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Paula Zahn Now

Racist Parties on the Rise on College Campuses?; Obesity Report Cards

Aired January 30, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And hi, everybody. Thanks for joining us tonight.
Here are some of the stories we're bringing out in the open tonight.

Wait until you see what was happening over the Martin Luther King holiday. We're just getting new reports of a racist party thrown by white students at a major Southern college.

Plus, the death of a black man in Tennessee raises a very disturbing question: Why weren't black families warned that their water could kill them?

And why so many Americans believe Jews are responsible for 9/11.

We begin with a story we had been the first to bring out into the open, the trend, it seems, among white college students to throw racist parties. It was disturbing enough to hear about what we thought were a couple isolated instances last week.

But since Allan Chernoff brought us the first of these stories, he's done a lot more digging, and learned about yet another racist party, this one at a major school in South Carolina over the Martin Luther King Day holiday.



ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The theme of the party was gangsta, and on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. One white student had his entire body painted black. Partyers taped large bottles of malt liquor to their hands. A white woman padded her buttocks. And another placed silver grills across her teeth, all parodies of African-Americans.

Black students with whom we spoke said, this is not the Clemson they thought they knew.

ASHLEY HARVEY, STUDENT: I was really upset, because, you know, Martin Luther King brought us, as black people, a long way. And that's just really upsetting, you know, just thinking that people would even think about considering doing such a thing.

CHERNOFF: That's just part of the uproar caused when pictures from the off-campus party were posted on just this past weekend.

Harold Hughes was among the more than 100 students who vented their frustration at a meeting with administrators Monday night.

HAROLD HUGHES, STUDENT: And it was just like: OK, I'm really angry. What are we going to do? What are we going to do? What are we going to do about it?

CHERNOFF: White students who heard about the party say they believe no one intended to make fun of African-Americans.

STEPHEN GASNELL, STUDENT: I don't think it was done with the intention of, you know, offending anyone. I imagine they were just -- just throwing a party with a theme. And that's probably about as far as they thought it through, unfortunately.

FAYSSOUX EVANS WHITE, STUDENT: There have been plenty of theme parties like that. I mean, I know people who, like, for Halloween, they dress up like gangsters. And I don't -- I don't feel like that's -- sorry -- racial profiling.

CHERNOFF: The party organizers are refusing to speak with the media, but they did release a statement to the student body, saying, "We are deeply apologetic for any harm and disrespect we have caused."

(on camera): Honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a big deal here at Clemson. In fact, the university holds a full week of events, including lectures, a commemorative march, and service projects. So, students and administrators say, the party was especially hurtful here.

(voice-over): Similar parties were recently head off campus at Tarleton State University in Texas and the University of Connecticut's Law School. At both schools, a campus-wide discussion between white and black students is under way, and Clemson plans to do the same.

ALTHEA RICHARDSON, ASSISTANT VICE PRESIDENT OF STUDENT AFFAIRS, CLEMSON UNIVERSITY: It's not the Clemson way that we do things. And -- and we don't want to pretend like it is. It's -- it was -- it was wrong.


CHERNOFF: Clemson hopes a dialogue can quickly calm the racial tension that has erupted on campus, and that all of this may end up being a positive lesson in understanding for both white and black students -- Paula.

ZAHN: Well, everybody hopes that that is the case.

In the meantime, do the students and faculty members you have talked to believe that this points to a brand-new wave of racism on campus?

CHERNOFF: The students and the faculty members here are saying they don't believe it indicates a rise in racism. But what it may indicate, in fact, is that people are recognizing unconscious racism. They go to a party and they do certain things that may bring out racism that is far below the service, almost unconscious -- Paula.

ZAHN: Well, the pictures certainly tell the story with the afterthought, don't they?

Allan Chernoff, thanks.

The popularity of these parties is pretty darn disturbing. And my next guest -- guest is outraged by that.

Jasmyne Cannick is a culture critic and a syndicated columnist.

Good to see you.

Now, we all know that theme parties are a way of life in college, and some of them are just plain stupid. What is so offensive about this one?

JASMYNE CANNICK, CULTURE CRITIC & SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, the offensive part is, obviously, the fact that these students felt the need to dress up and imitate with -- what their perception of who black people were.

It's also offensive, obviously, that these parties took day -- took part during a time when we're -- most of America is celebrating the legacy and life work of a man who worked so hard to make sure that African-Americans could be in the position that they are today.

ZAHN: Who do you blame for this?

CANNICK: You know, I think there's not one person that you can blame. There's not one race that you can blame.

At the end of the day, I think what it does do is remind all of us that race relations are still an issue in America. I think that it's unconscious racism, because the students said they didn't mean to offend anyone. And, if that truly is the case, then there's something else going on there, that maybe they were influenced at a younger age in terms of who African-Americans were, sort of the perceptions that they had of African-Americans.

And, so, we have a lot of work to do.

ZAHN: You talk about a lot of work to do. A lot of people are blaming the hip-hop culture for influencing these kids and making it OK to buy into these stereotypes. Do you buy that?

CANNICK: Well, I think that the hip-hop culture does play a role in it. I don't think it plays the only role or the most significant role.

It is true that you can turn on television any evening of the -- any evening of the night and see scantily clad African-American women prancing across the stage. There's all kinds of things that go on during -- in these music videos that would give the idea that this is how African-Americans act on a daily basis. And, quite simply, that's not the case.

ZAHN: Jasmyne Cannick, we're going to leave it there and move to our panel now.

Thanks so much for your time.

Let's hear what our "Out in the Open" confab has to say tonight, from liberal to conservative, defense attorney Lauren Lake, constitutional lawyer Michael Gross, and syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock, who is also a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

Great to have all of you with us tonight.



ZAHN: What does it say to you that this party was held on a weekend when the legacy of Martin Luther King was being celebrated?


And I'm absolutely disgusted. Not only did Martin Luther King do so much for African-Americans; he did so much for this nation. And how dare these students make a party in mockery, almost, of that holiday, and, in addition, a cowardly party at that? I love how they dress up like African-American people, and, yet, they don't have the nerve to invite any African-American people to let them see them be dressed up like that.

I think they need to check themselves, before they get themselves into some trouble that they will not be able to handle.

ZAHN: But you...


LAKE: All this behind closed doors is very interesting.

ZAHN: You heard what some of their defenders said, that this was unconscious racism.


ZAHN: Give me a break?

MURDOCK: I think it's a little hard to say it's unconscious, when they deliberately dress this way.

But I wonder, where do these images come from? Where do they decide to put on the bling and put on the gold teeth and everything else? And a lot of this, as the previous columnist said, I think comes out of the hip-hop culture.

You turn on MTV, you see these sorts of images. Rap music is completely infused with these sort of things and people who sort of aspire and hold it up as a good thing to do, to dress up like a Crip or like a Blood. And, unfortunately, a lot of these kids, I think, who have grown up watching this sort of thing think, well, if you're going to dress up and be black, that's the way to do it.

So, I think a lot of the hip-hop culture is to blame for this thing.


ZAHN: What kind of responsibility do these white kids and their parents have and their communities have for what we saw at play there?


GROSS: And the school, that they would condone this, that they could think that this was something that's, oh, just OK, because kids don't understand -- this isn't just disrespect. This isn't just some minor offense.

It's a really serious hate crime. And it's like splitting the Union at the time of the Confederacy. It's like young Hitler youth picking on Jews in the '30s. It is dangerous. It should not be forgiven. And they ought to learn what they're doing, why what they're doing is criminal, why it's wrong, why it victimizes innocent people.

And it certainly has nothing to do with the way blacks entertain us. It has more to do with the way Confederates wanted to split us apart.

LAKE: Thank you so much.


GROSS: It comes out of the South.


LAKE: On the entertainment factor, though, I don't care what images they see. The bottom line is, there are tons of white kids that love rap music. And they put on their iPods, and they wear their baseball hats, and they sing their lyrics.

That's not what these kids were doing. Let's not be confused. These kids went behind closed doors...


LAKE: ... dressed up, almost the way whites use to do when they put blackface on back in the day.

(CROSSTALK) LAKE: Oh, we're not fooled. We're not fooled, students.


MURDOCK: I think there are a lot of very demeaning images that, unfortunately, black entertainers put out there. And I think that sort of thin, unfortunately, continues to perpetuates stereotypes.

I wouldn't quite compare this to the firing of a cannon at Fort Sumter. I mean, this was pretty egregious and sophomoric and idiotic. I don't think it's quite that.

I think we should spend a moment looking at what I think really does threaten black people...

GROSS: Sophomoric?

MURDOCK: ... which is the -- which is the K-12 education system, where we have a lot of kids who barely -- barely can graduate, 50 percent dropout rate, very little discipline, a lack of standards, teachers unions dominating these schools. And that really is providing a tremendous amount of injury against black kids.


ZAHN: And the image of black kids, and this is what encourages these white kids to be total idiots?

MURDOCK: This is bad. But I think what is much worse and much more dangerous for black kids growing up is the state of our government school system, than the way some kids are acting idiotic...


ZAHN: But what we're talking about tonight is white kids acting like total idiots.


LAKE: Exactly. And what's dangerous...


GROSS: And teachers failing...

LAKE: Exactly.

GROSS: ... to teach intolerance, racism, the real danger to all of us, ruining all of our lives, by allowing this to happen.


ZAHN: Would you have thrown these kids out of school?

LAKE: I was just about to -- Paula, you read my mind. I was just about to say, the thought that they thought they could pull this off at a university, and still attend that university, I find to be very, very interesting.

ZAHN: Do you think anything should happen to these kids?


MURDOCK: Look, I think that there's -- they're college kids. This was obnoxious. I think they ought to be able -- ought to be able to apologize or something. I don't think they need to be kicked off the campus.

LAKE: I think they need to be required to throw that party again and invite African-Americans to it.


GROSS: Not only they don't get it. You don't get it.


MURDOCK: No, I think this is -- look, this is...


GROSS: You don't get it.

MURDOCK: This is stupid, obnoxious.

GROSS: This is not stupid.


GROSS: This is dangerous.

LAKE: It's ignorant and it's racist.

GROSS: It is dangerous.


MURDOCK: The word sophomoric exists for a reason, which is that college kids often do sophomoric -- sophomoric things when they're sophomores..


GROSS: Yes, that's getting drunk and puking all over themselves.


MURDOCK: I would not kick these kids out of that, because I think it was very stupid.


LAKE: If they had invited you to that party, though -- Deroy, if they invited you there, if they invited you there... (CROSSTALK)

GROSS: This is vicious.


MURDOCK: I mean, was anybody injured? Was anybody hurt?

GROSS: Yes. Yes.

MURDOCK: I think a lot of people had their hurt -- they had their feelings hurt.


LAKE: Oh, yes.


LAKE: I'm hurt watching it.

MURDOCK: I think they ought to -- I think they ought to apologize. I think they ought to apologize for this.

LAKE: I'm hurt watching it.


MURDOCK: But I don't think they ought to...


LAKE: But, if they had invited you, what would you have done?

MURDOCK: I don't think I would have gone to this party. I would have found something else.

LAKE: No, no. If you had walked in, and they were dressed that way, would it have hurt you?

MURDOCK: I think it might have hurt my feelings.

LAKE: That's my...

MURDOCK: But I wouldn't say that they ought to be kicked off of campus for this.

LAKE: Oh, hey.

MURDOCK: I don't think they necessarily need to be expelled.

LAKE: A suspension is warranted in cases like this.

MURDOCK: I think, in cases where you have physical injury, you have got sexual harassment, things like that, that's a different situation... LAKE: These notions that would allow them to even dress up this way are so very dangerous.


MURDOCK: ... than doing something like this that they think is funny, but they -- that obviously is stupid...


LAKE: Oh, no, they didn't think it was just funny, because you can share humor. That was dark and dangerous. And that's why they went...


ZAHN: All right, team, stay right there.


ZAHN: We have got a...


MURDOCK: It was dark and silly, but I don't think anybody...


GROSS: Not silly.


ZAHN: We have got a lot more difficult things...

GROSS: A lot worse than silly.

ZAHN: ... to confront ahead in this broadcast.

LAKE: We're mad now.

ZAHN: You're mad.


ZAHN: Hold it. Hold that anger. We will see if the rest of the stuff gets you riled up.

Coming up next: environmental racism out in the open. Are blacks more likely to be victims of cancer-causing pollution? We will meet one family that says yes. And they're suing the government.

And blaming Jews for 9/11 -- a shocking report on anti-Semitism and vicious conspiracy theories.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: Another top story we're following tonight, coming up, the controversy over obesity report cards. Could they really be a sign of intolerance against overweight children?

Up first, though, we're bringing a different kind of discrimination out in the open. You don't often hear about environmental racism. We all know that you won't find polluting sites near wealthy neighborhoods. They're usually located near low-income areas and often where minorities live.

Well, Rusty Dornin went to Tennessee, where one family is fighting what they see as a fatal form of discrimination.


RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a long bout with prostate and bone cancer, Harry Holt died last week, leaving a grieving family convinced his death, at age 66, could have been avoided.

Dickson, Tennessee, less than 5 percent of the population is black, but it's been home to the Holt family for generations. Like nearly all of the other poor African-American families in town, the Holts have always lived here on Eno Road. In 1968, when the city needed a dump, this is where they put, right here, just off Eno Road.

Twenty years after the dump was built, the Tennessee Health Department sent Harry Holt a letter, telling him there were low levels of carcinogens in his water well which could be due to a sampling error, but that his water was of good quality.

Holt's daughter, Sheila, believes government agencies knew, but did not tell her family the water was unsafe.

SHEILA HOLT-ORSTED, RESIDENT OF DICKSON, TENNESSEE: We felt like that, if there was ever a problem, that the government would let us know.

DORNIN: Fifty-seven feet from their backyard lies the dump. Federal, state, and county officials were aware that contaminants from illegal dumping of solvents and other chemicals had been leaking there for years.

In 1991, the Holts received a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saying, a new test had shown unsafe levels in their well, but then further testing showed the levels should not result in any adverse health effects. So, according to the letter, the water was still safe to drink.

But unbeknownst to the Holts, some state officials questioned the sampling. Memos sent between state agencies in 1992 indicated that, if Holt was concerned, he should rely on bottled or city water for cooking and drinking purposes.

But the Holts say, nobody told them that. It wasn't until eight years later, in 2000, that the Holts were warned by the county not to drink the water.

HOLT-ORSTED: Someone should have came and sat them down, like they did with the white families. They sat them down. They told them the dangers, got them off the water.

DORNIN: Kaye Stewart, who lives just over a mile away, on the other side of the dump, was one of those families. This spring has been on her family's land for generations. Now it's unfit for anything.

KAYE STEWART, RESIDENT OF DICKSON, TENNESSEE: Don't drink the water. About three weeks later, they came back, said: Don't use it to cook with. Don't shower with it. Don't wash your clothes with it.

DORNIN (on camera): But they provided you with some water?

STEWART: Twelve gallon a week.

DORNIN (voice-over): That was in 1994. But, despite the discovery of high levels of contamination nearby, the Holts' well, unlike the Stewarts' neighbors, were not retested.


DORNIN: Sociologist Bob Bullard has studied environmental issues and minorities for three decades. He believes the Holt family is the poster child for environmental racism.

BULLARD: Why is it that -- that so many communities of color and poor communities, black, white, brown, whatever, get dumped on? And this -- it's not accidental. It's not coincidental.

DORNIN: The Holts filed a lawsuit against the city, county and state in 2003, alleging discrimination and that they were not properly notified regarding the contamination.

Dickson County officials deny any wrongdoing in regards to both notification and discrimination. The county considers any allegation that the Holt family members were the victims of racism to be baseless and unfounded allegations: "The contamination issues in our county have affected many families, not just the Holt family."

State officials claim they informed the Holts about the concerns.

JOE SANDERS, TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND CONSERVATION: They had information that their water was potentially impacted. There was water available in front of their property. If they had wanted to, they could have gotten on public water at that time.

DORNIN: But state officials could not provide any letters warning the family until after 2000.

HOLT-ORSTED: And they put it away, and it's 12 years later before anybody deals with it. If that's not racism, somebody tell me what it is. DORNIN: A breast cancer survivor, Holt says, her aunt and cousins who live nearby also have cancer. There is no medical proof that cancers are related to the water. But she remains convinced her family were victims.

Meanwhile, her father was buried in this small local cemetery, a plot overlooking the Dickson County landfill.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, Dickson, Tennessee.


ZAHN: Let's bring in our "Out in the Open" panel, Lauren Lake, Michael Gross, Deroy Murdock.

Deroy, how common do you think this kind of so-called environmental racism is across the country?

MURDOCK: I think you are going to see this sort of thing where you have got garbage dumps, landfills, and so on.

I would be very cautious about using the term environmental racism, unless you can demonstrate that people decided, let's do this to hurt black people or hurt Hispanics or what have you.


ZAHN: But they're not going to do this near a rich white neighborhood.

MURDOCK: That's -- well, part of it is, if you need 100 acres for a landfill, are you going to go to rich part of town, where it's expensive, and you also have people who maybe know network anchormen and know to write letters to the editor, and make a lot of noise, or you go somewhere where the land is, A, cheaper to buy, and, B, the neighborhood -- neighborhood there may not be as sophisticated, may not have the access to the media, may not have the activist orientation to make a lot of noise?

Now, that may be...


ZAHN: So, you're saying this is about economics and not race?

MURDOCK: Well, that may be class. That may be unjust. I don't think it's necessarily racism. And I would be very cautious about throwing that grenade, unless we can demonstrate that, yes, in fact, it's racism, and not just injustice or taking advantage of people because of their poverty.

ZAHN: Is it irresponsible to even suggest that this is racism? You heard what the local government had to say in its defense.

LAKE: Irresponsible? It's nothing less than racism. I mean, let's be honest here. Race and class go hand in hand in instances like this. When the majority of your lower-economic class is predominantly people of color, hello? That means race and class are hand in hand.

If -- if you put landfills and chemical waste dumps near people who are our weakest, most ill-informed, ignorant people, we're supposed to be a nation that protects its citizens.


ZAHN: Hang on.


LAKE: Under God...


LAKE: No, no, no -- with liberty and justice for all.


LAKE: If those citizens are not informed, would it not be our job to inform them?

Those people were not informed. That's unfair to the core. That's against the principles of this nation.


MURDOCK: The word racism is highly inflammatory. The word racism goes to intention.


LAKE: No, no.


LAKE: Racism needs no racist intent.

MURDOCK: If the issue is to harm blacks, then, yes, it's racist.

If the issue is, we want to go somewhere where we can buy land cheaply, where people aren't going to complain, I don't think that's racism. It may unjust.


LAKE: It needs no racist intent. Racist effect is enough.

MURDOCK: It may be awful. It may be a terrible thing to do. But I don't think it's a racist thing.

(CROSSTALK) MURDOCK: We need to be able to prove that before you throw that word around.


GROSS: Wait a minute.

ZAHN: Michael.

GROSS: We're not talking about natural waste. We're not talking about garbage. We're talking about...

ZAHN: But let's talk about intent here.

GROSS: Right. OK.

ZAHN: Are you going to tell me tonight...

GROSS: Yes. Yes. Yes.

ZAHN: ... that this government decided, we're going to tell all the white people...


ZAHN: ... that they shouldn't drink this water, but...

GROSS: No, of course not.

ZAHN: ... we're not going to give the black family enough warning, so they drink it and bunch of them get sick?


GROSS: It isn't that obvious, Paula.

But it's really true. It is racist, because it is our discrimination against people of color that disables them from earning the same amount of money, from getting the same health care, from getting the same education, and from living in an integrated neighborhood.

So, they have to be in a neighborhood where they don't make contributions to the local political party to get elected. And it's not a matter of buying land that is less expensive. It's a matter of putting it in the place where there's the least resistance.

And racism is a capital offense. Toxic waste was the murder weapon to kill these people, not because they were black. But, because they were black, they didn't have the chance to be equal with the others and be heard in that group.


ZAHN: Why did the white people get the message that the water wasn't safe? MURDOCK: Again, again, I think the important...


GROSS: It's a consequence of racism.

MURDOCK: I think the -- you use the term murder weapon.


MURDOCK: I think we need to talk about what the intent...


GROSS: Toxic waste is a murder weapon.

MURDOCK: If you say murder weapon, you're saying that the people who sited this particular landfill said: Let's kill some blacks.

Now, maybe they did that.

GROSS: Then you haven't heard me, sir.


MURDOCK: I would be very skeptical that's the case.

GROSS: You haven't heard me. I said that blacks ended up...

MURDOCK: And I think, in this country, when we talk about race, we have to be cautious not to -- not to impugn people's motives...


GROSS: Blacks ended up in that neighborhood...

MURDOCK: ... so much that we say people are engaged in murder.


MURDOCK: I would be very cautious about using that term.


ZAHN: I'm not going to be cautious about cutting you off.


MURDOCK: Neglect, injustice, but not homicide.


ZAHN: I have got to move on.


Stick around. Hold your fire.

We have got another story that we're bringing out in the open tonight. Is sending overweight kids home with obesity report cards a healthy idea or an act of intolerance?

And, then a little bit later on: the anti-Semitism that is leading to the shocking conspiracy theories that blame Jews for 9/11?

We will be back to talk about that as well. Please stay with us.


ZAHN: You're not going to believe the kind of new school report card we're bringing out in the open tonight. It's supposed to tell you if your child is too fat.

The problem is that it could also expose students to a different kind of discrimination. So, this report card is setting off all kinds of controversies for schools and even state governments.

Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has tonight's "Vital Signs."


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jasmine Talman (ph) is a happy 8-year-old. A straight-A student who loves music, she's always enjoyed school. So, when she got a note a few weeks ago addressed to her mother, she got worried.

VICKI ELLIOT, MOTHER OF JASMINE: To receive a letter from the teacher usually says: I got in trouble.

And she wanted to know what it said.

COHEN: What Jasmine and a few of her other third-grade classmates received was not a note saying she had done something wrong. It was a letter telling her mother that Jasmine, who ways 66 pounds, was at risk of becoming obese.

ELLIOT: Yes, I was surprised.

COHEN: Like many school districts across the country, Jasmine's, in Barnstable County, Massachusetts, is weighing and measuring student to determine their body mass index, or BMI.

BMI is a person's body weight relative to height. And it can be used to determine if people are at a healthy weight. At Jasmine's school, they handed children notes if they had a very low or a very high BMI. This infuriated her mother, who said the note accomplished nothing, except humiliating her daughter.

ELLIOT: Why was she receiving a letter, and not everybody got one?

COHEN: In seven states, schools are required to send home BMI scores, along with information advising parents to talk to their pediatrician. Thirteen other states are considering doing the same -- the theory, that these scores could be a wakeup call for parents.

KENNETH STANTON, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE: It's social engineering. As objectionable as that sounds, we're trying to influence people's attitudes.

COHEN: Former Arkansas Governor Michael Huckabee, who lost 110 pounds himself, was the first governor to push through BMI legislation back in 2003.

He said, for the most part, parents were accepting of the scores. He says, the state has seen its statewide childhood obesity numbers start to level off. And he credits the BMI report cards.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: Now, we're not where we want to be, but we have stopped the runaway train.

COHEN: But some parents say their child's weight is none of the school's business. In fact, Jasmine's mom says her pediatrician thinks Jasmine's weight is just fine. She's worried the BMI report card might encourage her daughter to develop an eating disorder. Society already tells girls that thin is in.

VICKI ELLIOTT, JASMINE'S MOTHER: You go to the newsstands, skinny women on the front of all the covers. You see it enough that I want her to be healthy because it's the way to be, not because it means being skinny.

COHEN: But those who follow obesity trends say now is the time for parents to realize their kids are suffering.

KENNETH STANTON, U. OF BALTIMORE OBESITY REPORT CARD: Early heart attacks, pre-diabetes. There's so many other related adverse health consequences that are expensive and serious that seem to follow on with this weight issue.

COHEN: Health experts also point out this is the first generation that expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, all because of weight. They say BMI report cards could help parents stop obesity before it kills their children. Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Atlanta.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR, PAULA ZAHN NOW: One more thing. The Arkansas house of representatives has just passed a proposal to repeal the BMI report card law. Jasmine (INAUDIBLE) school district has decided to send reports home in the mail instead of handing them out at school.

Let's get back to our out in the open panel. Lauren Lake, Michael Gross, Deroy Murdock. Is this social engineering? Is it the school's responsibility to do this?

LAUREN LAKE, ATTORNEY: This is very tough, because we're dealing with an epidemic here. It's not funny. And I think, there's an old saying, it's not what you say; it's how you say it. And I think the school's intent is good. They are trying to warn parents in advance, we see a problem. There's something happening here with your child physically and we want to see it be addressed at home. What I don't like is that they sent the note home with the child. That's wasn't right to do that. It's a private conversation between parent and school.

MICHAEL GROSS, CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER: We have established that BMI and obesity are health problems. They're serious risks and it's the responsibility of the school to identify a health problem. Is it an illness? Is it an injury? Is it an addiction and notify the parents, send home word. This lady, the mother, she ought to take a look in the mirror. I'm sorry. Her daughter is nowhere near being too skinny. Neither is she. She's got to understand that the school is performing a public service for her benefit, for her child's good health. I totally support it. It's a requirement. Great.

ZAHN: Public service or is it something that risks discriminating against fat kids?

DEROY MURDOCK, MEDIA FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION: I think the easiest way to handle it is if it's something that every kid has to do and every kid gets a report, not just the fat kids, everybody takes the form home and says look what I got, in the mail fine or maybe slipped into the report card or something like that so that the chubby kids don't feel discriminated against or stigmatized or punished or what have you. But I think that look, school nurses often do things that give shots and give vitamins and those sort of things. So schools to some degree already deliver some kind of health services. So this isn't really out of the ordinary. But I think you can avoid the stigma just by dropping --

ZAHN: What is the Arkansas government saying in repealing this? Is that political correctness or caving to some of these parents' complaints? The governor has lost a lot of weight.

GROSS: He's made a whole political life out of that as well. It's a shame. I suspect that there's something between the governor and the legislature that brings about the repeal of this. These kids need to be in the gym. They need to eat better foods and avoid the worst foods. There's nothing wrong with it.

LAKE: ... privacy concerns. People are going to say that this is a personal issue. This is a family issue.

ZAHN: But the pediatrician said the kid isn't overweight.

LAKE: The problem is like I said, we're not -- did you hear the piece? The piece said this is the first generation that's going to have less of a life expectancy than the one before it. That means we need action. So I respect the fact that the school is trying to do something. I just think as Deroy said, send everyone a note in the report card. I think that would be the fairest way. But I'm nervous about you giving me a note now. He's giving notes out.

ZAHN: You don't have to worry about any notes.

MURDOCK: I think PE and exercise are important. I hated gym class, but it's very important these kids get exercise. That will help them to keep their weight off.

ZAHN: It will be nice if a lot of public schools across the country have the money so kids could be in physical education classes every day (INAUDIBLE) music classes, too.

MURDOCK: Run in place, jumping jacks.

ZAHN: Stay with us, because we're not done yet here. Coming up next, conspiracy theories out in the open that blame Jews for the terror attacks on 9/11. Also ahead, one of the nation's highest ranking retired military men on why he thinks it's time to reconsider the don't ask, don't tell policy for gays. We're going to bring that story out in the open when we come back.


ZAHN: Just ahead in this half-hour, don't ask/don't tell. Our weekly people you should know segment. We bring that question out in the open tonight. A top retired general says it may be time to change the policy on gays in the military.

Then coming up at the top of hour, Larry King talks with the owners of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro who lost his fight to recover from a shattered leg.

We have all heard some absolutely incredible 9/11 conspiracy theories. The web of course is full of them. But tonight we're bringing one out that feeds on racism out in the open. We were absolutely shocked by one recent poll that found out that one in every three Americans believe the terror attacks were not the work of America's enemies, but some sort of inside job. And Deborah Feyerick found a smaller percentage who believe an even uglier theory.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This 9/11 attack was not by 19 Arabs. It was not by Muslims.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They talk about a Jewish plot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everywhere you look you find a Zionist agent.

FEYERICK: A conspiracy by Zionist Israeli intelligence or by Zionist moles in the Bush administration allegedly calling the shots in the Middle East. Websites, magazines, documentaries, radio programs, dozens of them disputing the fact that al Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was done by a group of Zionists.

FEYERICK: Are you suggesting that al Qaeda had nothing to do with it, that this was all part of a large conspiracy, Zionist or otherwise?

CHRISTOPHER BOLLYN, WRITER: Al Qaeda is in my opinion -- has been exploited. I question whether such a group even exists.

FEYERICK: Chicago writer Christopher Bollyn is one of the conspiracy theorists.

BOLLYN: I believe that there are Israeli elements that are connected to the Mossad, that are involved in this attack.

FEYERICK: There's no physical evidence to support claims that Jews were behind 9/11, but the speculation and rumors, mostly discounted here in the U.S., have gained momentum in Muslim countries where they're discussed and believed. Deborah Lauder is with the Jewish run Anti-Defamation League.

DEBORAH LAUTER, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: What's most puzzling is when it reaches the Internet and goes into the Muslim-Arab world, we have this cross-fertilization of hate and this is something we've never seen before.

FEYERICK: A whole web of beliefs has grown to support this conspiracy theory. Listen to these Americans interviewed on Iranian television.

VOICE OF ERIC HUFSCHMID: This is a big plot to take control of us, to start war.

FEYERICK: One of the beliefs is that some 4,000 Israelis or Jews in the New York City area were warned by instant messages not to go to work on 9/11. For Wilton Sekzer, a retired police sergeant who is Jewish, the claim is outrageous.

WILTON SEKZER, FATHER OF WTC 9/11 VICTIM: The remains consistent of a piece of bone two and a half inches long and about an inch long, about the size of your index finger.

FEYERICK: And that's all they ever found?

SEKZER: That's all they ever found.

FEYERICK: Sekzer's son Jason died in the towers. He says Jason received no warning. Neither did some 400 Jews who died in the tragedy.

SEKZER: Give me the names of the 4,000 Jews who stayed home. Show me something. There is nothing to show. This is a total, ridiculous, asinine rumor that was started by anti-Semites.

MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: I think the conspiracy theories in general really do work a bit like a game of telephone. They are told and retold and tend to get more and more far out in the telling.

FEYERICK: When you imply that somehow Israelis were involved in the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, people are going to look at you, critics will say you are an anti-Semite. Are you?

BOLLYN: No, I'm not an anti-Semite. This is the main charge that's leveled against me and has been for years, even before 9/11, because I am a critic of Zionist policies.

LAUTER: That's a very common technique among anti-Semites. They will twist things. I'm not an anti-Semite. I just believe XYZ.

FEYERICK: Anti-Semitic or not, the question now, will this 9/11 conspiracy theory become like the Kennedy assassination, analyzed for generations as an unsolved mystery? Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: Time to check with our out in the open panel. I'm sure they have plenty to say about this. Lauren, Michael, Deroy, welcome back. All right. So let's start with the resident Jew on our panel here. You hear this stuff and it just makes you sick to your stomach. There is absolutely no evidence that anybody, other than al Qaeda, was involved with this attack. How upsetting is this to you?

GROSS: Look, we've been kicked around for 2,000 years. The face you're looking at has got a lot of anger in it because of that. That's not a way to live, wandering around the globe never having a home. It's pretty difficult because every time there's trouble, we're scapegoated. We're not the only ones that are scapegoated, but we're scapegoated by people who are frightened. They don't care. They are paranoid. You can't debunk this theory. It's madness as well as idiocy to think that the Jews brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11, but you cannot argue logic to someone who is mentally ill. What frightens me is that the whole nation is frightened and that fear is being fueled by this administration and by the media -- not you, just the opposite. I congratulate you and I'm grateful for you seriously, to bring this stuff out, because it is in those times that Jews like other minorities better get scared, better get angry, better fight for what's right and try and convince people courage is the cure for paranoia, not racism.

ZAHN: Is this just a smear campaign for anti-Semites?

MURDOCK: I agree with Michael. The blame the Jews theme is something that goes back about 2,000 years. It's a really hardy varietal. But look, I mean we know who pulled off 9/11. Richard Minard (ph) writes about it in his book, the disinformation. He quotes directly from Osama bin Laden who says on a tape we found, we calculated an advanced the number of casualties from the enemy who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day, unquote, says Osama bin Laden himself.


LAKE: We have a government that has led us into a war and most Americans, even the smartest of us, sit around and go why, again, are we here in the war? When there are blanks, we often fill in the blanks and those blanks are filled in by misinformation, urban legends. We create stories and people believe things.

ZAHN: You're talking about a very unpopular war. We're talking about 9/11.

LAKE: What I'm talking about is the war is based upon what our government told us, this fear that we have from 9/11.

GROSS: This will get worse as the unrest in the Middle East gets worse. This problem will not go away. The reason it wasn't go away is because we don't have an administration as we once did that said and counseled us, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. We have just the opposite. We have an administration that fuels fear, that puts up the sign every day that tells us be frightened, stay scared, be worried, and so we are suspicious. We are xenophobic and we don't like anybody that's different from us.

ZAHN: How concerned are you that these conspiracy theories will take even deeper hold?

MURDOCK: Look, I think it's entirely possible. The kind of people who are spreading this sort of stuff will continue to blame the Jews for anything that can go wrong. I think it's very important as this war on terror continues to point out exactly who the bad guys are which are Islamo-fascists who want you, you, you and me dead and want people dead around the country and they're engaged in tremendous violence, killing thousands all around the world starting even before 9/11. The '93 attack, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. This is a really serious enemy and we need to identify it and we need to educate people.


LAKE: That's my point. There are reasons why people are open to belief theories and these reasons will not change unless our government more actively works to inform us of what the real truth is so people are not just playing guessing games.

ZAHN: Lauren Lake, Michael Gross, Deroy Murdock, fascinating discussion. Your anger was palpable during that piece as well. Well understood.

Larry king live is coming up just in a few minutes. Hey Larry. You're going to talk to the owners of Barbaro tonight?

LARRY KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, well, who wouldn't be angry with that last story?

ZAHN: I know. I know, but it's astonishing, wasn't it, the statistic that one in three Americans believe not that particular conspiracy theory, but one of many?

KING: The old Goebbels theory, you tell a lie long enough, more people will believe it. We've got an exclusive coming up, race horse Barbaro's owners and his doctor, their first interview since the champion was put to death yesterday. Plus Jack Hanna and animal right activist Bo Derek on whether racing pushes horses too far. And the latest on that woman convicted today of murdering her Marine husband with poison. All that at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific immediately following the lovely, talented, exquisite Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: Thank you Larry, you didn't have to say that.

KING: And a low BMI index.

ZAHN: Did you hear what he tried to do with me last night? He asked me what my weight was on television. It was Mexican food night. I asked him that his lovely wife, who's even four inches taller than me, how much she weighed. Was she upset, that I almost got you to divulge her weight on the air last night, Larry?

KING: No. She would kill me if I did.

ZAHN: And she's absolutely stunning and her BMI index is exactly where it should be. Thanks, Larry.


ZAHN: I think he was being nice to me. I hope he was. I don't know, Larry. I hope you were being sincere.

Coming up next, we're going to introduce you to someone you should know. Why one of the nation's most respected retired generals says it's time for an about-face on the don't ask/don't tell policy on gays in the military. He'll explain why when we come back.


ZAHN: Right now we're going to take a quick biz break. Welcome back. Stocks scored only moderate gains today while oil prices soared. The Dow closed up 32 points. Nasdaq gained seven points and the S&P picked up eight. But oil prices jumped more than 5 percent to almost $57 a barrel. Colder winter weather and a pending OPEC production cut has helped push oil prices up from just under $50 a barrel less than two weeks ago.

After six years and $6 billion, the new Microsoft Windows Vista hit stores today in 70 countries. Sticker shocked slowed opening day sales. The new software requires at least one gigabyte of memory and the latest computer hardware to work.

Now in another story that's out in the open tonight, the don't ask/don't tell policy banning openly gay service members from the military. President Clinton announced that policy some 14 years ago when his joints chiefs chairman was General John Shalikashvili but now the retired general is calling for a change and that has reignited a very, very intense debate. We think he's one of the people you should know tonight. Here's our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In 1993 the highly charged issue of gays in the military was front and center after President Bill Clinton's effort to allow gays to serve openly resulted in the congressionally mandated policy of don't ask/don't tell. At the time, Mr. Clinton's brand new joint chiefs chairman, General John Shalikashvili supported the compromise, accepting arguments that allowing open homosexuality in the U.S. military would hurt unit cohesion.

But now, almost 15 years later, the retired four-star has done an about-face, writing in a recent "New York Times" opinion piece that the military has changed and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers.

SHARON ALEXANDER, SERVICEMEMBERS LEGAL DEF. NETWORK: He's significant because of who he is and the role he played in forming don't ask/don't tell and because he has taken another look at the situation and come to a new conclusion. That's a courageous thing to do.

McINTYRE: General (INAUDIBLE) courage was born as he was in Poland. His family lived through the destruction of Warsaw and emigrated to Peoria, Illinois when John was just 16. A month after his graduation from college, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. General Shally as he's affectionately known, had a stellar 39-year career in the U.S. Army and is the only immigrant to serve as chairman of the joint chiefs, the pinnacle of military leadership.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With a clear and firm voice and a direct piercing gaze, he always told me exactly what he thought the truth was.

McINTYRE: In 2004 Shalikashvili suffered a massive stroke. But it has not silenced him and some say his voice could be a powerful catalyst for change.

ALEXANDER: I think that General Shalikashvili's words just bring the issue to the forefront again and make it all the more relevant and important for members of Congress to think about where they stand on this issue.

McINTYRE: Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


ZAHN: And the Servicemembers Legal Defense Networks says it expects that legislation to repeal don't ask/don't tell will be introduced in the House and the Senate sometime later his year.

Coming up at the top of the hour, LARRY KING LIVE, the owners of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro speaking out for the first time since the horse's death this week.


ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for dropping by. Tomorrow night, we bring politics and fat out in the open. Would Americans even elect an obese president? We're going to see what lengths some politicians have gone to shed weight, including a presidential contender whose lost more than 100 pounds before making his run, former Governor Huckabee. LARRY KING LIVE starts right now. We're going to take a short break and we'll see Larry in a couple seconds.