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CNN Saturday Morning News

Challenger Ceremony Underway; Thousands Of Palestinians Protest Hamas Win; Interview with John McCain; Wiretaps Legal Or Illegal?; Two FEMA Workers Arrested On Bribery Charges; President Bush Makes Stern Promises; In Davos, World Leaders Not Optimistic On Iran; Celebrities At World Economic Forum; Popularity Of Reality TV

Aired January 28, 2006 - 10:00   ET


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye.


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's one of those moments that remain frozen in time. Many of you are sure to recall the exact moment 20 years ago today when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in the skies over Florida. We're going to give you a live picture now of the ceremony underway at Kennedy Space Center. A lot of reflection today.

I want to welcome you back. Good morning. From the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Betty Nguyen. It is the 28th day of January.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris. We'll take you live to Kennedy in just a moment. First, a quick look at some other stories happening right now in the news.

From Iraq this morning, a newly-released videotape shows four Christian aid workers who were abducted back in November. The Arab television network Al-Jazeera aired the tape.

It says the abductors are giving coalition forces one last chance to free all prisoners or else the hostages will be killed. The hostages include American aid worker Tom Fox. CNN cannot confirm when the video was shot.

Fatah Party members with black masks and weapons walked the streets of Gaza today -- live pictures -- protesting their Election Day losses. Fatah gunmen say they will not partner with Hamas, the new Palestinian party in power.

Meanwhile other Fatah faithful are demanding the resignations of their party leaders, especially President Mahmoud Abbas. Leaders of Hamas this morning are rejecting international calls to disarm.

The FBI has arrested two temporary FEMA employees for allegedly taking bribes from a food contractor after Hurricane Katrina. At a news conference, federal agents said they have both suspects on tape discussing their scheme. They allegedly wanted to inflate the actual number of meals served to emergency workers in exchange for kick backs.

Ahead in this hour of CNN SATURDAY MORNING, Senator John McCain is in Switzerland meeting with the world's top finance officials. But we have him, too. We're going to talk live with the odds on presidential candidates, about surprising developments in the Mideast, and in Washington.

Plus, 77 million people watch reality TV shows. That's less than half the number that watched the pro football playoffs. What is really real on TV these days? And has it gone too far?

HARRIS: A ceremony is now getting underway marking the 20th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Chances are good that you remember where you were that day when you first heard the Challenger had exploded in the clear blue sky over Kennedy Space Center.

CNN's John Zarrella was covering the launch at Kennedy that day, and John is there for us today. And, John, before we talk about some of your recollections of that day, maybe walk us through the ceremony.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORESPONDENT: Well, Tony, the ceremony is just now getting underway here, presentation of the colors by the Patrick Air Force Base Honor Guard. Following that there will be the playing of the national anthem by the Coco (ph) marching band here, Coco High marching band.

Then there will be several speeches. Members of the NASA family are here. Members of the families that lost their loved ones 20 years ago are here, including June Scobee Rogers, wife of the late commander of the shuttle Challenger, Dick Scobee.

And then at the very end -- about an hour this ceremony should last. At the end of this there will be a wreath-laying at the base of the memorial there. And that, of course, is the Mirror Memorial on which there are 24 different names of astronauts whose have lost their lives.

Now, they are going to be starting the playing of the national anthem. And then the ceremony will really begin and it will be honoring the astronauts, of course, from 20 years ago, at 11:38 a.m. when Challenger lifted off on a mission that lasted just over a minute.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here comes the flight crew now. Commander Dick Scobee ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have main engine start, four, three, two, one, and liftoff. Liftoff of the 25th space shuttle mission and it has cleared the tower.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger roll, Challenger. Good roll, flight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rog, good roll. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Challenger now heading down range. Engines throttling up. Three engines now at 104 percent. Challenger go with throttle up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger, going with throttle up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One minute 15 seconds. Velocity 2,900 feet per second. Altitude, nine nautical miles. Down range distance seven nautical miles. Obviously a major malfunction.

Reports from the flight dynamics officer indicate that the vehicle apparently exploded and that impact in the water. This is Mission Control Houston. We have no additional word at this time.


ZARRELLA: Now, the teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe, was on that flight, of course. There was so much promise. I remember being up here for several days leading up to the launch because of the delays for weather, brutally cold here that morning, 36 degrees.

But here where we are now at the visitors center, so many school children had come here with their teachers. There was so much excitement about this mission. Many of them had to leave before the launch actually happened because of the delays for weather. But, of course, this was supposed to be a seminal moment for the space program and it ended in tragedy -- Tony.

HARRIS: Sure did. CNN's John Zarrella for us. John, thank you.

NGUYEN: The nation's capital also pauses today to honor the Challenger mission. At 11:38 a.m. Eastern, a White House panel presents a memorial plaque at Arlington National Cemetery. And at 2:45 p.m., the National Air and Space Museum is presented with a special laser disk that was aboard the shuttle.

We do want to know where you were when the Challenger exploded. We all have memories of it. E-mail us your memories and thoughts. Where were you the day that the Challenger exploded some 20 years ago? Our address,

HARRIS: Thousands of Palestinians are hitting the streets in the West Bank this morning to protest the Hamas election victory in Gaza. Dozens of armed police officers briefly stormed the Parliament building demanding security forces remain in the prior ruling party's hands. Meanwhile, Hamas is rejecting international calls to disarm and it's calling on the world to accept the results.


KHALED MASHAAL, EXILED HAMAS LEADER (through translator): You have created the suffering among the Palestinians by creating the state of Israel, so do not punish the Palestinian people because they chose with free will in these elections. Since you believe in democracy, then you must respect the choice and the will of the Palestinian people. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Meantime, President Bush is threatening to take action if Hamas doesn't take some key steps. Coming up in the next half hour, hear what he's promising to do in a live report from the White House.

NGUYEN: Now to Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats are divided over whether they should filibuster the upcoming vote on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Senator John Kerry wants fellow Democrats to help him block the confirmation vote. Kerry says, quote, "the fight for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court is worth waging."

Republicans plan a vote to cut off further debate on Monday. And some Democrats are joining them. So for now, it looks like any filibuster attempt may end up doomed.

Republican Senator John McCain is never shy about his opinions on world matters, and he joins us now from Davos, Switzerland, where he's attending a world economic summit. Senator, we have the Alito hearings, the Hamas election in Gaza, new revelations about domestic spying.

Let's begin with Alito. What do you think? Senator Kerry was in Davos, where you are right now, when he started that push for a filibuster. Does it seem like the push is pretty much dead at this point?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Yes, it's dead. I've heard from numerous Democrats, including members of the so-called gang of 14, that they are not going to filibuster. So he doesn't have the votes. It's over. I think we should vote and get on to a number of other issues, including lobbying reform.

NGUYEN: Democrats have argued that there's this fear that if Alito is nominated to the court and he is confirmed, that this will shift the court to the right. Are those valid concerns?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't know if it will shift it, quote, "to the right," but the president of the United States, when he ran for election and reelection, said he would appoint judges who more strictly -- who strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States. I agree with him, and I think Judge Alito is highly qualified.

NGUYEN: So what is behind all this filibuster?

MCCAIN: Elections have consequences.

NGUYEN: Yes, so what is behind all this filibuster discussion? Is it simply posturing for maybe a spot in the 2008 election?

MCCAIN: Oh, it would never be anything like that. No, you know, you'd have to ask -- you'd have to ask them. But the fact is that they are not going to have the votes to filibuster and at the end of the day, that's what the parliamentary procedures are all about. NGUYEN: Yes, that's what it comes down to. All right, let's shift over to the global front. The Bush administration is reviewing all aspects of U.S. aid to the Palestinians now that Hamas has won the elections.

And I do have to quote you here. A State Department spokesman did say this: "To be very clear" -- and I'm quoting now -- "we do not provide money to terrorist organizations." What does this do to the U.S. relationship with the Palestinians?

MCCAIN: Well, hopefully, that Hamas now that they are going to govern, will be motivated to renounce this commitment to the extinction of the state of Israel. Then we can do business again, we can resume aid, we can resume the peace process.

It's very, very important, though, that they renounce this commitment and I understand that maybe in some parts of their party it's difficult, but we can't have a situation in the Middle East where a governing nation or an organization that's governed by a group of people who are committed to the extinction of its neighbor. It's an untenable position.

NGUYEN: Does this throw a huge kink in the road map to peace?

MCCAIN: No, let's hope that they understand there's a difference between the revolutions and governing. Other entities have in the past. I think it's very relevant and an important point that we are told that the major reason why Hamas was elected was not because of the issue of Israel, as it was total dissatisfaction with the previous government which had not given them anything but corruption and economic stagnation.

NGUYEN: And, quickly, with a growing power of groups considered terrorist organizations, does this support the president's position on wiretaps and the NSA spying program?

MCCAIN: I don't think -- I don't think this has any particular effect. I think this is a situation in the area of the world that I hope can be resolved, and over time we can move the peace process forward. At least I hope so, but we'll have to wait and see.

NGUYEN: Senator John McCain. Always a pleasure, joining us today from Davos, Switzerland. Thank you for your time.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

HARRIS: So what does President Bush have to say about a group he calls terrorists who are now in charge? Find out at the bottom of the hour.

NGUYEN: Are you seeing what I'm seeing, Tony?

HARRIS: Not quite -- yes, Janet Reno?

NGUYEN: Yes, you are, also from the White House to the music stage. This former legal eagle is demanding something we all want. That's a little respect. So let's show her some respect. We'll tell you about that story coming up.


HARRIS: Well just minutes ago, President Bush began his usual Saturday radio address defending his selection of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. It has been a busy week for Mr. Bush as he continues to make his case that secret domestic wiretaps in the war on terror are legal.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have the authority, both from the Constitution and the Congress, to undertake this vital program. The American people expect me to protect their lives and their civil liberties, and that's exactly what we're doing with this program. I'll continue to reauthorize this program for so long as our country faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups.


HARRIS: Well, what do you think? Is it OK for the government to perform wiretaps without a court order if someone on one end of the line is suspected of being a terrorist? Well, the latest "USA Today"/Gallup poll shows 51 percent of Americans surveyed say that's wrong. Betty, 46 percent say they think it's OK.

And what about this whole issue from a legal standpoint. Is President Bush operating inside the law? Let's ask our resident legal eagles, former prosecutor Nelda Blair and civil rights attorney Lida Rodriguez-Taseff. Ladies, good morning. Good to see you. It's been awhile.



HARRIS: Nelda, if you're in that group who is not particularly concerned, why aren't you concerned? Why should -- no, no, no, no. If you're part of the group that is concerned, OK, why shouldn't you be concerned?

BLAIR: You shouldn't be concerned because this country has more civil liberties and more protection of its right to privacy than any country in the world, Tony. But it's not paramount. What trumps the right to privacy and what is reasonable to invade slightly the right of privacy is the protection of the nation.

We need a reality check here. We're talking about al Qaeda members and al Qaeda affiliates and suspected al Qaeda people who want to kill Americans. We're talking about protecting the country, not about listening in to phone conversations between Lida and, which we don't have very many.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: You know, Nelda, reality check. Let's talk about a reality check. This president is basically saying that he has the authority to spy on Americans whenever and wherever he wants, and that no court has the power to review it. And he is saying why? Because we're at war.

So basically, if the president decided tomorrow that he wanted to spy on you and me just because we were ordering pizza, and that this had to do with the war on terror, he would be allowed to do it and no court could stop him. He is saying that no court could stop him. Now, reality check, how is that legal, Nelda?

BLAIR: Lida, you know what? What we really need to talk about is the matter of the truth here. And it's not President Bush that is making these decisions by himself to spy on you, me, or any other American. The National Security Agency has made those decisions. Congress has been informed. The attorney general has also governed this and said it was legal.

In fact, the Justice Department has issued a paper saying this is legal. And it's the NSA that chooses the people that are actually being listened to. And it's people that are talking outside of this country to al Qaeda operatives.

HARRIS: All right. Help me, help me, help me, help me, help me, help me. Give me something I can use here. Here's what -- take whatever hat you have on off, for just a second. And I just want to know is it legal? Can you do this?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: No, you can't do this, Tony. FISA specifies how it is that we get to spy on Americans. And it says you go in, you go to the super secret FISA court, you get a warrant before, during and after.

So you're not even burdened all that much. You can get the warrant after you've done the spying. And that's what FISA says. And it says -- it specifically says, hey, guys, this is the way you do it. And this is the only way you do it, and if you don't do it this way, you're breaking the law.

HARRIS: OK. All right, Nelda, go ahead.

BLAIR: No, no, no, no, no. That law does say this is one way to do it. But, Lida, you cannot say it says that's the only way to do it. Because that's not the law says. You know that. You're a lawyer, and have been for a long time.

There are many different laws that can be operated under, and President Bush is operating right now under his powers when the country is at war, his constitutional powers to -- for military action. And that's exactly what the attorney general said was fine. The Justice Department said was fine, and a host of other people.

HARRIS: Nelda, the president had a choice here that -- to make. All right, I want to get this information. Yes, all right, let's start the taps and then let's go the court. He had a choice and he made the choice not to go to the court at all. BLAIR: No, that's not so. They also used -- they also used that avenue. They used the avenue of getting warrants when it is the proper thing to do for the situation. It was not proper for this situation.

And it isn't in ongoing surveillance of people who want to blow up bombs in America, kill Americans, and hurt us. It's an ongoing thing that they listen to, and they also need to act very quickly on and can't do under that particular law. So the president does it under a different power. It's totally legal.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Now, who says he can't do it under that particular law? He can even get the warrant after he has done the spying. And, Nelda, let's talk about the reality here. The reality here is, this power goes on forever.

And if you're comfortable with this president exercising this power to spy on Americans and to do it without court review, then my question is are you comfortable with the next president doing it? Are you comfortable with a Republican, are you comfortable with a Democrat doing it?

If Bill Clinton was in office right now, would you be comfortable with him doing it? The answer is nobody in this country should be comfortable with any president in the country saying that he's above the law and that doesn't have to go into a court to justify his actions.

HARRIS: Nelda, last words?

BLAIR: What is interesting, Lida, is if we had been at wartime when Clinton was in office, he did have this power and he certainly could have used it.

HARRIS: All right, ladies. Let's leave it there. We're going to be talking about this a lot, and the State of the Union is coming up. And we're going to hear more about it there, as well. Lida, Nelda, good to see you as always. Have a great weekend.

BLAIR: Thank you.

NGUYEN: Good information on both sides, yes.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Take care, Tony.

NGUYEN: Well the overwhelming victory by Hamas presents a new problem for the Bush administration. We'll take you live to the White House. That's next.

HARRIS: Plus we're in the middle of a television revolution here, Betty.

NGUYEN: Oh, yes.

HARRIS: And it can be summed up in two words, reality TV, which is what we are. NGUYEN: Kind of, yes.

HARRIS: So what drives millions of you to watch what some critics describe as a train wreck?

NGUYEN: Which we try not to be.

HARRIS: CNN entertainment reporter Sibila Vargas joins us with a new look of television programming. We'll take a break and we'll come right back.


NGUYEN: In stories across America this morning, the FBI has arrested two temporary FEMA employees for allegedly soliciting and taking kick backs from a food contractor. Agents say the caterer alerted them to the scheme which allegedly involved Andrew Rose and Lloyd Holleman.

The incident says the plan -- or the indictment, I should say -- the indictment says the plan involved inflating the actual numbers of meals served to emergency workers and storm victims.


JIM LETTEN, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: Rose demanded $20,000 from the contractor which would be split evenly between him and Holleman. And Rose also told the contractor that Holleman would continue to intentionally inflate the occupancy numbers at the base camp when they knew that the actual occupancy was much less than the inflated number.


NGUYEN: Meanwhile, FEMA is willing to extend the check-out time for hurricane evacuees staying in hotels. Now, FEMA says it will pay for lodging at least until February 13th. But storm victims must call and get an authorization code by Monday's deadline. That number is 1- 800-621-FEMA. It's on your screen. Lines are open 24 hours a day with multilingual operators.

Well author James Frey may have ripped his credibility into "A Million Little Pieces." And that could eventually cost him a movie deal. According to today's "L.A. Times," Warner Brothers is considering reneging on their deal to turn his memoirs into a film. During an appearance on Oprah, Frey admitted he fabricated many details in his book.

HARRIS: The real thing, nothing but the real thing. Bonnie Schneider upstairs in the CNN Weather Center with a look at the ...

NGUYEN: Right, that's a real deal.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

(WEATHER REPORT) HARRIS: I will go global when we come back. Also a week ago, five of the top 20 highest rated television shows were reality TV programs.

NGUYEN: Can you believe it? There is, of course, the super successful "American Idol" and many more. So why is America so hooked on watching reality TV? We'll find out when CNN entertainment reporter Sibila Vargas joins us.


NGUYEN: Welcome back to CNN SATURDAY MORNING." I'm Betty Nguyen

HARRIS: Hi, Betty.

NGUYEN: How are you doing?

HARRIS: Not too bad.


HARRIS: We start this half hour with a quick look at what is happening now in the news.

An angry division among Palestinians this morning in the fall-out of the Hamas victory. Thousands of Fatah activists march in the streets of the west bank demanding the resignation of Hamas party leaders, but this morning a senior Hamas leader rejects calls to lay down arms and renounce violence toward Israel.

Today the nation remembers the space shuttle Challenger disaster 20 years after that horrible accident. Live pictures now as a commemorative ceremony is underway at Florida's Kennedy Space Center. About an hour from right now a wreath honoring the astronauts will be laid at the memorial mirror.

Figure skater Michelle Kwan gets another shot at the elusive gold Olympic medal. The U.S. Figure Skating Association has granted Kwan an injury waiver allowing her to compete in next month's Olympic games, trying to watch her skate, read at the same time. Tricky, tricky -

NGUYEN: Slide on the ice.

HARRIS: Kwan secured a spot on the U.S. team by proving to a panel that she is recovered from a groin injury.

NGUYEN: Well a senior Hamas leader is refusing calls to recognize Israel and stop the violence following his party's election victory. Meanwhile, President Bush is making some stern promises if he doesn't. CNN's Elaine Quijano is at the White House with more. Tell us about the stern promises Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you Betty. Well, it's a difficult dilemma facing this White House at this moment, how to deal with a democratically elected government led in large part by Hamas. Now Hamas of course is an organization that the United States, Israel, the European Union, have all deemed a terrorist organization.

President Bush says the United States will only deal with Hamas if two conditions are met. First the group must renounce violence and secondly the president says the group must renounce its commitment to the destruction of Israel. In an interview with CBS news, President Bush said if Hamas fails to do that, the U.S. will cut off economic aid to the Palestinian government.


BUSH: And that is for them to have support from the United States and the United States Congress and from this administration, they must renounce their policy, stated policy, that they want to destroy Israel.


QUIJANO: Meantime, as unrest continues in parts of the Palestinian territories, U.S. officials are being very careful about weighing in on the developing situation. This certainly underscores just how complex the Middle East has become for the United States in particular which had hoped to be an honest broker.

You'll recall, Betty, the president outlined what he said was a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine living side by side, though. Now, of course, behind the scenes, officials trying to see whether or not anything of that plan can be salvaged.

NGUYEN: And that's a very volatile situation on many parts. Thank you so much, Elaine.

And we'll have much more on this weekend, this weekend I should say, on the dramatic new developments in the Mid East and how it affects us right here at home. Tomorrow "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" will have a full interview with former President Jimmy Carter, who recently helped to monitor the Palestinian elections that put Hamas in power. We'll get his take on the changing face of the Mid East. That's "LATE EDITION" at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Sunday.

HARRIS: Serious concerns about Iran and its nuclear program are being expressed today at the world economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.

NGUYEN: World leaders are not sounding very optimistic. Our Brenda Bernard has details now from the international desk. Hi, Brenda.

BRENDA BERNARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks Betty, hi, you're right. Leaders are painting a gloomy picture regarding negotiations with Iran. Today during the world economic forums only scheduled debate on Iranian nukes U.S. and British officials denounced Tehran's development of its nuclear program.

They insist the country must prove that the program is for peaceful purposes and not for developing a nuclear bomb. People on the panel say diplomacy would be difficult and they point to Iran's revolutionary politics, its stance against Israel and its historical conflict with the United States. As you know, world leaders are deciding whether to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council over the nuclear issue.

Some positive developments coming out of Davos though. Billionaire Bill Gates has announced that his foundation will give a total of $900 million to help wipe out tuberculosis. It's part of a larger campaign against the disease that killed more than 1.5 million people around the world last year.

NGUYEN: I'm told that China, Brenda, is throwing quite a party. It's not just China. It's many Asian companies and he's also celebrating new year.

BERNARD: That's right. They are counting down to the new year right now. The Chinese new year is less than 30 minutes away. That's when fireworks will light up the skies. You're looking at earlier celebrations. This is the year of the dog. If you were born in 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982 or 1984, you were born under the sign of the dog.

The Chinese say this year you dog people can easily overcome any setbacks or obstacles, so look forward to a year in which you really shine personally or professionally. Some famous people born in the year of the dog are former President Bill Clinton, Michael Jackson and super star Andy Roddick and singer actress Jennifer Lopez.

NGUYEN: They are not going to be in the doghouse this year. It's going to be a good one for them.

BERNARD: That's right.

NGUYEN: I like that. All right, did you find out what your sign is?

BERNARD: I am a rabbit.

NGUYEN: A rabbit.

BERNARD: I can tell you we're good people.

NGUYEN: That's right. I'm a tiger. We don't know about Tony just yet. We'll still check on that one, though. Thank you, Brenda.

HARRIS: Good, good, that was fun. That was fun.

NGUYEN: At your expense, right?

All right. Well, actor Michael Douglas is trumpeting the value of star power at the world economic forum in Switzerland. This weekend, celebrities are rubbing elbows with the world's financial movers and shakers. Speaking to CNN, Douglas says celebrity can help advance personal causes in his particular case, issues like weapons of mass destruction and nuclear disarmament. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ACTOR/PRODUCER: As a celebrity or a face they are familiar with, sometimes it makes it easier and more comfortable. There's a familiarity that would not normally exist. But the question for me is, as more and more nuclear power plants are being developed around the world, how are we going to govern spent fuels, the possibility of creating a worse situation with nuclear weapons.


NGUYEN: We'll have more of my interview with Michael Douglas tomorrow on "CNN Sunday Morning."

HARRIS: Well, can you name all of the "American Idol" winners? What about winners of the "Amazing Race? Or what Whitney Houston says when she gets really upset? You know you can. We'll get a reality check on reality television next.

NGUYEN: Go ahead, girl, get down. Yes, look at that. Sing along while you take a double look because a former attorney general in a true karaoke moment you don't want to miss it. CNN SATURDAY MORNING continues in just a moment.


NGUYEN: Memorial is taking place in many areas today remembering the "Challenger," this one in Florida at Cape Canaveral. As you recall the Challenger exploded in the skies on this day 20 years ago, killing all seven astronauts on board. It happened 73 seconds after takeoff. And a lot of people coming out today as you can see in the live picture to remember, reflect and celebrate the lives lost on that day.

HARRIS: How many of you remember "Candid Camera"? Well, it's a program now referred to as the granddaddy of all reality television shows. It was a huge hit when it debuted in 1948 and it is still in reruns. Now fast forward five decades.

The whole concept of unscripted programs has once again taken hold with a vengeance. Joining us from Los Angeles now with a reality check on reality TV is CNN entertainment reporter look at her, there she is, Sibila Vargas. Good morning. Good to see you.

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. That's right. It was all about "Candid Camera" at the time. Then it was MTV's "The Real World" which debuted back in 1991 that really took reality TV to new levels. Now who would have thought that show would revolutionize American television by energizing a genre. It would also create a phrase that would become part of American lexicon, reality TV.


VARGAS (voice-over): The season's return of "American Idol" brings with it a reminder of how TV has changed over the last decade. Simply put, reality TV now rules. In fact the latest Nielsen ratings have five such programs in the top 20. Episodes of "American Idol" finished at number two and three. "Dancing with the Stars" sashayed in at number 10.

Sliding in at number 12, "Skating with Celebrities" and the "Dancing With the Stars" results show had result goods enough to place 16. In all, 77 million viewers tuned in during that week to watch the real madness. "TV Guide" senior editor Mary Murphy says get used to it.

MARY MURPHY, SR. EDITOR, TV GUIDE: Reality television is the television that everybody has predicted will go away. This season it's going to go away. This season it's going to go away. What happened it's just morphed into different reality television. It's not going away. Reality television is here to stay.

VARGAS: So what's the draw to shows like idol where contestants are publicly humiliated and ridiculed?

MURPHY: They watch because they identify. They think could I do it myself? They also watch because they want to see the insults. I mean it's part of our culture. It's part of the reason why people tune in to "American Idol." They want to see Simon insult people.

VARGAS: A theory supported by Emory University business professor Molly Epstein. She adds that viewers relate to the best of reality TV.

MOLLY EPSTEIN, PROF., EMORY UNIVERSITY: Some of the strong aspects about reality TV is that it enables people to create a sense of community. So even though they may be in their living room by themselves, they can often connect with the people on the reality show.

Same thing with my students going into the job market. They watch "The Apprentice" and they see what works and what doesn't. They feel a real kinship with the students who do things that they would do themselves and then they learn a little bit, too.

VARGAS: But not everything is positive in reality. There's a loss of jobs. Reality TV has put many actors, producers and writers involved with scripted TV programs out of work.

GALEN TONG, TV WRITER: Television writing has always been an incredibly competitive vocation. But over the past four or five years, it's been really difficult. A lot of my peers have really sort of moved on at this point because there's so few jobs. They can't find any work.

VARGAS: Tong says he's optimistic that scripted shows will make a comeback. In the meantime, does reality TV good outweigh the bad?

MURPHY: Television has been passive. Television has been the couch potato. Suddenly the couch potato is up off, conditioning, losing weight learning how to sing, taking dancing lessons, taking skating lessons and has been brought off the couch into center stage. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VARGAS: And I've actually, actually thought about taking some dancing lessons myself. Not that I'm bad or anything.

HARRIS: Come on.

VARGAS: But just to give you an idea of just how popular reality TV is, "American Idol" from season to season has not lost any of its luster. In fact, Wednesday's episode Tony, scored close to 32 million viewers in the 8:00 p.m. hour. That's an incredible number, 32 million viewers.

HARRIS: That was the episode where Simon jumped up in a little bit of a huff, right, a little upset.

VARGAS: Yes, that's right, with Randy and -- it's all just part of the drama.

HARRIS: What the heck did I just see there in the monitor there? That was outrageous what I just saw. Sibila, a couple of questions for you. We're talking about unscripted television here.

VARGAS: Right.

HARRIS: And I know that one of the issues behind the scenes on these shows is that the editors, who are really chiefly responsible for putting these story lines together, feel like they are being slighted somewhat don't they?

VARGAS: Exactly. Yes, sure. They have gotten together with the Writers Guild of America. Because what they are saying -- it's basically, they're story producers and story editors, they take hundreds of hours worth of tape and what they have to do is construct a story line and they build drama.

They build heroes, villains -- I mean, you know, look at Alma Rosa. She has been contending for years that reality TV is scripted. So they want, they want to get some compensation. They don't get paid as much as writers do, so that's what they want.

HARRIS: I'm curious if there are any other sort of unintended side effects for scripted television because of all this popularity over reality TV?

VARGAS: Well, speaking to Galen Tong, he was the writer, he said that if anything, what writers can learn from reality television is to write better scripts. I think they have seen some of that. "Desperate Housewives," "Lost," "CSI," some of these shows do very well in the numbers and they have come back. They've made a comeback.

There was a time when it was all about reality television and scripted drama was done. But after "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" and these shows, it seems to -- it's striking a chord with audiences and I think the scripts have gotten better.

HARRIS: There she is, the fabulous Sibila Vargas, first thing in the morning for us from Los Angeles. Sibila, good to see you.

VARGAS: Great to see you, as always.

NGUYEN: I see why you wanted to do that interview, Tony. I'm on to you. Hi, Sibila. Talk to you soon.

She was the attorney general of the United States. Straight ahead, you won't believe what Janet Reno is up to now. You have to see this. You might want to brace yourself, though. The story next on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.


HARRIS: Sock it to me! Much r-e-s-p-e-c-t for former Attorney General Janet Reno for her passionate rendition of the classic Aretha Franklin song. That was fun. Reno sang Thursday night at a karaoke fundraiser in Miami. The proceeds went to help fight poverty. Although she's battling Parkinson's disease, Reno hasn't stopped her public appearances or crooning. Oh you go, girl.

NGUYEN: Good for her. All for a good cause. Now that earns some respect.

HARRIS: Absolutely.

NGUYEN: It sure does.

Bonnie Schneider here to talk about the weather outside. Things not looking too bad, that's good.


NGUYEN: All the way up to the 50s. OK, thank you, Bonnie.

HARRIS: Our e-mail question of the morning and, man, these responses have been really, really outstanding. Where were you 20 years ago when Challenger exploded?

NGUYEN: Jim from New York writes, "I can remember being in the fourth grade and watching the loss with the entire school, K through sixth grade. Everyone was cheering as the shuttle lifted off and then there was complete silence after the explosion. I can remember not understanding immediately what had happened until we saw all the teachers crying. That's the only time the cafeteria was ever quiet."

HARRIS: And this from Mike from Raleigh, North Carolina, who writes, "my roommate and I skipped out of class to watch the lift off. Just as it was counting down, he turned to me and he said, I wonder what would happen if those rockets exploded. It happened less than 10 seconds later. We both were frozen. He got sick and I went pale. We walked out to tell others in our building what happened and no one would believe us. NASA wouldn't let something like that ever happen, was the reply we got. Then, we saw pieces fall into the ocean. We hoped that one was a capsule where the crew would be."

NGUYEN: Always hopeful. Larry says, "I'm a mail man for the U.S. Postal Service and I was delivering in Steelton, PA that day. An elderly woman invited me into her home because she couldn't believe what she was seeing on CNN. That image has stayed with me until this day." We appreciate your comments.

HARRIS: Next hour, his picture on the cover of "Rolling Stone" magazine is creating a big buzz this week.

NGUYEN: And a fuss by some folks. Rap superstar Kanye West as Jesus. What is that all about? The editor of "Vibe" magazine joins us live next hour to try to sort it all out.