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Campbell Brown

Firestorm in Iran; Letterman Apologizes to Palin

Aired June 15, 2009 - 20:00   ET



CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: (voice-over): Tonight, here are the questions we want answered.

Did Sarah Palin win the P.R. war against David Letterman? Just minutes ago, Letterman backed down and apologized. We will have the late-breaking details.

Was the election in Iran rigged? Huge protests, clashes in the street, but did Ahmadinejad win fair and square? And either way, is there anything President Obama can or should do about it? Find out why, three days after the election, Iranians are still up in arms and unsure what happened to their country.

Plus, in the war on terror, does Dick Cheney want President Obama to fail? That's what the head of the CIA seems to be saying.

RICHARD B. CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half- measures keep you half-exposed.

Tonight's "Great Debate: The CIA vs. Dick Cheney.

And tonight's breakout: Melissa Etheridge on smoking marijuana. Hear why she depended on pot to help win her battle against cancer.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": So, don't -- you weren't...

MELISSA ETHERIDGE, MUSICIAN: No, you don't get a high. No, it's not a high. It's a normal.

BROWN: Is it time to rethink our mind-set toward medical marijuana?


ANNOUNCER: This is your only source for news. CNN prime time begins now.

Here is Campbell Brown.

BROWN: Hi, everybody.

All that, plus our newsmaker tonight. And if you have not eaten dinner yet, you may think twice after you hear what the director of a new movie called "Food, Inc." says about what we are putting into our bodies every day. He says it's all thanks to corporate greed -- that coming up.

But we start tonight, as we do every night, with the "Mash-Up," our look at the stories making an impact right now and the moments you may have missed today. We're watching it all so you don't have to.

Major breaking news in the war of words between Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and David Letterman -- an actual apology from the talk show host to the governor. Tonight, Letterman says -- quote -- "If you have to explain the joke, it's not a very good joke. My intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception. It's not your fault that it was misunderstood. It's my fault."

If you don't know what he is talking about, here is a quick look back.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.



GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: It goes beyond, though, David Letterman's crude, sexist, perverted joke about a 14-year-old girl being "knocked up" by Alex Rodriguez. I think he's like 30-some years old. I think that that's, you know, pretty perverted.

But it goes beyond that, not just that joke, but this -- this is insinuation that it's OK, it's acceptable to talk like that.

LETTERMAN: These are not jokes made about her 14-year-old daughter. I would never, never make jokes about raping or having sex of any description with a 14-year-old girl. I mean, look at my record. It has never happened. I don't think it's funny.

I would never think it was funny. I wouldn't put it in a joke.

PALIN: Yes, it is a weak, convenient excuse, no, and, you know what, regardless of which daughter it was, inappropriate.


BROWN: No response yet from the Palin camp.

President Obama upped the heat on critics of his health care plan today. His message? If you're scared of the government takeover, don't be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period.


OBAMA: No one will take it away, no matter what. My view is that health care reform should be guided by a simple principle: fix what's broken and build on what works.


BROWN: That is a tough sell for some, though, especially this conservative trio who let loose with a string of animal analogies -- up first, Rush Limbaugh, who said, if private insurance is good enough for pets, it's good enough for people.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Whenever you hear a liberal promise government help that will give you universal care, better care, at lower cost, whenever you hear that, just sit back, and you know what your response ought to be?


LIMBAUGH: Bark like your dog does.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: The government competes in the private sector like the way an alligator competes with a duck.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: This is instead a Trojan horse. Barack Obama, when he ran for office, said he is in favor of single-payer system. He has said it for years. This is a way of getting government into the insurance business, so they can take over health care.


BROWN: It doesn't sound like those Republicans are ready to talk turkey yet anyway.

And in Iran tonight, a nation on edge, as thousands of voters rise up to denounce Friday's election as a sham.


OBAMA: I think it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we have seen on the television over the last few days.

And what I would say to those people who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process, I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation.


BROWN: President Obama says he has been monitoring the protests.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hundreds of thousands of Iranians filled the streets of Tehran today. They were out to show support for reformist leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and his demand that the government look into allegations of major election fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This rally was canceled when the interior ministry said it was illegal. Somehow, thousands of young people have heard that there is a gathering, and they are streaming into the center of the city.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Although they did have a lot of riot police deployed, they were deployed around the edges of this demonstration, and they did not intervene. And I'm told that was a deliberate decision by the government to allow this to take place peacefully.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For our revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For your revolution?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want another revolution?


BROWN: Don't expect the U.S. to intervene in this election. Today, the president was clear: It's up to the Iranians to decide their leaders.

And before we move on to more important things, allow us one guilty pleasure. Heidi and Spencer, AKA, the Pratt brats -- the pretend you don't know who they are -- they survived reality show hell in the Costa Rican jungle, and now they can't stop talking about it. But that doesn't mean they are getting a warm reception as they make the TV rounds.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heidi, are you proud of all of this?

HEIDI PRATT, REALITY TV CONTESTANT: It was a very hard situation. I think, when you go the jungle...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, the answer -- are you proud of this?

PRATT: Am I proud of what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of what you -- the way you guys behaved in this program?

PRATT: I mean, I'm not ashamed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But are you proud of it?

PRATT: I don't think anything was wrong with it. Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I read a quote that you said your goal is to be a true disciple of Jesus, the aforementioned lord, and Mother -- of Mother Teresa helping the poor and the hungry.

Now, I also heard that you're posing for "Playboy." Do you think Mother Teresa would have done that?

H. PRATT: I'm more of a modern version.



BROWN: Heidi and Spencer, everybody.

Their next stop, "LARRY KING LIVE," 9:00 tonight.

And that is the "Mash-Up."

And now to tonight's first big questions: Were those elections in Iran rigged? And, if so, how should the U.S. deal with it?

Here to talk about that, CNN senior political analyst Jeffrey Toobin with me tonight, Rudi Bakhtiar, director of media relations for the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans. She's also a former reporter and anchor for CNN. In Washington, we have Afshin Molavi, who is the -- or who is with the nonpartisan New America Foundation and the author of "The Soul of Iran." And in Washington also, Cliff May. He is with a conservative group that tracks terrorism, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Welcome to everybody.

So, let me start with you, Afshin. Obviously, a lot of people do think the election was rigged. Do we know? What is your sense at this point?

AFSHIN MOLAVI, FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Well, Campbell, there were some striking irregularities in this election.

You had 40 million votes cast, and yet the interior ministry announced the results almost 30 minutes after polls closed. And these are hand-counted results. You had pro-Mousavi Web sites closed down, security services jailing Mousavi supporters, 100 of them in total.

So, there's a wide array of irregularities. But it almost doesn't matter what I think, Campbell. It matters what the Iranian people think. And as you see from these pictures and as you see from the great reportage from CNN correspondents, you have something like hundreds of thousands of Iranians, not only in Tehran, but across the country, who do feel that this was a stolen election. BROWN: And, Rudi, I want to bring you into this, because it has been fascinating to me. You know -- you have a lot of contacts there. You have a lot of family and friends there as well.

And you have been seeing these protests sort of develop in a unique way online through -- through a social network.

RUDI BAKHTIAR, PUBLIC AFFAIRS ALLIANCE OF IRANIAN AMERICANS: You know, Campbell, I have never seen our Iranian-American community so invested in what is going on inside of Iran.

And the reason is because of CNN's fantastic reporting. We have, for the first time, been getting hour-by-hour reports of what going on inside the country. And, for the first time, there is an entity called Facebook, and I have 4,000-plus members on that and there are Iranians both inside of America, inside of Iran, all over Europe.

And there is this dialogue that is going on that has never really happened before between us, because these demonstrations are a first. And they're -- the access that we have to people on the ground inside of Iran is unprecedented.

You know, they're putting things on my Facebook page that aren't -- you don't see normally now. We have diverted them to iReport. And it's really tremendously, you know, difficult for us to be watching these happening here in the United States when our families are reporting what's going on back there.

BROWN: Right.

OK. Let me move forward a little bit, and, Cliff, have you and Jeff comment on this -- Cliff, go first -- is, bottom line, so what if it was rigged? What does that really mean, especially what we heard -- given what we heard President Obama say today, in terms of what this administration's policy is going to be toward Iran, and how they plan to approach this new government?

CLIFF MAY, PRESIDENT, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, I would say that this administration, President Obama, has reached out a hand to Iran, has tried the path of engagement with the Iranian regime.

And that hand has now been slapped down numerous times in numerous ways, the arrest of the American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi. Eventually, she was released. We're all grateful for that. And now these disastrous phony elections, and also the cruelty being shown to the demonstrators in the street, who are activists for democracy and freedom, who are showing what they want.

At this point, I would hope that President Obama would say and understand: Look, I tried engagement. I tried it the nice way. My hand has been slapped down. Now I have to think about the Iranian people more than the Iranian regime. And I have to not export democracy -- I'm not suggesting that -- but support the democrats out on the street who are protesting for freedom and the rights we Americans enjoy. They need to be supported. And, so far, they have not been.

BROWN: But, Cliff, that's not what he said today.

MAY: I know. And I hope he will.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: But Iran is a country that calls for great humility on the part of American policy-makers, because we have been wrong so often there, whether it's Jimmy Carter dealing with the hostages, whether it's Ronald Reagan trying to reach out to so-called moderates in the Iran-Contra fiasco.

We don't know what is going on inside that country. And any attempt to manipulate, if that's what you're suggesting, Cliff, what is going on in...

MAY: No.

TOOBIN: ... Iran from Washington, even if it was well- intentioned, could it be successful?


MAY: Jeffrey, I'm not saying we should manipulate. You're right. We should be careful about that.

But I have been following Iran since 1979. I was there covering the revolution. I was there for the -- when the -- Ayatollah Khomeini come back. And I don't think I have been wrong in this time.

At this point, just as for Soviet dissidents, it was so important that American presidents show them that we support them, it is important not to manipulate, but to say clearly we support the people of Iran in their fight for freedom and democracy.

We need to show them that we care about them. Otherwise, we're not a nation that believes in freedom and democracy.

BROWN: All right, guys, quickly.


MOLAVI: Campbell, I think it's also important for President Obama to be on the right side of history on this one. But it's not necessarily about America.

You know, you have Iranians who are bruised and battered and bloodied, but unbowed. And, in many ways, this is about Iranians more than about President Obama.

BROWN: All right.

MAY: But how do we help -- but how do we help -- how do we help those people and how do we show them that we care about their future? I think it's important that we do that.


MOLAVI: I think President Obama -- I agree with you, Cliff. President Obama needs to speak out. President Obama has said he is inspired by the people on the streets. And I think that that's the right framework right now.

After all, even if President Obama wanted to engage Iran right now, there is such a crisis of legitimacy within the Islamic republic right now, that there is no really one to engage with.

MAY: I agree with that. I agree with that.

BROWN: All right.

MAY: But we haven't heard enough. I think we both agree on that.

BROWN: Cliff, we have got to end it there. We're out of time. But we many thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.

MAY: Thank you.

BROWN: When we come back: the secrets of the food industry. Do you really know what you're putting in your mouth?


ROBERT KENNER, FILMMAKER: One of the big surprises for me was, I went to a hearing on whether we should be labeling cloned meat. And I hadn't even realized there was cloned meat.


BROWN: Our newsmaker tonight, director Robert Kenner. Find out why his new documentary, "Food, Inc.," may change the way you eat.

Also, David Letterman's big apology. He is now saying he is sorry to Sarah Palin. Did he cave to pressure? That when we come back.


BROWN: Welcome back.

Tonight's newsmaker wants you to take a good hard look at what you're putting in your mouth. And he wants us all to start thinking about just who is making the food we buy for our families.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The modern supermarket has, on average, 47,000 products.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The industry doesn't want you to know the truth about what you're eating, because, if you knew, you might not want to eat it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have never had food companies this powerful in our history.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything we have done in modern agriculture is to grow it faster, fatter, bigger, cheaper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can grow a chicken in 49 days, why would you want one you have got to grow in three months?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you go through the supermarket, there is an illusion of diversity. So much of our industrial food turns out to be rearrangements of corn.


BROWN: Robert Kenner spent six years working on his new documentary, "Food, Inc."

And I started by asking him about some of the shocking information in this movie, like the claim that meat from one hamburger actually comes from hundreds of different cows.


KENNER: What's happened is that our food has become very industrialized.

There are now very few corporations that control this food system. And they're -- you know, ultimately, we have, I think it's about 13 plants that produce more than 50 percent of our meat, processing plant. And there are thousands of cows that go into the big grinder. So, it's a strange system.

And even though we have had great scientific advancements, our food has not necessarily gotten safer.

BROWN: And that is a big focus of the movie, talking about how secretive the food industry is, in your view. A lot of the movie centers around that. Give us a couple of more examples of secrets you think everybody needs to know about their food.

KENNER: Well, I think, you know, one of the big surprises for me was, I went to a hearing on whether we should be labeling cloned meat.

And I hadn't even realized there was cloned meat. And the meat representative, their basic response was they thought it would be too confusing to the consumer if we labeled that meat and if we had that information on the package.

And -- and that's something that happens time and again, that these corporations, they, you know, really will do everything to stop us from having this kind of information, whether it's GMOs, which is genetically modified organisms, or whether it's rBST, which is a growth hormone that goes into our dairy cows.

We can go on and on with the list, trans fats, country of origin labeling, that, ultimately, agribusiness is -- they're -- on one hand, they are saying, these are things that have improved our food, but, yet, they are also anxious for us not to see it on the label.

And I kind of feel it's not like we're saying what we should be eating in "Food, Inc.," but we are saying that we, as Americans, should have the right to know we are eating.

BROWN: You also say that -- that fruits and vegetables we eat are less nutritional than the same stuff we were eating 50 years ago. What is difference, I guess, about a 2009 tomato?

KENNER: Well, ultimately, all our food has become industrialized.

We find out how to have it last longer, how to have it look pretty. That tomato, it looks really good, but it -- it doesn't go bad nearly as quickly and it doesn't have nearly the nutritional value. So, this food has been transformed without us really seeing it.

You know, both the tomato is different. The chicken is different. And, ultimately, we have become different. We're -- 64 percent of Americans are either overweight or become obese. And most of those, that 64, has become obese. So, we're eating many more calories and getting less nutrition.

And the scary part is, one-third of all Americans are going to be having early onset diabetes if they are born after the year 2000. And this low-cost food, which is -- it is low-cost -- is ultimately going to come to us at a very high cost because of these invisible things that we are not seeing when you go to the checkout line.

BROWN: Well, let me challenge you on a couple of points.


BROWN: For one, you mentioned the low cost. And there is an argument to be made that -- that you do sort of make that we should all be eating organic foods, produces, milk, meats, everything. And they are far more expensive than -- than the non-organic food.

I mean, you know, that's a lot of money for a lot of people.

KENNER: It is.

We spend less of our paycheck on the food we're eating today than at any time in history. And that is great. But we're also spending way more on health care. And I think there's a direct correlation.

One of the problems is, we're subsidizing corn and soy, and it's going into 90 percent of the items in the supermarket. And these things are really helping to make us obese and helping to sort of make us sick.

So, I think, you know, hopefully, we could start to subsidize foods that make us healthier, or at least create an even playing field. That would really, I think, improve the situation. In our film, we show a family that is a lower-income family that is eating a lot of this processed and fast food, because it's much less expensive.

And they gravitate towards that, because it's -- you know, that's what they can afford. But, unfortunately, that same family is spending $500 for medicine every month due to diabetes, and it looks like their young daughter is now going to get diabetes, so it could go up to $1,000. So, they are saving on the food, but they're now paying for it with health care costs.

BROWN: All right, Robert Kenner with us tonight. The movie is called "Food, Inc."

Appreciate your time, Robert.

KENNER: Thanks so much, Campbell.


BROWN: And, when we come back, tonight's breakout -- Melissa Etheridge sits down with Anderson Cooper to explain how marijuana helped her in her fight against cancer.

And why in the world would a cop pull over an ambulance rushing to the hospital? That in tonight's download.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ain't listening to you, buddy. You get your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) back in your ambulance, or I'll take you in.



BROWN: And now a look at the must-see stories of the day. Here is Erica Hill with tonight's download.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Campbell, we will begin with an ugly incident on Oklahoma highway all caught on camera. Watch this, tempers flaring between a paramedic and a state trooper who had just pulled over the paramedic's ambulance. Well, today, an attorney is now defending the trooper's conduct. Take a look. See what you think.


I'm going to give you a ticket for failure to yield. And when I go by you (INAUDIBLE) what is going on, you don't need to give me no hand gestures, now. I ain't going to put up with that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Do you understand me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I won't put up with you talking to my driver like that, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ain't listening to you, buddy. You get your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) back in that ambulance, or I'll take you in.


HILL: You may be shocked to learn it led to a scuffle -- all of this, by the way, happening with a heart attack patient waiting to be taken to the hospital. The trooper says he didn't know that right away. The ambulance didn't have its lights and sirens on. Now, the trooper is on leave at this point, and both men have hired lawyers.

A judge says a Florida teen who is accused of being a serial cat killer must get a psychiatric exam before he can released from jail. Police say 18-year-old Tyler Weinman is behind the deaths of 19 pet cats found mutilated in suburban Miami over the past month. Now, the charges include animal cruelty. He could get a maximum of 158 years in prison if convicted.

City officials in Los Angeles hope Wednesday's victory parade for the Lakers may overshadow last night's rioting. L.A.'s police chief says -- quote -- "knuckleheads" were beyond the bonfires, rock- throwing, and looting last night. Twenty were arrested.

But when it comes to Wednesday's parade, well, given California's financial crisis, that celebration already raising some eyebrows. Both the city and the team are kicking in a million each. The police union, though, thinks the team should pick up the entire tab.

And speaking of big price tags, Susan Boyle's talent doesn't come cheap. The "Britain's Got Talent" runner-up and YouTube sensation reportedly wants to charge corporate clients more than $160,000 for a 12-minute set. That works out to about 13 grand a minute.

Now, keep in mind, former President Clinton only pulls in about $150,000 per speech. A spokesperson for Boyle says, no bookings yet, although she claims they have been inundated with offers.

BROWN: Whew.

HILL: Yes.

BROWN: Good for her.

HILL: Well, great for her but, man, what a price tag.



BROWN: We will see if she gets those bookings.

Erica Hill for us, we will see you a little bit later.

Tonight's "Great Debate": It's the CIA vs. Dick Cheney. And who is really making the country safer?

And the big question: Did Sarah Palin win the P.R. war against David Letterman? He is apologizing to her again for a joke. At what point is enough enough?


PALIN: David Letterman's crude, sexist, perverted joke about a 14-year-old girl being "knocked up" by Alex Rodriguez. I think he's like 30-some years old. I think that that's, you know, pretty perverted.



BROWN: Welcome back.

Every night at this time, the "Great Debate."

Tonight's issue: Is President Obama making us safer? And we ask because CIA Director Leon Panetta has been catching flak all day for his new pushback against former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been criticizing the Obama administration's change of tactics in the war on terror.

"The New Yorker" quotes Panetta as saying this about Cheney -- quote -- "It's almost as if he is wishing that this country would be attacked again in order to make his point. I think that is dangerous politics."

Well, Cheney shot back in a written statement today, saying, "I hope my old friend Leon was misquoted."

The CIA tried to tamp down the controversy this afternoon, a spokesman telling CNN that Panetta doesn't believe Cheney wants the U.S. to be attacked again.

Well, joining us for tonight's "Great Debate," former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis, who is currently senior adviser and spokesperson for The Israel Project. And we have Marc Thiessen back with us, who was a chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush and is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institute.

And, of course, we want your opinion, too. Vote by calling the number on the bottom of your screen. First, right now, an opening statement from each. We've got 30 seconds for each of you on the clock. The question again, is President Obama making us safer?

Lanny, make your case.

LANNY DAVIS, CLINTON W.H. SPECIAL COUNSEL: Well, first of all, congratulations, Campbell, on the baby and it's nice to be back.

BROWN: Thank you.

DAVIS: I do think President Obama has made this country safer in three ways. First of all, by setting a deadline on the war on Iraq and getting out. We removed the negative energy for terrorists that I think that war created. Secondly, his speech, reaching out to the Muslim world which I believe reduced some of the negative energy regarding the United States image in the world.

And thirdly, and most importantly, he believes in engaging and discussing with our enemies, rather than creating enemies where none exist.

BROWN: All right. Marc?

MARC THIESSEN, CHIEF SPEECHWRITER FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: President Obama is not making the country safer. I fundamentally disagree and Dick Cheney is calling him on it. And as a result, Leon Panetta went out the other day and told "The New Yorker" that Dick Cheney wants the country to be attacked again.

What he basically said is that Dick Cheney is a monster who wants Americans to die in order to make a political point. That is a shameful thing for the director of the CIA to say.

Dick Cheney worked for seven years to keep this country safe. Any one of us who went through the experience of 9/11 doesn't want to see the country attacked again. And for the director of the CIA to say something like that, he owes Dick Cheney an apology.

BROWN: But, Marc, let me just have you follow-up.


BROWN: Because I did read the statement that the CIA gave us a little bit earlier today saying that that's not what Panetta meant by that statement.

THIESSEN: But what they said was he said almost, which is sort of what is the meaning of it. It depends on what the meaning of "is" is.

This is not -- again, this is not an apology. But the point is that when people make cheap shots like this, it's usually because they can't answer the substance of the charge.

Dick Cheney has been pointing out that Barack Obama is eliminating the most important tool in our intelligence community has, that it stopped a series of terrorist attacks. And, you know, he's -- he's making it harder for the CIA to protect our country.

You know who agrees with him? Barack Obama. Barack Obama went to the CIA a few weeks ago and he said to the men and women of the CIA I know these -- what we're doing is making your job harder and that's OK. That is -- that is an incredible thing for the president of the United States to say.

BROWN: All right.

THIESSEN: And it's going to come back and haunt him before we're attacked again. BROWN: All right. Lanny, you can respond to that.

DAVIS: Well, I'm glad that the CIA took back what I think was a quick interpretation of what Leon Panetta meant. I don't think he believes that Dick Cheney wants another 9/11.

But the words of Dick Cheney do have impressions and the impression that he left by saying that Barack Obama is making the world more dangerous, he sounds like he is setting himself up to defend when he authorized illegal torture which we know he says he did when he authorized waterboarding. And secondly, when he claims that Barack Obama's policies are making the world less safe, it's almost as if, if something God forbid should happen, Vice President Cheney, the former vice president is ready to say, I told you so, I was right.

THIESSEN: Well, you know, Lanny, I think that's an unfair thing to say because, you know, when Winston Churchill was standing in the 1930s and warning that the Nazis were going to attack, no one said that he wanted the blitz to happen.

DAVIS: No, I agree with you.

THIESSEN: You know, what Dick Cheney is doing is he sees that the Bush administration put in place a series of institutions that kept our country safe for 2,688 days after 9/11 and Barack Obama is starting to dismantle some of those key institutions. He is warning the country that there is a danger to what Barack Obama is doing and that's perfectly legitimate. It's not legitimate to question his motives.

BROWN: All right.

DAVID: Marc, I completely agree with you, it's not legitimate to question his motives. I strongly disagree with the statement and the judgment he uses and leaving an impression that he is trying to be ready to say, it's your fault, Barack Obama, if God forbid something happens. But I don't question his motives and I agree with you that I'm glad the CIA took, on behalf of Mr. Panetta, took the comment back.

THIESSEN: The common ground is in the next second.

BROWN: Well, I think we've taken care of the common ground right there.


BROWN: So let me get you both to sort of assess and, Lanny, have you addressed the statements that Marc made? I mean, how do you assess whether or not we are safer? I mean, is it just the fact that there hasn't been another attack or also respond to some of the specifics that Marc laid out in terms of the changes and policy and what that means?

DAVIS: Well, first of all, I do give President Bush a lot of credit for keeping this country safe. I think Democrats ought to be willing to say that while we disagree with his policies in Iraq.

I do think the programs that they put in place that were finally made lawful by the Congress, including the surveillance program, have been helpful and I think good Democrats can acknowledge that. Where we disagree and where Marc and I have a respectable disagreement is that I believe that Barack Obama is reaching out to the Muslim world. His banning of illegal torture, which has been used as a propaganda weapon by terrorists, we know that as a fact.

I simply believe that we live in a dangerous world. There still is a war against these radical, fundamentalists and, I think, dangerous terrorists. But I think that Barack Obama's policies are, for the long term, much safer for this country than the policies of the previous administration.

BROWN: And --

THIESSEN: Let me tell -- sorry.

BROWN: Go ahead, Marc.

THIESSEN: Well, let me tell you why I disagree with that. One, one of the single most important tools in protecting the country and stopping those attacks from happening is the interrogation of captured terrorists. And the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others stopped an attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles, stopped an attack on our counsel in Karachi, stopped an attack on our Marine camp in Djibouti, stopped an attack on Heathrow Airport in downtown London. These are concrete attacks that were stopped because of the interrogation of terrorists. Taking away that tool makes us less safe.

But the other thing that's very dangerous is, is that it's decimating the morale of the CIA. When the president of the United States and the director of the CIA go out and use words like torture which is wrong, I don't agree with you that we committed torture about these people, then it decimates the morale of the intelligence community. One of the reasons we were attacked on 9/11 is because there was a culture that was averse to risk-taking.

BROWN: All right.

THIESSEN: Who's going to take risks now?

DAVIS: Just real quickly.

BROWN: Quickly, Lanny.

DAVIS: Real quickly, waterboarding is defined as torture under the law.

THIESSEN: No, it's not. You're wrong.

DAVIS: Severe, physical and mental pain is the definition. No one really disagrees with that.

THIESSEN: Sure they do.

DAVIS: And secondly, the facts asserted by Marc, as to what was or was not prevented are not a matter of public record. I'm not sure how he knows except the CIA interrogators say that the better way to get information is not through torture where someone will say anything, it's less reliable so there's a respectable disagreement on that.

BROWN: All right. And that's a debate in and of itself that we're going to have at another time because we are out of time. But, Marc and Lanny, thank you very much. Appreciate your time tonight.

DAVID: Thank you.

THIESSEN: Thank you.

BROWN: And we do want to see how you voted in tonight's "Great Debate." Sixty-five percent say yes, President Obama is making us safer. Thirty-five percent say no. And again, as always, not a scientific poll. Just a snapshot from our viewers who did call in.

Every night a new "Great Debate" on this show. Tomorrow's premise, we should pay students for good grades. Do you agree or disagree? We'll talk about that tomorrow.

And the big question tonight -- did Sarah Palin win the P.R. battle with David Letterman? He's apologizing for a second time on his show tonight for this.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.



BROWN: OK. Let's have that on tonight's next big question. And the great P.R. slugging match between Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska and David Letterman over an ill-conceived joke he made he says unwittingly about the governor's younger daughter. Who comes out ahead after tonight's apology from Letterman? Here is the close of his mea culpa.

"So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, also to the governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke. I'm sorry about it. I'll try to do better in the future."

Weighing in on who gets the last laugh after an unfunny punch line and a lot of hard feelings, Steve Kornacki of "The New York Observer," Sam Seder, co-host of Air America's "BreakRoom Live," Reihan Salam of the New America Foundation, and "New York Daily News" columnist and radio talk show host Errol Louis with us as well. Welcome to everybody. Sam, let me start with you because I know how you feel about this or at least how you felt a couple of days ago.


BROWN: Should he have apologized? Were you disappointed that he caved?

SEDER: You know, look, he can do whatever he wants and if it helps his ratings, all the better. But I'll tell you, in his statement, when he said he was watching the news hour, I think, and that's where he realized that people misinterpret it, my shock really came like you've got one hour to do the news and you're talking about this? I mean, this story has gone on way too long and I think it's because, basically, Palin was fund-raising off it.

BROWN: Let's just remind people what the joke was. I want to play it real quick for anybody who didn't see it, the few who didn't. Take a look.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: One awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game, during the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.


BROWN: And, of course, he said he meant her older daughter, Bristol Palin, not the younger one. What did you think?

REIHAN SALAM, THE DAILY BEAST.COM: I think Sam makes a good point. A lot of this has to do with the culture wars. And the fact that David Letterman represents one swath of the country and Sarah Palin represents another.

And I think a big part of Sarah Palin's appeal has been this idea that she's been persecuted by lots of folks who kind of poked fun at her, poked fun at her family. I think that helps her really connect with a lot of Americans, and I think that's what drove the story forward.

BROWN: And how brilliant of her, if you believe that, how brilliant of her then to get on every talk show she could after this happened and make the most of the moment.

SALAM: That's a little cynical because I do think -- do I think that Letterman's joke was ungracious? Sure. I think that, you know, Letterman, I think is personally, I think he's hilarious but, I mean, he traffics in this kind of thing. And I think that, you know, for it to become this kind of a moment, you have to have that stew of kind of cultural, political conflict all mixed in together. So I think (ph) that Sarah Palin really was outraged because I believe she really does feel as though she's been persecuted by the media to some degree.

BROWN: Right. SALAM: So everyone is being totally genuine here. It's just that there's a deep misunderstanding between these two cultures.

BROWN: What do you think, Errol?

ERROL LOUIS, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, genuine in the most Hollywood fake kind of way. I think both sides win frankly.

Sarah Palin is a little bit too offended by this. You know, there was a lot more that has been said even in that routine where Letterman made some comment about her wearing, you know, sort of a "slutty flight attendant" sort of look or something like that. Other comics have made much more crude jokes and she, in fact, has gone on those shows with "Saturday Night Live."

She's in on the joke. She always has been. She chose to take offense here, understandably. You know, either daughter, 14, 18 doesn't really make any difference.

She took offense. She's caused a world of trouble for David Letterman. On the other hand, he shot up in the ratings and beat his lead rival, the new "Tonight Show" host. So everybody wins.

BROWN: Steve?

STEVE KORNACKI, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK OBSERVER": Well, yes, that's the other way. We talk about the 2012 race with Sarah Palin. There's also the 2009 race between Conan O'Brien and David Letterman.


I think David Letterman is now taking the lead and it's probably because of a controversy like this. But, you know, it works out terrifically for Sarah Palin, too, because, you know, it's exactly right.

You know, the media is the enemy. David Letterman is the enemy. He's been a lot harsher than Jay Leno was or Conan O'Brien is about going after Republicans, and Republicans know that and they take note of it.

He is the liberal late night talk show host in their view. So, you know, he makes a joke, whether you're really offended or not, you pretend to be offended. You act like you're offended and, you know, they're going to be with you. The Republican base is going to be with you.

BROWN: Well, let me ask you that. We often hear Republicans complain about political correctness run amuck. And yet, is that a little bit of what we're seeing right now?

SEDER: Right. Of course, they're embracing political correctness now. And I think the Republicans have finally found an issue that they can own in this environment. And that, of course, is the war on jokes.


And they have struck the first blow and I think, you know, this seems to be all that the Republicans have left is this sense of somehow they're oppressed by the Hollywood/New York comedic intelligentsia.

KORNACKI: Can I say something? The Democrats are in fairness guilty of this, too. And this is what political debate really has become in this country. And I think it's the most frustrating thing. Whether it's a joke or just some sort of statement that somebody makes, we take one or two sentences and we dissect it and we put it through this one or two week cycle where the whole thing is one side is outraged and aggrieved by it and demanding an apology, and the other side says, no, no, look at the context or no it was a joke.

BROWN: Right.

KORNACKI: And this is what political debate really has become in this country. This is what the entire Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, you know, campaign was like to a lot of people. Clearly, this was a joke and clearly it was aimed at the 18-year-old daughter or not.

BROWN: The debate was that ad (ph) between Dick Cheney and Leon Panetta.

SALAM: Yes, it's just too much.

BROWN: Go ahead.

SALAM: I'd push back a little on what Sam said. I think the political correctness, when we think about it and its pernicious effects, we're thinking about still defying debate. But I think that when you're talking about, you know, making ungracious remarks about someone's kid, and I think that we all agree that that's kind of where this kind of took a different turn, that's not really about political correctness.

I do think that a lot of Republican conservatives feel that, you know, there's a couple of things that are sacred and one of them is kind of the family, leave the kids alone. And I think that --

BROWN: Yes, but in this day and age, in this day and age in political campaigns, how often do we see politicians using their children, putting them out there front and center?


SALAM: That's a very good point.

KORNACKI: This is not a case of an 18-year-old who had a child and wanted to be left alone. She has become the national spokeswoman for the abstinence campaign. She's made herself a public figure and she is an adult. I don't think this is a kid who's asking to be kept away and shielded from this. I might agree with you if that were the case, but she's put herself out there and Sarah Palin has put her out there. SEDER: And David Letterman is a comedian. I mean, he's not making a remark. He's making a joke on a comedy show.

So this isn't a case where you have some politician who's making a remark or you're having some, even a commentator who's making a remark. This is a comedian. And I'll tell you, Leno and Conan both made jokes.

SALAM: It's a great shield though, isn't it? You know, because, for example --

BROWN: Go ahead.

SALAM: If you've got "The Daily Show," I mean, the genius of the show is that, hey, we're comedians here. Hey, ho. But then they want to be taken seriously as incisive thinkers and commentators. You know what I mean?

I think that it's kind of a funny balance and you're right that we all don't know exactly where to go because we can all set our own boundaries. We could all decide, hey, I'm a serious commentator now. You need to listen to me and take me seriously. I'm the voice of our generation. I'm the true arbiter, you know, which is kind of a role that Jon Stewart has often played.

But then, again, when he goes a little bit too far, hey, I'm a comedian. Don't take me seriously.

LOUIS: Well, Letterman does occasionally step into serious debate. After 9/11, he made a big splash by sort of coming out and saying, look, it's OK to be funny. I want to try and do my small part as a comedian to get the country back on track.

This had nothing of that. There wasn't a hint of a policy solution or any kind of serious thought anywhere near that. It was just a dumb wisecrack that really blew up in his face.

BROWN: All right, guys. We got to end on that note. Many thanks. Good panel, a good discussion. Who knew we could keep it going so long.

"LARRY KING LIVE" coming up at the top of the hour. Larry, what's going on tonight?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Well, my dear, Campbell, we've got an exclusive with David Cook. He's going to tell us all about life after the "Idol" and how he's doing since his brother's death.

Then the jungle, guess what, is safe once again. Heidi and Spencer are no longer there. These two are with us tonight.

We'll have some laughs with Jeff Foxworthy, one of my favorite people. He's got tips on how to stink in your job if you can't figure it out for yourself. He knows how to get fired.

It's all next on "LARRY KING LIVE," Campbell.

BROWN: Good advice, Larry. We'll see you in a bit.

KING: Well, you get unemployment insurance.


KING: You get fired, you get insurance.

BROWN: Duly noted.

Melissa Etheridge has always made herself loud and clear as a singer. Well, now, she's making herself loud and clear on the subject of medical marijuana. That is tonight's breakout.


MELISSA ETHERIDGE, SINGER: It is not addictive. It is not a gateway drug. It's not. We were lied to many years ago.



BROWN: Welcome back. Every night we bring you a breakout story from around the globe. This is the kind of story we believe breaks through all the noise. And tonight's breakout, singer Melissa Etheridge celebrating five years being free of breast cancer and talking candidly about smoking pot.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The first time you did it, did it -- it made a big -- the first time you did it, it made a big difference?

MELISSA ETHERIDGE, SINGER: Instantly. The first time, it was like oh, because I didn't want to do it at first. I didn't want -- I want to see what it was like.

COOPER: You hadn't been a big marijuana smoker before?

ETHERIDGE: No, no. I was -- no, I hadn't been a big marijuana smoker before. And so the first time I did it for a medicinal purpose, it was -- it instantly, instantly, within, you know, a minute, relieves the nausea, relieves the pain. And, all of a sudden, I was normal. You don't take medicinal marijuana to get high.

COOPER: So that -- you weren't getting high?

ETHERIDGE: No, you don't get high. No, it's not a high. It's a normal. And I could all of a sudden, I could get out of bed. I could go see my kids. And it was amazing.

COOPER: Did you feel stoned?

ETHERIDGE: No, you don't. You feel OK. It's not about getting stoned at all.

COOPER: Because I think that's the impression a lot of people have is oh, well, you just want -- you want to get high to get rid of the pain. Is it?

ETHERIDGE: No, no, no. It's -- I mean, you don't get stoned on Advil, right? It's the same sort of pain relief but relieves different things but it's that idea that it is pain relief. It is medicine.

COOPER: And how often were you smoking, or how often were you taking marijuana?

ETHERIDGE: During the chemotherapy, I'd say, about once every four hours. It's sort of that same sort of cycle with a lot of pain.

COOPER: So throughout the day, once every four hours?

ETHERIDGE: Yes. Once every four hours.

COOPER: And do you ever worry about becoming addicted? You know, there's a saying, look, this is a gateway drug?

ETHERIDGE: No. That's completely false information. There's studies upon studies upon studies done and you ask anyone, it is not addictive. It is not a gateway drug. It's not. We were lied to many years ago.


BROWN: And you'll hear much more from Melissa Etheridge tonight as part of an "AC 360" special series "America's High: The Case for and Against Pot." That's 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

The first lady wants to jazz up America's schools.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I brought my own family with me today, because I want to keep them alive and aware of all kinds of music, other than hip-hop.



BROWN: It's time now for the "PDB," our "Political Daily Briefing." Erica Hill back with us. A big day at the White House for music education.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, it was. As we kicked things off in the East Room, First Lady Michelle Obama kicking off a White House music series with the legendary Marsalis Family and Paquito D'Rivera, as well as 150 students from top music schools around the country. Not a bad way to spend your Monday. Mrs. Obama stressing today she wants young people to be aware of all types of music. She said, not just hip-hop, noting that goes for her own daughters as well.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: There's probably no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble, individual freedom, but with responsibility to the group.


HILL: There you go tying it back in. And up next, there's going to be a country and classical series as well.

BROWN: That's great.

Finally, a little Rod Blagojevich news as well.

HILL: A little Blago on your Monday, that's right. In Chicago, the theater is getting plenty of attention this weekend along with Rod Blagojevich. If you can't beat them, join them on this one.

The Second City theater which is this famed theater, improv theater company in Chicago has been doing a show, "Rod Blagojevich, Superstar." There's Joey Bland, I believe, one of the actors who plays Blago. He made an appearance this weekend at the show.

The audience was very happy. Apparently, he was a little more stone-faced actor.

BROWN: He's looking for another career.

HILL: What?



BROWN: Erica Hill tonight. That's it for us.

"LARRY KING LIVE" right now.