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American Morning

Church Fires; More Unrest Over Series of Controversial Cartoons

Aired February 08, 2006 - 07:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Miles O'Brien.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zain Verjee, in for Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Four more churches torched in Alabama. Five burned last week. Authorities fear more are in danger. We are live with that story.

VERJEE: Political messages at the Coretta Scott King Funeral.


JIMMY CARTER, FMR. PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: They are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans!


O'BRIEN: Was the setting an appropriate place for that kind of rhetoric. We'll take a closer look.

VERJEE: More unrest over a series of controversial cartoons. We're going to talk to the Danish editor who started it all, and find out if he'd do it all over again.

A Holocaust cartoon contest. Iran takes a new path in the growing cartoon controversy.

O'BRIEN: And a Southern California wildfire is probably the government's fault. How did that happen? That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

So the question is, who is torching churches in rural Alabama. Federal, state and local authorities trying to figure out who this morning, after four more churches went up in smoke. That after five others were burned, a total of nine arsons. Investigators fear there are more to come.

David Mattingly joining us now from Alabama with the latest.

David, what do we know?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, state investigators very concerned with this latest rash of church fires, again, wondering what might be coming next. The Alabama governor will be touring these sites in west Alabama. And like the one behind me, in some of the locations, there is very little left to look at. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Smoldering ash and cement block steps -- that's all that's left of the Morning Star Baptist Church in Boligee, Alabama, one of four burned Tuesday morning in rural western Alabama, one of nine in an apparent arson spree that began in another county on Friday.

REV. JAMES POSEY, MORNING STAR BAPTIST CHURCH: What kind of joy, what kind of satisfaction did you get out of doing what you did? We weren't bothering you. We don't even know you.

MATTINGLY: There is no known motive, no known suspects, but a growing mountain of evidence. Specially trained dogs lead investigators to substances that may have been used to start the fires. Elsewhere, plaster cast are made of tire tracks in the mud, possible signs of a quick getaway, and broken doors on several churches indicate forced entry.

JIM CAVANAUGH, BUR. OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO & FIREARMS: It could be a religious bias. It could be a devil, a satanic thing. It could be somebody angry at Baptist churches. It could be a number of motives, and we're exploring those.


MATTINGLY: No one is prepared to say that these cases are racially motivated. Of the nine churches burned so far, five have predominantly black congregations. The other four predominantly white -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: David, is there anything specifically authorities are telling people to look out for? I mean, should they post guards at the churches? What kinds of advice are they offering?

MATTINGLY: The advice that they're offering -- there is actually very little that they're able to give to the public right now. One key element to this that came out Friday with those original church burnings in Bibb County, Alabama was that they were looking for a dark SUV, possibly a Nissan Pathfinder. One sheriff in his recent round of church fires says there was also another report of a dark SUV spotted in the area, so they are looking for that. That SUV also containing two white males, as was reported here.

But again, not much to go on for the public. But they're just saying to stay vigilant, and hopefully this won't happen again.

O'BRIEN: David Mattingly in Boligee, Alabama, thank you. In our 8:00 Eastern hour, we'll talk with a member of the Alabama Department of Insurance, which oversees fire investigations in this state. We'll ask him what they're up to right now in that case.

It was extraordinary scene outside Atlanta yesterday. The brave widow turned fearless civil rights warrior laid to rest. Coretta Scott King was buried amid praise and politics.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): It was the kind of funeral Martin Luther King was denied, the 10,000-seat congregation filled with members of Congress and four presidents.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: Coretta Scott King showed that a person of conviction and strength could also be a beautiful soul. This kind and gentle woman became one of the most admired Americans of our time.

O'BRIEN: And while the president offered a dignified tribute, bereft of political rhetoric, other speakers used their time at the pulpit for partisanship as well as praise.

Former President Jimmy Carter reminding us of the current administration's failures in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

CARTER: We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi...


CARTER: .... those who are most devastated by Katrina, to know that they are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans.

O'BRIEN: The civil rights leader the Reverend Joseph Lowery turned up the political volume, praising Coretta Scott King and criticizing the war in Iraq in the same breath.

REV. JOSEPH LOWERY, CO-FOUNDER, SCLC: She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there.


LOWERY: But Coretta knew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.

O'BRIEN: Moments later, the former President Bush rose in defense of his son, using humor to try and deflate the tension.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FMR. PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: I would like to say something to my friend Joe Lowery. Hey, look, they used to send this guy to Washington, and I kept score in the Oval office desk. Larry, 21, Bush three. It wasn't a fair fight.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH: The advice, though, Joe, the advice I'd give this guy is Maya has nothing to worry about. Don't give up your day job. Keep preaching.

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: Later this hour, we'll talk with the Bishop Eddie Long, who officiated at Tuesday's service for Coretta Scott King. We'll ask him what he thought about the political tone -- Zain.

VERJEE: Miles, Islamic leaders around the world are calling for an end to the violent protest over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed marched today in Kabul, Afghanistan, went off without violence, but that wasn't the case in the southern part of the country. In a live report from Kabul last hour, we heard five people were killed in riots south of the capital. The cartoons were first published last year in September in a Danish newspaper.

CNN's Matthew Chance joins us now on the phone from Copenhagen in Denmark.

Matthew, you just interviewed Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister. What did he have to say?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We sat down a few hours ago with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister. We spoke about a range of issues. First of all, he rejected the idea that this controversy over the 12 cartoons that first appeared in a Danish newspaper would make the people of Denmark more of a target to terrorist groups. he said he was shocked, though, to see the scenes of violence around the world, scenes of violence in Afghanistan that we're seeing now, the scenes across the Muslim work directed against Danish diplomatic interests.

Let's have a quick listen to what he had to say in that CNN interview.


ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, DANISH PRIME MINISTER: Of course it is a balance, but I think that everybody should realize that neither the Danish government nor the Danish people can be held responsible for what is published in a free and independent newspaper.


VERJEE: Our apologies, we appear to have lost Matthew Chance in Copenhagen. Reaction today from Washington and London also. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair is taking questions in parliament now. President Bush will likely be asked about the cartoon outrage this morning after an Oval Office meeting. The State Department is already condemning a move they see as troublemaking by Iran. An Iranian newspaper inviting cartoonists to draw caricatures of the Holocaust.

Robin Oakley joins us now live from London with more details on this.

Robin, what's this all about?

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POL. EDITOR: Well, the anger about the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, first published in Danish newspapers, and then in other European newspapers, has been bubbling on the streets of Tehran all week, Zain.

And now the Iranians have given an extra twist to this with the newspaper "Ham Shahavi (ph)" staging this competition for cartoonists who are invited to submit caricatures depicting the Jewish Holocaust.

Now of course this follows the kinds f things that President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad, the Iranian president, has been saying about having Israel wiped off the face of the map, and he has, of course, denied the Holocaust. He has that it was a myth.

So this is a deliberate provocation, Iran using this issue, the protests over the Danish cartoons, to hit back at its traditional enemy, Israel and the West -- Zain.

VERJEE: Will this sort of provocation, Robin, play in Europe, in European capitals, among ordinary Europeans?

OAKLEY: Well, I think ordinary Europeans will be a little bit surprised, given that a lot of the Muslims who've affected such great outrage over the Danish cartoons have insisted theirs is a peaceful religion which would not defile other religions. But I think also the Europeans will see a political motive behind this, because, of course, they have now joined with the U.S. in getting Iran reported to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program, something that the Europeans particularly felt they had to do given what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had said about Israel.

So I think they're seeing a political motive. Diplomats are saying, look, all the troubles, the worst of the protests about the cartoons are coming in the political hotspots like Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iran. We're not seeing the same kinds of protests from more moderate Muslims in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for example -- Zain.

VERJEE: CNN's European political reporting to us from London, Robin Oakley.

Thanks, Robin -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: In Orange County, California, it is home sweet home this morning for hundreds forced from their homes by a wildfire. Firefighters successfully cut some fire brakes around the fire. Two- thousand homeowners had been evacuated. Now they are allowed back.

Here's the sad irony to this story: The 6,500-acre fire apparently was started by U.S. Forest Service personnel setting controlled burns, which, of course, are designed to prevent just what you're looking at there.


O'BRIEN: Coming up, a gambling scandal rock a sports league, and the wife of the Great One may be linked.

VERJEE: Also, figure skater Sasha Cohen is one of the early favorites at the Winter Olympics. What are her chances for gold? We're going to ask a former gold medalist, Scott Hamilton.

O'BRIEN: Plus, take a look at some live pictures, Kennedy Space Center, runway 33. This is the shuttle landing facility, 15,000-foot runway. That's a biggun, and that's Steve Fossett somewhere behind that porthole there. The Virgin Global Flyer is poised now to attempt another record. He did this last year, went around the world, first solo flight around the world on a single tank of gas. Now he's going to try to do the distance record, go around the world and then to the Atlantic Ocean a second time, landing in England if all goes well, 80 hours alone in a plane with one engine. Wow. Steve Fossett loves those records, doesn't he? Anyway, we'll, of course, bring you the liftoff as it happens. So stay with us.


O'BRIEN: All right, let's check some business. Andy Serwer is here. What do we call Carl Icahn here? Protectively, sir. How's that?

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: I'd call him a provacateur, investor provacateur. He was at it yesterday. In case you don't know, Carl Icahn, the investor who is agitating for change at Time Warner, our parent company, arrived in a midtown Manhattan hotel with Wall Street cohort and legend Bruce Wasserstein. They talked about how Time Warner was mismanaged and how they want to break it up into four parts, publishing, networks and film, cable, America Online, saying the company could be worth $40 billion more than it is now, because Dick Parsons, the CEO of the company, is not doing a very good job.

This is all hitting rather close to home, of course. I was watching this on CNN's Pipeline. And even of course Carl Icahn was talking about our company every single second, and even referred to the building within which we sit right at this moment.

O'BRIEN: He has a problem with this building, doesn't he?

SERWER: Let's listen in to what he has to say. Do we have that?


CARL ICAHN, TIME WARNER SHAREHOLDER: A great company in the media business today needs visions. It needs visionary leaders. It does not need a conglomerate structure centered at Colombus Circle that second guesses.


SERWER: Colombus Circle would be the building in which we sit now.

O'BRIEN: Yes, he's even mentioned our lunchroom before.

SERWER: He'll mention everything.

(CROSSTALK) SERWER: Bloomberg is reporting he's going to be taking his show on the road and meeting with investors all across the country.

You know, Wall Street is a voting machine, and yesterday investors shrugging their shoulders at what he had to say. Time Warner's stock down 1.1. percent. That's more than the overall market, which means, eh, they didn't really like what they heard. You can see it spiked up a little bit leading up to the meeting, but it was down yesterday.

And I don't think there was a whole lot new that came out of this meeting yesterday, you guys. I was expecting more. I was expecting more detail. There's a voluminous report, but not a whole lot of meat on them bones.

O'BRIEN: Well, except if there were those of us inside the company wondering if Carl Icahn will go away. We were dispelled of that notion. He is not going away.

SERWER: He's not going to go away. I mean, he sticks around. He keeps going, and going and going. He's tenacious that way.

O'BRIEN: Tenacious.

All right, thank you Andy Serwer.

SERWER: You're welcome.

VERJEE: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Coming up on the program, we showed you earlier how Coretta Scott King's funeral turned political. Well, was it right to do that in that setting, to take jabs at the White House? The president sitting right behind the former president there. We'll ask the bishop whose church it is and who officiated yesterday.

Plus, more on the Muslim outrage over those cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed. The newspaper editor who first published the cartoons joins us. I'm been dying to hear what he has to stay. Zain's going to talk to him in just a little bit, and his answers probably will surprise you.

Stay with us.


VERJEE: In September, the Danish newspaper "Jyllands-Posten" first published those controversial cartoons that sparked real anger across the Muslim world. Later other European newspapers reprinted them. But much of the Muslim anger has been focused on Denmark. This is what the newspaper has said since about the caricatures: "They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but the have indisputably offended many Muslims, for which we apologize." That's from the paper's editor-in-chief.

Joining us now from Copenhagen is the editor who published the cartoon Flemming Rose.

Thank so much for being with us.

Do you regret your decision?

FLEMMING ROSE, DANISH NEWSPAPER, "JYLLANDS-POSTEN": No, I mean, I do not regret it. And I think it is like asking (INAUDIBLE) if she regrets wearing a short skirt at a discotheque Friday night. In the sense that in our culture, if you are wearing a short skirt, that does not necessarily mean that you invite everybody to have sex of you.

As is the case with these cartoons, if you make a cartoon make fun of religions, make fun of religious figures, that does not imply that you humiliate, or denigrate or marginalize every nation.

And just to prove my point -- if I could just finish my point. In fact, I brought two cartoons to make my point.

If you look at this one, this is the David Star attached to a bomb, and it's made by the same cartoonist who did the cartoon with the prophet with a bomb in his turban. And the same cartoonist also made this cartoon. And these cartoons might also be offensive to Christians and Jews, but are just trying to make the point that we do not explicitly point out the Muslims in order to offend them. This is the way we do things in Denmark.

VERJEE: There are questions, though, over whether this has been a responsible decision, and the issues being raised by media critics, via the Muslim groups, not only in the Arab and Muslim world, but in the United States as well, is that it was irresponsible because it was published at a time when there are rising tensions in Denmark between immigrant and nonimmigrant communities, and it was unnecessarily provocative, that it didn't consider the interest and the expectations of the audience as a whole, and there was no intrinsic news values. How do you respond to those allegations and criticisms?

ROSE: I mean, I say there was a news value. We had five, six cases in Denmark in the course of two weeks, all speaking to the problem of self- censorship and freedom of speech in terms of dealing and covering Islam. People who did not want to appear under their own name, pieces of art that were removed, imams calling on the Danish government to interfere with the press, and things like that.

So you know, there was a story out there, and we had to cover it, and we just chose to cover it in a different way, according to the principle, don't tell it, show it.

And I would like to say here to your viewers that, you know, even though we had maybe a tense discussion in Denmark about these things, there have been no anti-Muslim riots, not a single Muslim that I know of have left the country because of these cartoons. It's the other way around. We have never had so many Muslims participating in public debates in Denmark on the pages of my newspaper, on television, on radio shows. So I think we, in fact, have had a very good and constructive debate about this. VERJEE: The British newspaper "The Guardian" reported on Monday that three years ago back in April of 2003 your paper actually refused to run cartoons that essentially poked fun at Jesus Christ and the Resurrection, and that they were turned down on the grounds that they would be offensive to readers. Is that true?

ROSE: It was not under my watch, and it was like a freelancer.

VERJEE: But it was turned down.

ROSE: We did not solicit -- you know, that cartoon we published approximately around the same time. Do you think that would be offensive to some Christians?

VERJEE: Well, that's a question to be debated. But the question "The Guardian" is raising is about an issue of double standards.

I have one final question for you, Flemming Rose. Iran is going to hold a competition on the Holocaust to test, to see whether the West will uphold the principles of free speech to the same standard as the Nazi genocide as it did to the Prophet Mohammed. And they're saying that they're holding this contest in a direct response to your decision at your paper. I'd like to know your thoughts on that.

ROSE: I can tell you that my newspaper is trying to establish a contact with that Iranian newspaper, and we would run these cartoons the same day as they would publish them.

And I would like to make the point that every freelancer who shows up at an editor's office does not have the right to have his things published. You know, there's a fundamental difference between the story you were referring to and my choice as an editor to approach a news story that is already out there.

VERJEE: Flemming Rose, the culture editor for the "Jyllands- Posten," speaking to us from Copenhagen.

Thank you so much for being with us and giving us your perspective today on AMERICAN MORNING. Thank you -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Coming up, a black eye for one pro-sports league. It is is rocked by a gambling scandal, and there's a pretty big name involved. The Great One is your clue for the morning.

Plus, mourners at Coretta Scott King's funeral took turns taking jabs at the White House. Was that appropriate? We'll talk to the pastor who officiated over that service ahead.