updated 3/21/2006 11:04:59 AM ET 2006-03-21T16:04:59

Guests: Megan Basham, Joshua Rothkopf, Elana Schor, Celia Wexler, Melissa Grego, Rick Ross, Giuliana Depandi, David Hans Schmidt

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Right now in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, three years in Iraq and President Bush marking the third anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq with this message:  “We will win.” 

Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY no passport required, only common sense allowed. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, thanks so much for being with me tonight.  In a minute, should we still be in Iraq?  Plus the crisis for American workers.  I‘m going to tell you what happened when Congress began fixing the pension system.  The result, well, lobbyists and fat cats got their fix in, but regular working people got a raw deal.  It‘s a scandal and it‘s tonight‘s, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY investigation. 

And later, did Tom Cruise threaten the TV networks because it offended his beliefs in Scientology?  We‘ll show you the power possibly of scientology and Cruise. 

But first, three years ago, American troops began their assault on Saddam Hussein‘s Republican guard.  Within weeks U.S. armed forces had raced across the desert in record time toppling a dictator and forever changing the face of Middle Eastern politics.  But within weeks, defeat was seemingly snatched from the jaws of victory and three years later, Americans have had enough.  Still, the president used today‘s anniversary to preach patience and explain why Iraq still matters.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I understand how some Americans have had their confidence shaken.  Others look at the violence they see tonight on their television screens and they wonder how I can remain so optimistic about the prospects of success in Iraq.  They wonder what I see that they don‘t.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, the Iraq war is the topic of tonight‘s “Congressional Memo.”  You know, the Iraq war continues to divide America and the world but after the shouting dies down and you figure out what both sides are saying, you learn that Republican and Democratic leaders just aren‘t that far apart.  And while I encountered political posturing in Congress, and as a member of the Armed Services Committee, I never saw a political fight where there was so much a smoke and so little fire.  You know, Republicans bash Democrats for being weak on defense and Democrats bash Republicans for leading America into the deadly war that they believe does little to protect America. 

But listen to this a little more closely to what the major party leaders are saying.  And you‘re going to see, there‘s not a dimes worth of difference between either party.  President Bush supported this war.  The Democrats 2004 nominee, John Kerry, supported this war.  And the Democrats 2008 candidate, Hillary Clinton, supported this war.  Likewise, they all warned us, everyone warned us of Iraq‘s weapons of mass destruction.  All of them of them voted for the invasion.  All of them supported for the Patriot Act, all of them oppose immediate withdrawal from Iraq and all refuse to name a date certain when American troops should come home.  What‘s the difference? 

Well, the Democrats will tell you the president screwed up.  But heck, even the president is saying he screwed up.  So again, no difference.  The biggest difference seems to be the Democratic leaders are still refusing to admit that they were wrong—wrong about voting for the war, if in fact it was wrong.  Wrong about WMDs, wrong about giving this president a blank check to go into a war that they want their base to think they opposed. 

Friends, they didn‘t oppose that war.  And leaders like Hillary Clinton still don‘t oppose that war.  And if you don‘t believe me, then try to find a quote by the New York senator calling for the withdrawal of U.S.  troops.  You won‘t find it, because it doesn‘t exist. 

Senator Clinton, like George Bush, and like every politician in Washington who has a real shot at being elected to the White House in 2008 knows that leaving Iraq now would destroy American credibility across the globe for the next 50 years.  And even if they believe George Bush weakened our standing by entering Iraq, they now know that surrendering to terrorists simply is not an option. 

So, the next time you hear a politician whining about his opponent‘s Iraq‘s policy you can be sure that it‘s much ado about nothing, because when it comes to getting out of Iraq, Republicans may be clueless, but Democrats are spineless.  And that‘s tonight‘s “Congressional Memo.” 

Now, this white-hot debate surrounding the Iraq war coincides with the release for an angry new movie called “V for Vendetta.”  A vulgar, ham-fisted attempt at political protest, “V” refers to America as the world‘s leper colony, casts a conservative Christian as the film‘s 21st century Hitler, blames America‘s war for the start of a British police state, and cast a terrorist as its hero.  But friends, at least the film has a happy ending.  The movie‘s hero, though dead, inspires his followers to blow up Parliament.  Oh, by the way, the movie pulled in more than $26 million in its opening weekend, becoming the top movie in America.  And I was one of those who sat through the film with my two boys. 

So, the big question tonight is, why did this movie strike a chord?  With me now, we‘ve Joshua Rothkopf, he‘s a film critic with “Time Out New York” magazine.  We also have film critic Megan Basham with TownHall.com. 

Josh let me begin with you.  “Vendetta” seemed to spew hatred towards this president, this country, Christianity—I mean, you name it.  All the sacred cows were blown away.  So why was it the top film of the week?  

JOSHUA ROTHKOPF, FILM CRITIC “TIME OUT NEW York”:  Well, I think that

that‘s a good question.  These are the Wachowski brothers, they are the producers of the “Matrix” trilogy and they‘re also behind this film as well.  I have a hard time connecting the audience response to the film with a sudden politicization of the audience itself.  This is a big budget Hollywood action film, it‘s also not competing against other notable films at the moment.  It‘s the only film out there, really, of any size or interest.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Megan, let me bring you in here.  You saw the film, like I saw the film.  I mean, you had again this.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC, TOWNHALL.COM:  Unfortunately.  

SCARBOROUGH:  This Hitler character, we were told conservative, he‘s obviously a Christian, the Nazi symbol was a cross with two lines across it.  America was the evil empire, it started the British police state.  I could go on and on and on and on, it spewed anti-American hatred.  And yet, it was a big hit this weekend.  What does that say about where American‘s minds are.  

BASHAM:  First of all, I don‘t know that I call it a big hit.  It made $26 million which, it was No. 1 this weekend, but that‘s hardly on par with, you know, some other really big box office movies.  Others, you know, recently “Madea‘s Family Reunion” made around $30.  

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, but I‘m not comparing it to other—let‘s talk—it‘s the No.  1 movie this weekend and the happy ending had Parliament being blown up.  What does that say?  

BASHAM:  Well, they‘re aiming it at adolescent boys, so that‘s what you—I mean, basically you‘re getting them saying, yeah, the terrorist is a hero, yes it‘s anti-Bush.  But primarily, you‘re saying we‘re blowing things up, we‘ve got a pretty girl, it‘s by the makers of the “Matrix” and they‘re aiming it at an adolescent audience, which unfortunately can‘t sift through the propaganda properly, I don‘t think, at least according to the boys who were sitting in front of me in the theater.  So, I think that‘s why—that‘s really the only response you‘re seeing.  They‘re targeting it at that demographic because that‘s the demographic this still goes to the movies.  

SCARBOROUGH:  So, you are not concerned by the fact that it was the top movie of the week.  You don‘t think this says anything about America‘s standing, well, not only in the world, but among its own people.  

BASHAM:  No.  I don‘t think it says anything about it at all.  If anything says that, it‘s the people talking about it, reading, you know, about it in the paper, reading articles about it, the fact that we‘re talking about it on your shows, those are the adults, and that‘s what they are gathering from it.  It really—it was a teenage audience, at least when I went to see it, and I understand you saw it with your son or sons.  That that‘s primarily who‘s turning out for these kinds of movies.  And they know that, that‘s why they market them that way.

ROTHKOPF:  To that I think.

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s take another critique at the movie that poses a question, why does Hollywood always pick on western democracies and ignore the real tyrannical governments out there? 

Quote, “Beijing sells the organs of executed prisoners.  Kim Jong IL deliberately starves his subjects while pursuing nuclear weapons, Iran puts out contras on novelists.  When was the last time Hollywood made a big-budget film about the agony of existence in one of these nightmare states?”   That‘s from FrontPageMagazine.com.

That‘s a good question, Josh.  But I think the part of the movie that struck me maybe s the most interesting was the fact that while this religious leader was bashed, you actually bashed, you actually had another hero in the film put to death because he had a Quran in his home.  A beautiful book that the police state in Britain just couldn‘t stand.  What was that all about?  

ROTHKOPF:  Well, I actually—if the film is glorifying terrorism, I don‘t think it‘s doing such a great job of it.  The hero, “V” of the film is actually—he‘s kind of deranged in the film and he brainwashes the Natalie Portman character and I don‘t really think he‘s presented as particularly heroic.  

BASHAM:  He doesn‘t brain wash her, he opens her eyes.  That‘s the way they portray it to us, as though she really doesn‘t see what‘s going on.  Just like the “Matrix,” she doesn‘t see the way she‘s being controlled by the government and by the end, she understand and that‘s why she‘s the one who actually blows up Parliament.  

SCARBOROUGH:  And again, also, Josh, at the end of the movie, the climax of the movie, you‘ve got thousands and thousands and thousands of people coming out emulating this man, wearing his uniform as they march on Parliament to celebrate Parliament being blown to bits.  It seems to me again, I mean, if we had had a movie in America that had communists—I mean, it‘s the equivalent of Congress being blown up or the White House being blown up and the audience cheering.  That‘s not troubling at all to you, Josh?  

ROTHKOPF:  I Think that, like your other guest has said, I think she‘s correct, the appeal of the film is not seeing our institutions of government blown up.  It‘s the same appeal as a movie “Independence Day.”  It‘s seeing stuff blowing up, period.  I think that if you take a look at the actual criticism of the movie, and the discussion, most critics do not love this movie.  It‘s been kind of met with negative reviews, including the “New York Times,” the “Wall Street Journal,” most people agree that it‘s very muddled politically and it‘s not coherent, it‘s more of an anarchist statement.  And I actually—I‘m surprised that more conservatives haven‘t come behind this film because it actually says, look how irresponsible.

(CROSSTALK)

ROTHKOPF:  .look how irresponsible these subversives are.

BASHAM:  Even the author acknowledges that.  

SCARBOROUGH:  The thing is—yeah, it is what the author says.  The author says “It‘s been turned into a Bush era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country. The intent of the film is nothing like the intent of the book as I wrote it.”

And I want to thank both of you for being with us.  I appreciate it.  I just want to say this in closing, though, conservatives don‘t like this film for several reasons.  First of all, again, the Nazi symbol is a Christian cross.  You‘ve got a conservative Christian leader who plays the Hitler role.  Again, you have the blowing up of the Parliament as being the great climax in this film.  The difference between “Independence Day” and “V for Vendetta” is when the White House blew up, that was a bad thing.  The audience didn‘t cheer. 

In this brave new world that we‘re living in now, where movie tickets, whether you‘re talking about “Syriana” or whether you‘re talking about “Paradise Now” or whether you‘re talking about the “Constant Gardener,” you know, this brave new world that Hollywood is taking us to has audiences cheering when Parliament blows up, when anarchists become heroes.  I mean, friends, it is a terrible, terrible movie that‘s sending a terrible message to our children.  I sat through it, fortunately, with my two boys and as we left, I explained what it was all about.  How many other people out there, not only children, but teenagers and college-aged students are going to see the movie and believing, again, that terrorism is a positive thing, that evil Christianity is evil. 

Is it—again, I‘d tell you to go see the movie, but I don‘t want the filmmakers to make anymore money than they‘ve already made this weekend. 

Now still to come, did Tom Cruise stare down a media giant because it went after Scientology?  Is Scientology that strong?  We‘ll have that story plus—did backroom deals in the Washington put American workers on the losing end of the country—of this country‘s going pension problem?  That‘s coming up next in the “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY Investigation.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It started out as an idea to protect your pension plan, but after the lobbyists and fat cats get their hands on the pension reform program, nothing good happened unless of course you own a multinational corporation.  We‘ll have that shocking story straight ahead as SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY continues.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Our country‘s teetering on the edge of a pension crisis but are leaders doing enough to protect American workers?  Of course not.  Tonight, we‘re learning the details of how members of the United States Congress caved into special interests, lobbyists, and big corporations and put workers‘ hard-earned retirement money at risk.  Put your retirement money, your pension plan at risk.  Now, Congress is supposed to be protecting you.  Right?  By making sure that companies put aside enough money to make good on their pension promises.  But instead, a bill currently is being completed in Washington, D.C.  that is jammed full of giveaways and special exceptions for major corporations, all at the expense of the working Americans. 

Take a look at this.  Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson lobbied to get a break for Delta, based in his home state.  Senator Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey engineered an exemption for Jersey-based Prudential Insurance.  House majority leader, John Boehner, put a special exemption for UPS in the House version of the bill.  And Ohio Senator Mike DeWine put a provision in that would give a break to Smithfield Farm Meats, a company with major home operations in his home state. 

And friends, you can go through this bill and see where it‘s packed with one special interest after another.  Again, Republicans are doing it, Democrats are doing it.  They‘re worried about themselves.  They‘re worried about re-election, they‘re not worried about you and whether your pension plan is solvent or not. 

Now, it‘s one of the most dangerous areas where special interests are wining while American workers will losing.  And we talked to MSNBC‘s David Shuster, he‘s on Capitol Hill with the very latest—David.  

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well Joe, this is a classic case of Congress taking a problem and possibly making it worse.  Everybody in Congress and the Bush administration agrees that companies are not doing enough to cover the liabilities, in other words, what they owe workers as far as pension guarantees and when they come up shot, it‘s the government that has to cover the pensions and already the government agency which does that is $23 billion in the red.  So a year ago, the Labor Administration, labor secretary Elaine Chao came up with a series of proposals, but as you might expect, corporations didn‘t like it.  The corporations said the proposals were too tough and would force them to put too much money aside and hurt their short-term profits.  So then the lobbying kicked in and a series of senators and congressmen who represent various agents, various businesses from the airlines to Wall Street firms to even an agricultural firm, they all, essentially changed the legislation and gave the corporations what they wanted.  The corporations now have $160 billion less that they have to contribute over the next three years, in other words, that puts an even greater burden on the government and increases the likelihood that the pension money will not be there. 

The White House is promising a veto if the legislation does not change and there‘s still some negotiations ahead.  But again, the people who may end up suffering in this, if the legislation does not change, are the workers that these pensions are supposed to protect.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks a lot David.  You know, this is a real crisis.  Look at some of the major U.S. companies don‘t even have enough money to make pension payments right now.  Sara Lee, well they have enough in the fund to pay about 69 percent of their pensions.  And Ford can pay about 83 percent.  And Exxon Mobil, a company that recently recorded record profits only has enough money in their pension fund to pay 61 percent of the retirees.  Sixty-one percent for Exxon Mobil! A corporation that is breaking profit records.  These people are making more money than any other corporation in the history of the United States of America.  And yet, they are only funding what, 65, 70 percent of their pensioners? 

Tell you what, we need to protect the American worker.  Unfortunately, this bill that‘s on Capitol Hill is designed to strengthen the pension system, that‘s what they are telling us it‘s designed to do, but it‘s actually going to weaken it. 

And with me now to talk about it, we‘ve got Elana Schor, she the lobbying reporter from “The Hill” newspaper.  We also have Celia Wexler from Common Cause. 

Let me talk—start with you Ms. Schor.  Tell me, how did something that was supposed to be so positive end up so negative for the American worker?

ELANA SCHOR, REPORTER, “THE HILL”:  Well, you had a very vigorous lobbying campaign on this from the start from corporations.  They formed what‘s called the Pension Coalition, they started placing ads like this on in every Capitol Hill publication.  You see right here you have a nice happy American family.  This was placed by G.M., Honeywell, Dow Chemical, they want to get the ear of the members of Congress and they succeeded right from the start.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold—I want you to hold that ad up for us.  Let‘s go back to the ad a.  We only saw part of it.  Yeah, hold that—hold that up again.  

SCHOR:  Here you go, Joe.  

SCARBOROUGH:  And yeah, so you had major corporations that were pushing, supposedly for pension reform claiming they were trying to help American workers, but in fact, again, we know it was all about exemptions for their own corporation, right?  

SCHOR:  Absolutely and you talked about the 61 percent funding level for the pensions.  Under the House pension bill that‘s considered fully funded.  They set a 60 percent level and the corporations asked for that.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Celia Wexler what‘s going on here where you have a bill where the President brings up, wants Congress to pass pension reform and actually, all they are doing is, well, pass a bill, or try to pass a bill that‘s going to hurt the American worker even more and help corporations to defund the pension process.  

CELIA WEXLER, COMMON CAUSE:  Well this bill is a good example that the system is broken.  We don‘t have members really deciding things on their merits or what‘s good for the country, but we have them deciding, making decisions based upon who‘s got the best lobbyist in town, the most well connected lobbyist, the biggest fleet of lobbyists.  And that‘s why we need reform.  We need real lobby reform, we need real ethics enforcement, and ultimately, we need campaign finance reform.  We need clean elections for Congress.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I thought we had McCain Feingold a few years ago; we have that and look what follows it up.  I mean, it seems to me if we don‘t have.

WEXLER:  Well, McCain Feingold.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on just a second.  It seems to me, that if we don‘t have congressmen and senators that we can trust in Washington, D.C.  to protect workers instead of multinational corporations, if we don‘t have the congressmen and senators in Washington, D.C.  who will tell Exxon Mobil, who‘s making record profits, you‘re going to have to spend some of that money on fulfilling the promises you made to your workers.  We‘re in a hell of a lot of trouble in America, aren‘t we?  

WEXLER:  We are.  We have changing the culture.  But part of changing the culture is changing the way campaigns are financed.  We have members of Congress that are thinking about getting re-elected everyday and raising money everyday for their next election.  And that‘s—they‘re being distract from that and they‘re captives of special interests that way.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Elana let‘s talk about the specifics of this bill, because it‘s important to figure out, first of all, what crisis precipitated the president to even start talking about reform?  Talking about how bad the situation is?  

SCHOR:  Certainly.  And that $23 billion number that was thrown out earlier, that just deals with single employer pension plans.  It doesn‘t even take into account multi employer plans, which are when, say, UPS and the Highway Associations band together, those plans are even more in deficit.  We‘re talking skyrocketing bills for the PBGC, which is the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp, that guarantees American pensions, it‘s taxpayer funded.  

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, I want to thank both of you for being with us tonight.  And I wanted to tell Americans just how bad of a situation it is right now.  I mean, look at these numbers.  I‘m going to ask my staff to put these numbers up on the screen about just how badly funded American pension plans are.  Pension plans in the country, right now, are underfunded by about $450 billion.  From 2001 to 2004, nearly 200 of the fortune 1,000 companies froze their pensions.  And the number of companies offering pensions has plummeted in the last 20 years, down from 112,000 to fewer than 30,000 today.  So, who gets hurried in the end, friends?  It‘s you.  And it‘s other hard-working Americans who, again, elect their congressmen and senators expecting them to represent them instead of special interests on Capitol Hill.  It‘s just not happening that way. 

We have lack of leadership in Washington, D.C.  This is what you can do, though, to make a difference.  The bill I‘m talking about is still in the conference committee, so there‘s still time to make changes and have your voice heard.  I want you to go to www.house.gov and www.senate.gov and find out how to contact your congressman and senator and tell them you don‘t want pension reform that actually hurts American workers and helps huge multinational corporations. 

So anyway, go ahead, email your congressman, email your senators, contact the White House and together, we can force a change. 

Now, coming up next, we‘re going to be talking about the TV show that took on Scientology and it‘s biggest star, Tom Cruise.  But now Cruise is fighting back and some are saying he‘s using star power to sensor shows on TV. 

And later, does the new smoking ban go too far?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  “The New York Times” reporting yesterday that celebrities sex tapes are the wave of the future for Hollywood P.R.  Some artists actually - yeah, I say artists.—sluts actually act shocked at their own excellent sex tapes.  But it‘s a great way to start their career.

I‘m certainly not talking about Paris Hilton.  No.  Well, that‘s straight ahead.

But first here‘s the latest news you and your family need to know.

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Remember these New Orleans police officers shopping during Katrina?  Well, the investigation is over and the punishment is in.  Wait until you hear just what they got.  Welcome back to stark SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY we can talk about that story and much more minutes ahead, but first, if you haven‘t benefited by “South Park,” well, you probably haven‘t seen the show.

The Comedy Central show takes great pride in offending everybody and everything from the Virgin Mary to patriotism.  But when “South Park” creators went after Hollywood‘s favorite religion, they soon discovered the power of the controversial Church of Scientology and its most famous member, Tom Cruise.

Here‘s NBC‘s Jennifer London to tell us about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER LONDON, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In his movies, Tom Cruise is used to battling crime lords and alien invaders.  But his latest fight finds him facing off with four foul-mouthed cartoon kids from “South Park.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So you‘re not the prophet.  You made me look stupid.  I am going to sue you too.

LONDON:  Did the controversial Cruise use his Hollywood muscle to muzzle the show?  In a sudden schedule change, Comedy Central decided not repeat an episode ridiculing Scientology and Cruise‘s sexuality.

STAN, CARTOON CHARACTER:  Dad!  Tom Cruise won‘t come out of the closet.

LONDON:  Cruise allegedly wanted the episode pulled or he wouldn‘t promote his new Paramount movie, “Mission Impossible 3.”  The same corporation, Viacom, owns Paramount and Comedy Central.  A spokesman for Cruise denies that any threats were made; saying that promotion for the new film has been going on for months.

(On camera):  In another twist, Isaac Hayes, who played the character Chef abruptly left the show, say it goes too far mocking religion, including the Church of Scientology where he and Cruise are members.

KEN BAKER, “US WEEKLY”:  A lot of people think that the fact that this episode is killed is more than just a coincidence.  But I don‘t think there is evidence that Tom Cruise had anything to do with this.

LONDON:  “South Park‘s” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are not so sure, releasing this somewhat wacky quote.

(Voice-over):  “So, Scientology, you may have one this battle, but the million year war for Earth has just begun.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t you understand, L. Ron, it‘s me, Tom Cruise.

LONDON:  If he or anyone else was on a mission to silence the show, the Internet has made that impossible.  Parts of the episode are available on Comedy Central‘s Web site.  Jennifer London, NBC News, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  So, did Tom Cruise and Scientology stop Comedy Central from airing a rerun of the hit show “South Park” or was it just a coincidence and what does it say about the power of Scientology not only over the media but also, more importantly over the huge media companies.

Let‘s me bring in Melissa Grego, managing editor of “Television Week”.  And also, we have Rick Ross, an expert in controversial groups and movements.

Melissa, let me start with you.  It‘s always fascinating to me whenever I talk about doing a segment on Scientology, I have people in the newsroom that immediately say, don‘t do it.  They are scared to death of Scientology, whether they work for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, everybody has had a run-in with the Scientology.  And in fact, I remember seeing this episode, the “South Park” episode where at the end of the show, they ran the credits and they al said their name was John Smith.  Or something like, they were afraid of being sued themselves.  Why is it that so many people are so scared in Hollywood to cross Scientology?

MELISSA GREGO, “TELEVISION WEEK”:  Gosh, that‘s a good question.  It does seem like everyone seems to have a story even just in the make-up room here, before coming into the studio, somebody was telling me their story of Scientology.

It‘s just so unusual and so different, I think.  From most other religions that people have experience with.  And, it‘s also just so popular with the very, very powerful folks in Hollywood.  I think that‘s really the key, who is tied to it, who is passionate about it.  People like Tom Cruise, people like John Travolta who have the power.  It‘s more of the fear of ticking off those folks than it is Scientology itself.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and Melissa, obviously, anybody that‘s watched “South Park” knows they go after everybody.  They go after Christianity all the time.  They go after Judaism.

GREGO:  Absolutely.

SCARBOROUGH:  And it was very interesting.  Isaac Hayes who plays the character, Chef, decided to quit because of the Scientology episode.  Very interesting timing, though, because as the “South Park” creator said, he certainly had no problem cashing his check when they were making fun of Christianity and other religions.

GREGO:  Absolutely.  And I think actually this situation with Comedy Central speaks to a larger sort of shift in the power flow and Hollywood.  It‘s actually arguably pretty unfortunate as these media companies have become larger and larger and the power consolidation has gotten so great, that, and at the same time when the level of celebrity adoration has also gotten to such an arguably high level, they run the risk of making moves like this, if in fact what happened was that Tom Cruise weighed in and affected this decision.

It‘s really more possible now than ever that something like this could happen, when you look at this situation in particular.  So whether it happened or not, whether Tom Cruise called up and said, hey, can you kill that episode repeat or not, it looks like he did.  And it‘s possible, it‘s feasible that he didn‘t, but it‘s very believable to go from point A to B to C where Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures sinks a bunch of money into “Mission Impossible 3” and then Viacom-owned Comedy Central happens to have this episode coming up in the repeats.

It‘s a very easy situation—very easy decision for top dogs at Viacom to make that call and say, OK.  We have got hundreds of millions of dollars over here versus this one episode of “South Park” and Comedy Central.”

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.  Rick Ross, let me bring in Rick Ross, here.  We asked the Church of Scientology to appear on the show tonight.  They declined but they sent this statement.  Quote, “As you won‘t learn the real story of Scientology by watching a cartoon, you should know that more than 30,000 people find out about Scientology for themselves every week.”

I‘m not exactly sure what that means, Rick.  But you would suggest that this is Scientology‘s M.O., wouldn‘t you?

RICK ROSS, RICK A. ROSS INSTITUTE:  Well, I would suggest, Joe, that you really don‘t find out what Scientology believes by going into their center.  You have you to pay for it.  And you go up these graduated levels called their operating thetan levels and when you hit O.T. three you find out what South Park told everybody for free in a very witty way.

Which is that L. Ron Hubbard believed that alien beings from outer space came to earth 75 million years ago and the residue of their spiritual beings is a large part of what‘s wrong with humanity today.

Now, Tom Cruise knows that but unless you go to the Internet to find out, “South Park” became a new source of information.  And I think that Scientology doesn‘t appreciate that.  They are in the business to sell their theology through courses and “South Park” not only exposed it but ridiculed it.

SCARBOROUGH:  They did ridicule it.  And I mean, you know, the words, “This is what Scientologists actually believe” were plastered on the screen for over a minute long during “South Park.”  It involved a series of supposedly highly secret revelations about Scientology as they were explained.  Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Cruisers then took the frozen alien bodies to our planet, Earth and dumped them into the volcanoes of Hawaii.  The aliens were no longer frozen, they were dead but the souls of those aliens, however, lived on and all floated up towards the sky but the evil Lord Xenu has prepared for this and Xenu didn‘t want their souls to return so he built giant soul catchers in the sky.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Rick Ross, they go on and on here and it‘s like the creators of “South Park” thought that this information was so funny they could go ahead and put on it their Comedy Central show and get laughs.  Maybe that‘s what upset Scientologists also, like, you said they were revealing the secrets of Scientology, what would you suggest without people having to pay money for it?

ROSS:  Not only that, Joe, but I think there‘s been a big sea change in the media coverage of Scientology.  And that by and large a lot of this stuff was brought on by Tom Cruise himself.  As they say, he jumped the couch.  We used to say, jump the shark.  But in this case, he literally jumped the couch and it became open season not only to ridicule Tom Cruise but to question the church that he was promoting through much of his discussions for the movie “War of the Worlds”,” and it became Scientology rather than promoting his film.

And he talked about, he attacked psychiatrists.  He attacked Brooke Shields.  And this really opened things up.  I think now Viacom is trying to shut it down.  And as was said, Viacom has a lot of money tied up in “Mission Impossible.”  They don‘t like the idea of their star, the character Ethan Hawk being trapped in the closet on “South Park.”  It just doesn‘t add up to god box office for them.  And it looks like they responded to that.

SCARBOUROUGH:  All right.  Rick, we have to leave it there.  Michelle, I‘ll give you the last word.

GREGO:  I was just going to say, the thing that is unfortunate about the whole thing is what it does for Comedy Central and it really forces them in a position that they are compromising their brand which is irreverent, which is creatively free.  And it‘s just unfortunate to see that.  And I hope they find a way to actually air that episode again.

I think - sorry, go ahead.

SCARBOROUGH:  I was just going to say, it was a fascinating episode and like we‘ve all said, they go after absolutely everybody.  Rick Ross, Michelle Grego, thank you so much for being with us.

I would like to bring in now Tucker Carlson, he is the host of THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON.  Tucker, what he THE SITUATION tonight?

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST:  Well, the situation is, Joe, if Comedy Central was creatively free, they would run the episode.  They‘re not.  Cowardice.

But we‘re not doing anything about that tonight.  We ought to be but instead we‘re talking about an Afghan man on trial for life, his crime, converting to Christianity.  That‘s right.  He was found carrying a Bible and could be executed for that offense in a country that we spent 278 American lives restoring to freedom, as the president said time and time again, it is coming very quickly an Islamic State, the kind of place we fought just three years ago.  It‘s very, very distressing.

SCARBOROUGH:  Sounds like something straight out of the Taliban, Tucker.

CARLSON:  That‘s right.

SCARBOROUGH:  And you‘ll remember, right before the invasion, there were two Christian missionaries, I believe they were from Waco, Texas, they got caught over in Afghanistan trying to witness, they were thrown in jail by and lots of people worried they were going to be killed.  So our troops go over there, we supposedly liberate Afghanistan, a lot of young Americans die and looks like we‘re in the same situation.

CARLSON:  Why aren‘t we doing anything about it?  Why isn‘t the State Department having a fit about it?  Why isn‘t it on the evening news?  Nobody seems to care.  It‘s very unbelievable to me.

SCARBOROUGH:  Tucker, you care.

CARLSON:  I do.

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘re going to be talking about it tonight and hopefully a lot of other people will catch on.  Tucker, thanks for being with us.

CARLSON:  Thanks, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  And make sure you tune into THE SITUATION.  That‘s coming up straight ahead at 11:00.  And next here in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, celebrities shocked when their intimate tapes end up Internet.  You‘ll see why some stars are happy their tapes are going public even while expressing being shocked.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  She‘s a poster child turning graphic private sex tape into super stardom.  But Paris Hilton is not the only one cashing in.  She‘s already taken in almost $8 million from sales of her videos.  Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee reportedly split the $1.5 million they made.  And pro wrestler Chyna Doll is at $2 million and counting.  After shopping a tape she made with her boyfriend.

So, have things sunk so low in Hollywood that stars are now using their homemade pornographic videos to boost careers.  “The New York Times” suggested yesterday that yes, they were.

And with us now to talk about it, David Hans Schmidt, an agent and producer who deals in porn.  And Giuliana Depandi from E! Entertainment.

Giuliana, let me begin with you.  Is this a growing trend?

GIULIANA DEPANDI, E! ENTERTAINMENT:  Planting sex tapes?  I don‘t think these people are planting sex tapes or shooting sex tapes for the purpose of selling them.  It think that if you are a C and D, possibly…  but A and B list celebrities, no.  But for somebody like Paris Hilton, yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  David—No, go ahead.

DEPANDI:  I was just going to say I remember talking to Paris around the time that the sex tape was coming out.  She was mortified.  She didn‘t know how she was going to face her parents once they you saw that their little girl was in a sex tape.

Looking back now, I‘m sure she‘s not as distraught over that tape as she was initially.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yeah.  No doubt about it.  David.  I guess there are too many of us too cynical to think that these stars are using these tapes to revive a career or create one like Paris Hilton.  What are you hearing?

DAVID HANS SCHMIDT, AGENT AND PRODUCER:  Well, Buddy, what I can tell you, just slightly contrary to Ms. Depandi‘s outlay here on this matter.  Paris, if she was distraught over the original sex tape that came out on her, if the stuff that I‘m sitting on the cusp of brokering from her, quote, “storage locker” that she recently defaulted on to see the light of day, that‘s going to make that look like a G-rated flick.  Trust me.

We‘re finding more of this as we enter into the market in a more synoptic pattern.  It started with Rob Lowe back in the ‘80s.  And then the Pam and Tommy tape came in after the Tonya Harding tape which I sold to “Penthouse” in 1994.  That was my first big coup at “Penthouse” and Bob Guccione.

And from there everything got blown away when Paris came on the scene.  She basically normalized and put into, I‘m not going to say a G-rated version.  But she pretty much cut down the stereotypes and showed us that gee, everybody has these falls.  As Andy Warhol said almost a quarter of a century ago, everybody in the end is going to have their 15 minutes of fame and if we follow this post Paris Hilton in the end, everybody has 15 minute sex video, Joe, including you and my opposition here this evening.

SCARBOROUGH:  That would actually cause severe damage to my career if I even have a career.  And would cause me to be cancelled in about five minutes.

SCHMIDT:  If it pops up, Joe, let me sell it, please.

SCARBOROUGH: Definitely.  I have you in the rolodex.  You will be the first one I call.  Giuliana, what has changed since 1988 when Rob Lowe had his sex tape that almost wrecked his career?

DEPANDI:  I think that back then when Rob Lowe—when we discovered he had a sex tape, it was shocking, A, because there was a minor involved, if you recall.  Also, it was incredibly shocking.  We never heard such a thing.  But now with the Internet, with cable TV, we‘re oversexed.  Pornography is everywhere.  Images are everywhere.

So I think that we‘re not as shocked by these sex tapes as we used to be.  They seem to be popping up all over the place.  Especially with the Internet.  It‘s so easy to just throw a sex tape over the Internet.  I don‘t think that sex tapes with celebrities, like, the pro wrestler, Chyna Doll, who she literally took it to the Red Light District and said I have an amateur sex tape and will you sell it for me.

So she unlike someone like Pam Anderson or Paris Hilton, she was not devastating.  Maybe the only thing she was devastated about was the fact that her copy only sold 100,000 and Paris‘s sold in the millions.

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s no doubt it‘s interesting marketing, to say the least, if that‘s in fact that‘s what‘s going on.  Giuliana, thank you for being with us.  David Hans Schmidt, as always, thanks but don‘t wait by your phone I‘m probably not going to be calling any time soon.

And when we come back, they are caught on tape in the middle of Katrina filling shopping carts in a New Orleans Wal-Mart overrun with looters.  So wait until you hear what these cops gone bad got for their punishment.

And why would somebody ever kiss a deadly cobra 51 times?  You are not going to want to miss this one.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s time for another flyover of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  First stop tonight, New Orleans.  Remember the New Orleans cops captured on NBC cameras shopping in Wal-Mart after hours after the hurricane hit in the Big Easy?  Well, today, officers were cleared of the looting charges and given 10 days suspension for not stopping civilians from ransacking the store.

Turns out the New Orleans Police Department told Wal-Mart that these cops were quote, “just taking necessities for themselves.”  Wow.

And next, to California where a new smoking ban took effect on Friday.  This one is different.  You can‘t smoke in all public places, both indoors and outdoors.  In fact, the only place you can smoke is in your car, but those windows better be closed.

Where else, but in La-La Land where the first smoking band for offices was enacted 15 years ago.

We‘ll be right back and THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON is just minutes away.  So stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Finally, for all you snake lovers out there, take a look at this guy who set the all time record by kissing a killer cobra 51 times in just over three minutes this weekend in Malaysia at a kissing the cobra convention.  Yeah.  I‘ll make sure I sign up for that one next year.

Then just to prove it wasn‘t a scam, they squeezed the venom right out of him at the end of the show.  What they do to me every night.

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON starts right now. 

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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