinian leaders, a point Obama is happy to make with another picture postcard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And, Candy, what kind of reaction has Obama been getting in Israel, especially after his meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas?

CROWLEY: Well, I have to tell you that, in fact, he's been welcomed very warmly by officials, certainly in public. President Peres went on in lavish praise on Barack Obama. All of them have had very nice things to say. I have to tell you that, with the public, there really wasn't that much contact. But certainly at the -- in officeholders and those who would like to be officeholders again, there was a pretty warm embrace for Obama here. And on the Palestinian side, they really seem pleased that, in fact, he came over to see them and made that effort. It was only 45 minutes out of the day, but they were pleased by it.

BROWN: All right, Candy Crowley, traveling with Senator Obama for us -- Candy, thanks.

CROWLEY: Sure.

BROWN: At a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania this morning, Senator John McCain said Israel may be under greater threat now than at any time since its independence 60 years ago because of Iran's nuclear program.

Later, talking with reporters at a Pennsylvania supermarket, McCain was asked how he and Obama differ on their policies towards Israel.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I don't know because I never know exactly what his position is.

He gave a speech to AIPAC, and said that Jerusalem would be undivided. And then the next day, he said that would be a subject of negotiation. So, it's very hard for me to know.

But I know this, that I know the issues. I have been there time and time again. I have been involved and engaged actively in the issue. And I understand the challenges that Israel faces. And I understand the absolute priority of furthering the process of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Let's get a little deeper into all this.

With me tonight, "New York Observer" columnist Steve Kornacki, Tara Wall, deputy editorial page editor of "The Washington Times," who used to be a senior adviser to the Republican National Committee, and CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger joining us from Washington.

Steve, I'm going to start with you.

And let's go to Obama and his message today first, that he is going to be a strong supporter of Israel, that Israel has the right to push back at its enemies. Listen to this little bit of his message today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I'm going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Steve, a big part of this message for Jewish voters here at home.

STEVE KORNACKI, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK OBSERVER": Yes, and I think the issue goes a little broader than that, too.

And I think Obama has handled the domestic politic of Israel and the Middle East just masterfully in the presidential campaign. You know, the press conference you just showed the clip from was in a town just in the southern part of Israel, Sderot, which has been hit by rocket fire from the Palestinians in Gaza. And it's an issue of high emotional currency for Jewish voters and for people who make Israel a priority.

Obama's had a lot of concerns from people who make Israel a priority in their voting. And he has addressed them.

BROWN: They needed to be reassured.

KORNACKI: He has addressed them different ways, with his language, with the appearance, with the people he's surrounded himself with. He addressed them masterfully.

The question to me becomes, if you look at his past, and the statements he made when he was in Illinois, the sympathies he shows when he was in Illinois -- he had dinner with Edward Said, for instance, back about 10 years ago. He viewed the issue a little differently back then than he claims to now.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: My first question is, what's the real -- where's the real Barack Obama? And I guess my question is, how much wiggle room will he really have as president given the strain he's under to allay any doubts about...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Steve is saying what I thought you might say, Tara.

TARA WALL, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Well, he's made a few foibles along the way. I wouldn't give him a complete pass at this point.

Yesterday, he struggled to go through his press conference. He couldn't articulate -- he said Israel -- we will be a friend to Israel. We will be a friend. And he really butchered that. He couldn't explain his position there.

I think that, when you look at some of the numbers, Israelis themselves who are polled say -- 46 percent say they believe McCain would be better for Israel, John McCain. And he's -- and Barack Obama still struggles with Jewish voters here. He has lost support among Jewish voters. He has decreased the number that Democrats receive among the Jewish vote.

I think he will still get the Jewish vote. But I think he's still -- I have spoken with Jewish voters who have actually said that they -- because of his remarks about Ahmadinejad, who of course has said he wants to wipe Israel off the map and the Holocaust didn't happen, he has got real problems with that.

And there are Jewish voters who have said to me they have switched their vote from Obama to McCain because of that issue alone. And he's shows at times a naivete about how to deal with these issue.

BROWN: Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's why you saw him finessing the issue on negotiating with Iran today. And I do think it was a finesse, because he was asked very directly, would you sit down with them? And he said, well, you know, I think I said that I would sit down with them without precondition, but that didn't mean without preparation.

And he was doing that for consumption in this country, as well as for consumption in Israel. And, you know, he also said, as far as Iran was concerned, everything was on the table, which brought a smile to the Israelis.

BROWN: Gloria, let me ask you, though, John McCain struggling to get attention this week obviously, today focusing on pocketbook issues here at home, gas prices, in an effort to sort of counterprogram against this trip.

BORGER: Right.

BROWN: And even, I have read, the RNC is releasing these radio ads in three U.S. cities that are named Berlin tomorrow to counter Obama's speech in Berlin, this huge speech in Germany.

Smart move? I mean, is it working, or should McCain just sort of forget about it until this trip is over?

BORGER: It's very hard for them to counterprogram.

Late last week, when I spoke with them, they said, we're going to talk about the economy, we're going to talk about gas prices, we're going to counterprogram.

But then you have the candidate himself. And that's their problem, because McCain keeps getting off message himself. He answers questions from every single reporter who asks them. And, of course, the questions are going to be based on what Obama is doing abroad. And he answers them. And he has been taking on Obama on these issues, as you saw in the clip that you showed earlier. So, I think it's partly the candidate's fault. I think it's partly the press' fault. We keep asking these pesky questions. And, you know, they have to find a message and stick with it, which is something they haven't done.

BROWN: Sit tight, guys. We have got to take a quick break.

There's a lot of buzz over John McCain's potential running mates. In a moment, I want the insider scoop on who is up and who is down.

And, then, later, far too many Americans drop out of high school. What do you think of paying them, paying students to stay in school? We're going to preview part of an important CNN investigation you will see here later tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: This afternoon, John McCain went grocery shopping with a family in Pennsylvania, hoping to show that he understands how rising food prices are hurting American budgets.

But reporters wanted to know if McCain had misspoke yesterday when he said that the U.S. troop surge in Iraq helped spark the so- called Sunni awakening, which calmed the violence in Iraq's Anbar Province. The Sunni awakening actually started before President Bush announced the troop surge in early 2007.

Today, McCain tried to straighten out all the confusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: A surge is really a counterinsurgency strategy. And it's made up of a number of components. And this counterinsurgency was initiated to some degree by Colonel MacFarland in Anbar Province relatively on his own.

When I visited with him in December of 2006, he believed that that strategy, which is -- quote -- "the surge," part of the surge, would be would be successful. I'm not sure, frankly, that people really understand that a surge is part of a counterinsurgency strategy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: OK, so that may or may not have cleared things up for some people.

But Barack Obama seems to be having a little trouble getting his story straight, too. Listen to something he told reporters in Israel today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Now, in terms of knowing my commitments, you don't have to just look at my words. You can look at my deeds. Just this past -- this past week, we passed out of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, which is my committee, a bill to call for divestment from Iran as a way of ratcheting up the pressure to ensure that they don't obtain a nuclear weapon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: OK. So, the Republican National Committee was very quick to point out today Obama is not a member of the Banking Committee, as he said he was. However, the committee did recently pass a bill containing one of Obama's proposals.

Back right now with my panel of insiders, Steve Kornacki, Gloria Borger, Tara Wall.

Guys -- Steve, I will start with you again.

The gaffes, are they a big deal? We parse everything they say. And the world right now, frankly, is listening to every word they say. But they're going, you know, crazy on the campaign trail. They get tired. Are we making way too much of all this stuff?

KORNACKI: Well, maybe, but the gaffes matter when they feed into sort of an existing narrative about a candidate.

A great example is in 2000, when Al Gore was tagged as the serial exaggerator and a liar. Fair or unfair, every time he said something that didn't quite mesh with the facts, it was blown up by the media. And it really created this devastating perception of him.

The problem for Obama isn't so much if he makes a misstep on what committee he's on or something that comes out of the Senate or the economy, because people are more comfortable with him in that area. The problem is, right now, he's in the Middle East. If he makes a misstep on foreign policy on the Middle East, a basic factual error, sort of like McCain made in talking about the surge, that's going to hurt McCain -- excuse me -- it's going to hurt Obama a lot more than McCain's misstep did when talking about the surge, because McCain already has the built-in advantage as the guy who is seen as the foreign policy voice of reason.

BROWN: Right.

KORNACKI: Now, the problem McCain gets into is, this isn't the first time he's made a slip-up like this.

(CROSSTALK)

KORNACKI: Right, on foreign policy. There have been several. If it persists, the question is, when does it reach critical mass?

BROWN: All right, go ahead, Tara.

WALL: And I think it revealed some of his naivete on some of these issues. Look, both the candidates are going to make misstatements. It happens. It happens throughout the course of the campaign. And I think it's one of the reasons, though as Steve mentioned, that did Hillary Clinton in, because she was already seen as mistrusted, but when she kept telling these same stories over and over again that weren't factually correct, there, you have an issue.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: OK, hold on.

Gloria, quickly make a point on this, because I want to ask you about veepstakes before we run out of time.

BORGER: I could say, yes, I agree that it does play into the narrative. But what voters are going to look at is who these folks pick as vice president, what they say at their conventions, and how they stack up against each other in the debates.

BROWN: Yes. And on that note, a lot of buzz, Gloria, that McCain is very close to choosing a running mate. On the short list was Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Today, though, Jindal says he's not going to be the one. What are you hearing about all this?

BORGER: I don't think Jindal's going to be the one. I think he's very well respected. But he's very, very young. And I think that that's probably going to disqualify him.

But, in Republican circles, I hear that there's a lot of talk that the McCain campaign might ask Jindal to be the keynote speaker at the convention, in the way that Barack Obama was the keynote speaker in 2004, and that was his introduction to American voters. And, so, maybe they will give that to Jindal. Who knows.

BROWN: All right, guys, we got to end it there.

To Steve and to Gloria, thank you very much.

Tara is sticking with me. We are going to see you back here just a little bit later.

All the running mate buzz really shook up our veepstakes market today. Check it out on CNN.com/electioncenter, and quick on the veepstakes link. We have set up a game that works like the stock market. For the Republicans, Mitt Romney is still the favorite. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is now in second place.

For the Democrats, Senators Joe Biden, Evan Bayh the top choices. Jindal took quite a fall today, we should mention. It may have something to do with the fact he said he's not going to be V.P. OK.

Anyway, we're going to shift focus here because something very big is coming up tonight we want to tell you a lot about, "CNN Presents: Black in America."

When we return, the search for a solution to the scandalous high school dropout rate. We will talk about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We're less than an hour now from the start of our groundbreaking documentary series, "CNN PRESENTS: Black in America," examining the successes and struggles of black men, women, and families.

We live in a nation of boundless opportunity, but a good education is the key that opens those doors. And listen to this. The average black 17-year-old reads at the same level as a white 13-year- old, a four-year gap. And of all African-American students entering ninth grade, only half will graduate four years later.

In the documentary, CNN special correspondent Soledad O'Brien looks at a controversial new way to encourage young people to learn and to keep them from dropping out. Pay them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROLAND FRYER, HARVARD ECONOMIST: What I'm always so struck with is, when you look into a fourth grader's eyes -- that means they're 9 or 10 years old -- you are going to see nothing but opportunity. And the question is, how do we take full advantage of that?

I got a game we can play today. You want to play a game?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Yes.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Harvard economist Roland Fryer is convinced he can help close the achievement gap between black and white kids.

FRYER: What math are you learning in school?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Multiplication, subtraction, addition.

O'BRIEN: By paying them to learn.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: He introduces us to some Brooklyn fourth graders who are earning money for their progress on a series of 10 assessment exams.

(on camera): All right, I need help. Who's going to be my helper?

All right, you come with me. Come on. You will be a team. We will be team O'Brien. Come on.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Exams they took this year.

(on camera): Oh, team O'Brien wins it. Hello. Good job. Good job. FRYER: They can get up to $25 on each test. So, that's $250 for perfect scores all the way through. Go ask the kids. I think they will tell you that they like taking tests now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I think I want -- it makes us want to learn more.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Jason Dowling (ph), Eric Kennedy (ph), Russ Jude Carter (ph), and Chelsea Gardner (ph) are all fourth graders who are earning by learning.

(on camera): Do you know how much money is in your bank account right now?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: $61.

O'BRIEN: $61?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: $65.75.

O'BRIEN: $65.75?

What are you going to do with the $65 and 75 cents that's in your account?

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Well, I would like to save it for college. And if I get a scholarship, I could use it to buy a house.

STUDENTS: Good morning, Miss Brown.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Principal Marian (ph) Brown says she's seen real progress with Fryer's experiment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the incentives are important because we spend a great deal of time holding children accountable for the negative things that they do. It's important for us to focus on the positive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are glad you are a part of our class. Congratulations.

O'BRIEN: To date, over 5,000 students in the New York City public school system are participating in this privately funded program. Similar incentive programs are underway in Atlanta, Dallas and Baltimore.

PEDRO NOGUERA, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: I always say the most important ingredient in every school is the teacher.

O'BRIEN: There are critics. Pedro Noguera is a professor at New York University. NOGUERA: I think it's based on a false assumption that just a little bit of money might get kids to work harder, try harder, ignoring the fact that some of those kids are not being taught by well-experienced or well-trained teachers. Some of them are in schools that are overcrowded and dysfunctional.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Do you think it's like getting paid for your test. You're ruining your love for learning?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: No.

O'BRIEN: Well, that was a resounding no. Oh, my goodness.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: It's just encouraging us to do more work. It's not ruining our chances of getting good grades. It's actually highering it.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Eric's father Eric Kennedy Sr., could not be more pleased with the results.

ERIC KENNEDY SR., ERIC'S FATHER: He wants the money in the bank. So he is trying to do the best scores he can get on those tests so he can get the top dollar.

O'BRIEN: But for 10-year-old Eric Jr., the money he makes will also help his family.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Half the money I would give to my dad to pay some of the bills off.

KENNEDY: Because he sees how hard I struggle. He wants to make things a little bit better. So I always tell him that good grades will get you that job that you can do anything better for everybody.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: So is paying students to stay in school bribery or smart policy? We're going to ask the controversial educator we met in Soledad O'Brien's report, and Soledad herself, part of a Blue Ribbon panel, as we countdown to "CNN Presents: Black in America."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We are counting down, now, to the start of "CNN Presents: Black in America." And we've got a distinguished panel tonight.

Joining us, Georgetown University professor, Michael Eric Dyson. He is with us from Washington and also, the author of "April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr.'s Death and How It Changed America." Here with me, Harvard University professor, Roland Fryer, who came up with the strategy of paying kids to stay in school and the story you just saw, Tara Wall of "The Washington Times" and CNN special correspondent Soledad O'Brien.

And Roland, clearly, the kids loved the idea. They made no secret of that. But your critics say it's bribery. FRYER: Yes, I know. Look, we're going to find out very soon. The truth is, the critics, myself, none of us really know if this is going to work. But we've got it set up where we're going to measure it very carefully. And if it works, then it will be good policy. If not, we'll shut it down. So for now, at least we're doing something because the problem is really big in this community.

BROWN: Tara, I know you have some concerns about it.

WALL: Well, you know, I think it's sad that we have to resort to financial incentives to get kids to learn. I mean, we're at that point it's a two-sided coin. I have mixed feelings. And, you know, I think that the point that it is experimental and it needs a little work, I think we should pay a close attention to it. I also think incentives for parents should be a primary focus.

BROWN: And Soledad, this was a pretty interesting poll number. This is from CNN that found there's a huge difference in how black people and white people feel about the program. A large majority, 67 percent of black people, say they approve of paying students to learn. But a majority of white people, 54 percent, disapprove.

O'BRIEN: Another way of asking that question might be, black people, are you satisfied with the education your children are getting? Do you feel like your children are actually being underserved in the schools? So maybe the answer is white people feel their children are being served because --

BROWN: And it's not necessary.

O'BRIEN: And it's not necessary or maybe they're representative more in the middle class. And if you're looking at people who feel like the schools are not really serving their kids, that some of the kids and certainly some of the numbers you see as far as how the gaps in achievement are so disturbing, that poll number doesn't surprise me at all.

WALL: In achieving gap though among black and white students isn't just among low-income black students. It also goes into middle- income students. So how are we addressing the needs with the middle- income black students who also are falling into that achievement gap?

BROWN: Michael, what do you think of it?

REV. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN UNIV. PROFESSOR: Well, you know, there are a couple of things. First of all, Claude Steele, the professor at Stanford, suggests that there's a kind of negative self- perception among even middle class black people because if you've been taught all your life that you will score less -- you know, you won't do as well on a test as the white person with whom you're being compared, then you don't do as well.

But interestingly enough, white kids, when they were tested against Asian kids, believing that they don't do as well, didn't do as well either. So that stereotype thread is what he calls that. But back to what Professor Fryer has done here, I think that Professor Noguera said, look, there are other things to be dealt with here in terms of in the setup piece, in terms of teachers who need to teach better or resources that need to be there. I agree with all that, but I think there's no harm in paying people and incentivizing, learning for young people.

Look, I live in Washington, D.C. There has a whole bunch of money thrown at a whole bunch of folks.

BROWN: Right.

M. DYSON: And lobbyist here all day long spending billions of dollars. I don't think spending a couple dollars on some black kids is going to be a problem.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: We know incentives work, right?

OK, hold on, because Roland, I know you've taken this incentives idea even further. And we've got a little clip that explains it. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: The million public school students in New York City will each receive a million, a cell phone, reinvented as a free educational tool. During school hours and schools in mode, distracting call and text functions are disabled, and the million becomes a student mobile computer, equipped with educational Web access and practical classroom tools.

Teachers can also use it in a million to deliver assignments and tests. Out of school in school's out mode, the million switches back to a fully functioning cell phone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: OK, so Roland, how exactly, explain this. Cell phones taken into the classroom are supposed to help kids?

WALL: Those are not allowed in the classroom.

FRYER: They're not allowed in the classroom.

This is all about trying to engage kids and meeting them where they are. A lot of us have solutions for kids that meet them where we want them to be.

BROWN: Right.

FRYER: Where kids are? They are texting each other, they're talking on their phones. And this is a way of providing incentives for them to do the things that we want them to do. And the key here, Campbell, is I have all their phone numbers. BROWN: OK.

FRYER: So I can send them positive messages. We're going to put mentoring on the cell phones where people can engage over text messages, et cetera. The key point is innovation and trying things because the statistics that we see are disturbing and we got to get them to do it.

BROWN: Being willing to experiment. OK, everybody stay with me. When we come back, Michael Eric Dyson's personal story. It mirrors much of the struggle within black America. Next, a tale of two brothers on very different paths.

Then, a little bit later, the choice many young black women feel that they are forced to make. We're counting down tonight to "CNN Presents: Black in America."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: As we've been telling you, CNN's groundbreaking documentary series "Black in America" begins in just a few minutes. And right now, we are previewing one extraordinary and very personal story from the series. It's the story of Michael Eric Dyson, whom you heard from earlier, and his brother Everett. One, a preacher and teacher, the other, a convicted killer.

And Soledad O'Brien reports now on how these men got to such different places in life and what their stories tell us about being "Black in America."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP (singing): Thank you, Lord.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): A Sunday service in Detroit.

M. DYSON: Evil is real.

O'BRIEN: The doctor of religion begins to preach.

M. DYSON: It's not a metaphysical projection. It shows up when folks won't let you have the job you know you should have. It shows up when people won't give you acknowledgement for who you are. It shows up when you work twice as hard to get twice as far behind and still keep going. Evil is real.

(APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: When Reverend Dr. Michael Eric Dyson is speaking --

M. DYSON: It takes courage --

O'BRIEN: He gives voice to an epic American struggle. He's become a preacher and a teacher and a controversial social critic.

DYSON: The people that we have neglected now have spoken back to us and we don't like what we hear.

O'BRIEN: Leaving his neighborhood in impoverished Detroit to earn a Ph.D. from Princeton --

M. DYSON: Minds don't bleed red blood, they bleed thoughts of depression, self-hatred --

O'BRIEN: He's come with a lot to say.

(on camera): When you lived in this house, what did you think you would become?

M. DYSON: Well, this is the house where I began to speak in public at the age of 11. And a lot of opportunity was offered to me. And I had dreams and aspirations of being a writer. You know, my nickname as a youth was "the professor."

O'BRIEN (voice-over): In black America, one man makes it. Too many don't. Often in the very same family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you.

O'BRIEN: This is Michael Eric Dyson's younger brother, Everett. He is serving a life sentence for murder.

(on camera): Two brothers. Your average person would say, OK, for the most part, they were given similar opportunities. They were raised in the same house. They had a mother who loved them. They had a father who was tough --

M. DYSON: Right.

O'BRIEN: A little abusive, but he also loved you both. How did you end up, one here and one here?

EVERETT DYSON, MICHAEL ERIC DYSON'S BROTHER: Choices we make every single day. I've not always made the best of choices. And, therefore, I must suffer the results thereof. I've learned that.

M. DYSON: I did make some better choices, but I was allowed to make those better choices. I was encouraged to make those better choices because I was given a vocabulary to express those choices in a way.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Whatever led these brothers down different paths, Everett Dyson will likely spend the rest of his life in this maximum security penitentiary.

O'BRIEN (on camera): What do you think when you look over at your brother, you're in a jumpsuit and he's in a jacket? He's a college professor, and you've served 19 years of a sentence for murder.

E. DYSON: Whenever I see Michael, it becomes a testament to the fact that I could have done this, that or the other.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): So why is one a prisoner and one a Princeton grad? The answer might be staring us in the face.

M. DYSON: I saw how the differential treatment was accorded me, little curly-topped yellow Negro child. I'm not dissing any yellow Negro children. That's who I am. I'm saying that being a dark- skinned black man has a kind of incriminating effect to many people.

I'm not even getting to white brothers this as yet. I'm talking about within black America. And I'm saying to you, many darker- skinned black children don't get the opportunity. I'm not suggesting every dark-skinned and black person in America is going to go to --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN (on camera): Plenty of dark-skinned black children are very successful.

M. DYSON: Of course, I understand that.

E. DYSON: It takes a keen eye to look beneath the rocky soil or the rough exterior of a person and see the beauty that's within.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: In just a minute, we'll hear more from Michael Eric Dyson as we count down to "CNN Presents: Black in America."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: With me again now, Georgetown professor, Michael Eric Dyson, along with Harvard professor, Roland Fryer, Tara Wall of "The Washington Times" and CNN's Soledad O'Brien.

And Michael, what we saw just before the break how differently the lives of you and your brother turned out. And I know you think that part of the reason that you are a professor, that he is in prison, may be because you're lighter skinned and he's darker.

M. DYSON: Well, yes, obviously, there are a whole host of problems and apparently (ph) of complex issues that we have to talk about and choices made that my brother has owned up to. But I think at the bottom of the issue here is the fact that some people are encouraged, some people are identified as gifted. Some people are acknowledged as gifted.

And I'm saying that skin color does play a role in the kind of hierarchy of acknowledgement of that within the African-American culture, the light, bright, almost white ideal, being more closely aligned with the dominant white culture, versus the darker skinned black person who wasn't. Now, obviously, as we've said in the piece there, that there are plenty of African-American people who are dark who are prospering and in fact, who are "in style."

My point is that there has been an ongoing and persistent internal, interracial division that rests upon skin color that we have not talked about in the broader society that operates within the contents of African-American culture. BROWN: Right.

What do you think, Tara?

WALL: I think that's overgeneralizing a very complex situation. Of course, you know, that is in the black community --

BROWN: I think he said -- he's just saying it's part of it.

WALL: I think that -- I think that it does exist. The color issue, light skinned/dark skinned. I think -- but I think it's way too much of a generalization, way too broad to say that that happens in every case, and that this is why there are these disparities. I think that's just overgeneralizing a bit on a very, very complex issue.

BROWN: Roland, do you agree?

FRYER: I absolutely agree. (OFF-MIKE) The difference between the huge success in black America and also the struggles. I think that's the metaphor we should be looking at.

BROWN: And Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I agree. I mean, for me, all this is leading up to our documentary where we cover all of this. These are all conversations that frankly have to take place, and they're conversations where rational people can completely disagree with the person sitting next to them.

BROWN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: That's what it's all about. We start that conversation very soon.

BROWN: OK. Stay right there. We're going to focus from men to women now. A choice many African-American women feel they are forced to make, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Census figures show for every 100 single black women, there are 70 single black men. And our special correspondent Soledad O'Brien found out many of these women are smart, they're successful, and they are not in love.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Chris Turner is a successful Hollywood screenwriter and part of a growing phenomenon in America today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've had some major discussions with people that say your lifestyle is intimidating. But if it's between living a life that I want to live and getting married, I don't know.

O'BRIEN: She's educated, financially independent, black and single.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Am I picky? I probably am but, you know, life is good. So if somebody comes to the party, you know, it's just going to make the party better. If a guy can't handle like a car or a house or a job, it's like, then I can't be myself and then that's not the guy for me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: 1950 to 2000, the number of black women who had never been married doubled to 42 percent. I want to bring back Michael Eric Dyson, Roland Fryer, Tara Wall and CNN's Soledad O'Brien. But I don't know that anybody is going to get to talk about this except for Tara.

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: I'm the only one who's an expert on this.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

WALL: I'm so glad that Soledad addressed this in the piece because I can relate and, you know --

O'BRIEN: What is it?

BROWN: Because this doesn't get a lot of discussion compared to other issues.

WALL: It doesn't. You know, I think it's a lot of things. I do think that intimidation thing is a big thing I think with black women and black men. And I would say black men, you know -- you know, have a tendency from what I've heard, to be intimidated. I mean, but to me, it's really not that deep.

You know, we just need to raise it up a level and I think that, you know, our expectations are a little bit different as black women as we achieve and as we do well. But, you know, we expect the same things as anyone else and men should be able to relate to that, I think.

But there are just -- it's an issue that is up for discussion. I also -- I know, you know, she talks a lot about too, about interracial dating and expanding the dating pool. These are issues that, you know, black women have to deal with every day. But I can absolutely relate to the woman in the piece.

(CROSSTALK)

WALL: It's so true. It's absolutely true.

BROWN: But -- OK, to Michael, from your perspective, what's going on with black men here?

M. DYSON: Well, I think obviously as we were saying before we could say we're doing the same thing here, making a generalization. But, of course, it's very real. Black women have been closed out. The more black men are incarcerated there's not a disconnect between my brother's story and this story. The more black men are in prison, they're locked away from the economy, the less they are able to compete for the affections of black women and therefore become part of the "marriageable pool index." And I think it's a huge gulf in black America. And these two things are now disassociated.

WALL: But we have to also take away from this whole and another thing that she touched on in the piece was the baby mama issue and all of that. It is not OK to not marry the woman. It is not OK to just continue to perpetuate the cycle of having children out of wedlock. That is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, and we have to stop accepting that as common place.

BROWN: All right. The special is about to begin. So many thanks to Michael, to Roland, to Tara, and to Soledad. The next two hours are yours.

CNN's special presentation "Black in America" begins in just a few minutes. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: That is it from the ELECTION CENTER tonight. Thanks for being with us.

but we want you to stay right there. You are in for a special television event, "CNN Presents: Black in America." That starts right now.

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