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U.S. Troops in Nigeria; Interview with Rep. Eliot Engel; Sterling Says No to Fines; Karl Rove Raises Questions About Hillary Clinton's Health; Man Alleges the Father He Sought the Zodiac Killer; Graduation Speakers Starting to Back Out?

Aired May 17, 2014 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning, I'm Michael Smerconish. This morning I'll be redefining the headlines for you with some terrific guests.

So lets get to it. First up, McCain: Send U.S. Special Forces to Rescue Nigerian Girls. That's a call by Arizona's senior Senator John McCain to put boots on the ground in Nigeria.

This coming Wednesday, the House foreign affairs committee will convene a special hearing to examine the White House's responses to Boko Haram. The central topic, of course, the kidnapping of more than 200 school girls by the terror group.

The U.S. has promised to help Nigeria rescue those girls. So far some 50 advisors are there and the U.S. is flying intelligence flights over parts of that country.

The former deputy director of the CIA's counter terrorism center knows exactly what it means to use U.S. intelligence in terror hot spots, and Phil Mudd is here this morning. And the ranking member of the House foreign affairs committee convening next week's hearing is Congressman Eliot Engel.

Gentlemen, before we get started, I want to play some sound from high- ranking members of Congress about the U.S. role in the crisis.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-MAINE: I would like to see special forces deployed to help rescue these young girls.

REP. PETER KING, R-NEW YORK: If the president decided to use special forces, I certainly would not oppose them.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZONA: I would utilize every tool that we have to rescue these young girls. And that means it would be done surgically, it could be done in a way that is very efficient. But for us not to do that, in my view, would be an obligation of our responsibilities.


SMERCONISH: Congressman Engel, a lot of tough talk from your colleagues. Do you buy into what you just heard?

REP. ELIOTT ENGEL, D-NEW YORK: Well, I think what you're hearing is the frustration that all of us have. These girls were captured and what happened to them is horrible and we feel frustrated about not being able to do anything. But I think it's easier said than done. I mean I don't know whether boots on the ground would accomplish anything. You know, if we put boots on the ground and then god forbid the girls were killed and the same people who are saying to put boots on the ground would be saying that we botched the operation.

So I think that we have to be very, very careful and see what all our options are as the days go by and try to do everything we can to save those girls but I think we have to be realistic.

SMERCONISH: And Phil, of course, if the lawmakers make the decision to go and then they come to guys like you, and say OK, how practical and can we pull this off? What are some of the dynamics going through your mind as you assess this issue?

PHIL MUDD, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CIA COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER: First, is the quality intelligence picture. How well can we look at the site if we can't even locate it. Do we understand what the intentions of the adversary are. But the second and the reality is think of these compounded factors. One, a geographic space that is presumably pretty large. Two, 230 girls that might be held in different locations and, three, unpredictable hostage holders who might shoot these girls as soon as you show up.

So it's nice to talk about special forces. But if you took these three characteristics and lined them up, this is going to be tragic.

SMERCONISH: Peggy Noonan said in the "Wall Street Journal" that this is something we should be doing so long as it is contained, discreet, swift, targeted and humanitarian. Easier said than done.

MUDD: Then how about no. I mean, if you're taking those characteristics and telling me you're putting a U.S. boy or girl, man or woman in the line of fire and those are the characteristics you have to meet, it ain't gonna happen.

SMERCONISH: What do you say, Congressman to those who say well, the U.S. government looks weak if, in fact, we're not directly involved in a situation like Boko Haram.

ENGEL: Well, I think we're directly involved. We've sent advisors there. We're trying to work with the Nigerian government but there are problems with the Nigerian military. You know, there's corruption, all kinds of problems. It's not a black and white issue. I want to save the girls as much as anyone and I hope we can and I hope we will and there are all things going on behind the scenes that we don't even know about yet.

We are doing everything we can. But whether or not I agree with Phil, whether or not we send special forces there and god forbid someone gets killed, then the criticism is we botched the job.

SMERCONISH: Was Secretary Clinton slow at the switch in designating Boko Haram as a terror group?

ENGEL: No, I don't think it matters one way or another. They are a terrorist group and we've designated them that, as a terrorist group. I think the problem really lies more with the Nigerian military and the fact that it's very difficult to coordinate with them because there is corruption, there's incompetence. So it is, again, easier said than done.

SMERCONISH: Phil, are we spoiled by the success of seal team 6 in Abottabad. In other words, the American people and some of the folks, the politician who you heard in that clip. You know, there were no casualties, thank god and they completed that mission and therefore we think - well, this is easy. Look at these guys in Nigeria. Of course, we could overpower them and we could free all those school girls.

MUDD: I think we are spoiled. You look not only against the operation against Bin Laden. I remember reacting to that when I was just out of CIA, saying, This is on the verge of a miracle that everything worked right there. But the Americans also look at sort of the antiseptic operations of drones, standoff operations and say we can do this without really putting a human life at risk and I'm going to tell you, with that many girls on the ground, either the girls are going to die or the captors are going to die. It's just not going to be clean.

SMERCONISH: From an intelligence gathering standpoint, how difficult to infiltrate a group like Boko Haram? I know you're out of the business these days. I never quite buy that with guys like you. I just want you to know. But how difficult a thing do you think it is to get data?

MUDD: You're never out of the business. There are two pieces of data that you can focus on. Here initially, this is the imagery data, the data from the drone that gives you a sense of where the camp is potentially and what's happening. The second is technical data things like phone intercepts, the complication here, though, is what we call HUMINT -- human sources. My guess is the Nigerians have alienated Boko Haram so much that it's very difficult for them to recruit members who will turn coat, if you will and talk to the Nigerian government.

SMERCONISH: You are the ranking Democrat on the committee that will convene this Wednesday and I also looked at a statement from the chairman and much tougher talk than you're offering here. It begs the question, what would be the net-net of the Wednesday hearing?

ENGEL: Well, we have a representative from the State Department and one from the Defense Department and we really want to hear what our options are. Chairman Royce and I are conducting this hearing together in a bipartisan fashion which we try very hard to do on the Foreign Affairs Committee and I think our views on this are not dissimilar.

We want to rescue those girls but also want to do what's feasible. So we want to listen to our witnesses, see what they have to say and make our decisions then. It's very easy to sort of be emotional and say, well, rescue those girls and put boots on the ground but, again, we don't know if the girls are still all in one place. We don't even know if they're all alive.

SMERCONISH: I know we're catching you both cold, sorry for that. I'm about to put my own headline on this story. If you were writing a headline on this story, that accurately sums up exactly what it was, what would the headline be? Phil, anything come to the top of the mind?

MUDD: Yes, tragedy impending. This is going to be, there will be a capture operation at some point, given the complicated nature of the target and the geographic dispersal all of these girls, someone is going to die.

SMERCONISH: Congressman, what headline would you put on this story?

ENGEL: Well, I think Phil is quite right on that. I think again, it's easier said than done. I would say we tried and we did our best and hopefully it will be enough.

SMERCONISH: All right. Here comes mine, you remember that original headline, put that up. We'll go back to the original headline we started with. McCain: Send U.S. Special Forces to Rescue Nigerian Girls. Here's my take, No vital U.S. interest, no troops.

Gentlemen, thank you for being here.

Donald Sterling's rant and Michael Sam's kiss both raise the bigger issue, what are you free to say or do without fear of condemnation?

And this man says that he knows exactly who the Zodiac killer is and he can prove it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something heinous would have been indicted and convicted. He never got charged and indicted and convicted for anything. So, there is something that he had done that someone knew he had done but couldn't prove it.



SMERCONISH: Hey, back to the headlines. This one comes from "USA Today." Donald Sterling tells NBA he won't pay fine. Sterling's attorney is also telling the NBA that his billionaire client plans to fight his banishment from the league.

But stick with me because this is just not another conversation about a racist, octogenarian, Sterling, of course, was banned for life over racist comments that were caught on tape and he said this about the comments during the exclusive interview with our Anderson Cooper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD STERLING: I'm a good member who made a mistake and I'm apologizing and I'm asking for forgiveness. Am I entitled to one mistake after 35 years? I mean, I love my league and I love my partners. Am I entitled to one mistake? It's a terrible mistake and I'll never do it again.


SMERCONISH: His ban raises questions about free speech and so does this. Last Saturday Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL. When he got the call he kissed and hugged his boyfriend. Their show of affection got a huge reaction on social media, positive and negative.

One Miami Dolphins player tweeted "OMG" and "horrible." Don Jones has since deleted those comments, but he got suspended and has to go to a form of sensitivity training.

Cedric Maxwell, a former NBA star, who played for the Clippers and Celtics. He is also a radio broadcaster and Marc Randazza is a noted first amendment attorney who was one of the first to raise this free speech issue on Gentlemen, thank you for joining me now.

Cedric, I have to say when I saw the tweet from the Miami Dolphin player, Don Jones, I thought of you because about two weeks ago here on CNN you were the one who said to me, "I'm worried about the slippery slope and where this is all leading." I guess you're entitled to an "I told you so."

CEDRIC MAXWELL, FMR. NBA STAR: Well, it really is true. I think this way about it. We're talking about slippery slope and everything that goes wrong. We talked about over and over again that there are going to be some people who are going to get in trouble because of this. The problem I have, Michael, is one thing. You know I am very much about everybody living their lifestyle, but at the same time, you cannot say anything that might be negative about anybody living a different lifestyle without being persecuted yourself.

That, to me, is going way over the top. You are giving those kind of people that much more power if you're telling people who have an opinion that they can't use it because it's different.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Mark, in "USA Today" Ken Paulson wrote on this very subject and he said "You know, imagine what would have happened if the Dolphin player had said "congrats to Michael Sam but the idea of two men in a romantic relationship offends my deepest religious beliefs." I thought he raised a great issue. OMG, horrible has one connotation.

If he tied it to his faith, maybe he wouldn't have been reprimanded. Help me sort this out.

MARC RANDAZZA, FIRST AMENDMENT ATTORNEY: Well, maybe he wouldn't. But I think we need to sort out a difference between your first amendment rights and principles of free speech. You don't have a first amendment right to be free from criticism. So if anybody keeping the program on these guys is not violating their first amendment rights.

Nevertheless, I don't think it matters if he says it's because of his religious beliefs or just because if he has bigoted beliefs. Shouldn't we have the freedom to be bigoted. That's very different than defending bigotry. I subscribe to the orthodoxy that they're trying to enforce but my beliefs are strong enough that they can stand in opposition to a bigot's beliefs.

I believe the marketplace of ideas will eventually cause what I believe to be the winning side of the story.

SMERCONISH: Cedric, does that make sense to you? Do you think the market can respond to this? Do you think that a public reaction to Donald Sterling would have been sufficient and maybe a public reaction to the Miami Dolphin player would have similarly been sufficient?

MAXWELL: No, really, I think there is going to be a backlash. I think over and over again when you think about what happened with Donald Sterling. Then I love this part. Big, bad, Magic Johnson. What has he ever done for black people? I mean, Donald Sterling keeps digging a bigger and bigger hole. So I said this before, this will be protracted and will not go away. This is NBA's worst nightmare. It's going to going over a long distance of time.

SMERCONISH: Marc, what it makes me wonder is if this is not just a celebrity issue. Might this get into routine Americans' workplace where now something that's said after hours that gets back to the boss causes them to be targeted and reprimanded in the workplace?

RANDAZZA: Mike, we're already there. This all really percolated in the early '90s on academic campuses where you had civility codes and speech codes beginning to develop already. And by the time we all realized it was too big, it was too late. You know, places where you're supposed to have the greatest ability for freedom of thought have already shut that down. I'm not surprised that now it's leaking out into the public sphere.

You know, I think that we should have freedom of explosion and you should let the marketplace of ideas deal with that problem, not coercion.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Cedric, as a super star of the game and a guy who still got more than just a hand in. You speak to both the retired players and I'm sure those who are active today. Are the concerns that you're expressing here, concerns about where this all leads, things that you're hearing from athletes?

MAXWELL: Yes. Very much so. I think the athletes right now are looking at it and saying this is that slope. What can I say? What can't I say? Every time you see an athlete tweet, tweet about any kind of social issue, it seems to be a problem. And everybody kind of goes at them. So, it's almost like to the point now where you just want to pull back and not really say anything at all and not have an opinion. And I don't think that's what we want from our athletes, from our people, anybody out there. Everybody should be entitled to an opinion. SMERCONISH: Hey, Marc, what then are we saying? Because it seems like there's a consensus among the three of us that we have a concern that perhaps the ripple effects of this are going to go too far but, of course, none of us are buying into any of that crazy and racist talk from Donald Sterling. So what, Marc, are we saying should happen to individuals like him going forward?

RANDAZZA: You know, I have to agree with Mr. Maxwell. There should be this wide-open and robust debate and I think we are getting into a place where debate is going to suffer. You know, having the bad guy say something that we don't agree with, it doesn't mean that we're OK with it. It sometimes gives us the ability to put up a negative example. Something that we can hear, say something that we don't like and then the chorus of other speakers comes up and says, "No, you're really an isolated individual if you have these bigoted views."

That progresses society. That progresses ideas. If people are afraid to speak, as Mr. Maxwell said, well, you know where we wind up? We wind up with just an echo chamber of what the orthodox view is and that's not good for anybody. It's not even good for the people who subscribe to the orthodox view.

SMERCONISH: Marc Randazza, Cedric Maxwell, thank you both, gentlemen.

Stick around and listen to my headline. Because I think you're going to like it. Remember that opening headline? Donald Sterling tells NBA he won't pay fine. Here's how I would have rewritten it. New Speech Standards, Not So Sterling.

How is your health care plan at work? If you have one, it could soon get pink slipped. What that would mean for you and for businesses.

And by now you've probably seen Beyonce's sister going ballistic on rap mogul Jay-Z but there's a reason you should be concerned about this video.


SMERCONISH: Hey, time for headlines redefined. The headlines that got the story half right.

Number one is from Media Eye (ph). Twenty six percent of the world is anti-Semitic and 46 percent unaware of Holocaust, survey finds. This is a survey that came from the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League. You got to take the results seriously.

And they found that a quarter of the world's population agree that negative statements regarding Jews are "probably true and equal horrific." Forty six percent have never heard of the Holocaust. This survey, I note, is released just as our 9/11 National Memorial Museum has opened here in Manhattan.

I had the privilege of visiting last night and it was really stunning. The reason that I bring that up is because in each of these instances many of us often say never forget, never forget but repeating the refrain isn't enough. I mean when we are 70 years removed from the events of September 11, will 46 percent of the world's population know nothing about it? That's a scary thought.

And the answer is education. The answer is education in both the home and in school settings. You remember that headline, the headline that said 26 percent of the world is anti-Semitic and 46 percent unaware of Holocaust. What I would have written, Poll Shows History Doomed to Repeat Itself.

Second headline and it comes from "The Tampa Bay Times" Businesses may quickly abandoned health insurance for workers so reports suggest.

Many health care experts are now saying something that I predicted after I enrolled my family at and that is that perhaps it's time for the U.S. to move away from the model where we look to our employers to supply all of our health coverage and insurance.

We're unique in this regard and this whole process originates at the time of World War II when FDR froze wages but allowed employers to increase benefits. I like the trend away and the reason I like the trend away is because I think it's healthy and in the system's best interest when individuals are responsible for their own coverage and shopping competitively for rates, like we do for all other forms of insurance.

Because when we have skin in the game then we have an eye towards the costs and right now, no one in this health care system is riding rough shot over the costs. Remember that headline, the one that began businesses may quickly abandon health insurance for workers report suggests. What I would have written, Businesses to Employees C.Y. "own" A.

And finally, number three from "the New York Post." Staffer who leaked Solange, Jay-Z video, fired. It's true. She's been fired or he's been fired. We don't know the gender. Apparently they were paid $250,000 for that video that then went viral.

By the way, I have a side question. If the gender of Jay-Z and Solange were reversed, wouldn't there be a criminal probe right now into that presumed assault and battery? But my real focus is privacy or lack thereof privacy. We have had so many Snowden-inspired debates here about the role of government surveillance but what about people intrusion. People intruding on one another's privacy. Just because you have a smartphone in your pocket doesn't give you license to invade someone else's privacy.

Remember the headline, the one that began, Staffer who leaked Solange, Jay-Z video fired. What mine would have been, We are Big Brother.

The theory got thrown out there and it's too late to take it back. The suggestion that Hillary Clinton endured some traumatic brain injury, but is it a legitimate issue that merits further discussion?

And has the infamous zodiac killer just been found? You're hear about to hear from the guy who says he saw one of the nation's darkest mysteries.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: Let's check our next headline this one comes from "Politico" and it says Karl Rove: Hillary Clinton Might Have Brain Injury. In one snippet from a larger speech, the conservative political mastermind raised questions, health questions, about the possible 2016 democratic presidential nominee. Rove's comments were in response to the bad fall that Hillary Clinton took in 2012.

She was in the hospital for three days. He apparently said she was there for 30. He also said that the glasses that she wore after the incident were designed for people with traumatic brain injury -- that also, not entirely true.

Those glasses are used to treat double vision. Despite the falsities, all major news outlets ran with the story. I want to bring in my special guest, Ramesh Ponnuru, Senior Editor of "National Review."

Ramesh, is he the right messenger to launch this issue into the 2016 Conversation?

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, Rove may have made some factual mistakes there. But I think that it is a legitimate issue. The question of getting the full truth about the medical history of Mrs. Clinton, or Secretary Clinton, is very important.

And it's -- and it's going to have to be something that candidates don't raise themselves but other people do, seeing as Rove's not running for anything. I think it makes as much sense for him as for anybody else.

SMERCONISH: Right. But my -- my question -- I -- I agree with you. I think that age and health of someone who wants to be the chief executive, the commander-in-chief is a legitimate issue.

You and I both remember this is something that came up relative to Ronald Reagan. It came up relative to John McCain. You know, I'm -- I'm hard-pressed to remember an election where, frankly, it hasn't come up.

But I asked whether he was the proper messenger because the fact that it was Rove who threw this into the mix, I think now causes this issue to be diminished in the minds of many who pay close attention like, oh, it's just something Rove said. And he's such a -- a hard core guy on the right.

And does he really have credibility to advance an issue like this?

PONNURU: Well, you know, the important comment, though, this week, though, I think was not Rove's. It was the one that Bill Clinton made in response to Rove where he said that it took Hillary Clinton six months to recover.

That means that was a very serious issue, far more serious than the state department said at the time. One month after the incident, state department spokeswoman said that she had made a full recovery.

So we've got, I think, I mean, if -- if Rove's comment was designed to elicit a response that got us more information, it succeeded.

SMERCONISH: But I think it's a comment that frankly stirred the base, might be good relative to getting out the vote in 2014. But let's say it's now 2015 and there are issues that are raised relative to her health or age.

I think in the minds of many, they're going to say, oh, yes, Karl Rove brought that up back in 2014. And it's already been dealt with. I guess I'm trying hard to drive the point that I think by Rove having been the messenger, he diluted what would otherwise have been...


SMERCONISH: ...a credible issue for Republicans.

PONNURU: It's going to be a partisan issue. Look, if you go back to the 1996 polls on Bob Dole's age, 20 percent of the electorate thought he was too old in, you know, February of '96. There was vastly disproportionately Democrats who thought he was too old.

Republicans were fine with it. There's just a natural partisan filter. And if it's not Rove or some other Republican who raises this issue, I don't think that we can count on the press to -- to raise it itself and really create a drum beat that forces the release of medical records.

SMERCONISH: I think if Ramesh Ponnuru had written on it without Rove's baggage, it -- it would have been more credible and would have been taken more seriously. Let me ask you a final question.

How old is too old? She'd be 69 when elected, 77 at the end of a second term. How old is too old?

PONNURU: Well, you know, I don't -- I don't think that there's a hard and fast rule. I don't think that age should be a deal breaker. But I think it is a factor that voters are going to weigh.

And I think that that evidence suggests that that's exactly what voters do.

SMERCONISH: Ramesh Ponnuru, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

PONNURU: You're welcome.

SMERCONISH: So you remember the original headline, "Karl Rove: Hillary Clinton Might Have Brain Injury." Here's how I'd rewrite this one. "Rove Lessens an Otherwise Legitimate Issue."

So one guy goes looking for his birth father and says he thinks he solved the search for one of the nation's most notorious serial killers.


(UNKNOWN): He's dead. I'm the only one around. It's going to affect nobody. Please tell me what's in that file. And their response was to my mother, that what was in that file was so heinous, that it would destroy you.



SMERCONISH: That was a clip from the 2007 movie "Zodiac" about the hunt for the notorious serial killer. But today, the mystery may be solved.

Here is the headline from the "L.A. Times" in new book, "Man Claims Zodiac Killer Was His Father." That man is Gary Stewart. He's a 51- year-old Louisiana man who went searching for his birth father and uncovered a criminal that he believes is one of this nation's most notorious serial killers.

Stewart has now written "The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching For My Father and Finding the Zodiac Killer." And I just had the chance to sit down and talk with him about his claims.


GARY STEWART: The Zodiac killer terrorized the residents of California in the -- the 1960s and '70s. And to this day has remained America's version of Jack the Ripper, the most notorious unsolved serial killer in all of America.

SMERCONISH: And taunted law enforcement.

STEWART: Similar to Jack the Ripper. I believe he copied Jack the Ripper with his obsessions of the U.K. because he committed his acts and then he -- he sent letters bragging about it.

SMERCONISH: And not only would he send letters, but he would send proofs so that people knew of what he spoke.

STEWART: Yes (ph).

SMERCONISH: What was that opening line? This is the Zodiac speaking --

STEWART: Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: -- that he'd be able to speak with authority.

STEWART: That's when he first gained his confidence.

SMERCONISH: So what was the event that triggered for you the recognition, my god, perhaps my father was the Zodiac killer?

STEWART: I was told very early on when my biological mother asked one of her police friends to help me find my father that there was information in his file that he was not going to share. Over the course of the next two years, as I would run into a dead end here or a dead end there, I would go back to my mother and ask her to go back to her friend and say, please tell Gary what's in that file. I eventually learned that he had passed away. I went back one last...

SMERCONISH: Your father.

STEWART: father had passed away. And -- and so I went back to my mother pleading one last time. He's dead. I'm the only one around. It's going to affect nobody. Please tell me what's in that file.

And their response was to my mother that what was in that file was so heinous that it would destroy you.



SMERCONISH: now, you had your own son.

STEWART: Absolutely...

SMERCONISH: The two of you were watching TV one day...

STEWART: So we're watching TV and on this interesting documentary, any cold case files, when they flashed up the picture of the wanted poster from 1969 of the Zodiac killer.

SMERCONISH: And your son, Zach, says to you...

STEWART: He said, daddy -- so I go get the only photo that I have of my father, which was -- which was actually a mug shot. I -- I was not aware it was his mug shot from the underage rape of my mother from 1962. I was told by the San Francisco police department that that was an old DMV photo.

I said, Zach, it's not -- it's not me. It's my father. And that's when i set out to prove, you know, no way. This can't happen. He can't...

SMERCONISH: You put that together with the fact that you've been told that your -- your father's file has something heinous in it. And you're not going to see it. And now, you've got the resemblance.

STEWART: I -- I ultimately acquired his entire public record, including from the FBI and -- and the cleat system. The only thing that -- and it has every account of every arrest and every conviction that he had.

SMERCONISH: Gary, one other aspect of the story, the -- the ciphers the code, the language with which he used to speak and taunt law enforcement, in the book, you argue that you cracked some of that which law enforcement was never able to.

STEWART: His first ciphers to the three newspapers, "The Examiner," "Vallejo Times Herald" and "The Chronicle" had a hidden message. So every time the Zodiac sent a new cipher, they were looking for a hidden message.

What they didn't realize is his name is all over that cipher and all over the next one, and all over the next one. And he kept saying, have you cracked my latest cipher yet?

My name is -- indicating my name is in the cipher. I knew the name to look for. Law enforcement didn't.

SMERCONISH: What am I looking at?

STEWART: You're looking at my father's name. My father's name was Earl Van Best, Jr. but...

SMERCONISH: Earl Van Best, Jr., OK.

STEWART: Junior. And -- and however, that thing (ph) -- father's name was Earl Van Best, OK?


STEWART: Both of them signed their name EV Best and my...


STEWART: ...and of course, my father put the Junior on the end.


STEWART: It pops out right away. E...


STEWART: ...V...


STEWART: ...B, E, S, T, JR.


SMERCONISH: Pretty stunning, right? I want to thank Gary Stewart for stopping by. You remember that original headline, "In New Book, Man Claims Zodiac Killer Was His Father." Here's how I'd rewrite it, "Plumbing Contractor Claims He Did What SFPD Couldn't."

Intolerance on campuses nationwide but most of this intolerance is coming from the students themselves over what should be one of their defining moments. And why one of the richest royals in the world needs to take a closer look at the hired help.


SMERCONISH: Hey, our next headline comes from the "San Jose Mercury News." And it says, "Graduation Speakers Starting to Back Out."

The story followed the decision by the former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley who backed out of his speech at Haverford College after students protested his invitation. Before him, it was former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers. And IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde who backed out after student protests at Smith College. Many are taking issue with the protesters. "The New York Times'" Timothy Egan wrote this, "Give me a brisk, strong, witty defense of something I disagree with over a tired replay of platitudes. It matters little if the speaker is a convict or seminarian, a statesman or a comedian."

Joining me now from Boston is David McCullough, the author of "You Are Not Special." And he delivered a commencement address with that theme two years ago that went viral.


DAVID MCCULLOUGH, AUTHOR: None of you is special. You're not special. You're not exceptional. Contrary to what your U-9 soccer trophy suggests, your -- your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mr. Rogers and your batty Aunt Silvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you, you are nothing special.


SMERCONISH: David, I loved it when you said it. I was one of those who helped in some small way making it viral because I kept watching it. But you know what I've wondered, were you speaking only to students or were you also speaking to their parents?

MCCULLOUGH: I was speaking only to the Students. But I was aware the parents were there.

SMERCONISH: And you, yourself, are a father of -- of what, three teenagers. I'd be curious, I, too, have three teenage sons. I'd be curious to hear you articulate what is the proper role of a commencement speaker in 2014?

MCCULLOUGH: To help celebrate the occasion, to be thought-provoking and relevant and brief.

SMERCONISH: And what do you make of the controversies this year? It's been going on for a while. But they seem more pronounced this year than any year in recent memory.

MCCULLOUGH: Yes, I think I'm embarrassed for the schools. Schools are supposed to be places of open-mindedness and receptiveness to other ideas, to civil discussion. I think it's shameful what's happening.

SMERCONISH: And it makes you worried, I imagine, because if -- if there's intolerance in this environment, the environment where people should most be open-minded, it doesn't bode well for the remainder of society. Or am I taking it too far?

MCCULLOUGH: No, I think you're precisely right. You know, we get this cyclone of opinionizing, which pretty soon looks like consensus. What's supposed to be a happy occasion, and a -- a forum for interesting ideas.

One should be open-minded to and respectful of differing opinions, even contrary opinions. This is what colleges are for.

SMERCONISH: You know, I -- I watched on CNN early this morning. And I saw that the first lady delivered a commencement address in Kansas just yesterday to high school students. And -- and her theme was to say, we -- we may be many years removed from Brown versus the Board of Education.

But there are signs that we're headed back in that segregated direction. An appropriate theme for a commencement address -- is that thought-provoking? Is that the kind of thing that should be addressed?

MCCULLOUGH: Absolutely. And we should be receptive to that kind of discourse.

SMERCONISH: There's something about you, McCulloughs, when it comes to commencement addresses. I want to roll a clip of what I think is -- is the gold standard of commencement addresses. You will recognize the speaker.


MCCULLOUGH: Do what you can to cure that verbal virus so rampant among your generation. I'm talking about the relentless, worrisome use of words "like," and "you know," and "awesome," and "actually." Just imagine, if in his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy had said, ask not what your country can, you know, do for you, but what you can, like, do for your country, actually.


SMERCONISH: Hey, David, I was going to say, that was an awesome commencement address. But I think your father would -- would want to reprimand me (ph)...

MCCULLOUGH: Like, really awesome.

SMERCONISH: Yes, you've -- you've delivered the speech.


SMERCONISH: The speech went viral. Your students -- I know because I've watched many of them being interviewed, they're -- they're so receptive to your message. And you said, you know, there's a book here. What's the bigger picture that you wanted to convey in the book?

MCCULLOUGH: That students should do what they do because they're interested and believe in the -- the endeavor, but not worry not so much about opportunities downstream, to have confidence in themselves, to think independently and to do some good for the rest of us.

SMERCONISH: Do you think that we've coddled too many of them to -- to think that they're invincible, and that if we don't sort of level that playing field soon, they're going to enter the world of work and -- and have a pretty rough go initially?

MCCULLOUGH: That's right. And -- and for so many kids, we need them. You know, their education isn't just for their benefit. It's for the rest of us who will rely on them later in life.

SMERCONISH: Society suffers if we don't right this ship soon. I get it. It's a great message. Thank you so much for being here.

MCCULLOUGH: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Best of luck with the book, and -- and regards to your father as well.

MCCULLOUGH: My pleasure.

SMERCONISH: That's David McCullough, Jr.

You remember our original headline, "Graduation Speakers Starting to Back Out?" Here's how I'd have rewritten this one, "Commencing Intolerance."

So on one side, you have a former late-night talk host backed by even more star power, and on the other, you have the leader of one of the wealthiest nations in the world. But almost forgotten in the middle, all of those incredible people who are probably working paycheck-to- paycheck, they're the ones that I'm worried about the most.


SMERCONISH: Hey, I've got one last headline this morning. Two weeks ago, I spent a weekend in Los Angeles. And one afternoon, I came back at my hotel. And I saw a commotion across the street.

But I wasn't initially sure of the cause. Inside my room, I watched the local news. And I learned that Jay Leno was outside, among a few dozen protesters. And they were complaining about the hotel's ownership.

The landmark where I was staying, best known for five-star service and that iconic roofline that adorns the album cover of the Eagles' "Hotel California" was the Beverly Hills Hotel. Leno and the others were calling attention to the fact that far (ph) the ownership chain of the hotel sits the Sultan of Brunei who's in the process of instituting Sharia law in his tiny oil-rich nation. I had no idea of the ownership connection prior to my stay.

The night after my departure, the Beverly Hills City Council passed a unanimous resolution, which calls for the Brunei government owners to sell the hotel and other properties that it owns in Beverly Hills. Soon thereafter, at a town hall for employees of the hotel, the management announced that all jobs and wages of employees were secure despite a decline in business.

I was happy to hear that because it's not the sultan for whom I have sympathy. The idea of Sharia is abhorrent. It's those workers. News account say that 600 people work at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

And over the span of two nights, I had interactions with lots of them -- the valet, who helped retrieve my rental car, the housekeeping supervisor who saw half dozen of my books in my room and felt obliged to put a bookmark in each, the concierge who gave me driving directions. These aren't members of Hollywood's rich and famous.

I doubt any of them even live in Beverly Hills. They're American workers hustling to earn a living. And they're now probably fearful about their jobs in a tough economy. Despite management's assurance, one has to wonder whether a protracted protest will ultimately jeopardize their livelihood.

And the only certainty seems to be that the protest will have no impact on the intended target. He's too rich to feel any pain. Perhaps a better way to protect those innocents would be a response from the White House.

Last March, President Obama met with the Sultan in the oval office and opened a media availability with this remark.


OBAMA: Well, it is a great pleasure to welcome my good friend, his majesty, the Sultan of Brunei. He is a -- a key leader in the Southeast Asian region, but also widely respected around the world.


SMERCONISH: Perhaps the Hollywood elite would be better served enlisting the support of a president whose attention they could certainly command rather than putting American workers in the crosshairs. So the headline I'd write for this story, "Time for the President to Check In." Thanks so much for watching. I'll see you back here in two weeks. Have a great weekend.