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American Morning

Three Search Warrants Issued in Jackson Death Investigation; Fans Flock to L.A. for Michael Jackson Memorial; Michael Jackson's Spiritual Adviser Speaks Out; Gov. Palin Defends Decision to Resign; Jackson Memorial to be Broadcast Worldwide

Aired July 07, 2009 - 06:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING on this Tuesday, July 7th. I'm Kiran Chetry live from the Staples Center.

We're just outside the Staples Center here in Los Angeles, and it's the site of today's massive memorial service for Michael Jackson. But, Alina, I have to tell you, it almost is more like a pre-concert- like atmosphere more than a memorial.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I would imagine so. It must be sort of an electrifying scene there even that early in the morning, Kiran. Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho in for John Roberts today. We have a lot to cover.

The president is in Russia, as many people know. We also have an interview with Governor Sarah Palin that you will see first right here on CNN. But first, Kiran, of course, the memorial for Michael Jackson today could be the most watched media event in history.

CHETRY: Yes, and it's very interesting because when he performed at the Super Bowl back in, I think it was 1993, that was one of the most watched performances in history.

CHO: The most watched, yes.

CHETRY: And that could certainly happen again today. Right. And this memorial is going to be getting under way, Alina, in just about seven hours, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, 10:00 a.m. local time here. And it's going to take place just over my shoulder right here at the Staples Center.

The Jackson family is going to be joining an army of celebrity guests including Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Hudson. I mean, the list really goes on and on. And, of course, there's going to be a sea of fans as well.

There are only 17,500 people who were lucky enough to get actual tickets to come to the Staples Center where they'll either see the memorial live or they'll get access to view it at the Nokia Theatre which is just across the street. That's where a live feed will be shown on jumbo TVs.

Everyone else though who didn't get that wristband that you're seeing there is being urged to watch it from home. LAPD really hoping that the streets don't turn out to be a sea of Michael Jackson fans who are out here when they're hoping that instead they would rather have them stay at home.

They're going to be broadcasting this entire event live. Of course, you can see it on CNN or

And L.A. police have locked down the area around the arena. In fact, when we were walking in about 40 minutes ago, they had gathered and they were holding this impromptu meeting. You could hear canines barking and there are some of the squad cars. And I heard one of the officers say you got to treat this today like you treat the Grammys, like you treat the awards shows, the Oscars. I mean, this is how packed they expect it to be even though they have shut down the area, immediate area around the Staples Center.

They still expect tens of thousands of people who are going to be flooding the streets. Also in the meantime, there's really a new mystery surrounding Michael Jackson's burial. There are family members and a hearse that were spotted late yesterday at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills, and we're going to get the latest on that in a minute, Alina.

But other big stories developing outside of Los Angeles as well that you're getting to, including us hearing from the soon-to-be former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

CHO: That's right. In just a couple of weeks, Kiran, you know, there are two big political stories out there this morning.

First, as you mentioned, Sarah Palin is speaking out for the first time since her bombshell announcement that she's resigning from office later this month. There you see she's fishing. That's what she's been doing since making that announcement just prior to the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

You're going to see this interview first right here on CNN. Our Drew Griffin traveled to a remote part of Alaska overnight to ask the governor about her sudden decision to step down. Listen.


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: I'm certainly not a quitter, I'm a fighter. And that's why I'm doing this, to go out there and fight for what is right without the constraints that have been surrounding me in these final months. I can't see me being totally out of public service because that is within me. It is the way that I'm wired.


CHO: Waders and all. And that's just a snippet of what the governor had to say. We're going to have much more with Drew live from Anchorage coming up in 10 minutes.

And the other big political story we're watching, President Obama in a major policy address within the past hour in Moscow trying the take the chill out of U.S.-Russia relations. The president is talking nuclear nonproliferation following a key agreement with Russia on reducing nuclear stockpiles.

He also sat for a one-on-one interview with our own Ed Henry, and we're going to get to all of that in just a moment. First, I want to send it back to you, Kiran, in Los Angeles.

CHETRY: All right. And we begin the morning here in L.A. The air certainly filled with anticipation, excitement, a little bit of sadness too as the city and the world really prepares to say goodbye to Michael Jackson. That memorial service will be our big focus this morning. But there are some other developments in the investigation into Jackson's death, also the future of his fortune, and also some brand new questions about a late-night family trip to the cemetery where Jackson is expected to be buried.

We have a team of reporters covering all angles of this story, and we're live from Los Angeles, to New York, to Jackson's hometown of Gary, Indiana. We're outside of his childhood home. There is also -- turned into a makeshift memorial where people have come by to drop off flowers and give well wishes there.

Here in L.A. Ted Rowlands is standing by. He's at the Forest Lawn Cemetery where the Jackson family is expected to gather in just a few hours.

And, Ted, tell us more about the situation. So members of the family, as well as a hearse spotted there late last night. Publicly, though, the Jackson family is remaining quite mum about exactly where Michael is going to be buried.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the family being very quiet, and they have been ever since Michael Jackson's death in terms of the ceremonies that were planned, and that's the case that we saw last night. Here at the Forest Lawn mortuary, there was a hearse as you mentioned, and several members of Jackson's family gathered here for what could have been a viewing or could have been a meeting, some sort of preview.

What we do know is the Jackson family is expected to come back here this morning at 8:00 Pacific Time for a family gathering. And from here, they will then go on to the Staples Center. The other thing that we do know is that the investigation into Michael Jackson's death continues.


ROWLANDS (voice-over): The investigation continues into why Jackson, who apparently was healthy enough for concert rehearsals, died at the age of 50. Monday we learned that three search warrants have been issued in this case which is still being classified as a death investigation.

ALLAN PARACHINI, L.A. COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT SPOKESMAN: There were three warrants signed by a judge. They are sealed.

ROWLANDS: According to the Associated Press, Diprivan, a sedative typically only used in hospital settings, was found at Jackson's home. That's the same drug this nurse claims Jackson asked her for a few months ago. The DEA is helping the Los Angeles Police Department.

JIM MCDONNELL, LAPD CHIEF OF STAFF: We routinely work with each other, you know. For anything that has to do with drugs, the DEA are the experts on that. You know, and if you're looking at the prescription issues, you know, where else would you go?

ROWLANDS: Meanwhile, in court, a judge granted temporary control of the Jackson estate to his former attorney, John Branca (ph), who worked for Jackson when the will was written and the singer's music industry friend, John McClain (ph). Attorneys for Jackson's mother, Katherine, fought the ruling. She still has custody of the three children.


ROWLANDS: And outside here at Forest Lawn, Kiran, just as you're seeing at the Staples Center, intense security, police everywhere. In fact, the main thoroughfare outside the mortuary is completely closed off to the public in anticipation of this morning's events -- Kiran.

CHO: All right. Obviously, we're experiencing some technical difficulties out in Los Angeles with Kiran. But I want to pick up where she was leading off there.

You know, about 20,000 people do have tickets to today's memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. And L.A. police say they are the only ones who will get close to the Staples Center. Thousands of fans, though, still expected to fill nearby streets. Our Kara Finnstrom is down the road from that location where Kiran is at the Nokia center.

Kara, what does it look like right now?

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you take a look right behind me here, you can see that L.A. city police set up ready to go for those crowds that are expected here later today. That's the barricade at the end of this block here. Just above it, you can see a red light flashing. That's the Staples Center.

Barricades have been set up now all around Staples Center. And if we pan off to the side, you can see some of the police force out here. We're told by officers on the scene that there are 300 officers out here right now and that that number will jump to 3,000 later on this morning.

To give you a little context, there were 2,000 police officers out here for the recent Lakers celebration parade following their NBA championship. So quite a force expected out here.

Also, police officers saying they don't want crowds out here. They're really encouraging anyone that doesn't have tickets to stay home. But take a look at this.

You could see they're preparing for the crowds that are expected anyway. You could see a long line of port-a-potties here and trash cans. These signs put up all over the city, no parking, to try and discourage folks from loitering and, you know, clogging up city streets here.

I want to bring in Alex. Alex is one of the fans that has come out here early this morning, caught a bus all the way from San Francisco.

You don't have a ticket, but you wanted to be here. Tell us why?

ALEX, MICHAEL JACKSON FAN: Well, this is history. Michael Jackson's own album is called "HIStory." This is history. He's the King of Pop. There will never be anyone like him ever on the planet. And just to be here and the ambiance of everybody else is going to be wonderful for me. Those people that know me they know that I love Michael Jackson will understand that I would have misrunts (ph) to come and pay for a ticket to come in here.

FINNSTROM: And you just slipped this on. Actually, while we're waiting for our live shots, you've got the glove, you've got the music which you listen to on your bus ride down.

ALEX: Out here. Exactly. I had to listen to some Michael Jackson to prepare for everything that's going to be overwhelmingly wonderful tomorrow.

FINNSTROM: Even got the T-shirt.

ALEX: Yes.

FINNSTROM: All right. I also want to show you real quick from here if we can, you can see there is a small diner here on the corner. There is a TV set inside. And, you know, the thought is that a lot of people will be gathering here, moving in to some of these diners around the Staples Center to try and watch that memorial live.

I can also tell you that the officers tell us that they expect people with tickets to start arriving here at 7:00 a.m. That's about three hours before the 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time start for this big memorial.

CHO: It's certainly going to be a very big day. Kara Finnstrom live for us in Los Angeles. Kara, thank you.

Kiran, I know you flew out there right after the show yesterday morning. It's a long day for you. I'm just curious, what kind of security you have seen so far. It is still very early in the morning out in Los Angeles.

CHETRY: Right. But the beauty of being the first show on the air is that, yes, we expect it in a few hours to just be extremely busy. In fact, right now, the early morning shows and a lot of the local reporters and their crews are here. We had to go through two rings of security and, of course, the all-important -- there's a beautiful live picture of what's happening outside. I mean, the place is literally wired. Everybody broadcasting live for Michael's memorial.

But the interesting is these are the wristbands that we've been talking about. Hopefully you can see them there. You get the blue ones. You have to have this. And the police officer shined in to our SUV a flashlight to make sure that everybody sitting in the car had that. And that was just the first ring of security.

And then again, we got cleared through. We had to have a parking pass. But the interesting thing is yesterday after we arrived, a couple of people with us, our hair and makeup crew, were walking around shopping, just getting a few last minutes items. And they had people approach them and say, oh, can I buy that off of you?

You know, this is gold here, and people want to get in. And as we heard from Alex --

CHO: Well, I think it's interesting because, you know, authorities were saying, listen, you know, if that band -- I think there was a blue one and gold one handed out, if that band was tampered with at all, you're not getting in. So, I mean, you can't take that thing off until you're ready to come back to New York.

CHETRY: I'm sure people would find a way to get really creative to make it look like it was still intact. But yes, all we're saying is that the security, they're doing the best that they can out here to make sure that if you're allowed, you're here. And if you're not, you're not. But again, as we saw from Kara, it's not keeping fans away who feel that they have to be here today regardless of whether they have a ticket or not.

CHO: No. It certainly is a moment in history. I was reading that one fan was saying those blue bands were sparkly just like Michael Jackson.

But anyway, we'll be hearing much more from you.

CHETRY: As Michael would like.

CHETRY: That's right, Kiran -- throughout the morning from Los Angeles. But we're going to get to some other news and will be back to you in just a moment.

You know, it has already been a busy day for President Obama in Russia. He met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for the first time and spoke directly to the Russian people.

In a speech to graduates at Moscow's new economic school, the president said the United States wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia, and he stressed the need for the former Cold War rivals to cooperate.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game. Progress must be shared. That's why I've called for a reset in relations between the United States and Russia.

This must be more than a fresh start between the Kremlin and the White House, though that is important. And I've had excellent discussions with both your president and your prime minister. It must be sustained effort among the American and Russian people to identify mutual interests and expand dialogue and cooperation that can pave the way to progress.


CHO: The president also went on to say that America and Russia must be united in confronting nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran.

A U.S. missile strike on a militant hideout in Pakistan to tell you about. It happened in South Waziristan near the Afghan border. Initial reports say at least a dozen Taliban insurgents were killed.

The United States launching more than 40 missile strikes against militants in the area just since last August. Pakistan's army is also deploying troops to the region and conducting regular air strikes of its own.

And some encouraging news for drivers out there -- cheaper gas prices at the pump. AAA reports the national average price for a gallon of regular is $2.16. This is the 16th consecutive day the average price has dropped to more than $1.50 lower since around this time last year.

The world was stunned by Michael Jackson's sudden death. But a rabbi who was once in Jackson's inner circle says he saw it coming. He's going to talk to Kiran in just two minutes' time.

It's 14 minutes after the hour. We'll be right back.


CHETRY: That was the video of his dress rehearsal taken just two days before Michael Jackson died at the age of 50 on June 25th. And today we're here for a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING live from Los Angeles where hundreds of thousands are preparing to remember Michael Jackson.

The memorial taking place here at Staples Center. We're just outside of Staples Center today along with hundreds of other members of the media and press.

And Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was once Jackson's spiritual adviser. He says he saw this day coming. He joins us from Reykjavik, Iceland via Skype this morning.

And, Rabbi, the first thing I want to ask you, is there seems to be two schools of thought. There are people who think this is very appropriate that remembering Michael Jackson for the icon he was and for the impact he had on pop culture in the U.S. in this huge way is exactly what he would have wanted. And there are others including his own really close friend Liz Taylor who said I'm going to be doing my mourning privately. That's what Michael would have wanted. What is your reaction today to this huge circus literally that's going on here?

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH, FORMER SPIRITUAL ADVISER TO MICHAEL JACKSON: Well, Kiran, a prescription drug medication certainly contributed to Michael's untimely demise. But what destroyed his life was his drug of choice, fame.

Michael never was able to cope with the superstardom that was conferred upon him. And one would have thought that in death we might have learned a lesson from that in giving him a quiet, truly religious and dignified service to say goodbye. Instead what we have is this, as you said, a circus that does not capture who he was as a man at all.

What it captures is Michael's iconic status. But that's what led to his loneliness. He was never known as a person. He wanted to be known for his small acts of virtue, his acts of kindness. In fact, the reason Michael was so burned out and so lethargic was that he was the most famous person in the world but he wanted to consecrate his fame to a higher cause.

Do you believe what's going on now? We just saw a fan saying he came to the Staples Center because it's history. Someone died here. There are orphan children. This is a tragedy. This isn't a concert.

I mean, this is just sad. And when I see especially, you know, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, they're there with the family. This family needs spiritual guidance at this point. They don't need media advisers. They don't need to know how to get on more television or launch record labels. This is clearly a family that needs guidance.

This family has been ravaged by fame, and I hope that they will get it because this is the time to get it.

CHETRY: And you're giving us your argument for, like I said, one point of view. But there are people that feel exactly opposite that, you know, that they didn't ask for this situation, but they really wanted to do for the fans what the fans were asking for.

I mean, as we said, they put these tickets out there, only about 15,000 of them available. Like 1.6 million hits on this Web site to sign up for tickets.

I mean, there are so many people who feel whether it's rational or not that Michael Jackson is a part of their life. And they wanted a way to remember him. And I think that's what we're certainly seeing out here today.

BOTEACH: No, Kiran, those people who continue to see Michael as some celebrity and to see this as some history-making event that they can't miss, that's the cocoon that ultimately trapped Michael in such a place of isolation that no one can reach him. That's one of the reasons he took all these prescription drug medication. It's because he was incarcerated in a place where no one could really get to him.

And what we really need to do is somehow remember the man. This is a tragedy. This isn't some media spectacle.

A man is remembered for the good deeds he does in his life, not for the albums he's sold. Michael always wanted -- whenever we spoke and we -- you know, we spent 30 hours having these conversations because Michael wanted the world to know who he was. And he spoke to me off camera about this manuscript that was written and hasn't been published yet.

Michael only spoke to me then about the children with cancer that he used to see. I remember once, Kiran, that I brought to him a 35- year-old man who had the mental acuity of an 8-year-old. Michael spent an hour with this man. He was like a boy. And when he left Michael said to me, that was one of the most meaningful hours of my life because I was able to make this man to feel special.

Are we really going to see that with superstars who are crowding around in a celebrity spectacle? This is Hollywood. This isn't a religious celebration, a religious commemoration.

You know, Michael was a Jehovah's Witness. And so long as he had a spiritual grounding, his career flourished. He was normal. We didn't see all the bizarre behavior. The moment he got uprooted from that, so many things went wrong.

And I'm very surprised because, you know, Katherine Jackson is an incredible woman. She's a very religious woman. She's still a Jehovah's Witness.

I'm just surprised that it just seems at least from a distance that the religious and spiritual connotation of his life is not being marked in this way. And like I said, a man died here. It wasn't a cartoon character. It's not a caricature of a man. This is a tragedy and we ought to mourn him.

CHETRY: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, we want to thank you for your point of view and your perspective this morning. Thanks for being with us this morning.

BOTEACH: Thanks for having me, Kiran.

CHETRY: Alina, let's head back to New York for other news.

CHO: All right. Kiran, thank you.

You know, Sarah Palin one-on-one. She is speaking to CNN for the first time since her stunning resignation. Hear what the soon-to-be ex-governor of Alaska has to say about why she's stepping down.

Plus, complete coverage from Los Angeles as we remember Michael Jackson today. It's 22 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHO: Our coverage of the Michael Jackson memorial service continues throughout the morning and throughout the day right here on CNN. Kiran is live outside the Staples Center where that memorial service will take place. She'll be speaking throughout the morning with people who knew Michael Jackson, a panel of experts as well.

But the other big story out there this morning is Sarah Palin one-on-one, in an interview you'll see only on CNN right there in her waders in a remote part of the state days after her bombshell announcement that she is stepping down as governor of Alaska.

Our special investigations unit correspondent Drew Griffin traveled all the way to the small town of Dillingham, Alaska to interview Palin while she was on a family fishing trip. That is what she's been doing since she made that bombshell announcement. He then traveled back to Anchorage, Alaska, where he joins me now live.

And, Drew, what did Sarah Palin tell you?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT: You know, it was very interesting. This is all the picture. You show a very strong, strong woman, Alina.

And I reminded the governor that when I first met her father back when she was chosen as vice president, that Chuck, he told me just how tough his daughter was and no matter what was coming down the pike, Sarah could handle it. But in talking about why she quit, I asked her, did this lightning rod status in the Republican Party, this national media stage, finally prove too tough for Sarah Palin?


GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: Tough. No, I'm not going to take that comfortable path. I'm going to take the right path for the state. I'm going to let the state progress and then I'm going to be able to get out there and help people, help affect change in our state and positive change in our nation. That is my goal, helping to work for other people to do such a thing. And I don't need a title to do that. And they don't need titles either to affect change but I want to help people who want to fight for the right thing.

GRIFFIN: But, Governor, if that is the right road for Alaska...


GRIFFIN: ... is it a dangerous road for you to be labeled in this land of tough people a quitter?

PALIN: I'm certainly not a quitter, I'm a fighter. And that's why I'm doing this, to go out there and fight for what is right without the constraints that have been surrounding me in these final months. And anybody who is in Alaska will tell you, of course, our administration has been paralyzed.

We spent most of our day fending off frivolous lawsuits. So, no, it's not a matter of retreating or quitting, it's a matter of progressing and forwarding a good positive agenda in an unconventional way. And I think that's what caught people off-guard is, wait a minute, it's kind of out of the box and unconventional. Well, that is who we are as Alaskans and certainly how I am as a public servant, as a person very proud of my state, seeing great potential in my state, unconventional in the way that we're getting things done, but we certainly are getting those things done.

GRIFFIN: Is this your unconventional way of announcing you're going to run for president in 2012?

PALIN: As I said, I do not need a title. Nobody does to affect positive change.

GRIFFIN: Are you out of office? Political office?

PALIN: I can't see me being totally out of public service because that is within me. It is the way that I'm wired is the desire to help.

GRIFFIN: I'm asking you, are you ever going to run for president? Are you ruling it out?

PALIN: All options are going to keep on -- continuing to be on the table as they have for me my entire life. I'm not going to close any door that may be opened for me out there. So, all options are on the table.


GRIFFIN: The governor trying to put out the message this is about the state of Alaska. This is trying to stop all these ethics complaints that she feels are unwarranted that are dragging the state down, and to pass the baton on to a like-minded politician, Sean Parnell, who will carry out the rest of her term.

But, Alina, I must tell you, even among her supporters in the state of Alaska that I've talked to, she is being called a quitter. A lot of her friends can't understand what's going on here and think this is political suicide. But I must tell you after looking at her and asking those questions about whether or not she's ever going to run for political office and she's dodging the question, I'm not sure that Sarah Palin cares about politics and running anymore. And she may really be out -- Alina.

CHO: That's interesting. Because even as you say that, she's still leaving that door slightly open, right?

GRIFFIN: Yes, and still talking like a politician on the campaign trail.

CHO: That's right.

GRIFFIN: She's got her talking points down even off that fishing boat. But really, I asked her three times about running for president and she said she wouldn't rule out public service. CHO: Boy. Well, it's interesting to see. I mean, it's the $64,000 question. What will Governor Palin do next? We'll have to wait and see.

Drew Griffin, as always, thank you so much.

So what will Governor Palin's resignation mean for her political future? Does she have one anymore? We're going to break it all down with our political panel next.

Plus, of course, our continuing coverage live from Los Angeles as the world gets ready to say good-bye to Michael Jackson.

Twenty-nine minutes after the hour.



CHETRY: These are some of the scenes live outside of the Staples Center. More than a dozen just from looking around huge monitors showing photos, still shots of Michael Jackson throughout the years. And what are we -- we're right here at 3:30 in the morning, here 6:30 on the East Coast this morning. And we're live from just outside of the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

This is the site of today's memorial for Michael Jackson. Fans about to gather for what could be the most viewed event of all time. And it's set to get under way in a little more than six hours local time.

By the way, this is the golden ticket my producers just handed me. This is the wristband -- the gold wristband and the ticket that you need to get in to the Staples Center. We have blue ones here as members of the press. But without this, you're not getting in to the Staples Center today. It also says on here, "Ticket must be accompanied with a wristband, no cameras, no video recording." Literally looks like a concert ticket, what you would get if you were going to a concert for Michael Jackson's memorial later today.

Meanwhile, a judge took Jackson's estate out of the hands of his mother, Katherine, handed control over to the two executors that Michael himself named in that 2002 will.

The search also for a suspected serial killer in South Carolina is over. Law enforcement officials say that 41-year-old Patrick Tracy Burris was shot to death by police. They were investigating a burglary. It was about 30 miles away in North Carolina, and they say that his gun matches the one used in five murders in and around Gaffney, South Carolina last week. Police say that Burris had a long rap sheet. He was paroled in April after serving nearly eight years in prison.

Congressman Patrick Kennedy returns to Washington today after spending nearly a month in a drug treatment center. Kennedy says he's feeling, quote, "healthy and strong," and looks forward to returning full time to his congressional duties. The Rhode Island Democrat admits battling depression, alcoholism and drug addiction most of his life. He also sought treatment back in 2006 after he crashed his car, you may remember it happened near the capital. Patrick Kennedy is the son of Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy - Alina.

CHO: Well, Kiran, as you know, you just heard from Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor. She spoke to CNN's Drew Griffin for the first time since her sudden decision over the weekend to step down as Alaska's governor.

Well, that announcement came over the weekend, the 4th of July weekend, lighting up the phone lines to our show hotline. Here's what some of you were saying.


CALLER: I say good for Sarah Palin. She's one of the few honest politicians that are out there. We need more people like her. I agree with what she has done. And she's going to get my vote if she runs for president.

CALLER: Well, the criticism on Sarah Palin that was levied during the campaign has finally been validated. The quitter would have never made it had she been elected vice president or anything else.


CHO: We want to hear more from you about Sarah Palin's resignation. Give us a call on our show hotline, 1-877-MY-AMFIX.

And joining us now to talk a little bit more about this -- Karen Finney, she's the former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, and Ron Christie, a Republican strategist and CEO of Christie Strategies.

Good morning to both of you.

Karen, I want to start with you. Sarah Palin, as you know, sat down with our own Drew Griffin last night in a remote part of Alaska where she's fishing with her family. She calls it not the comfortable path but the right path. Here's a clip of what she told Drew Griffin when asked whether she was worried about being labeled a quitter. Let's listen.


PALIN: I'm certainly not a quitter. I'm a fighter. And that's why I'm doing this, to go out there and fight for what is right without the constraints that have been surrounding me in these final months. And anybody who lives in Alaska will tell you, of course, our administration has been paralyzed. We spend most of our day fending off frivolous lawsuits.


CHO: All right, Karen, do you buy it?

KAREN FINNEY, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, look, it looks like she's actually doing a better job of getting control of the spin and on Friday, I thought that was one of the mistakes she made, the press conference, she didn't really seem to have a solid answer about what she was doing and why she was making this decision.

Certainly in watching that interview, I thought she did a better job of trying to kind of regain control of the narrative. Although, you know, I also served in the Clinton administration and, you know, just because you're getting attacked from the outside, that doesn't necessarily mean you leave office. You figure out a way to sort of, you know, deal with those criticisms and continue in office.

So, it's a little -- it's still quite surprising. But I don't think we know yet whether or not this was a good decision. A lot of it depends on what she does next.

CHO: Yes. And it is the best parlor game in town right now in politics, right? The $64,000 question seems to be, you know, what will Sarah Palin do next?

So, Ron, I want to ask you this. You know, some have argued that her announcement to resign amounts to political suicide. Others say, listen, I mean, she's always been a maverick. This is just another example of this. So, which is it? I mean, does she have a legitimate future in the Republican Party if she chooses to run for president in 2012?

RON CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, there's no question in my mind, Alina, that she has an extraordinarily bright future in the Republican Party. She's a quite prolific fundraiser. People flock to her. She's very popular. I think what we need to do, though, is just slow down a little bit and say, this is what Governor Palin decided to do, what was in the best interest of her state and the best interest of her family right now.

She was subject to frivolous lawsuits. She nearly depleted all of her savings. It's time for the governor to go back, to rebuild some of her war chest, both her personal fortune and political fortune, and do what's best for the country.


CHO: But, Ron, I have to ask you...

CHRISTIE: Doing what's best for the country. Sure.

CHO: I have to ask you very quickly, though. Because, you know, members of her own party are suggesting, you know, listen, the way you show the American people that you're ready to run for president is not by quitting office midterm, which is really rare.

CHRISTIE: Well, the thing that I find the most distracting thing about this, Alina, is that we're talking about running for president in 2012. We should be focused on what's going on in 2009. The Democrats control both chambers of Congress. They have the White House. We have a very bad economic situation right now.

I think so much of the discussion should be devoted to how are we going to pull this country together as Republicans and Democrats rather than is Sarah Palin going to run for president.


CHO: All right. So, Karen -- Karen, let me jump in here. I want to ask you this. Because, you know, one of our contributors, John Ridley, an NPR contributor, was on the Campbell Brown show last night.

He said, listen, Sarah Palin is never going to be president of the United States. But the people who have the real power in the Republican Party are the political pundits, are the talk show hosts. So, she's going to, as he put it, metaphorically raise her middle finger to the public, go on a book tour, maybe get a deal hosting a show, and then maybe not become president but become a king maker.

FINNEY: Yes, I mean, look, as I say, a lot of it depends on what she does going forward. If she uses this as an opportunity to get a solid team around her, get control of the narrative about what she's doing and why she's doing it, travel the lower 48. Look, she has strong support in the base of her party. And I frankly think that the more -- certainly the men in her party and the pundits and the "New York Times" and all those folks attacked her, I actually think it helps her with the base.

So, she's able to harness that power, raise money. Then she will have --that's her real power base within the Republican Party. She could be the next -- you know, she could potentially be the next Rush Limbaugh of the party. Rush Limbaugh certainly has a lot of sway with the party...

CHO: Right.

FINNEY: And the Republicans would not always like to admit that. She could absolutely occupy a pretty significant place. And that's why we're talking to her. I agree with Ron that we've got a lot of issues on the plate. But Sarah Palin, you know, she's an interesting figure in the Republican Party at a time when the party is kind of, you know, drifting, you know, out there in the ocean without a leader.

CHRISTIE: We're quite fine. We're not drifting.

CHO: And that's from a Democrat -- and that's from a Democrat. Karen, Ron, we're going to have to leave it here. Karen Finney and Ron Christie, we thank you for waking up early with us this morning. Thank you for your perspective on Sarah Palin.

CHRISTIE: Thank you.

FINNEY: Thank you.

CHO: Thirty-nine minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. I'm Kiran Chetry, here outside of the Staples Center in Los Angeles at 3:42 Pacific Time, 6:42 Eastern Time. We're about six and a half hours away from a very public farewell that's going to be taking place today for Michael Jackson in Los Angeles.

And with me is Bryan Monroe. He's a CNN contributor, also the former editor of "Ebony" and "Jet" magazines, and interviewed Michael Jackson back in September of 2007. It turns out that was the last major sit-down interview that Michael Jackson ever gave. Bryan Monroe joins us now.

Thanks for being here.

BRYAN MONROE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks for having me.

CHETRY: You were talking to him because he was going to be on the cover of the December issue of "Ebony" and "Jet." What was it like when you met him? What did he look like? And what was his state of mind?

MONROE: Well, he was very energetic. It was interesting. We only -- we did this across three days, and the interview was the last day. We only thought we'd have about 15, 20 minutes with him.

We walked from the doors of the hotel in New York, and we're actually greeted by his son, Blanket. Very polite kid. He was probably six at the time. Greeted us at the door with a candy dish of Lifesavers. Said, would you like one? I said, no, I'm OK. And then he reached out with his left hand to shake our hand. And Michael said, no, no, not the left hand, shake with your right hand.

And after we shake, we sat down. And we started talking. We ended up talking for nearly an hour and a half, two hours. By the end, we had to say, OK, Michael, we got to go.

He was very energetic, very passionate about his creativity. The occasion of the interview was for the 25th anniversary of "Thriller," the album.

Then he talked about the making of the album, his sense of making history with the videos and MTV, the process of -- first, the Motown 25 shot that he did with the brothers, and really about his creativity. And going back and listening to the interview again, it was really -- he also alluded to his own mortality.

CHETRY: What did he say?

MONROE: And he talked about -- he quoted Michelangelo saying that he -- in order for him to be -- nobody wants to be mortal. He wants to be immortal. For him to be immortal, he has to bind his soul to his work so that his work lives on and he lives on.


MONROE: And it was eerie to go back and listen to it. But he was very energetic.

CHETRY: And at that time, was he prepping that he know that plans were in the works for this comeback, this final "This Is It" tour?

MONROE: They haven't gotten to the tour point yet, but they were starting to talk about a comeback. He was in the studio working with folks like Akon and, trying to get new tracks done. He talked a lot about the writing process and the creative process. And he was staging himself to get back in the game. He had been out, of course, for that long period during the trial which really devastated him and his family.

CHETRY: Right.

MONROE: And he didn't probably know this -- in fact, I asked him about touring. He said he didn't want to tour anymore. He said that, in fact, he didn't want to go out like James Brown did. That he thought that touring going, you know, city to city every night killed him. And so he said, I don't want to tour again, I love to perform, I love to be on stage. But doing a multi-city big arena tour was not something he got excited about.

CHETRY: Well, this is the interesting thing, because -- you had a chance to speak to Michael in his own words and a lot of people are speaking on behalf of Michael, saying he would have wanted this. We're looking around us this morning, which is possibly going to be the most televised -- you know, televised event with more people watching it than ever in U.S. history. And then there are others who say, no, no, no, he wouldn't have wanted this.

What do you think, in his own words? He was very aware of his fame, and did he like it?

MONROE: Absolutely. Well, he was very aware of his fame and his fans and a lot of what he did he said he did for his fans. And that was part of who he is from age 8, 10 when he was at the Jackson 5 up until being a grown man.

I mean, when we talked to him when he was 50. It struck me. He even had little reading glasses on. Michael Jackson at 50, you don't quite connect that.

But this whole spectacle that we're seeing today, I actually think is very consistent with who Michael is and how he became a superstar because it was all about the fans.

We saw outside the Staples Center right now, folks are starting to gather and line up, and there are Michael Jackson impersonators out there. And this whole -- I guess circus atmosphere in an odd way for a very serious memorial service, is in some ways fitting with the life that he lived with the very public, very celebrity and very fan-driven existence he has. CHETRY: We have to go. But you're going to be with us throughout the morning. I just want to ask you very quickly, did he strike you as a person who was happy? Was he a happy person?

MONROE: I think he was happy in the moment. He was certainly happy with the kids.

CHETRY: Right.

MONROE: When I saw him with his son, it was a true father-son relationship. He was probably happy when he was in front of the camera and on stage. I think he also was troubled behind the scenes. The trial certainly took a lot out of him.

CHETRY: Yes, and we're going to talk more about that. The trial as well as the allegations of prescription drug use that some around him have said and also the latest on the investigation. Bryan Monroe is going to be with us throughout the morning. Thanks for joining us.

MONROE: A pleasure.

CHETRY: And also still ahead, it may be, as we said, the biggest celebrity sendoff of all time. A horde of media really from all over the world gathered here around the Staples Center. We're going to bring you a behind-the-scenes look at team CNN -- how our network has been getting ready for this huge event. Be back in just a moment.


CHETRY: Welcome back. We are live outside of the Staples Center on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING, where Michael Jackson's memorial service is taking place inside just about six hours from now.

And you know, wherever Michael Jackson went, throngs of cameras were sure to follow. So it was not all that surprising when you look around and see the thousands of members of the press that have converged on Los Angeles for this final act, this massive public memorial that's going to be broadcast around the world.

And already, there you go, even though LAPD said people should not come out into the streets if they don't have tickets, if they're not attending this event, already, this early in the morning here in Los Angeles, people are already out in the streets. That's a makeshift memorial that's cropped up along some of the police barricades around Staples Center.

Meantime, A.J. Hammer is taking a look at how CNN and others are covering this.


A.J. HAMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside of L.A.'s Staples Center where the Lakers and Clippers play, the global media is in a full court press.

ALEC MIRAN, CNN SPECIAL EVENTS: It's big. It feels in some ways like Princess Diana's funeral. I mean, there's just -- you know, there's worldwide interests.

HAMMER: CNN producers, reporters, and crews, and their colleagues from around the world have their game face on.

ALAIN DE CHALVRON, FRANCE 2: Since he died, we have been making lives on every, every newscast. We never stop.

HAMMER: Eleven days after news first trickled out of an ambulance called to Michael Jackson's home.

TONY POTIS, "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD": It's been pretty much 24/7. If I had not been actually really on the job -- I've been on the job through Twitter or twittering me, twitting me. It's been nonstop since June 25th as you can tell of the helicopters above.

HAMMER: News coverage of Jackson's sudden death hit its crescendo Tuesday with the public memorial. And team CNN is racing against the clock to be ready.

JASON HOCHHEIMER, CNN LIGHTING DESIGNER: We start putting out trusses around midnight last night, and moved forward from there. Start hanging our lights, choosing our backgrounds, trying to pick what's going to be the best shot for us. And then it's a lot of sweat and labor from there.

MIRAN: They've already started, you know, making us wear these wristbands. Do we have enough wristbands? What if somebody loses their wristband?

HAMMER: Veteran CNN special events producer Alec Miran is finding this one a particular challenge.

MIRAN: This event is different than a lot of others, because usually we have a clue as to what -- I mean, we don't know right now how long it's going to be. We don't know very much. We're going to be tap dancing a lot.

HAMMER: The only sure thing is almost 27,000 Jackson fans, friends and family will be on hand for the memorial and CNN will be sending it to millions around the globe.

HOCHHEIMER: I don't see that in my future.

HAMMER: A.J. Hammer, CNN, New York.


CHO: Yes. You look at when...


CHO: You look at when Elvis Presley died, you know, and people have been saying this could be the most watched media event in history because of the advent of the Internet. And so many people are going to be watching it right here on CNN, Kiran, but so many on the Web around the world. CHETRY: Right. And the ironic part is as we said earlier is the previously most watched televised event was also Michael Jackson performing in the Halftime Show. I believed it was the 1993 Super Bowl.

You know, it's not surprising, Alina, but at the same time, when you look around and you see how many people are here and how many people continue to gather and all come together so quickly since -- just a week or so after his death. It really is unbelievable.

And, again, there's a quick shot of one of the public memorials. These are makeshift memorials that have been up around the area. People told to stay home if they didn't have a ticket. Of course, the LAPD even knowing that that's probably not going to be the case, they are prepping for perhaps a million people taking to the streets of Los Angeles today.

CHO: Just unbelievable. Michael Jackson once told somebody close to him that he wanted to be famous because he wanted to be loved. And it's certainly clear by that picture there that he was loved by millions and millions of fans around the world.

Kiran, thank you.

We're going to be going live to you at the Staples Center in Los Angeles throughout the morning. But first, it's 54 minutes after the hour.


CHO: Welcome back to a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. We are live in Los Angeles all morning long, where in just a few hours from now, Michael Jackson's memorial service will begin.

Here is how the events will unfold today. At 8:00 a.m. Pacific, 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time, Jackson's family will meet for a private gathering at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood Hills. From there, the family will be escorted to the Staples Center, that's where Kiran is. And that is where the public memorial will get under way at 10:00 a.m. Pacific, 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

CNN is the place to watch the Jackson memorial from start to finish. And if you're away from your television, you can watch the entire memorial service live on

You can also follow CNN's team of correspondents on Twitter where we're going to have special reports from inside the Staples Center throughout the day.

Fifty-six minutes after the hour. We're coming right back.