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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Axis of Allies?; Day in Court; Insurance Dumping?; Michael Richards' Apology; Remembering a Maverick

Aired November 21, 2006 - 23:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Taking your money, but denying your claim. A shocking look at health coverage in America from the eyes of a family in crisis.
Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360. Sitting in for Anderson and reporting tonight from the CNN studios in New York, here is John Roberts.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening again. Thanks for being with us.

While the White House and the Pentagon are mapping out a new strategy for the war, another country flexing its muscles in the Middle East may have come up a disturbing option of its own, Iran.

The Iranian president invited the leaders of Iraq and Syria to Tehran in coming days to talk about the situation in Iraq. Already, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the man who President Bush continues to support, has accepted the offer.

Late today we learned the President is going to meet with Maliki next week in Jordan, but not before Iran gets to share its ideas with the former enemy.

More on that now form CNN's Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the U.S. military is looking for an explanation for the rising violence in Iraq, it often points the finger directly at two of Iraq's neighbors.

GENERAL GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Both Iran and Syria continue to be decidedly unhelpful by providing support to the different extremist and terrorist groups operating inside Iraq.

MCINTYRE: In testimony before the Senate last week, CIA Director General Michael Hayden cited what he called the Iranian hand as a formidable obstacle to peace in Iraq.

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR: It appears to be growing and Iranian ambitions in Iraq seem to be expanding.

With regard to Syria, it's sometimes hard to judge the distinction between incompetence and malevolence with regard to what goes on in Syria that may affect the situation in Iraq. MCINTYRE: The United States claims between 70 and 100 foreign fighters cross the Syrian border each month to join insurgents. And U.S. commanders tell CNN's Barbara Starr, now traveling in the region, that a rogue element of as many as 10,000 Shia militia fighters are being funded by Iran.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Officials here say that they now believe that breakaway element is largely influenced by Iran which is providing weapons, money and training inside of Iraq. It's something that is a matter of great concern here.

MCINTYRE: So why are Iran and Syria signaling they might be willing to take steps, such as tightening their borders or cracking down on al Qaeda terrorists?

While it is in both country's long term interests to have a stable Iraq, analysts say Iran's power play is aimed at diminishing U.S. influence and making it look like the regional superpower.

VALI NASR, AUTHOR, "THE SHIA REVIVAL": But the whole point of this exercise is for Iran and Syria to show that they do not need U.S.'s approval for approaching the Iraqi government or for having their own peace plan and stability plan for Iraq.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. recognizes Iraq needs good relations with its neighbors and says the proof will be if both countries stop funding terrorists and fomenting anti-U.S. and Iraqi violence.

NICHOLAS BURNS, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: The challenge really is to the leadership in Tehran and Damascus to demonstrate that they have good faith here. It's not just a remark about meetings. It's to see some substantive change, policy change on the ground. That is what everyone is looking for.

MCINTYRE (on camera): It remains to be seen how much influence Iran can exert over factions it supports in Iraq and how willing or able Syria is to stop the flow of foreign fighters across its border. But perhaps the bigger question is what might those countries might want from Iraq in return.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


ROBERTS: CNN is following this story live from inside both Iran and Iraq. Joining me from Tehran is Middle East Correspondent Aneesh Rahman; and from Baghdad, CNN's Michael Ware.

Michael, we just heard Jamie McIntyre and Barbara Starr talk about rogue elements, militias that are funded by Iran. That's long been known about on the ground there in Iraq, but is there growing concern about the size of this particular rogue element, 10,000 fighters according to McIntyre?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, this is absolutely nothing new. As you yourself said, John, I mean, the fact that Central Command is now suddenly saying that it is concerned that this may be developing is frightening in itself. I mean, Central Command has known this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the ground have been mapping the breaking away of the factions from Muqtada al-Sadr's mini army.

So, I mean, this is not startling in the least. What's startling is the fact that Central Command is only saying it now and encouching (ph) it in such careful terms.

We have seen that as elements break away from the mainstream of the Mahdi army. Iran has stepped in to support them.

Now, we are seeing Iran stepping in to poach them and draw them away. This is a period of Iranian ascendancy. Syria will be capitalizing too, while America appears weak with its wheels spinning in the mud here in the region.

ROBERTS: Iranian ascendancy. Aneesh Raman, do you think that Iran is genuinely concerned about the spiraling level of violence in Iraq? Or are these talks purely designed to upstage American efforts?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN MICCLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't think anyone expects any change on the ground because of the talks this weekend. It is, as you mentioned, political theater more than anything else.

But Iran does not benefit from an Iraq that completely falls apart. It benefits from a simmering situation because it has leverage over the United States.

And as things have gotten worse, we have seen a decrease in the public calls by Iranian leaders for the U.S. to get out now. There is a quiet sense within the government that if the U.S. were to do so, Iran would be left with the situation in Iraq and would be left fighting a Sunni insurgency that is in part fighting against Iranian influence and not just the Americans.

ROBERTS: Michael, do Iran and Syria have the influence to curb the sectarian violence that's brewing between Shiites and Sunnis, you know, Syria is allowing these Sunni fighters and Sunni supporting fighters to cross the border into Iraq. On the west, the Shiite's government of Iran is funding these Shiite militias and these breakaway groups as we mentioned. If they wanted to, could they say, enough, stop?

WARE: Well, they could do that and that would curb the limit of their involvement. But the fact is that the civil war here in Iraq that stemmed from that those circumstances under the American occupation now has its own momentum.

So, even if you could seal the borders, so much blood has been spilled here, nothing can turn back that tide. Certainly, not anything in the immediate to near term. And there is simply no reason for these countries to stop. Now is their moment of advantage and they're going to press it while there is a period of strategic uncertainty in the United States and America is unable to exert its will here in Iraq. We're seeing more of the will of Iran being displayed than that of Washington here on the ground.

ROBERTS: Aneesh Raman, you've spent an awful lot of time in Tehran. You were also recently in Baghdad. We spent some time there together, and Michael as well. And you talked to a lot of people on the streets of Tehran. Did they support their government's involvement with the Shiite militias across the border in Iraq?

RAMAN: Well, publicly they mimic everything that the government says. You know, Iranians are observers. They're not participants in this theocracy, nor are they participants in its decision making.

When you talk to them about foreign affairs, they really start to tune out. They don't pay much attention here on the ground. Why? Because their domestic concerns trump everything else. There's high unemployment, high inflation. Iran's president was elected to fix both. He hasn't. And it's actually hard to find anyone here who thinks Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will win reelection because of that.

So all of this is more a political theater to them. They can't do much about it. It's where their government is choosing to go. They are a bit concerned in the situation in Iraq. They're watching it closely. They are quietly concerned that Iran is spending so much money in Lebanon, in the Palestinian areas, in Iraq and not as much as home, but there's very little they can do about that.

ROBERTS: Another emerging and interesting dynamic in a place that never seems to cease surprising us.

Aneesh Raman in Tehran, Michael Ware in Baghdad, thanks very much.

For more perspective on the Iran/Iraq meeting, I spoke to Robin Wright. She is the diplomatic correspondent for the "Washington Post." She joined me earlier.


ROBERTS: Robin Wright, it looked like there was an exciting development in the wind yesterday when Iran's president invited the leaders of both Iraq and Syria to attend a weekend summit, but is that looking increasingly unlikely now?

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST" CORRESPONDENT: Well, it appears that the Syrians are not going to go. And that makes it a very different kind of meeting in Tehran.

The Iranians and the Iraqis have talked quite often. But it is true that Iran and Syria are the two pivotal players when it comes to dealing with Iraq's future and have the most influence when it comes to the Shiite-led government. What influence they would have on the Sunni insurgency, because most of the foreign fighters and virtually all of the insurgents are Sunnis, is a very different question.

ROBERTS: Yes, I'm wondering what you think the result of Syria and Iraq re-establishing diplomatic ties after 26 years or 24 years would be?

WRIGHT: Well, this is very important. The key question, of course, is whether the Syrians are going to cut off its border with Iraq to foreign fighters who have been using it according to the U.S. at the rate of 100 crossing every month. That's the real key. It is one thing to have relations, it's one thing to do the things that really do establish relations and help each other.

ROBERTS: Explain this for us, if you could, Robin, and just try to help people understand the dynamic between Syria and Iran. Iran, a majority Shiite country; Syria, a majority Sunni country, and yet they have very close relations with each other, have for decades and there is belief that they cooperate quite intimately on the issue of Hezbollah. What is the dynamic there?

WRIGHT: Well, the key dynamic is the fact that the Syrian government is led by a minority of a Shiite offshoot sect, the Allawite, and they are very close to the Shiite led government in Iran. That gives it a component that is important, that extends beyond common political goals, they have a common heritage.

ROBERTS: And in trying to get together the leaders of Iraq and Syria, is Iran -- do you believe that they are trying to be a genuine peace broker here, and genuinely interested in seeing peace and democracy flourish in Iraq? Or do you think this is just them trying to do an end run around the United States and gain even more influence over Iraq's government than they already have?

WRIGHT: I think the primary goal is Iran's interest in being a major power and major player in the region. It has been hurt, because it's been excluded by so many of its Arab neighbors. At the same time it does want some kind of stability in Iraq. It has its own very large Kurdish, Arab and Sunni populations. And any instability in Iraq spills over across the border.

So it plays out in a number of different ways, but it also wants very much to pre-empt the United States from being the one who decides who is part of the Iraq's future. It wants to believe that it is the key player in that process.

ROBERTS: Robin Wright, thanks for your thoughts on that. Do us a favor. Stay around because we want to ask you more about what's going on in Lebanon.



ROBERTS: Well, Baghdad is less than 500 miles east of Damascus where Syria's military regime is based. The ruling (UNINTELLIGIBLE) family, as Robin Wright mentioned is Allawite, a religious minority in Syria, just as the Sunnis are in Iraq.

Here's the raw data. There are more than 18 million Syrians, 90 percent are Arab. The vast majority, nearly 3/4 are Sunni Muslims; 16 percent belong to the Allawite and other Muslim sects.

A preliminary hearing for Polygamist Leader Warren Jeffs. A young woman who says Jeffs forced her to marry at the age of 14 takes the stand. We'll hear what she had to say.

What you don't know about your health insurance policy could cost you thousands of dollars. Coming up, one family's story from 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta.

And the fallout continues over Actor Michael Richards' tirade. Was his apology enough to heal wounds?

That and more when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: An emotional day in a Utah court. Polygamist Leader Warren Jeffs came face-to-face with one of his many alleged victims. A young woman, a former member of his church, who testified Jeffs forced her to marry her own cousin when she was just a teenager.

Here is CNN's Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Polygamist Leader Warren Jeffs sat quietly in a Utah courtroom, waiting to hear from the star witness. The court-operated video camera won't show her, because she was a minor, only 14 when she says Jeffs told her she had to marry her first cousin. But we can let you hear from the woman we'll call Jane Doe.

VOICE OF "JANE DOE": I was shocked. I was like, no way. I -- there is no way I am going to marry that man.

TUCHMAN: As the prophet, Jeffs is alleged to have ordered and presided over many weddings of girls under 18. But prosecutors hope Jane Doe proves to be Jeffs' undoing.

She testified her salvation was in jeopardy if she didn't follow Jeffs' orders. She said she pleaded with Jeffs to cancel the wedding, but he said that it was God's will. So in April 2001, Jeffs married them.

VOICE OF "JANE DOE": This entire time that I was there, I was crying and I just -- I honestly just wanted to die because I was so scared.

TUCHMAN: Jeffs, behind bars without bond, is still the leader of the plural marriage FLDS church. Prosecutors say by marrying off Jane Doe to a man who had sex with her, Jeffs is an accomplice to rape.

Jane Doe says the first time she had sex with the husband, she didn't know that's how babies were made.

VOICE OF "JANE DOE": He said I've always wanted to see a woman naked. I was so embarrassed, was so embarrassed.

TUCHMAN: Jane Doe is now married, pregnant with a new husband's baby and is no longer in the church. Her ex-husband has not been charged in the case. Prosecutors reserve the right to charge him at a later date. Jeffs' attorneys pressed the now 20-year-old alleged victim if she ever told Warren Jeffs she was having sex against her will.

VOICE OF "JANE DOE": He told me to go and submit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did he ever tell you to go have intercourse...

VOICE OF "JANE DOE": He never said intercourse, no.

TUCHMAN: Jeffs had at least 10 supporters watching in the court. Jeffs wore a slight smile at times. He did not speak during the hearing. His attorneys claim he's being persecuted because of his religion.

So do you think she wanted to be married, that's all?

WALTER BUGDEN, JEFFS' ATTORNEY: Mr. Jeffs is not charged with arranging a marriage. That's not the charge. He is charged with rape, with all of the emotional connotations of the charge of unconsented sexual intercourse, being an accomplice to that conduct, and he is not guilty of that charge.

TUCHMAN: But one of Jane Doe's sisters disagrees. Rebecca, who we also can't show, is also out of a church. At age 19, she married Warren Jeffs' father. He was 82, which means the then teenage Rebecca was, according to church tradition, one of the mothers of then 39- year-old Warren Jeffs.

REBECCA, SISTER OF "JANE DOE": And he would say, your joy is knowing that you love your husband, not so much that your husband loves you.

TUCHMAN: Warren Jeffs was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, and on the run for months. Now, he waits to find out if testimony in this courtroom will convince the judge to order that this case go to trial. The judge will decide in December.


ROBERTS: Gary Tuchman is joining us now live from St. George, Utah.

Gary, how effective was this alleged victim's testimony? TUCHMAN: Very effective, John. There were some tears in the courtroom. You could hear a pin drop while she was talking. And the judge has a very low standard of proof to bring this case to trial. He just needs to have probable cause. So most likely, this case will go to trial.

That being said, though, you heard Warren Jeffs' attorneys. They're not denying that it's bad for 14-year-old girls to get married, but they are saying that their client is not a rapist. They're troubled by the fact that the ex-husband hasn't been charged with rape. And frankly, some legal people here are saying he may be a victim, too, that ex-husband. And therefore, he may never be charged with rape.

Also, something very important that could haunt the prosecutors in this case. When it does go to trial, this woman, who is now 20 years, has filed a civil suit. She wants money from Warren Jeffs and from the church, and that could work against her possibly when this case does go to trial.

ROBERTS: The problem for the prosecution is going to be connecting those dots there between Warren Jeffs and then the sexual activity after she was married.

Gary, thanks very much.

Joining me now for more perspective on the Warren Jeffs case and today's hearing is Mike Watkiss. He is a reporter from CNN affiliate KTVK in Phoenix. He has covered this case for years. Even before Jeffs was placed on the FBI's most wanted list.

Mike, thanks very much for joining me. I wanted to start it off by asking you about Jane Does' testimony. How courageous was it for this woman who now is 20 years old, but was 14 years old at the time, lived perhaps in fear for her life for so many years, to get up there on the stand today and testify against the man who was drilled into her head that he was a prophet?

MIKE WATKISS, KTVK REPORTER: Well, having covered this for many decades, John, I can tell you that the steps that that young woman took today are nothing short of heroic. She faced all kinds of pressure.

A lot of people think that Mr. Jeffs ought to be tried on for crimes against humanity for the many people, many lives that he has ruined.

But it really boils down to this one single woman. In this case, in this courtroom here in St. George, Utah, it all falls upon her shoulders. She's got to go and tell a compelling case to a jury. She did that during this preliminary hearing today. She certainly will if she's ever given the opportunity before a jury.

But as Gary was mentioning, there are some downfalls to this prosecution's case. The fact that she filed this civil lawsuit. So there's some real uphill battles for the prosecutors, but it's an immensely courageous step on her part.

ROBERTS: Michael, as Gary was saying, probably pretty likely that this case will go to trial, but what about the job for the prosecution of connecting these dots to say that by sanctioning an underaged marriage, Warren Jeffs was an accomplice to rape?

WATKISS: Well, and they were playing sort of the semantic game. His attorneys were, today, they were saying did he ever order you to have intercourse.

In this culture, these young girls don't even know what intercourse is until they are put in one of these marriages at 14 or 15. So, you know, basically they can deny that.

There is some deniability that Warren's never said to have go have sex with this girl. Everybody knows that when he's telling a young woman, you are going to marry a guy at 14, the whole culture is based on breeding children. So everybody knows that's what he means. But it is a game that his very skillful lawyers are playing. They're going to bring up the civil lawsuit. So, a lot of issues that prosecutors are going to have to overcome.

ROBERTS: During the testimony today, Michael, did we get any insights into how the FLDS operates and in particular, whether or not they concerned about where they fall in the law with these underage marriages?

WATKISS: Well, we have got a crystallization of what is really the core problem here. There is the welfare fraud, the young men hat are driven out.

But this would be nothing more than a cultural curiosity. If these guys would just leave the young girls alone, give them a little education, let them get to be 18. But they refuse to do that.

They have -- as the attorney general in the state of Utah said, they have extended the middle finger to the outside law enforcement. They refuse to stop preying on these young girls. That's what gets them in trouble.

And this young woman really condensed it all down, what life is like for young women. No education. They wait -- they're told that their only value is to be a mother of Zion, marry one of these characters when Warren Jeffs says so, and have as many children as they can. She really told the story. America got a good insight into what goes on out in Colorado City and Hildale, Utah, through her testimony today.

ROBERTS: I was intrigued, Michael, by the level of security there. Sharpshooters on the rooftop, a ban on vehicular traffic on the road, in front of the courtroom. And the fact that the two marshals were on either side of Warren Jeffs today, wearing bulletproof vests while he wasn't. Are they worried that somebody's going to try to take out Jeffs or that Jeffs' followers will take out them trying to spring him? WATKISS: Well, the law enforcement officers in this town have said they are worst case scenario people. They're prepared for anything.

Warren Jeffs has 10,000 people who would in essence jump off a cliff for him if he said so. About 50 miles from here, there are people who also hate Warren Jeffs, think he's a pedophile. So, it could go either way. And the cops in this town clearly not taking anything for granted. Security has been tight throughout. It will be so when the trial finally occurs.

ROBERTS: Michael Watkiss, thanks very much for your insight on this. We really appreciate you being with us repeatedly throughout this case.

WATKISS: Thanks John.

ROBERTS: All right. Next up, will your health insurance be there when you need it? They thought they had a safety net. Now, they're facing nearly $1 million in medical bills.

Coming up, why their insurance company dropped them. And could it happen to you? 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta is keeping them honest.

Also ahead, Michael Richards has apologized, but the outrage over his verbal rampage continues. Can saying, I'm sorry, ever makeup for using the N-word, especially in a way that he did, when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: We are keeping them honest tonight. 46 million Americans go without health insurance everyday and now consumer advocates charge, some insurance companies are making it worse by unfairly canceling the policies of people filing large claims. At least six hospitals have sued Blue Cross of California.

A class action suit has been filed and a state agency has levied a $200,000 fine, which Blue Cross has contested.

Separately, hundreds of families have filed complaints against Blue Shield of California, an unrelated company for the same reason.

360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta has one family's story.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): George and Narine Nazaretyan had been trying to have a baby for close to five years.

Armenian Americans running their own furniture restoration business in California for 12 years, they had saved up to buy a house and start a family.

When the twins were born nearly three months early, they seemed fine at first, but a few weeks later, devastating news. NARINE NAZARETYAN, LIVING WITHOUT INSURANCE: They told us we're one of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) were one of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) had problem, but PBL (ph).

GEORGE NAZARETYAN: The way the doctors and everybody were around us, we thought that it was the end of the world.

PBL is periventricular Ulkomailta (ph), a circulatory condition primarily affecting premature babies that prevents the brain from fully developing.

Natalie (ph) is legally blind and cannot move her hand to her mouth.

Ariana (ph) has difficulties moving her legs.

With the birth and therapy for the girls, came medical bills amounting to almost $1 million.

The Nazaretyans thought their Blue Shield of California health insurance would cover most of the cost. Until George got a call from a doctor's office, seeking payment.

G. NAZARETYAN: A week later we received the paperwork from Blue Shield, saying that we are investigating your application.

GUPTA: Blue Shield terminated their health insurance polity. And demanded George and Narine return $98,000, money it had already paid to health care providers within 30 days.

N. NAZARETYAN: It's over for us. We lose our home, we lose our credit. We have two sick babies without insurance.

GUPTA: What happened? Blue Shield says that when the Nazaretyans applied for the coverage, they did not disclose that Narine had a miscarriage in 2001. And that the couple did not reveal they were planning to seek fertility treatments.

The Nazaretyan say their license insurance broker was aware of the miscarriage and did not include it on the application.

They say he completed the paperwork, assuring the couple all they needed to do was sign it.

G. NAZARETYAN: We're not that educated. We thought that here was the professional. He was the one running the show, asking us what was important for the application.

GUPTA: Separately, CNN and the Nazaretyans' lawyer tried to contact the insurance broker, but his listed telephone numbers and addresses are no longer valid.

George says they did not seek fertility treatments until after the insurance policy application was submitted. And they paid for those treatments out of pocket.

Blue Shield says it can cancel the policy if it finds any omission in the application, regardless of circumstances .

TOM EPSTEIN, BLUE SHIELD OF CALIFORNIA: We believe that it does not have to be an intentional omission from the application, but if it is material and should have been disclosed, then the person who signed that application is responsible for what's in it.

GUPTA: But Bryan Liang, who heads the Independent Research Institute, says such policies cancellations, called recisions, are not legal.

DR. BRYAN LIANG, INSTITUTE OF HEALTH LAW STUDIES: The insurer is basically saying, well, take your money. And only if in fact you claimed for something that's either high cost or it might relate to a high cost disease, we're going to find any excuse we can to in fact say, you misrepresented your past history or you didn't disclose something, and subsequently they pull their coverage.

And this is illegal in California and most other states.

GUPTA: But experts say insurance companies are increasingly and improperly canceling insurance policies after expensive claims have been filed.

In California, for example, more than 300 families have filed complaints against Blue Shield since 2004.

The Nazaretyans have sued Blue Shield, seeking payment for medical expenses and damages. Blue Shield has asked for more information in response.

The company stopped pursuing its $98,000 claim against the Nazaretyans, ahead of an "L.A. Times" report.

N. NAZARETYAN: Still, Ariana (ph) and Natalie (ph) have no health insurance. And their conditions make it difficult or impossible to get any that's affordable. Their parents have paid about $20,000 toward their outstanding medical bills, using credit cards and a home equity loan. Now they are running out of time, money and hope.

G. NAZARETYAN: I am begging God for this to just, to be a nightmare, just to be a day that we one day can wake up and forget.

GUPTA: For the Nazaretyans and the growing number of other Americans losing their health insurance, it may never be as simple as that.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

ROBERTS: And a final note, Blue Shield tells us that in a different lawsuit, brought by another family, the Court found that the company was allowed to cancel the family's policy. The Nazaretyans case, however, has not yet gone to trial.

And separately, California's Department of Managed Care says it will propose new regulations to make it more difficult for insurance companies to cancel policies requiring that they first prove, quote, "willful misrepresentation by policyholders.

Actor Michael Richards has apologized for his racist rants last Friday at a comedy club, but is the apology being accepted?

We'll talk to Comedian Godfrey and the president of the NAACP chapter in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: The outrage continues today and likely will for some time over the use of the N-word by Actor Michael Richards last Friday at a comedy club in Los Angeles.

Richards, who is best known for playing the character Kramer on "Seinfeld," apologized on the "David Letterman Show" last night for his rants, but is it too little too late?

Here's CNN's Brooke Anderson.


MICHAEL RICHARDS, ACTOR: For me to be in a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, you know, I'm deeply, deeply sorry.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Actor and standup comic Michael Richards, making a public apology with the support of friend Jerry Seinfeld on the "Late Show with David Letterman."

RICHARDS: I'm really busted up over this and I am very, very sorry to those people in the audience, the blacks, the Hispanics, and whites, everyone that was there that took the brunt of that anger and hate and rage and how it came through. And I am concerned about more hate and more rage and more anger.

ANDERSON: Richards is trying to make amends for the angry, racist words he spewed from the stage at the Laugh Factory Friday night in reaction to some unruly audience members.




ANDERSON: Paul Mooney, standup comic and actor, who appeared in the 2004 documentary, "The N Word," which explored the history of the racial slur, felt Richards' apology fell short.

PAUL MOONEY, COMEDIAN: The apology has to be as dramatic and emotional needs to be as dramatic and emotional as the performance. The performance was a 10, the apology was two. I want a 10 apology.

ANDERSON: Richards, himself, second-guessed his decision to appear on the late night talk show.

RICHARDS: Hearing your audience laugh, you know, and it's --I'm not even sure that this is where I should be addressing this situation.

ANDERSON: A number of black leaders have condemned Richards and after watching his mea culpa...

RONALD HASSON, NAACP: I don't see that as an apology.

ANDERSON: They, too, want more.

MAJEE ALI, OPERATION ISLAMIC H.O.P.E.: He needs to meet with leaders from the of the African-American community, such as NAACP, and many other groups, and hopefully we can resolve this situation.

HASSON: We talk about things like zero tolerance -- this crossed the line in terms of where zero tolerance was. And simply to say, I'm sorry -- if he was in corporate America, he would be fired tomorrow.

ALI: He needs to come apologize to the community and come back to the scene of the crime.

WILLIS EDWARDS, NAACP: We want him to get help. He needs help.

ANDERSON: Fellow comedian Paul Rodriguez believes there is help for Richards.

PAUL RODRIGUEZ, COMEDIAN: The only good thing about it is that we are heading into Christmas, the spirit of forgiveness and renewal -- I hope that all those people who feel hurt will find peace and forgiveness.

ANDERSON: For now, forgiveness won't come at the Laugh Factory. Richards is banned from the stage.

Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


ROBERTS: Well, joining me now from Los Angeles is Ron Hasson. He's the president of the Beverly Hills Hollywood Chapter of the NAACP.

And joining us here in New York, we are happy to have Godfrey, a comedian who's worked with Michael Richards in the past just recently in fact, just last week.

Thanks for joining.


ROBERTS: Appreciate it.

Ron Hasson, let's start with you. Quickly here, what do you think if Michael Richards' meltdown? HASSON: Well, I think his meltdown infuriated the African- American community. We are getting numerous calls everyday from people that simply said that they felt that what he had to say truly expressed where he was at. They viewed it as very racist comments, as very penetrating at African-Americans and certainly a deep-rooted feeling of racism that perhaps is a part of his makeup.

ROBERTS: And Godfrey, what went through your mind? I mean, you've been up there. I've seen your shtick. You make fun of Indian people sometimes. There's a lot of profanity in your act, but I mean, when I saw this, I was shocked at how over the top it was. How about you?

GODFREY: I make -- every comic has racial jokes. Racial jokes are part of like our meat and potatoes in comedy. But I have no problem with how you feel, but you are at a comedy club, you are supposed to be funny. You know, you don't just insult people. And the thing is, you're insulting people that supported you when you were on "Seinfeld."


GODFREY: You know, you were some of the black people's favorite character. And so it just kind of hurts that I -- because I just talked to him about a week and a half ago. We were talking about comedy. The other day I was giving him pointers and back and forth and for him to do that, I was shocked. You know, and I think that I am glad they banned him from club. I think he should stay away for a long time for his physical well being, I think, because a lot of people are very angry and you know, comics are very accessible, you know, because when you come outside, you know, it's no more show, it's reality. So, you know, I was just, I kind of -- I'm disappointed in him. I am mad. I am not going to lie, you know. So -- I don't know. I mean, it's OK to do racial stuff. I mean, I do -- like you said, I do Indian jokes, but I do it with a kind of knowledge of a culture. You know, I talk about myself, I talk about different cultures, but it's kind of a knowledge, so...

ROBERTS: Yes, you put it in perspective.

GODFREY: I put it in perspective. It's not -- even if it's a little stereotypical, but it's perspective...

ROBERTS: And it's funny.

GODFREY: There it is.

ROBERTS: And there didn't seem to be anything funny about what he did the other day.

And listen, we want to take a quick break. Coming up, we're going to continue our discussion of Michael Richards' racially charged outburst. We'll talk more about what's next after his apology and how long the controversy might last.

Plus, the death of a Hollywood maverick -- Director Robert Altman. We'll take a look back at his legendary career, when 360 continues.



RICHARDS: I'm really busted up over this and I am very, very sorry to those people in the audience, the blacks, the Hispanics, and whites, everyone that was there that took the brunt of that anger and hate and rage.


ROBERTS: That was actor Michael Richards last night on the "Late Show with David Letterman," also appearing with his good friend Jerry Seinfeld, apologizing for calling a group of hecklers the N-word repeatedly in the most vicious fashion during a performance at a comedy club in Los Angeles.

Does anyone believe that he is genuinely sorry or his claim that he is not a racist?

Joining me again from New York are Godfrey, a comedian who recently worked with Richards. And from Los Angeles, Ron Hasson. He's the president of the Beverly Hills Hollywood Chapter of the NAACP.

Ron Hasson, what did you think of that apology? Do you think he was sincere?

HASSON: I don't think he -- I think he wanted to be sincere, but I don't believe it came across sincere.

All of our calls, all of the people that are talking to us feel that it was very -- that it was a part of a deep rooted action on his part that he blurted out and really sort of painted him as a racist.

So if he was sincere, his -- the piece that he did with Seinfeld certainly did not come across as being sincere with the public. He has a long ways to go in terms of improving his image in the community.

ROBERTS: Right. Well, we'll talk about perhaps ways in which he could do that in a second.

But Godfrey, first of all, you mentioned just a minute or two ago that you had seen Richards. You had talked with him. I think that you were playing at the same comedy club together?


ROBERTS: Did you get any indication that this darkness lurked deep inside him?

GODFREY: I didn't. I know that every comic has a darkness, you know what I mean? Every comic has a darkness. We all have -- we're angry people. Comics are angry people. You know, you're sick of a lot of stuff. There's different types of anger, but I have seen him in rages before. I have seen him argue with audience members. I've seen him run off stage. There was a time I was hosting and he ran off the stage and got mad.

It's like this, if you -- you're not funny if you're not good at it. You know, you got to deal with it. You're the one that chose to be the comedian. Be funny. You can't get mad because...

ROBERTS: Did you see him once take on like a woman in her 80s?

GODFREY: Yes -- there was an old lady that, you know, yelled out. She said, hey, this isn't "Seinfeld," this is live comedy. And he just went off and cursed out everybody in the club. And he ran off stage. I've seen him do it four or five times. And for him to specifically call out a certain race, you know, that's like -- well, I figured, you know -- of course my comedic mind, I said, well that comes from somebody on a show that never really had black people. So, you know what I mean?

ROBERTS: Well, Ron Hasson, let's go back to this idea of Richards saying that he is not a racist. And I put this question to Sinbad last night. You know, when you are reacting to something like a heckler and you get upset, you know, psychologists will say that sometimes you revert to very base level. And if there are not racist overtones in your heart, how does something like that come out?

HASSON: Well, it appeared to have come out as really an expression of perhaps the things that he felt. I mean, people are saying in looking at it and viewing it as a meltdown.

But he has left the black community feeling that there is that deep rooted racism in how he said the things and the personal attacks on -- in terms of the lynching statements, in terms of some of the other things. That was very difficult for black people to hear and understand and live with.

You know, Paul, the comedian at the Laugh Factory, talks about this being a time of healing. His statements really got to the root of hurting people. It pushed him further away from a healing process. And I'm not really sure at this time people -- as long as he stays out of the picture -- that people are willing to accept his apology and move closer towards any healing. He really needs to come out and talk with us.

Respondent: Godfrey, quickly, do you think that people will ever find themselves in a position to forgive him?

GODFREY: I think not now. I think it's going to be a while, because for -- you know, for a black community, we tend to forgive a lot of things a little too quick. Like with the Mel Gibson situation, the Jewish community, they don't -- they're not having it. And I think that black people should be the same way and make him pay. Because it's not -- we're not like a crutch that you can just lean on and get off, come back. And that's kind of what I get tired of. And if it were a black comic, they would have said something -- oh, oh, oh, it would have been over. We wouldn't even be on CNN. It would be over.

ROBERTS: And we should mention before we go here, too, Ron, that your organization has reached out to Richards to try to start some dialogue, but what has been the result of that?

HASSON: Yes. We've made calls to his agent. We were attempting to set up a meeting with him. We believe that there can be a healing, but certainly, he has to participate with us...

ROBERTS: And you haven't heard back yet...

HASSON: He has to make an effort. We haven't heard back.


HASSON: We haven't heard back.

ROBERTS: Well, we'll see if you do. And do us a favor, give us a call here at 360 if you do.

HASSON: Be happy to.

ROBERTS: Ron Hasson, thanks very much. And to you Godfrey, thanks and continued success.

GODFREY: Thanks.

ROBERTS: Remembering a master and a maverick filmmaker Robert Altman, coming up. We'll take a look back on his life and the legacy of the life he left behind on the screen.


ROBERTS: He made his first film in 1951. More than a half a century later, Robert Altman was still in the director's chair, always original, always doing it his way.

Altman died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 81 years old. No one made movies like he did and maybe no one ever will again.

Here is CNN's Brooke Anderson.


ANDERSON: He was regarded as one of Hollywood's best directors with dozens of movies under his belt and a lifetime achievement Oscar, but he was never part of the Hollywood studio system.

ROBET ALTMAN, DIRECTOR: The major studios through the years that I have been involved in the last 20, 30, 40 years, they sell -- they sell shoes and I make gloves.

ANDERSON: He announced that he was an outsider with his first major motion picture.

"M.A.S.H.," the hit 1970 set in Korea, but with a message about Vietnam, was one of the biggest hits of the 70s.


ANDERSON: The film had been ignored by more than a dozen directors until Altman, who had been trying to make it in Hollywood for years working on everything from TV shows to industrial films, said he'd do it. And a movie with its anti-war message, buckets of gore and a disregard for all of Hollywood's typical story conventions made Altman a star.

But if "M.A.S.H." started him off on a high note, there would be plenty of lows throughout his career.

His movies would be as good as "Nashville" in 1975 and as bad as "Popeye" in 1980, until he fell out of mainstream view for a while.

ALTMAN: I think I just keep doing the same thing. And occasionally I -- what I do crosses with the general attitude of the public, and it becomes very successful. And then I am a failure and a has been and then I cross back again. But I am going straight -- to me, I am going in a straight line. Everybody else is just going like this.

ANDERSON: It was 1992's "The Player," that marked his popular comeback. The satire on Hollywood took shots at the system that he disdained, and it became one of his most popular films.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. And just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we got something here.

ANDERSON: Over the next decade, Altman would work on other films on stage and undergo a heart transplant in 1996 that he managed to keep secret until this year.

The Kansas City native lived most of his life out of the public eye. He married three times and had five children.

Despite his health issues, he kept working. 2002's "Gosford Park," earned him his fifth best director academy award nomination, but it was an Oscar he never won. When the academy rewarded him with a lifetime achievement Oscar for his body of work, he looked back over his career with pride.

ALTMAN: There is not one film that I have ever done they I would take any moment of it back, that I would change any of it, that it's just what it is.


ROBERTS: He was an original. More of 360 in a moment. Stay with us.


ROBERTS: Back to Washington now. Joe Johns joins us with a 360 news and business bulletin.

Hi, Joe.


President Bush is denouncing today's assassination of Lebanon's industry ministry, saying Syria and Iran are trying to undermine that country's democratic government.

Mr. Bush arrived a short time ago at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington after a trip to Asia and the South Pacific, including his first visit to Vietnam.

A fourth student has died from injuries suffered when a school bus plunged 30 feet from a highway overpass in Alabama yesterday. The NTSB is trying to determine the exact cause of the accident and whether seat belts could have prevented the injuries and deaths. The preliminary investigation indicates a small car crashed into the bus, causing it to skid along a concrete barrier before it careened off the highway.

On Wall Street, stocks closed slightly higher today. The NASDAQ gained two points, closing at its highest level since February 2001. The S&P also rose two points, hitting a six-year high. And the Dow gained nearly six points.

Also, today, Google's stock soared to a new high. Shares in the Internet search engine company rose above $500 for the first time, closing at $506. Google recently acquired YouTube, the popular online video sharing Web site, for $1.65 billion. Google used its stock to finance the deal. Boy, and that is a lot of cash, John.

ROBERTS: You know, I am so happy, Joe that I got in on the ground floor of that Google stock.

JOHNS: Oh that's sweet. Then why are you here?

ROBERTS: Not. Thanks, Joe. We'll see you tomorrow.

JOHNS: You bet.

ROBERTS: Watch "AMERICAN MORNING" for the latest news at 6 a.m. Eastern.

Stay tuned, "LARRY KING" is next.