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On the Story

The Stories Behind the Stories

Aired May 20, 2006 - 19:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR, ON THE STORY: This is CNN, and we are on the story. From the campus of the George Washington University in the heart of the nation's capital, our correspondents have the stories behind the stories they're covering. Suzanne Malveaux is on the immigration story, the speech, the political fallout.
Jamie McIntyre is on newly released pictures of the 9/11 attack at the Pentagon. Dan Lothian was wading through the floods in New England. Jacki Schechner talks to a college kid whose youth and tech savvy spelled victory in the Pennsylvania primary. And Sibila Vargas is on the story of the critics, the crowds and the code.

Welcome, I'm Joe Johns. I'll talk about the president's plan for National Guard troops along the Mexican border. With me here, Suzanne Malveaux and Jamie McIntyre. Our correspondents will be taking questions from the studio audience drawn from visitors, college students and people across Washington.

The president stepped back in front of the national debate over immigration this week with a speech, a trip to the border, and a sit- down interview with Suzanne Malveaux. Let's take a look at Suzanne's reporter's notebook.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was the first one-on- one interview that I had with the president, so of course, I was excited and terrified all at once.

Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. President.

It was really kind of amazing, because we're out there, literally at the border. It's 105 degrees, there's wind that's kicking up dust in your face. You're sweating and you have to still try to focus on the interview. You know they wanted to get out their own message on immigration reform. That's why we were at the border, so I knew I would start off asking at least one question about immigration reform, but there were so many other topics. You also have to be to interrupt him, which he absolutely hates, but you know that otherwise, he's going to filibuster. He's going to talk about what he wants to talk about.

They told us ahead of time that we each had three to five minutes. From the moment you sit in that seat there, the stop watch goes off and the White House is keeping time.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Suzanne, always a pleasure. Thank you. JOHNS: Suzanne Malveaux, first interview with the president. I was watching as the feed came back into the bureau here in Washington, D.C. I guess the question for you is, how do you prioritize? What's the first question for the president of the United States when you only have a few minutes?

MALVEAUX: Sure. I mean it was very interesting, the very beginning, of course they've got the five-minute mark, they have that sign that says five. There's always somebody who's directing the interview, but you figure your first question's going to be OK, they're here. We're at the border. They want to talk about immigration reform, so you're basically going to throw the administration a bone and talk about that. But I immediately wanted to go to the criticism, because there were people, specifically people in his own party, who were saying we believe this is a publicity stunt, and so you don't want to get caught up in kind of the whole stage craft of it all. You really do want to go directly to the issue, and that was the first thing, was immigration.

Secondly, there were so many other things -- there was Iraq, North Korea, and you're going through your notes, you're realizing time is running out, so you've got to pick, which one do you think is going to be most interesting? So I thought Iraq would be second. And of course, we talked about his political capital, the fact that his poll numbers are so low.

JOHNS: OK, so you're sitting there with the president of the United States, your first interview with him. It's the office of the president. The time's ticking away. Do you interrupt the president if he's -- do you have to let him finish every -- you know you only have so much time.

MALVEAUX: You saw there were a couple times where I actually I did try to interrupt the president, because otherwise, I mean, it's in his advantage to just talk and talk and talk about what he wants to talk about, but it's a real pet peeve of his. He hates it, but a couple of times I got in, because I wanted to talk about U.S. troops in Iraq.

But if you don't interrupt -- you've only got five minutes.

Right, he could talk the whole five minutes, so you've got to somehow balance that.

JOHNS: Get it all in. What's your name?

QUESTION: Robbie (INAUDIBLE) from Fair State University in (INAUDIBLE) Michigan.

JOHNS: What's your question?

QUESTION: I was wondering if you think Republican candidates will distance themselves from the Bush administration's reaction to the new immigration standards?

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, it's already happened. I mean, it really depends on just how close your race is. There are a lot of Republicans who say look, we just can't buy this, and this is not something that we're willing to accept. I know Jim Sensenbrenner, who really is the person who's going to be pushing this through in the House, this immigration reform that President Bush doesn't get. He said we see this as amnesty, we can not sign off on this and so there are already a lot of Republicans who just think this is dead on arrival and they're not willing to sign onto it. So it will be interesting to see how this debate unfolds.

JOHNS: What's your name?

QUESTION: Katherine Ross, Yorktown, Virginia. Why aren't amnesty or guest worker proposals talking about immigrants other than Mexicans?

MALVEAUX: Well, it's one of those points. It's a good point you make, and it's one of those things that I specifically wanted to talk to the president about, was whether or not there was a sense of racial or racist overtones to the debate, immigration reform. So I asked him directly that question, because earlier in the week, he said we will not discriminate against people, and I thought is he talking about when he said discrimination, the fact that it's Mexicans that many people are talking about? He said no, he doesn't believe that it's racist or that it's discriminating, but there are a lot of people who ask those questions. Why aren't we talking about Canadians or Chechens or other people who cross the borders illegally?

JOHNS: All right, so now it's time just to sort of take an audience question. A lot of critics of the president essentially have argued that what you have to do, frankly, is create a pathway for people who are already in the United States to stay here legally. Some people, of course, have called this amnesty. So, if you will, just sort of put your hands up real high and give me a showing -- how many of you favor the pathway to citizenship? And how many of you think it's unfair? Interesting. It sort of tracks in some ways to some of the polls you've seen. A lot of people don't mind the idea of creating that pathway to citizenship.

MALVEAUX: You hear a lot of people say that they believe it's perfectly acceptable for people to earn citizenship. I think what's happening here is you see a very specific group of conservative Republicans in the House who specifically disagree on that point, but it's a very powerful group, and it's also a group that the president really needs, or at least his party needs, for the mid-term elections. And so that is why you see a lot of the overtures to make that particular group happy in this debate.

JOHNS: There's been a lot of talk also about the president's speech this week and how at least he got somewhat of a bump in the polls, particularly from some conservatives who saw it as heading down the right road, but this isn't the end of the president's problems.

MALVEAUX: No. I mean -- a lot of problems, yes. I mean, the poll numbers, Iraq continues to be a big problem for the president. I mean, clearly this is something that they're trying to turn around. I think what happened this week, when you saw those one-on-one interviews, is that this is an administration that is at least trying to reach out to the media and in doing so, reach out to the American people in a much more direct way to try to make his case.

JOHNS: All right, Suzanne. You'll stay with us, of course. When the president wrapped up his speech, work was under way behind the scenes here at CNN and at our polling partner to measure public reaction to the speech. It's called "a flash poll," lots quicker than the usual variety, ready in just an hour or so. It found overwhelmingly positive reaction to the speech, 79 percent. Senior political analyst Bill Schneider was on the story Monday evening.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, most presidential speeches get a positive reaction and this was no exception.

Flash polls never had much enduring value. They're just an immediate impression and I'd say the most significant thing to me was that while the impression was, as always, very positive, the fact is, it was less positive than other speeches the president has given in the past.

BUSH: The United States must secure its borders.

SCHNEIDER: This is a two-sided issue with intense feelings on both sides.

Certainly framing the questions is crucial. And we try to sort of get a notion of what may change before and after the speech, and I think we captured it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Negative is 18 --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: yeah, less than an hour, 461 interviews.

SCHNEIDER: If you're looking at a sample of speech watchers, you're looking at a sample that's already inclined to support the president. I try to emphasize that in my reporting. That's why you can't really gauge the impact for a couple of days.

JOHNS: We'll follow up later with how the National Guard can back up the border patrol.

Next up, Jamie McIntyre on how new pictures bring back the memories and some of the wild theories about the 9/11 terror attacks.


JOHNS: CNN is on the story here at the George Washington University. This week, the government released new images showing a quick glimpse of the jetliner slamming into the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001. One goal of getting the tape out, to put to rest the conspiracy theories that claimed it never happened. On 9/11, Jamie McIntyre was at the Pentagon. Take a look at Jamie's notebook.

JAMIE McINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are still people who don't believe a plane really hit the Pentagon on September 11th. I was there, I saw the wreckage, I photographed it with my digital camera. One of the pictures I took shows a yellow fire hose stretched across the heliport surrounded with thousands of shards of metal from the plane. Another shows glass that appeared to be from the cockpit, and another was a part of the fuselage with the colors of American Airlines. In fact, I got arrested that day by an overzealous Pentagon police officer, for taking this particular picture of the Pentagon on fire. He confiscated my camera, but I got it back a few days later. All of the images were intact.

The only pieces left that you can see are small enough --

I was surprised to find that my own words are part of the conspiracy presentation. You can see on the Internet clips of me saying on September 11th, from my own close up inspection, there's no evidence of a plane crashing anywhere near the Pentagon. But I was answering a question, and the point I was making was about an eyewitness who thought a plane crashed near the Pentagon. I was saying no, not near the Pentagon. The only plane that crashed was at the Pentagon.

MALVEAUX: So, do you think finally this conspiracy theory is going to be put to rest?

McINTYRE: No. No, not even a little bit. In fact, I got emails and messages all week, saying how could I accept what the tape showed? The tape doesn't prove anything, they would say. It doesn't look like a plane, and so there are some people who just, no matter what you tell them, they're not going to believe it.

JOHNS: Question from the audience, Jamie.

QUESTION: Hi. I'm Keith Buzby from St. Mary's College in Maryland. I was just curious as to why this footage was not released sooner?

McINTYRE: You know, we filed a freedom of information act, CNN did, back in February of 2002 for the tape, for any tapes that were available, and the government didn't release them. They claimed that they were going to be held as evidence. They were eventually used as evidence in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial. When that trial was over and he was sentenced, that's why they eventually released it. But interestingly enough when it became obvious that the government wasn't going to release the tapes, unofficially, somebody in the government provided me with five key frames from the tape, which we were the first to broadcast back in March of 2002. So we did see those -- a part of those images. But this is the first time we actually got to see the full tape from two different cameras right at the same location. So you know, it's now part of the historical records.

JOHNS: So having your name and your reporting tied up in these conspiracy theories, what goes through your head? Is it disturbing? Are you indifferent about it?

McINTYRE: It's interesting. You go on the Internet and you look at these presentations and they're actually fairly convincing, and people have sent me, for instance, you know, very scholarly analysis of how it would be impossible for someone with the limited experience that these hijackers had to fly a plane at the Pentagon, and it's all very convincing in theory. But the fact is, it did happen, and if this tape was the only evidence we had about what happened, you'd have to say it's inconclusive. You can't tell from the tape. But we have all the other evidence. We know the plane took off. We know the people were on the plane. We know that parts of the plane was recovered. We know that remains were identified. I mean, it's not beyond a reasonable doubt. It's beyond any doubt, but it does show you how these Internet conspiracy theories can be very convincing, and in the absence of other evidence, you'd sometimes don't know what to believe, which is, by the way, what our job is supposed to be as reporters, is to put those things in context, to bring the facts to bear so people can make an intelligent and informed decision, not something that they got from some weird Web site on the Internet.

MALVEAUX: Do you think we're going to get more pictures? And what was it like really to see the images there? Did you have an emotional reaction? Obviously you were there at the day of the attacks.

McINTYRE: I remember the day of the attack. You know, you sort of get into the professional mode where you're doing your job, and I remember it really didn't hit me until the next morning when I got up that next morning and I put -- like a lot of Americans do, put their flag out, decided it was a good day to fly the flag and I remember that's when it really hit me. But I had a little bit of an emotional visceral response from all of the suggestions that it didn't really happen. That it was a cruise missile, or the Pentagon was deliberately blown up by a bomb. Because it's, it's amazing to anyone who was there, and of course, it's insulting to anyone who lost loved ones that day. So that's sort of a visceral reaction to that. And your question about other tapes, there are at least 80 other tapes that the government is holding onto. We're told that they don't really show much, but sources have told us that at least one of the tapes from a security camera at a nearby hotel may have captured the plane in the air. We filed another FOIA for that tape as well and we'll see if they ever release that.

JOHNS: So you also mention that you got locked up on 9/11.

McINTYRE: I was handcuffed briefly by an overzealous Pentagon police officer, who apparently decided that was the day to enforce the ban on photography on the Pentagon grounds. But after he arrested me, he realized there was this other big terrorist thing going on and it really didn't have anything to do with me and he eventually let me go.

JOHNS: The other question is just where was that camera?

McINTYRE: Well, on the side of the Pentagon. Of course the Pentagon has five sides. It was at a checkpoint where cars go through, and there's a little removable barrier, so it was one -- there were two cameras that were focused on basically cars coming in and out, and in some of the tapes, if you go look at them on the web, you'll see cars go by before it happens. And those are the only tapes that the Pentagon has that shows the plane.

JOHNS: The president's call for 6,000 National Guard troops to secure the border with Mexico brings up a host of questions, manpower, money, and politics. I'm back on the story after this.


JOHNS: CNN is on the story and one of our stories this week was reaction to the president's plan for thousands of National Guard troops to help seal off the Mexican border. I was watching this play out on Capitol Hill and wondering, why 6,000? Take a look.

Where did that number come from? It wasn't based on the length and challenges of the border, and it was not a number the border patrol requested. Instead, it was based on how many people the Guard could afford to send without interfering with the war in Iraq, hurricane preparedness or the daily lives of the guardsmen. Lieutenant General Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard, was asked --

LT. GEN STEVEN BLUM: How many National Guardsmen could we use without mobilizing them that would be on a volunteer basis? I told them that I could handle somewhere on the high end of about 6,000.

JOHNS: Up on Capitol Hill today, senators had their own questions, like how will the Guard keep its equipment maintained and ready for action if it's being used constantly on the border? The answer --

BLUM: the attention and assistance from the Congress --

JOHNS: Translation -- we'll be coming back to you for more money, but so far, there's no estimate of cost.

Jamie McIntyre, of course, that's what was happening up on Capitol Hill. What was your view at the Pentagon? How are the generals receiving this talk of using the National Guard?

McINTYRE: You know, it's interesting. The story was widely perceived by people as President Bush is sending troops to help guard the border, but what was really happening was President Bush was sending Guard troops to border states to help. Now, the same words are in both of those sentences, but they mean a completely different thing. They are not sending troops to stand on the border and bring all their equipment. They're using them to backfill a lot of positions that don't look all that glamorous. In fact, the fact of the matter is, you're not going to see many of these troops on the border at all. They'll be in places where you'll hardly notice them. And as you pointed out, it's all about how you can do a little bit to help without actually impacting the National Guard very much.

JOHNS: What's your name?

QUESTION: Mark Kapler (ph) Mount Airy, North Carolina.

JOHNS: Go at it.

QUESTION: It seems to me that building a fence or increasing surveillance at one portion of the border is just going to shift illegal crossings to another area. Isn't defending our border an all or nothing proposition?

McINTYRE: You know, from a military standpoint, they don't think you can seal the border. They have never been able to seal any border. They can't seal the border in Iraq, for instance, where people are coming in from Jordan and other countries near there. They don't think it can be done militarily, but to the extent that the military is involved, they believe that the answer is to you know, increase the civilian surveillance, and they also think there's a lot of things that they can do along the border that will help. Is it the solution to the problem? No. It probably gets to the policies, which I would defer to Suzanne --

MALVEAUX: from the political --

McINTYRE: enforcement --

MALVEAUX: Right, from the political point of view, I mean certainly it's not something that the president would endorse, because he's working with Mexican President Vicente Fox, and it doesn't really send a very good signal to the Mexican government that, hey, this is an open border, we're working with you. In some ways it indicates to them that where this is a militarized zone and that's something that they're trying avoid.

McINTYRE: Wouldn't they say the solution is more of having a policy that's going to deal with the immigration problem, not just trying to erect an impenetrable barrier?

MALVEAUX: Part (INAUDIBLE) would definitely be, we're going to have this temporary guest worker program so that the supplies and the personnel that you're using to basically run after these folks, you don't have to worry about them. We've got a plan in place where they're coming and going or they're staying in the United States, and then we'll use our resources to really protect the border.

JOHNS: Plus, lots of gadgets, plenty of gadgets. They call it SBI net, secure border initiative and they're starting out with something like $2 billion to put different types of cameras and sensors and eyes in the sky out there on that border. What's your name? What's your question?

QUESTION: I'm Aaron (INAUDIBLE) from Laramie, Wyoming. I was wondering, with Governor Schwarzenegger of California speaking out against using National Guard forces in the weeks prior to President Bush's address, is the Bush administration taking steps to gain the support of other border states' governors?

McINTYRE: One of the things that they make clear is that this is a voluntary program, in the sense that if states don't want the guard help, no one's going to force them to take it. So if Governor Schwarzenegger decides he doesn't want to activate troops in his state or take troops from another state, he doesn't have to do that, but it's an offer of assistance.

MALVEAUX: And one thing, too, that they kind of ran into a problem with, is it was Governor Schwarzenegger, it was Governor Bill Richardson, that they didn't really consult ahead of time the way they needed to to get them on board with this plan. It was something they talked to their staff, but it wasn't President Bush picking up the phone or someone at a high level. And they felt that this isn't something that was going to work for them, and that's something the administration, of course, has to deal with now.

JOHNS: And the other half of that also is Governor Rick Perry of Texas is fully on board, says he wants 3,000 National Guard. So he sort of balances it out, because he has a lot of border down there on the southwest side of the country.

McINTYRE: It happened very fast. It hit very quickly. This was not a story that built for weeks ahead of time. It's like one day you walk in, they're talking about sending guards to the border.

JOHNS: You bet. Coming up, will the audience ignore the critics and make ""The Da Vinci Code"" a hit? Sibila Vargas coming up on that story in Los Angeles.

And elsewhere, Brooke Anderson was keeping watch on the opening at the Cannes film festival.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are so many challenges when covering such a huge event as this. Listen, there are more than 60 films from more than 30 countries being shown here, so it can be overwhelming. Covering this beat all the time allows me to really develop relationships with the celebrities and with their publicists, and it doesn't hurt that we're CNN.

For example, I was talking to Ron Howard earlier in the week, and he actually asked if the interview could be extended because he's a fan of CNN. So I, in the end, got a longer interview with the director of ""The Da Vinci Code"" than most. On the outside to the viewer it may seem extremely glamorous, but we are up at all hours of the night making sure that video gets from France to the states. It's quite a process, but in the end, a very rewarding one.


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: More of ON THE STORY in just a moment.

But first, the stories making news right now.

New Orleans voters electing a mayor to help lead one of the biggest reconstruction projects in U.S. history.

And look at that. There's a quick hug between the candidates there, Mayor Ray Nagin and Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu today.

Bringing you all the moments here.

Stay with CNN for complete election coverage throughout the night.

Iraq's parliament approves a new government. All cabinet jobs are now filled, except for three of them. Two are critical -- defense and interior.

Meantime, a roadside bomb in Sadr City killed 22 people and injured 58.

Also, a dozen bodies were found around Baghdad today, some of them showing signs of torture.

Now, coming up at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, a special edition of "CNN PRESENTS." "HOW TO ROB A BANK" -- a look at how the bad guys exploit stolen identities to bilk banks and cheat credit card companies.

And at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, it's "LARRY KING LIVE" interviewing Merv Griffin. He's going to take you back 20 years, as this talk show host giant reflects on the stars he brought into America's homes.

That's what's happening right now in the news.

I'm Carol Lin.

Now back to ON THE STORY.

JOHNS: CNN is ON THE STORY here on the campus of the George Washington University in the nation's capital.

A best-selling book, an avalanche of publicity, tons of criticism -- can "The Da Vinci Code" come out on top?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a great, great movie. The critics are crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it was, you know, it was what it was. I didn't think it was -- it didn't blow me away. But it was pretty good.


JOHNS: Sibila Vargas has been watching moviegoers -- hi, Sibila.

How are you doing?

Thanks for taking time out for us.

We have a question...


Thank you so much, Joe.

JOHNS: We have a question from the audience.

What's your name?

DOUG: I'm Doug from Omaha, Nebraska.

JOHNS: And what's your question?

DOUG: Yes, I was wondering, do you think the Catholic Church's boycott on the film will actually increase or decrease attendance? I was wondering in particular, doesn't the boycott itself create a buzz that might cause more people to go see the film?

VARGAS: The controversy is only going to help this film. I mean we've seen examples in the past, "Fahrenheit 9/11" being one of them. "Passion of the Christ" came with so much controversy. And what it did for film, and it just helped the film.

And this is a film that is an adaptation of a Dan Brown novel that sold 60 million copies. You've got to know that people are going to want to see this film, especially the fan following that it already has.

Some people are out here. We're at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood. And, you know, as you know, there is going to be some protest and it's probably going to happen all throughout the weekend and, you know, the following weeks after this film is coming out. We've heard about all the protests that have been planned.

So I've got about four people out here and this is part of being on the story as a reporter. I mean you've got to contend with this.

I understand they're trying to make a point, but it just seems interesting that every time the light goes on or every time my cameraman starts, you know, focusing on me and I start to talk, the crowd gets -- and, Rick, you could even kind of like pan a little bit to them -- it just gets louder and louder.

So it's kind of hard to hear you guys, but that's just part of being on the story.

JOHNS: Another question from the audience, Sibila.

What's your name?

ERIC: Eric (ph).

Ogden Community College, Des Plaines, Illinois.

Why do you suppose Hollywood is celebrating topics that could be considered blasphemy?

VARGAS: Hollywood wants to make money and that is the bottom line. So, you know, Dan Brown has said that this is a fictional story. Of course, the Christian groups that, you know, don't feel -- I mean certainly don't feel that way. You've got the Catholics, as well, you know, that don't feel that way. They do feel that this is blasphemy.

But it depends on who you talk to. I mean you speak to Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, they say this is a book. This has -- this is not blasphemy. This is just fiction. They're using -- they're all characters, nothing is real. So, you know, it depends on how you look at it.

Now I am very -- I love my faith. I'll be honest with you, I didn't read the book because I made a commitment and I decided that I didn't want to do that. But as a journalist, I knew that it would come to this day, that I would have to be talking about this film. And I knew that I'd have to go see this film, and I did. I went to go see "The Da Vinci Code." And I went in there with tremendous skepticism.

But I have to admit that while I was sitting there, I got taken away into the movie and I didn't think, as a Christian, that it was an attack on Christianity. I saw it simply as a work of fiction.

I have a very strong belief and my convictions are there, so I don't believe that my faith was compromised. But I'm not sure how anybody else would feel.

I'm just telling you from my perspective, I saw it as a complete work of fiction and just a book. If anything, I just saw that Dan Brown is a good writer.

JOHNS: Sibila, one thing seems true, and that is that the buzz from the critics has been mixed. There have been some critics who have suggested it's a lousy film and there have been a lot of others who have said it's a pretty good film.

What are the stakes for Sony and how has it been handling this sort of mixed picture?

VARGAS: You know, it's very interesting. The stakes are very high. I mean they're hoping to make anywhere from $60 to $68 million. That's a lot of money. Last week, "Mission Impossible" came out and made $48 million, and that was considered a disappointment. But, you know, Ron Howard and the makers of this film, they're very confident that this film is going to do well. And, again, I mean, they've got this incredible recipe already. I mean, the fact that Dan Brown's film -- I mean the book -- sold 60 million copies is certainly not going to hurt this film. They're very confident despite what some of the critics are saying.

On Wednesday, the movie screened here in Los Angeles. It was one of the first and only screenings in Los Angeles. And I guess we all went in there with an expectation that the film was not going to be good because of what we had heard in Cannes.

And we sat there, and I've got to tell you people were not laughing in inappropriate places the way they said that they did at Cannes. People were into it. And at the very end of the film, I took a poll of all the industry types that were there and they really enjoyed the film.

So I guess it really, it depends. And I think the fact that maybe in France, it was the first time that they were watching the film, so I guess the expectations were even higher. But when you go in thinking that the film is going to be a bomb, you've got nowhere to go but up.

JOHNS: You bet.

Thanks so much, Sibila Vargas, in Hollywood.

Want to know who might need a break this weekend?

What about those people fighting floodwaters across wide areas of New England?

Dan Lothian back on that after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I can do is just keep pumping and hope for the best, hope my pumps outlast the river.



JOHNS: CNN is ON THE STORY of heavy rains and widespread flooding in New England, the worst since the 1930s.

Boston bureau chief Dan Lothian put on his boots and waded right in.

Check out his Reporter's Notebook.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the biggest problem is that you have flooding in so many different areas and you're trying to find out where is the best story. Sometimes you'll get a report that in one city there's a lot of flooding, that people are being evacuated. But by the time you get there, it's already taken place.

It didn't take long for this neighborhood along the river to be swallowed by water. You always have to try to find your interviews. We happened to see the man outside pumping the water out of his basement and he was an incredible story.

So we just walk around, the game plan being that we want to find someone who is doing something and has a great story to tell. And we also seem to find that person.

Sometimes you're just kind of walking around and you see characters. And we saw a senior citizen. He was about 77 or so years old. And he was around when the last big storm came by in 1936.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole area was a disaster.

LOTHIAN: They just want to talk and tell their story.


JOHNS: Dan Lothian joins us now -- Dan, we have a question from the audience for u.

What's your name?


I'm Kristin Anchelini (ph) from Stonehill College.

And I was just wondering if you feel that the shortcomings for Katrina have made the emergency response efforts in New England more adept to solve the problems in this area.

JOHNS: I think in some ways, yes.

In fact, I heard some emergency management officials talking and they said that, you know, that storm really helped them prepare for this storm and for other storms, because they've seen the mistakes of the past. They've seen what happened in Katrina. And no one wants that to be repeated.

So any time that there is a big storm coming, everyone wants to get out in front of it.

JOHNS: And a question from...

MICHAEL MYNA: I'm Michael Myna (ph), also from Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts.

my question, sir, is some of Mitt Romney's critics have argued that he's using his position as governor solely to further his presidential aspirations.

Have you observed any of that while covering the story?

LOTHIAN: You know, his critics have said that. But in this particular case, I think he was a governor who was going out, trying to reassure the public that they would be taken care of. I mean the big concern is any time you lose your home, any time you have been evacuated, you want to know if your state is going to be there for you, if there's going to be enough money.

And certainly the governor has come out and said that the state would help the victims of this storm and that he would call on the federal government to pitch in money, as well.

JOHNS: So, Dan, how bad is this really?

You know, after Hurricane Katrina, it's sort of the storm you're going to measure all other weather problems by.

Are we just sort of missing the boat here with what's going on in New England?

LOTHIAN: You know, this really was -- it was a big story. It still is a big story. You had more than a week of heavy rains here and it seemed like it wouldn't end. But when you're out covering a story like this, you do tend to measure it now by Katrina. I mean Katrina was so massive. Any other time you would have said this is a massive story. But when you compare it to Katrina, it really pales. It doesn't measure up to that.

On the other hand, if you're the person who loses a home or who has major damage, then this certainly is a big deal.

MALVEAUX: Dan, how do you compare it -- you were also covering Hurricane Katrina and getting people to talk to you, to open up. The -- I guess the level of suffering that people are going through.

LOTHIAN: Well, I think that it's always difficult to get people to talk whenever they're going through something so difficult, when they have been evacuated from their home, when they realize that they could have lost their home. People simply don't want to talk, most of the times.

In fact, I ran into that. I walked up to a woman and she was trying to get back into her home to get her insurance papers and she simply walked away, did not want to have anything to do with us.

On the other hand, sometimes people want to talk because it makes them feel good. It's something that they can look at as a positive in the midst of their tragedy.

MCINTYRE: Do you feel, I mean, do you feel at all that you're intruding on their guilt -- I mean, on their grief -- as you're doing these interviews? Do you have to have a special sensitivity?

And does it affect you personally when you see what people are going through and how they feel about it?

LOTHIAN: Well, I definitely think that you have to be sensitive to the devastation that people are going through. I mean obviously it's a difficult time for them, but we also have a job to do. So you have to be very careful. It's not just when you're dealing with a flooding story. If you go into a situation where a mother has just lost her son to gang violence, whatever it might be, you always have to be sensitive because, yes, you feel like you might be taking advantage of them, so you're very careful and you're very courteous. And certainly if they push back and you know that they really don't want to talk, then that's when you have to back away.

JOHNS: Boston bureau chief Dan Lothian, thanks much.

Talk to you soon.


Take care.

JOHNS: Fresh reminders in elections this week that the Internet can make or break a politician.

We're back ON THE STORY online with Internet reporter Jacki Schechner about how one young man is clicking his way to a political career. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


We want to know what topics you want us to cover.

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Here's a winning combination in the Pennsylvania Republican primary this week -- youth, computers and no connection with a controversial state pay raise lawmakers gave themselves.

Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is on that story -- Jacki, take it away.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, I want to introduce you to Mark Harris.

He just won the Republican primary for the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives and he's 21 years old. He is graduating from George Washington University this weekend.

And we want to welcome him and talk about the Internet and politics and how the heck you pulled this off.

So, Mark, thank you for joining us.

First of all, what role did the Internet play in this campaign for you?

MARK HARRIS, SAVETHEGOP.COM: Well, I think it played a big role in getting our message out there. We had a message about the future of Pennsylvania, where we wanted Pennsylvania to go and returning back to the principles of our party. And the Internet allowed us -- even though we were outspent substantially by our opponent -- to get that message out there.

SCHECHNER: Now, we've talked a little bit about neutralizing money on the Internet.

How does that work?

HARRIS: Well, I mean, in large part it's about, you know, traditional campaigns rely on television, radio, direct mail. And while we certainly did that, we used the Internet and our Internet message and Internet grassroots to basically take and amplify that message.

SCHECHNER: And like a lot of political campaigns, this one got a little negative. You were able to use the Internet to counter some of that negativity, too.

HARRIS: Yes. We had to -- over a thou -- $100,000 spent against us in negative campaigning and we used the intention to get in touch with volunteers who then made phone calls, knocked on doors and did all the things necessary to get the truth really out there about what was going on in this race.

SCHECHNER: On a wider scale on the Internet -- Joe.

JOHNS: So, Mark, are you starting to get calls now from people who are wondering how you did it and they want to try to replicate your success?

HARRIS: I haven't gotten any yet, but, you know, I certainly think that it's a simple message of, you know, really believing in changing -- you know you've got to have a message to sell and then using the Internet to do it.

JOHNS: How much were you innovating and how much did you sort of work with ideas that had already been done before?

HARRIS: I think it was part of both. We were using techniques that we had first used in the Toomey for U.S. Senate race. I was involved in and some other grassroots there, to build a grassroots force of young conservatives and then sell that message to the voters.

But, you know, we used some interesting techniques called -- such as distributed phone banking, where we allowed, you know, our volunteers who weren't necessarily in the Pittsburgh area to make calls into the district and talk to -- to our voters and sell our message.

JOHNS: What's your name?

What's your question?

CAMILLE KELLERT: Camille Kellert (ph) in Iowa.

And we had a young man in Iowa elected mayor this year who was a senior in high school. And I'm interested in the trend and increasing young people in political offices and government.

JOHNS: So you've seen a lot of that, a lot of people very young now jumping in perhaps because of the Internet?

HARRIS: Yes, I mean I think it's the Internet and it's a feeling that we can make a difference now. It's not just restricted to the same mediums that it has been. I mean we had high schoolers that were very involved in our campaign, getting up at 5:00 a.m. and making a difference.

Let me tell you, high schoolers getting up at 5:00 a.m. to be involved in politics is not a normal occurrence.

JOHNS: That's for sure.

What's your name?

VIRGINIA ENSLEY: Virginia Ensley (ph) from St. Mary's College in Maryland. My question is do you think that blogs are a trustworthy way of obtaining information about candidates since anybody can post a blog online?

SCHECHNER: Do you want me to take that one?

JOHNS: Credibility on the Net.

SCHECHNER: Well, I get that question a lot. And as far as the information that we disseminate, we make sure that we double check everything before we put it on the air.

But I think you have to be a discriminating reader. And I think that Mark will probably agree with me on that one, is that you have to consume in a responsible manner and you have to be aware of what you're looking at and where it's coming from and what the agenda is.

So that's -- that's very important, too. I think blogs are credible, but you have to know what blogs you're reading and the angle that people are taking when they're writing a blog.

JOHNS: Jacqui, Mark, thanks very much.

This week took us from Washington to the Mexican border to the Cannes Film Festival.

We're back with what we're expecting ON THE STORY next week.


JOHNS: Keep yourself ON THE STORY at

Our Web site tells you about the panel, the topics and how to get tickets to join our audience.

Let's take a quick look ahead ON THE STORY.

What are you looking at next week -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, I think President Bush is going to be traveling. He's going to basically be selling two things -- immigration reform and the war on terror.

JOHNS: And Jamie McIntyre?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, it's spring and the fighting is picking up in Afghanistan. We're going to be looking more at that. And plus we're waiting for U.S. commanders in Iraq to make recommendations on troop reductions. They were supposed to have done it by now. They haven't yet.

JOHNS: And "A.C. 360" will be back on the border as the immigration debate continues.

Coming up, an all new "CNN PRESENTS" hour "HOW TO ROB A BANK." This is modern robbery -- no gun-and note to the teller, but instead stealing identities and credit cards.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: David George was a modern day alchemist. He could turn junk mail into cold cash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably the most prolific criminal I've ever arrested.

GRIFFIN: When they searched David George's suburban home, bundles of stolen mail were everywhere -- in the drawers, the closets and attic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It had to do with identity theft and credit card fraud. We found it at that house.

GRIFFIN: There were credit card applications in the bathroom and 115 credit cards in every name but David George. It took a combination of junk mail, a stolen identity, and a phony address.


GRIFFIN: David George used the credit card for cash advances. Essentially, loans -- totaling $2,100.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE VOICE ON ATM MACHINE: Don't forget to take your cash.


JOHNS: The new "CNN PRESENTS" -- "HOW TO ROB A BANK," coming up next.

Thanks to my colleagues and our audience here at the George Washington University.

And thank you for watching ON THE STORY.

We'll be back each week, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Straight ahead, a check on what's making news right now.