Return to Transcripts main page

Campbell Brown

Iran Cracks Down on Foreign Media; Interview With Lisa Ling

Aired June 16, 2009 - 20:00   ET



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

Is President Obama doing enough to back the reformists in Iran? The crackdown has started. Foreign media's on lockdown, bloody, deadly images sent secretly online. Now, tough calls for the White House. What's next for a would-be nuclear nation in turmoil?

Plus, tonight's newsmaker, Lisa Ling, fighting to get her sister out of a North Korean prison.

Also, massive marijuana gardens in national parks. We take you on a chopper tour of the booming drug business here at home.

And are liberals demanding too much too soon? We expected it from the right. Now President Obama is getting hammered from the left.

BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Barack Obama is not a socialist. He's not even a liberal.


ANNOUNCER: This is your only source for news. CNN prime time begins now. Here's Campbell Brown.

BROWN: Hi, everybody.

The big story today, of course, is Iran. Our own Christiane Amanpour, just back from Tehran tonight, is joining us live with a unique perspective about what exactly is happening on the ground there.

Plus, tonight, also our "Great Debate." Should students be getting cash for good grades? Is that anything more than a bribe? We will talk about that.

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

And we start with a late-breaking story, a tawdry public confession. This is coming from a big-time lawmaker who is owning up to some bad behavior. U.S. Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, called a news conference this evening to say that, yes, he had cheated on his wife.

The reports say the other woman is a former staffer. According to, Ensign decided to come clean after the woman tried to blackmail him.


SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: Last year, I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage. It's absolutely the worst thing that I have ever done in my life. If there was ever anything that I could take back in my life, this would be it.

I will not be taking any questions. Thank you.


BROWN: Senator Ensign, not Ensign -- my bad -- is a rising star in the Republican Party, or maybe was a rising star in the Republican Party, maybe even a White House wannabe. In fact, he had recently taken a little swing through Iowa.

In Iran today -- we're going to have a lot more on this -- there were thousands of protesters. They have continued to flood the streets of the capital, but Iran's government banned reports from covering the demonstrations. Clearly, they do not want the revolution there to be televised. But where there is a will, there's a way.

Check it out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to keep moving as we film this. Otherwise, we will attract the attention of the police.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iran election iReports keep pouring into CNN. This one is from Reza (ph) in Tehran, who says he watched protesters set a motorbike on fire. He says the bike belonged to a member of President Ahmadinejad's forces. Reza also sent us this video that illustrates the sheer magnitude of some of the demonstrations.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, ACTRESS: And, apparently, an attempted media blackout by the government was foiled by no less than Twitter.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: On Twitter, Jadi writes: "Cell phone, SMS, GoogleTalk, Yahoo! messenger, GPRS are down."

Earlier, this person wrote, "Police going to houses and seizing satellite receivers."

Kevvan tweets that "They have blocked many instant messages, as well wide communication blockage to hide the disaster that they're managing here."

(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: Reporters not the only ones trying to cover the story. So is a brave correspondent from "The Daily Show" -- yes, "The Daily Show."


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Are you sure you should still be there, Jason? Because all the foreign reporters have been kicked out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really? I had not heard that. Huh.



STEWART: Well, it's very dangerous, Jason. You should get out of there. And...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who are you talking to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're called "The Daily Show." It's a satirical news program. Normally, we just do these things in front of green screens, but my boss is an (EXPLETIVE DELETED)


STEWART: Be safe, Jason. It's not worth it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take a right up here by the building on fire.


STEWART: Jason Jones, everybody.


BROWN: You have got to give him credit for being there.

All right. As the drama played out overseas, the White House very carefully staying on message today.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling.

It's up to the Iranian people to make a decision. We are not meddling.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's not a good idea to meddle in that -- in that sovereignty.

The world is seeing in Iran a yearning for change. You're seeing the yearning for change, and that yearning especially by youth in Iran.

OBAMA: The world has deep concerns about the election.

GIBBS: I think that he's expressed concern as the international community has. Obviously, the international community is watching with some concern.


BROWN: Now, for some, the president's diplomacy has been wearing thin. This was John McCain on NBC's "Today Show."


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We should speak out that this is a corrupt, flawed, sham of an election. The -- the Iranian people have been deprived of their rights. We support them in their struggle against a repressive, repressive regime.


BROWN: And we will have much more on the president and Iran coming up.

Tonight, a Tennessee lawmaker is standing by the staffer who used office e-mail to send around a racist joke about President Obama. Here it is. This is a collage of presidents of the United States. In Obama's slot, you see only a pair of eyes. The e-mail was sent around by Sherri Goforth, an administrative assistant to Republican State Senator Diane Black.

Black spoke to CNN's Kyra Phillips earlier.


PHILLIPS: Why not fire her?

DIANE BLACK (R), TENNESSEE STATE SENATOR: Well, first, I want to be sure that everyone understands that the communication was sent without my knowledge, and it absolutely does not represent the beliefs or opinions of my office.

Ms. Goforth did get a verbal reprimand, as well as a very strongly worded reprimand written. It was put in her file that, if this should ever occur again, that she would be immediately terminated.

PHILLIPS: Do you think that this is somebody that really should be on your staff for you, as a lawmaker?

BLACK: There has never been anything in her record at all. She has a stellar record. And we followed policy. And that's what you do when someone breaks the rules. You follow policy.


BROWN: Yes. So, she was not fired. Tennessee Democrats say they are appalled.

And now Sarah Palin and David Letterman -- yes, the hits keep on coming. Today, Bill Maher stood up for Letterman, saying his comedy colleague has nothing to apologize for. Maher spoke out on CNN's "SITUATION ROOM."


MAHER: It just bothers me the way some lie gets into the media, and then it becomes the truth. Somehow, it became conventional wisdom now that David Letterman made a rape joke about a 14-year-old.

It was an easy and obvious joke to make. It was funny. It was not offensive in any way. And they made it sound like he said something completely different. So, he is apologizing for something he never meant, never thought, and never said.


BROWN: The story that just won't die. May that be the last word.

And we leave you tonight with President Obama taking on the fly who dared to interrupt his interview with CNBC this afternoon. Check it out.


OBAMA: Hey, get out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the most persistent fly I have ever seen.



OBAMA: Now, where were we?



BROWN: Nicely done there, Mr. President.

That is the "Mash-Up."

And to a little more serious news now. We're going to turn back to tonight's big question. Is President Obama doing enough to support the reformers in Iran right now?

And joining us to talk about this and everything going on there, CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. She has been reporting from the streets of Tehran, and she is joining us tonight from London. And, in Washington, Cliff May with us once again. He is a conservative -- with a conservative group that tracks terrorism, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. And here with me in New York, Fawaz Gerges, a Middle Eastern studies professor at Sarah Lawrence University.

Christiane, let me start with you on this.

I know you have just gotten out of Iran. And, as we have been reporting, there's been basically a crackdown, very little media coming out. People there have been using Twitter to communicate. Just try to paint a picture for us of what's going on right now.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, even when we were able to be on the streets, the absolute awash in rumors was Tehran. And it was very, very difficult to pin down everything everybody was saying, including all the stuff that went on, on Twitter, Facebook, and et cetera.

And our job was to be there on the street and to really pin down exactly what was going on. There was an enormous amount of confusion and miscommunication and misinformation.

But, certainly, people have been out on the street, and it looks like what's happening now and has happened over the last two days is that the authorities are sort of -- it's almost like politics on the street, who is rally is bigger. It's like they're playing it out rally by rally, and you can see that over yesterday and today in these competing rallies by the Ahmadinejad supporters and the Mousavi supporters.

BROWN: Let me bring Fawaz Gerges into this, a lot of people looking at situation on the ground. They're also familiar with Ahmadinejad, the kind of things he has said, crazy things, and many wondering why the president hasn't been a little more forceful in speaking out about this.

FAWAZ GERGES, EXPERT ON MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: Campbell, President Obama's nuanced stance is just right. Why is President Obama right?

President Obama is trying to walk a fine line between voicing support for the aspirations of Iranians, and not pouring fuel on a raging fire, not providing ammunition to the mullahs that the United States is interfering in their internal affairs.

Let me give you an example. In the last three days, both the -- the most powerful man, the supreme leader, and the president said that the crisis was perpetrated by the foreign enemies and the foreign media of Iran. They're trying to shift the debate...

BROWN: Right.

GERGES: ... from the internal mess they made to the United States.

And Iranians know that this is an internal crisis. The Iranians -- it's an Iranian struggle. The United States is providing moral support, and we should not, we should not become a critical factor in the equation. In fact, the best thing that the president has ever done since he has -- since has come to office is to deactivate the mine field of relation between United States and Iran and shift the debate from America -- death to America to what? Death to the dictatorship.

And this is a testament to what President Obama has done.


BROWN: Let me bring in Cliff May, because I'm guessing he has a very different view on this.


CLIFF MAY, PRESIDENT, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, I don't think we should meddle. I think that's right. I don't think we should pour oil on the fire. That's correct as well.

But it's not meddling or pouring oil on the fire to be unequivocal and clear that we stand with the Iranians who are fighting in the streets for their freedom, and we are opposed to those who are shooting them and bloodying them up and killing them in the streets.

I think we can be clear about that.


BROWN: So, how? But be specific, Cliff. What would you like to see the president do?

MAY: I would like him to say that -- that the -- the people who are so brave out there in the streets have the support of the Americans and all the free people of the world. I would like him to call upon the authorities to allow the media, for example, journalists, to remain in Iran, and to have the right to report on this freely.

Since Ahmadinejad says he lives in a free country, that he rules a free country, let's have the media there, and let's not kick them out. I think he can also talk about people like the Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who has been under house arrest, who has said very clearly that Iran is now an oppressed nation.

We can agree with that, and that the election results cannot be accepted by anyone of sound mind.

BROWN: All right.

MAY: If an imprisoned ayatollah can say that, I think we can be as strong in our support for the people who are there looking and waiting for support from the free world.

BROWN: All right.

Christiane, if there is some momentum in terms of your sense of people you encountered on the street, these reformists, and the government is cracking down, and the media is being shut out, how do they keep that going?

AMANPOUR: Well, right now, the media is confined, but not shut out.

And I think it's important to look at this in the way it is. And that is that the media has actually been allowed to report this and the politics have actually been allowed to be out on the street.

I can name you any one of the nations in that part of the world that the United States supports and has relations with which have no such allowing political expression in the streets. And, certainly, the media would be nowhere near being allowed to go and do what we have been able to do.

Now, it's completely regrettable that people have been confined to hotels and can only see what's happening on -- on state television and go out without their cameras and check it out for themselves. But it's still being reported. And that's a big, big difference from the past and from what's around.

I think also what's really woeful and -- and dangerous is that the United States really does not have an understanding of Iran, nor does it have the kind of professional career politicians and foreign service officials who have any experience anymore, given the 30 years of hostility and breaking of relations.

So, the U.S. is relying on any number of people who are able to get in its ear and tell them what's going on there. And I think that's very difficult for a U.S. administration which is trying to figure out exactly what's going on, on the ground. And the momentum is gathering on both sides there.

As I say, the politics is spilling out into the street, and it looks like a competition of whose rally is bigger, trying to -- trying to prove their point as this public debate continues in the streets.

BROWN: All right. Christiane Amanpour, who, as we mentioned, just returned from Tehran, she is reporting to us from London.

Fawaz here with me in New York, and, of course, Cliff May in D.C., many thanks. Appreciate it, guys.

When we come back, tonight's newsmaker tonight, Lisa Ling, she is of course fighting to get her sister freed from a North Korean prison. Listen.


LISA LING, JOURNALIST: We're particularly concerned about their mental state, because when you -- when you tell two women that they have just been convicted and sentenced to 12 years hard labor, we can't even imagine what -- what they're feeling and what they're going through.


COOPER: Anderson Cooper joining us next with this exclusive interview.

And also, tonight's "Great Debate": Should students get cash for good grades? Or does that do more harm than good? We will have that coming up.


BROWN: Tonight's newsmaker, Lisa Ling, has spent more than 90 anguishing days waiting for word on the fate of her sister, Laura Ling.

Laura, along with Euna Lee, are the journalists arrested by North Korea, convicted in a secret trial, sentenced to 12 years in prison. Well, today, North Korea's state media claimed the women entered the country illegally in order to record material for a -- quote -- "smear campaign."

My colleague, "A.C. 360" anchor Anderson Cooper, sat down with Lisa Ling to talk about the fight to free the women.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Lisa, I'm sorry it's under these circumstances that we're talking. North Korea now claims that Laura, your sister, and Euna have admitted committing crimes, crossing into the country illegally, prompted by what they are political motives. Do you believe that?

LING: Anderson, it's very challenging. We haven't heard much out of North Korea. So, in a way, we appreciated that they released these charges.

We will say again, as we have said before, that, when they left U.S. soil, they never intended to cross into North Korea. According to the charges, they -- they confessed. And, so, we know they're sorry. We are very sorry. And we hope that the North Korean government now will -- will show compassion, and just let them come home.

COOPER: Lisa, I mean, does it concern you that the North Korean government is saying that they were there for a smear campaign, not acknowledging that they were independent journalists?

LING: All we can say is that they -- they are journalists and they were doing their job. My sister has -- has been a journalist for years.

And that's really all we can say. You know, we weren't in the -- the courtroom. We don't know any sort of specifics, other than what was released. We just hope, you know, given the fact that we know the girls have apologized profusely, that they will let the girls come home to us. It's been -- it's been three months, and that's been too long for us.

COOPER: Lisa, there has been some hope by outside observers that, though the sentence is 12 years hard labor, that, if they are to be used in some sort of pawn in negotiations, that they -- that sentence would not actually be carried out, that they would be kept in a -- in a guest house, perhaps, as they have been thus far. Do you know anything about their location now?

LING: Since the verdict, no one has seen them. So, frankly, we don't even know exactly where they are.

And we're particularly concerned about their mental state, because when you -- when you tell two women that they have just been convicted and sentenced to 12 years hard labor, we can't even imagine what -- what they're feeling and what they're going through. I mean, I -- I'm sure they are just traumatized.

And because we haven't heard anything from them or about them, we are particularly worried.


BROWN: And Anderson Cooper joining me right now.

This is the first time, of course, she's speaking publicly since the sentencing.

COOPER: Right.

BROWN: I -- they have got to be worried about anything they say and how that may affect whatever diplomatic negotiations may be going on.


BROWN: Why did they decide to speak out?

COOPER: Well, I think that's why they haven't since the verdict, because they really did not know exactly what to say. They were -- and I asked Lisa that question. She said: Look, we were shocked, kind of in disbelief, and unsure what happens next.

I think they're speaking out today, because, finally, for the first time, North Korea, the government, has come forward and said what the charges were, what specifically, in their opinion, has gone on. And so I think the families wanted to respond to that. We talked to Lisa. We also talked to Laura's husband, Iain, And Euna's husband, Michael, tonight.

They also wanted to send the message to North Korea, again, just apologizing, saying, please show mercy. And they also want to try to get the Swedish ambassador in North Korea to be able to visit both Laura and Euna. That hasn't happened. He's the only diplomatic representative who has had any contact with them, very brief contact over the last three months. So, they're hoping he will be allowed another visit, which he hasn't been so far.

BROWN: Yes. And that's got to be nerve-racking, hearing her say that no has seen them since the sentencing.

COOPER: Right.

BROWN: So, Anderson Cooper, tonight, appreciate it.

And we should mention, of course, the families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee are going to have a lot more to say about the sentencing, about today's new developments in a 360 exclusive. That's coming up at 10:00 Eastern time.

And, tomorrow night, right here, our newsmaker, of the Black Eyed Peas. Find why he and plenty of other big names in the recording industry are taking on your local radio station. A big debate, that's coming up tomorrow.

When we come back, taxing your cell phone -- believe it or not, the IRS can collect money if your job pays for your phone. Find out why President Obama is saying, not so fast. That's in tonight's download.

Plus, why liberals are starting to beat up on the president -- a closer look at why some of his biggest supporters are starting to give him a little grief.


MAHER: You know, George Bush didn't care whether it was something that was approved by the Congress, by the Constitution, by the Magna Carta.

He just did what he wanted to do. And I would like to see a little bit of that in Barack Obama, not care so much if he is popular, not care so much if he is stepping on toes.



BROWN: Now a look at some of the other must-see stories of the day.

Here's Erica Hill with tonight's download -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, a jailhouse interview with CNN made a $15 million difference for an anti-abortion activist accused of gunning down a Kansas doctor.

While never admitting he shot and killed Dr. George Tiller, Scott Roeder did tell CNN correspondent Drew Griffin that, if convicted -- quote -- "The entire motive was the defense of the unborn."

Well, the judge cited that interview as a reason to increase Roeders's bail from $5 million to $20 million.

The Obama administration wants to get rid of a little-known tax on your cell phone. There's actually a law dating back to 1989 which says personal use of your company cell phone is taxable, kind of like a luxury perk from the boss. Now, most companies ignore it because it's just too tough to track. The IRS thought about making workers keep track, but now admits really the law is obsolete.

There are actually bipartisan bills which have been introduced this year to repeal it in both the House and the Senate. So, it may get a little movement.

And there's trouble for one of octomom Nadya Suleman's money- making deals. It turns out a Web site which has exclusive rights to record video of her octuplets has been cited for violating child labor laws. The AP reporting Radar Online taped the infant beyond the time limits allowed under rules meant to protect children from being exploited.

And Lindsay Lohan and the mystery of the missing jewels. Lohan was the last person seen wear $400,000 worth of dealer jewelry at a London photo shoot for "Elle" magazine this month. Well, now the diamond earrings and necklace are gone. Scotland Yard, it turns out, may question Lohan, although she isn't actually considered a suspect -- suspect.

Her spokesperson points out there were some 20 other people at the shoot that day.

I can confirm I don't have those jewels.


HILL: I wish I did.

BROWN: Four hundred thousand dollars?

HILL: Yes.

BROWN: All right.

Erica Hill with tonight's download, we will see you again in just a few minutes.

Coming up, tonight's "Great Debate." Should students get cash for good grades? It may be working, but is it a way of teaching our kids to only -- they can only be successful if bribed?

Also, marijuana gardens in our national parks -- we're taking you on a chopper tour of the homegrown drug trade in tonight's breakout.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Ventura County Sheriff's Department invited us along on this raid. Last year in California, 5.2 million plants were seized, 70 percent of them on public land, estimated value, $15.6 billion.



BROWN: Time now for our "Great Debate." And tonight's premise: Students should get cash for good grades.

And joining us to debate, in New York, we have Heather Mac Donald. She's a fellow at the Manhattan Institute For Policy Research. And she writes about education. Also with us, Jackie Gingrich Cushman is in Atlanta. She runs a program that gives some low-income students incentive pay for good grades. She is also co- author, along with her father, Newt Gingrich, of the book "Five Principles For a Successful Life."

We also want your opinion on this, so vote by calling the number at the bottom of your screen.

First, right now, an opening statement from each of you. We have 30 seconds for each of you on the clock.

Jackie, once again, the premise is students should get paid to get good grades. Make your case.

JACKIE GINGRICH CUSHMAN, LEARNING MAKES A DIFFERENCE FDN.: Well, Campbell, thanks for having me on. The fact is, is that 7,000 students every school day drop out of school. That is over 1.2 million students a year. That's a huge number. Less than 70 percent, less than 70 percent graduation rate.

So the point is, paying students to learn teaches them that learning makes a difference. And we've been doing it for a long time. Parents have done it. Relatives have done it, but the fact is, is that not all students have parents that can do that. So it's very important that we help reach out to them.

BROWN: Heather, go ahead.

HEATHER MACDONALD, FELLOW, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE: Campbell, it teaches just the opposite. I think I share Jackie's goals of wanting students to understand the value of education. This creates a completely artificial situation where students expect a short-term bribe or reward for studying. What we need to teach them is education is a long-term investment.

You defer gratification. You don't go partying tonight because ten years from now you're going to have the joy of knowledge and increase social capital that will allow you to get a better job. Once you start this principle, Campbell, you cannot unplug it. There's no way to tell students from now on that you should study for its own sake rather than because you get an immediate payout.

BROWN: Right. Let me, though, follow-up with you, Jackie, on a question I have because just doing research here, there are a number of studies that have shown that these programs, like Jackie is talking about, do produce significant results and can raise test scores. I mean, isn't that ultimately what we want?

CUSHMAN: Well, they do work. I mean, there's a situation in New York. They're in the Sparks (ph) Program. Third graders at last year tested at 60 percent of the class was at level is now 84 percent the next year. That is a huge increase.

And what we found when we ran the program is that students not only learned, but they learned they could learn and they learned how to learn. And they even told us that money was not the primary motivator, but it got them there and it got them interested, and they learned they could learn.

BROWN: OK. Well, let me have Heather address this. Because Heather, I mean, how do you receive (ph) this?

MACDONALD: I'd love to know -- I'd love to know, Campbell, what happened when Jackie stopped paying them. In fact, students do expect the payments.

A New York student told the "New York Post," I took my test, where's my check? This creates an expectation in students that learning is about a short-term payout. That is simply not the case. It's the wrong lesson.

And I keep asking the Bloomberg administration, which is doing this program in New York, what's your end game? When do you stop paying students?

Studies have found that when you stop the bribes, the effort trails off. And once you start this, you cannot confine it to certain schools or certain students. You're going to have an expectation throughout the school system that everybody should get paid. I don't know how you say to one student well, because you're poor, we're going to pay you $50 for studying. But this student who has maybe $1,000 more in family income is supposed to do it because learning is good for you and it's the right thing to do.

This creates a bizarre Skinnerian situation where we're teaching these students to press a bar for little pellets. That's not the real world. The real world is you defer gratification and you learn for the long-term.

BROWN: All right. And, Jackie, that's a fair point. I mean, how do you address some of the underlying problems here for the long- term?

CUSHMAN: I think it's a great point. And I'll give you a few examples.

One, we had a middle school student last year who looked at me and said I was failing. What he meant was he is now passing math. He came up to me a few weeks later and said he had saved all the money he'd earned for college. This is a student who wasn't doing well in math in middle school who is now not only planning on going to college but saving his money.

So -- and again, we have to wait for the results in the long term for the Learning Makes a Difference Foundation. We're following these kids. We used them last year. We are not paying them again this year. But they came to us in that program and said, you know what? We learned we can achieve. We learned we can learn and now we're more motivated to get involved and to be interested.

MACDONALD: Well, if that's the case, if in fact, you have evidence that you can pay kids for say one semester one year and stop it and they continue understanding the value of education, I'm willing to look at that evidence. I've not seen the evidence so far.

I do know that once you create a welfare program, it is almost impossible to dismantle it. We already have advocates in New York who are saying the payments are not large enough. It's not a large enough array of behaviors that we're paying for. I think this is a program that has a capacity to expand indefinitely and an entire school system can be infected by this.

And you have one-half of society doing the right thing because it understands that learning carries its own rewards and in the long term can improve your perspective in life. Paying the other half that allegedly does not have this understanding, I think it creates a very bizarre and uncomfortable caste system.

BROWN: All right. Let me stop you right there. We only have a few seconds left. Now, we try to find common ground with these debates when we can. And I just want to see if there's one area where you both think you can agree.

We have the same goal, which is to better educate our children. With regard to this program in particular, is there a compromise you can see here?

MACDONALD: I would like -- you know, Jackie and I absolutely believe that education is the most essential thing for our country. And if we can't educate our kids, we're not going to compete with China, we're not going to compete with India. Let's have our teachers do a better job of explaining to kids that the beauty of knowledge and the fact that knowledge can carry them into the future.

BROWN: All right. Jackie, quickly.

CUSHMAN: I agree. It's very important that we understand. But let's be clear.

Other situations have parents that pay their kids to get A's or to graduate. So we have people already getting paid for grades and paid to achieve. So what we're both saying is let's look at how we can motivate kids and if everyone is watching this program, goes and talks to their child about how can you be motivated, then to me that's huge. That's a great win.

BROWN: All right.

MACDONALD: That's a great win.

BROWN: Jackie and Heather, we really appreciate your time tonight. Thanks very much.

MACDONALD: Thank you, Campbell.

CUSHMAN: Thank you.

BROWN: And let me do point out, though, we did incorrectly, my apologies, identify Jackie as being from the Manhattan Institute. Of course, that was Heather who is from the Manhattan Institute. We're sorry about that.

We want to see how you voted for tonight's "Great Debate." Fifty- two percent of you agree that getting cash for good grades is a good idea, 48 percent disagree. As always, not a scientific poll here, just a snapshot from the viewers who called in. Many thanks.

Every night, a new "Great Debate" on the show. Tomorrow's premise, we are overmedicating our kids. Agree or disagree? That's coming up tomorrow.

And we're about to ask our next big question. Is Barack Obama disappointing some liberals who are expecting too much, perhaps?

And Michelle Obama, helping some school children harvest veggies right in her own backyard when we come back.


BROWN: Our big question, is the president letting liberals down? Comedian Bill Maher seems to think so. Here's what he said on his HBO show.


BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: It's getting to where you can't turn on your TV without seeing Obama. Who does he think he is? Dick Cheney?

This is not getting the job done and this is not what I voted for. And this is why I don't want my president -- this is why I don't want my president to be a TV star because TV stars are too worried about being popular and too concerned with getting renewed.

Folks, Barack Obama needs to start putting it on the line in fights against the banks, the energy companies, and the health care industry. I never thought I'd say this -- but actually, what he needs in his personality is a little George Bush. He needs to stop worrying about being loved and bring out that smug, insufferable swagger that says suck on it, America.


BROWN: Turns out Maher wasn't finished. He elaborated a little bit more on this during an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "THE SITUATION ROOM." Check it out.


MAHER: George Bush didn't care whether it was something that was approved by the Congress, by the Constitution, by the Magna Carta. He just did what he wanted to do. And I would like to see a little bit of that in Barack Obama. Not care so much if he's popular, not care so much if he's stepping on toes, not care so much if he's expending too much political capital.

Oh, I think he's terrific on foreign affairs. But that's the easy part because you don't need to negotiate with insurance companies and credit card companies and the people who are lobbying the people who make campaign contributions and the corporations who have such a stranglehold on our government.


BROWN: To offer their opinions on how things stand between the American president and American liberals whether they are expecting too much, we've got senior political analyst Jeffrey Toobin with us, Farai Chideya of, Sam Seder of Air America's radio -- Air America Radio's "The BreakRoom." And in Washington, Susan Molinari, who is a Republican congresswoman for most of the '90s.

Welcome to everybody. Sam, you heard what Maher said there. The president is not putting his popularity on the line to get his agenda passed and he cares too much about being liked. What do you think?

SAM SEDER, CO-HOST, AIR AMERICA'S "BREAKROOM LIVE": Well, I mean I think there's a time to reap and there's a time to sow. And I think there is an argument to be made that he's been sowing. And, you know, for me the big test is going to be the public option on the health care.

There's a couple of things where I think he didn't go to the mat where he should have like on the bankruptcy cramdown, for instance. But I think I have no problem going on TV a lot if he uses that cache that he builds with the American public.

BROWN: Jeff, I guess people don't really care, like Sam is saying here, how often you're on TV as long as you're being effective. And is he just not focusing enough attention on the issues that most liberals are consumed with?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think there's a bit of a mythology about how liberal he was in the first place. I don't think he is nearly as liberal as many of his supporters are.

I think you saw much of the same with Bill Clinton. Liberals were always unhappy with Bill Clinton. Barack Obama is a lot closer in his politics to Bill Clinton than he is to Nancy Pelosi, I think. So this moderation is really the real Barack Obama. I don't think he's censoring himself. I think that's who he is.

BROWN: Or any politician, perhaps, Farai, who becomes president, who recognizes especially early in your presidency that you do have to build a consensus over time and that you can't cram things down people's throat if you want to be in it for the long haul, right?

FARAI CHIDEYA, FOUNDER, POPANDPOLITICS.COM: Well, Campbell, you know, what I thought was interesting that Bill used the word "renew," like renewing a TV show. But today, Barack Obama's campaign wing sent out a fund raising appeal which has got to be for the 2012 elections around health care. Of course, he wants to be renewed. He needs funds to run for president again. He is already running for reelection. And so the reality is that not only is there the question of whether or not he's a liberal, which I don't think he ever was, he is running to get himself renewed as the next president of the United States.

BROWN: Susan, you know, we heard George Bush say often his words "I've got political capital. I'm going to spend it." Even when it was controversial, I mean, do you feel like you hear that same sort of message from Obama? Or is he being, I guess, too wishy-washy?

SUSAN MOLINARI (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I think he has the political capital and he's, you know, spending it. I think part of the problem is he's trying to spend it on climate change, on financial restructuring, on auto bailout, you know, on health care all at the same time.

And I do think there is an issue that Bill Maher talked about with regard to overexposure then. Because when you are the pitch man and an effective one, the spokesman for all these issues, it's hard for the United States Congress and the Democrats in particular to tell when you're really serious.

And I think we even see it today with sort of the lack of appreciation for his reaction on Iran because every time he -- he doesn't save his articulateness for once in a while, which I think presidents are supposed to do. They're supposed to be behind closed doors sometimes, you know, working things out. And because he's out there all the time, his voice gets minimized a little bit.

Now, he is an incredibly articulate spokesperson, so less of a danger for him than anybody else. But I do think he's got to, you know, let others in the administration speak a little bit more so that when he does speak it's seen as more of a roar.

BROWN: And this was an argument, frankly, that we're hearing from Susan now that Republicans made very effectively, Jeff, against Obama during the campaign, the celebrity. He's too much of a celebrity. And it backfired at a time, I believe, a little bit for him.

TOOBIN: It was all -- the accusation was that he was all talk. I don't think the issue is so much about his exposure. I think it's about the substance, about what he's doing as president.

You know, Franklin Roosevelt used to get the same kind of criticism from the left wing of his party. And he'd say you want me to do something? Make me. In other words, mobilize your supporters, get that political pressure out there in the real world.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Barack Obama is committed to overturning it, but he's done nothing yet. But there isn't a lot of political pressure on him yet from a substantial majority of the people. They haven't made it.

BROWN: You think that's about to change, Sam? SEDER: Well, you know, again, I think the health care is one of the sort -- maybe the debate that is the turning point. I mean, I really think that the public option is something that he had campaigned on and I think it's something that progressives and liberals and frankly the vast majority of the American people want. And so I think this is going to be the big test for him if he can maintain that public option in his health care proposal.

BROWN: All right. Many thanks to the panel. Good discussion.

"LARRY KING LIVE" about to start at the top of the hour.

Larry, what's going on tonight?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Well, Campbell, lots of things. We'll have the very latest on the turmoil in Iran. And then the father of Sarah Palin's grandchild will weigh in on the David Letterman joke and apology. We'll hear what Levi Johnston has to say about it all.

Then Kathy Griffin is here. And as you know, Campbell, she has something to say about everything. All next on "LARRY KING LIVE," Campbell.

BROWN: Can't wait to hear from her. All right, Larry. We'll see you in a few minutes.

One more brief program note this Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. A special live edition of "Money and Main Street." Anderson Cooper, Ali Velshi, and some of the best financial minds around are going to have advice on how you can survive these tough economic times. That's 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN Thursday night.

So how shocked would you be if we told you that marijuana was being grown on land owned by the federal government? OK, then, prepare to be shocked. We'll be back.


BROWN: Welcome back. Every night, we're going to bring you a breakout story from around the globe, the kind of story that breaks through all the noise out there.

Tonight's breakout, the front lines in America's battle over marijuana. And we're not taking you to some far off land here. In fact, the growers are setting up camp, literally in the nation's backyard.

Randi Kaye gives us a fascinating look at where pot is a growing concern.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We get our first glimpse from the air as our helicopter hovers over Bear Creek Canyon. Just about two hours north of Los Angeles, there it is. A marijuana garden, planted smack in the middle of Los Padres National Forest.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Department invited us along on this raid. Last year in California, 5.2 million plants were seized, 70 percent of them on public land. Estimated value, $15.6 billion.

With Captain Derek West as our guide, we start our journey deep into the forest. We smell the marijuana plants before we even see them.

The plants are young, no buds yet. That's the part people smoke. They won't have to be burned.

(on camera): It's pretty easy to take a pot garden down. Once these guys come cross the plants, they just yank them straight out of the ground. It's that simple.

(voice-over): We are heading to the camp where the growers live during the harvest months. The growers we're told are illegal immigrants from Mexico who repay debt to the drug cartels by tending their marijuana gardens.

(on camera): So who do you think is actually financing this?

CAPTAIN DEREK WEST, VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: We believe it's the cartels from Mexico. We find receipts. We find sometimes books. We've made arrests in some of the grows.

KAYE (voice-over): Why here? It's tough to get drugs across the border. And the canopy of trees in our forests and national parks like Yosemite and Sequoia where gardens are also prevalent provides good cover. There have been shootouts between the growers and law enforcement but no tourists have been hurt. Still, deputies say hikers and campers have reason to be concerned.

(on camera): So do you feel like you're making any headway in the forest against these guys?

WEST: Oh, absolutely. For every plant we take, we're taking money away from the cartels.

KAYE (voice-over): Still, too often, gardens are replanted.

Randi Kaye, CNN, in the Los Padres National Forest.


BROWN: Randi is going to have a lot more to show you later tonight on "AC 360 Special Report, America's High: The Case for and Against Pot." That's at 10:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

And we have this just in to CNN. "The Associated Press" is reporting that tomorrow President Obama will announce the federal government plans to extend health care and other benefits to the gay and lesbian partners of federal employees. We will have a lot more on this story later tonight again right here on CNN. One garden that is perfectly legal is the one that First Lady Michelle Obama and some D.C. students planted a few months back. You're going to see the fruits of their labor. That's coming up in tonight's "PDB."


BROWN: Time for the "PDB," our "Political Daily Briefing." And Erica Hill is back with a homecoming at the White House.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. A pretty big day today for the White House press corps.

Former White House Press Secretary James Brady back today in the Briefing Room, which is, of course, named in his honor. This is actually the first time Brady and his wife had been back since the room was renovated two years ago. Brady was shot during an assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981 and has since become an avid gun control advocate.

Really great to watch the video, though. So many of the reporters there who've been there for so long were so excited to see him. It was a great moment.

BROWN: To see him. Yes, absolutely.

And a lot of kids at the White House today becoming regulars.

HILL: Yes, they are becoming regulars. They probably don't have to worry about passing through security at this point. The first lady's garden helpers from Washington's Bancroft Elementary back to reap the harvest from the White House garden they planted -- helped plant, that is, earlier this spring.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Does this not look amazing? Do you see what you did? Do you remember what it looked like when you were here the last time?


HILL: Wasn't a lot there, but now, wow. Mrs. Obama is actually hoping this is the start of a lifetime of healthy eating for many Americans. Health and nutrition, the focus of today's event. They already have 90 pounds of produce from that garden.

The kids put all the veggies they picked to the test. They created a healthy meal for the White House kitchen, a salad, baked chicken, brown rice, snack peas, and for desserts, cupcakes. Of course, they're kids.

BROWN: Healthy cupcakes.

And finally, some very special visitors on Capitol Hill. HILL: I love this story. I have to stay PS22 in New York is an Internet sensation live from the Capitol today. Take a listen to what they did.


PS22: It's the eye of the tiger --



HILL: A group of fifth graders from Staten Island, they were invited to sing at the Capitol today. Again, they're huge online. PS22, they've got a blog. Check them out. They can sing everything.

BROWN: "Eye of the Tiger."

HILL: 'Eye of the Tiger," Lady Gaga "Just Dance" --

BROWN: Really?

HILL: Even Journey, "Don't Stop Believing."

BROWN: Erica Hill -- thanks, Erica.

That's it for us. "LARRY KING LIVE" coming up next.