updated 5/12/2006 12:27:58 PM ET 2006-05-12T16:27:58

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight, we bring you the automobile ads that take shock and awe right into your home.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Seriously, I don‘t know why...

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SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s an ad campaign that brings some to tears, but will it bring people into the showroom?

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

We‘re going to have the story of those crash ads in a few minutes. 

But first: George W. Bush‘s approval ratings are below the freezing level.  Stuck at 31 percent, the president‘s numbers are so low that only Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon have ever skated into such politically dangerous territory.  Carter sank to 28 percent in ‘79 and Nixon fell to 24 percent right before his resignation.

Well, Mr. Bush has worked hard to earn these new low ratings that just came out today from “The New York Times.”  He‘s done it by bungling issues ranging from Katrina to gas prices and Iraq to U.S. port security, massive deficits and illegal immigration.

But here‘s the thing.  Democratic leaders are faring no better with the American public.  Mr. Bush‘s last two opponents, John Kerry and Al Gore, have even lower approval ratings than the weakened president, with Kerry sitting at 26 percent and Al Gore at 28 percent.  And the Democratic Party‘s great hope for 2008, Senator Hillary Clinton, is at 34 percent, well within the margin of error of the president‘s pathetic numbers.

Now, the numbers mean three things.  First, it means that the American people loathe all incumbents right now.  Today‘s poll results scream, A pox on both your houses.

Second, just because Americans reject Republicans doesn‘t mean that they are yet—and I say yet—in the mood to accept Democrats.  These polls show that trust is going to have to be earned by the Democratic Party.

And third, the president of these United States has lost the moral authority to lead America and the world.  You know, that power comes from the American people, and these poll results today, like so many over the past several weeks, have shown that they deem him no longer worthy of that support.

Now, speaking of morals, the American people now believe, according to this new poll, that the party of Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi and Al Sharpton share their moral values more than the party of George Bush, Pat Robertson and James Dobson, and that by a spread of 13 percent.  Now, whatever that means—and I‘m not sure what it means right now—it is not good muse for the Republican Party.

Now, earlier tonight, I spoke with MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews, and I asked him about the political crisis facing George W. Bush.

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CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  Joe, I think this is about conditions, these new poll numbers—high gas prices, casualties in Iraq.  I think what the president is being hurt by is these facts, and I think they have as much to do with what people see as the direction of the country as they do with their personal feelings about him.

I mean, the president can do a lot of good campaigning and hand-shaking and giving speeches, but it‘s not really about him.  It‘s about the conditions, as I said.  And as long as gas prices stay high, as long as the casualty rate continues to come in from Iraq, as long as we don‘t really see a future over there in terms of a final victory and getting out of there, I don‘t see how he‘s going to benefit from anything.

I also think that it‘s going to hurt the Republicans in Congress, as you know, because people have to have somebody to punch when they‘re angry.  But again, it‘s about conditions.  And I think one thing we have to look here is that how far will it go bad.  I mean, it‘s now May.  In January, the president was much better off, according to this “Times” poll.  “The New York Times” had him at 42 percent in terms of approval.  Now he‘s down to 31 percent in six months.

Let‘s see another six months of this, or rather, another four months of this, and we‘re going to find ourselves in November, an election year, this November, and we‘re going to see perhaps the president down to the low 20s, the way we‘re going right now.  And that could be a real problem for the Democrats—I‘m sorry, a real problem for the Republicans holding the Senate, as well as the House.  This could be a blow-out if conditions continue, if this political trend continues to follow the conditions, which are all bad—high gas prices, casualties in Iraq, and it looks like inflation is coming, too.  That‘s all I got, Joe.

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SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, Chris Matthews.  Greatly appreciated.

So is the president doomed to rule as a lame duck for the next two years?  Is his party headed towards total collapse?  Let‘s bring in “Newsweek‘s” chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman.  Howard, you know, we keep talking about these poll numbers.  But guess what?  They keep getting worse.  If you could, open up your reporter‘s notebook right now and tell us what they‘re thinking inside the White House.  Have we gotten to the point that Jimmy Carter was in ‘79, or where Nixon was in ‘74, where the White House was really encased in this bunker mentality?

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  My sense is that they are resisting the temptation to fall into that kind of self-pity.  This is a crew of fighters.  But they‘re realists, at least in terms of American politics.  And I think they‘re looking for a way out, and I think the only way they see out is to go after the Democrats, Joe.  That‘s their only hope, at this point.

SCARBOROUGH:  But you know, Howard, that‘s what they‘re thinking right now, but that‘s not the case.  You look at this president, who just keeps collapsing in the polls, and it seems to me that he‘d come out and make a dramatic—change the status quo, change the dynamics, whether you‘re talking about Iraq, whether you‘re talking about a bold new energy policy, whether you‘re talking about, you know, taking on terrorism in a different way.  But yet, it seems like more of the same—more of the same on the deficit, more of the same on spending.  Why are they afraid to step out and make dramatic new changes?

FINEMAN:  Because they think they know how to fight their way at least to a draw and give the president some measure of dignity and power in his last two years and not turn the last two years into, you know, a procession of dump trucks full of subpoenas, you know, coming down from Capitol Hill to the White House.  And they‘re focusing on the fact that the Democrats aren‘t well known for what they stand for right now.  And it‘s going to be Karl Rove and George Bush‘s strategy to try to pin the titles once again of tax-raisers, and you know, weak on defense, you know, the whole litany they‘re going to try to run at the Democrats again.  I think they think they can make it work this time.  Believe me, they‘re not thinking that the prescription drug plan is what‘s going to save them.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  So they know that.  But it sounds like what you‘re telling me is, and what you‘ve written before, is that Karl Rove and the Republican Party have decided the way they‘re going to win in these off-year elections, when their man is so unpopular, they‘re going to make the Democratic Party the party of atheists, of abortionists, of gay lovers, of big spenders and big taxes.  It‘s the politics of division.

FINEMAN:  Well, it sounds antique, perhaps, but this is what they...

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  This is what they know how to do, Joe.  And on the tax front, for example, they‘ve agreed—the Republicans have on the Hill—you know, to extend the tax cuts for capital gains and dividends.  That sounds like a small matter, but you‘ve got to remember that Karl Rove has always focused on the 60 million to 70 million Americans who are stockholders, directly or indirectly.  He thinks those people vote in higher proportion, and they do, especially in an off-year election, which they do.  So they‘re going to dare the Democrats to vote against those tax cuts so they can label them tax—you know, the Democrats tax raisers.

They‘re bringing up other nominations of other federal judges, like Bret Cavanaugh (ph), daring the Democrats to oppose, you know, a devout man like Cavanaugh.  They‘re going to run the whole program all over again to try to knock down that number that you showed before on the screen, Joe, of 50 percent of the American people who think that the Democrats share their values more than they do, you know, sympathize with the Republicans.  That‘s the number Rove is going to aim at.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, nobody‘s ever accused George Bush, Sr., of being Ronald Reagan, but as you know, “The New York Times” magazine and several others have compared this George Bush to Reagan.  But it seems to me that both of these Bushes have gotten to the same number in totally different ways.  George Bush, Sr., was seen as abandoning his conservative base.  George W. Bush decided he would never, ever be accused of abandoning conservatives.  He‘s been much more conservative on several issues.  And yet he ends up where his father was.  Why is that?

FINEMAN:  And partly, Joe, he ends up by losing the conservative base in different ways because conservative—don‘t forget, there are those conservatives who are skeptical—traditional conservatives, skeptical about the war in Iraq, upset about what they view as misinformation, at the very least, about WMD.  It‘s not just Democrats who were.  Conservatives are divided about immigration, as you know.  They don‘t see George Bush as taking strong action on that.  Bush gets really low numbers in “The Times” poll on immigration, by the way.  A lot of conservatives are very upset about runaway spending and the huge growth in the size of government.

So in different ways, George Bush has ended up—this George Bush has ended up alienating the conservative base that he spent so many years and years and years trying to curry favor with.  But I do think that Rove and Bush‘s theory—maybe it‘ll work, maybe it won‘t—is to try to somehow get those conservatives back.  That‘s the only hope they have of avoiding the kind of blow-out that Chris Matthews said could come if George Bush II‘s approval ratings keep going down.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Howard Fineman, thanks so much for being with us.  And it certainly sounds like we‘re going to have an ugly six months of campaigning.

FINEMAN:  Yes, it‘s not going to be Barney, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  No, it‘s not going to be Barney!  All right.

Well, is America ready for a third President Bush, in effect, a Bush dynasty?  President Bush seemed to think so when he said this yesterday about his brother, Jeb, the governor of Florida.  He said, quote, “I think Jeb would be a great president.  I‘d like to see Jeb run at some point in time.  But I have no idea whether that‘s his intention or not.”

But you know, not everybody agrees.  Senator Trent Lott was decidedly negative tonight on “HARDBALL.”

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SEN. TRENT LOTT ®, MISSISSIPPI:  Look, I don‘t think that it‘s going to happen in 2008.  Frankly, I don‘t think it‘s a good idea.  I would not be supportive of Jeb Bush running for president.  But I certainly understand why the president would say that about his own brother.

MATTHEW:  Could Jeb beat Hillary?

LOTT:  I don‘t think so, no.

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SCARBOROUGH:  Oh!  It hurts.  Earlier, I asked presidential historian Doug Brinkley about a Bush dynasty.

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DOUG BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  I think there‘s always been a sense of family businesses.  People that go into politics, some of their kids stay in politics.  I think that‘s happening now.  You mentioned the Adams family, John Adams and then all of his children and grandchildren got involved with either public service, diplomatic corps, politics.  I think people are comforted by a name they already know.

We—guys like you and I spend a lot of time thinking, talking about politics.  Most Americans don‘t pay that much attention.  What they do is, they all know certain people.  Bill Clinton or Hillary, wherever they show up in the country, just like Jeb or George W. Bush, are going to draw an audience.  They‘re kind of celebrities already, and they seem to be vetted in a way that they‘ve gone through the slings and arrows of tabloid fodder and everybody looking in their closets for skeletons.  So I think people sometimes get into a bit of a comfort zone with it.

But also, I mean, politics can be a family business.  Look at Joseph Kennedy, you know, all of his kids around the dinner table, with Teddy and Bobby and John, and they talk politics all the time now.  And now the Kennedy kids talk politics all the time.  And it‘s not a far leap to think that there‘ll be another Bush 30 years from now or another Kennedy 30 years from now who will come to the forefront of serious national politics.  It‘s in the blood.

SCARBOROUGH:  But Jeb Bush will not be there in ‘08 or anytime soon.

BRINKLEY:  No.  No, Jeb Bush won‘t be there in ‘08.  It‘s a bit of an insult to the other candidates for him to say it, but I think he wanted to maybe get his brother‘s name out there in the mix.  You never know what he meant by that.  I can‘t believe that they‘re going to try to push his brother through.  If they do, it‘s a misunderstanding that Republicans aren‘t happy with George W. Bush.  That‘s the problem.  It‘s not that Democrats aren‘t, it‘s that a lot of Republicans aren‘t.

And I don‘t think Jeb—you know, who knows?  I don‘t believe he, for personal reasons, plans on making a run.  He‘s made no indication of it.  So I think it‘s one of those comments made to bolster the morale of the brother, just like Laura Bush does that with Condoleezza Rice, saying, Look, we‘ve got some good people around us that are stars of the future.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Doug Brinkley, as always, thanks a lot for being with us.

BRINKLEY:  Thanks, Joe.

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SCARBOROUGH:  And when we come back, a shocking new ad crashing into your living room, but this is no public service announcement.  Shock and awe on the airwaves.  But are these car ads going too far?

And later: “American Idol” fans vote for their favorite star, but why are there so many conspiracy theories about there about the voting and whether it‘s rigged?  Find out that when we return.

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SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s not often that a TV commercial sells a product by identifying it with violence and destruction, but that‘s exactly what Volkswagen‘s trying to do in a new campaign aimed at selling cars.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She just gives you the feeling, like, she‘s not, like, listening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have you tried not saying “like” every other word?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was, like, going down the hill, and like, this guy, like, cut me off, and like, there was a crowd, and like...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, no, no.  Come on, man!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And I was, like...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Look, stuff either happens or it doesn‘t happen. 

Stuff doesn‘t sort of like happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Holy (DELETED)!

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SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s an ad approach that has a lot of people talking, in part because it‘s such a radical departure from the history of TV advertising.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We shall prevail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  On January 24, Apple computer will introduce Macintosh, and you‘ll see why 1984 won‘t be like 1984.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Wow, thank you, Joe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Stuff either happens or it doesn‘t happen.  Stuff doesn‘t sort of like happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Holy (DELETED)!

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SCARBOROUGH:  You know, these VW ads are so disturbing to viewers that many are calling the company, demanding to know if the actors sustained serious injuries.  I want to bring in right now Dr. Gayle Beck.  She‘s from the Motor Vehicle Accident Research Clinic at the University of Buffalo, and also crisis management expert Eric Dezenhall.  He‘s also the author of “Turnpike Flameout.”

Eric, what in the world is VW trying to accomplish here with these violent ads?

ERIC DEZENHALL, CRISIS MANAGEMENT EXPERT:  Well, one of the oldest rules of communications is never link your product with death and destruction.  This obviously flies in the face of it.  What I imagine that they are trying to do is break through the clutter of all these comatose consumers who are not getting messages otherwise.

And the rules of advertising, frankly, have changed.  I mean, who would have thought 25 years ago, blue chip companies would be advertising actively to the gay community?  So basically, what‘s happening here is a lot of noise has to be made.  And it remains to be seen whether this is a stupid idea or absolutely brilliant.

SCARBOROUGH:  But I mean, most people, though, would look at this as a stupid idea because you‘re associating a product, a Volkswagen Jetta in this instance, with, like you said, maybe not death but serious injury and destruction.  So isn‘t there a greater likelihood that this is going to backfire on VW?

DEZENHALL:  You know, not necessarily.  It‘s a possibility.  But I think that advertising and all communication with consumers are chemical reactions.  You simply don‘t know what‘s going to happen once something runs and what the effect will be, or else you wouldn‘t have had situations like the new Coke, when a very sophisticated company did something that nobody would have expected.  My assumption is that the Volkswagen folks are very sophisticated and that there‘s a method to their madness and that this may just pay off.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I own a VW van.  I don‘t know how sophisticated they are.  Professor, let me bring you in here and ask you how are your patients who have endured car accidents responding to these violent ads?

GAYLE BECK, MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT RESEARCH CLINIC:  They are responding very, very emotionally, and they are getting very, very upset.  I run a clinic for people who have been involved in serious car crashes, like the ones that are depicted in these commercials.  And many of people these people are coming for help because of some significant emotional problems.

When these ads come on, they get terribly, terribly, upset, turn off the TV, cry for hours on end.  Several of our patients have reported that they‘ve simply stopped watching TV because there‘s several of these commercials, and they don‘t really know when a commercial is a Volkswagen commercial and when it‘s not.  So I know at least from the health sector, that we‘re hearing a lot of very negative reactions to these commercials.

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘ve come a long distance even from those ads with the crash test dummies, right, that were commonplace several years ago.

BECK:  I guess you could say we have come a long way.  I‘m not so sure if it‘s progress, though.  I think that it‘s one thing to see a crash test dummy involved in what looks like a so-called fatal car crash.  It‘s another thing to have a commercial that sort of sneaks up on you, lures you in, and then, bam, out of nowhere, is a horrifying, life-threatening type of motor vehicle accident that mirrors what at least 1 percent of the American population experiences every single year.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, Doctor.  Thank you, Eric. 

Greatly appreciate it.

It is no doubt a disturbing ad, but I know, like Eric said, they want to cut through the clutter.  They want to get those 18 to 34-year-old males not only seeing it on TV but going on Web sites to see it.  And you know what?  I think it‘s probably going to work for them.

Well, it‘s time for another “Flyover” of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  We start tonight in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.  Now, the local school district there seems to be marching lockstep in line with the buzzkill (ph) boneheads who just seem determined to squeeze all the fun out of school for kids.  These PC police in New Jersey have already started banning swing sets and running on playgrounds, but now this school district‘s decided to ban cupcakes, brownies and anything else that might taste good when students bring in food to celebrate their friends‘ birthdays.  Perhaps they expect 6-year-old kids to eat tofu and rice cakes.

I‘m sorry, but not everybody appreciates the tastes of children (ph) on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  It‘s ridiculous, and it‘s one more example of the PC police at work.  Again, going after swing sets, tags (ph) and cupcakes.

What‘s going to be next, sex?  Well, yes, because a Raleigh, North Carolina, school has suspended a male student for having sex at home during school hours.  Apparently, the 16-year-old boy had permission to leave school for an off-campus program.  But when that event was canceled, he and his girlfriend went to his house and enjoyed—well, some afternoon delight.  The school suspension makes sense, right?  After all, we don‘t want to encourage our kids to skip school so they can have sex off-campus, right?

Well, not exactly.  His parents, the boy‘s parents, are now suing the school for punishing their child, claiming the suspension is unconstitutional.  Now, where in the Bill of Rights does it give kids a constitutional right to leave school and bed their girlfriends?  I guess I must have been sleeping that day they taught that one in law school.

And coming up next, “American Idol.”  Tonight, America votes.  But can the results be trusted?  What really decides who stays and who goes?  We got conspiracy theories straight ahead.  And the judges going at each other on the air and off.  What‘s the real deal?  We‘ll let you know.

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(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back.  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Must See SC,” video you just got to see.

Up first, Sacramento, California, (INAUDIBLE) annual frog-jumping contest at the California State Capitol.  Thirty-five giant, bionic bullfrogs competed in the jump-off.  Each frog got three hops.  To prove its worth, the winner was politically named “No Tax Max,” who cleared his distance of almost 12 feet. 

Up next, Collin County, Texas.  You‘re looking at the home video of a tornado rolling through north Texas.  The video was shot by a local resident there, and the twister was part of a system that roared through the Dallas area last night and left 300 homes without power, and I think it‘s coming through my hometown right now. 

And finally, nature‘s wrath continues in Butler County, Pennsylvania. 

Brushfires in western Pennsylvania engulfed this railroad bridge today.  Not a big deal, right?  Wrong.  The bridge is the only way for trains to reach three chemical plants that are out that way. 

Now, for years, conspiracy theories have circulated about Area 51.  Are there really alien spacecraft hidden out there?  The Bermuda Triangle, is it really a place where ships and airplanes disappear? 

Well, some “Idol” fans now are adding the show‘s voting system to the list of their grassy knolls.  There are three theories out there, friends, and you need to know them before you go to school tomorrow. 

One, that the “Idol” suits jam up the phone lines of the contestants they don‘t like so voters can‘t get through.  In that sense, when results are released, the judges can ignore the voters and just pick who they want to win.

They also—the wrong phone numbers have been posted on the show, and these theories just go on and on and on, and people want answers. 

With me now to provide those answers and discuss whether the “Idol” voting system can be trusted is Justin Guarini.  He‘s a former “American Idol” contestant who has a new CD called “Stranger Things Have Happened,” appropriate tonight.

JUSTIN GUARINI, FORMER “IDOL” CONTESTANT:  Hello.

SCARBOROUGH:  Dina Sansing from “US” magazine, Tom O‘Neil from “In Touch Weekly,” and also, from season four, former “Idol” finalist, Jessica Sierra. 

Tom, let me begin with you.  As we get to the very end of this process, tell us if you think the “American Idol” voting system is rigged. 

TOM O‘NEIL, “IN TOUCH WEEKLY”:  This week, a very interesting study came out that said that 35 percent of “Idol” voters believe that their vote counts as much as their vote for U.S. president. 

Joe, last week, Ryan Seacrest opened the show a week ago tonight saying, very proudly, there were 45.5 million voters for “American Idol” this week.  Oh, yeah, Ryan?  Well, there are only 30 million viewers and they didn‘t all vote.  That doesn‘t add up like one vote for one vote for president, does it? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, but, Tom, you know, you‘ve also said that, in past seasons, the producers worked overtime to make sure certain contestants, like Clay Aiken, didn‘t win.  How can they rig this process so people that are dialing into “American Idol” are basically just wasting their money? 

O‘NEIL:  Right, they jam the phone lines.  That‘s what they did the year of Clay versus Ruben.  It was very clear.  You know, poor Clay‘s mom never got through on the line.  I believe that Ruben‘s mom voted six to eight times by phone and 200 to 300 times by text message. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why did they do that? 

O‘NEIL:  Well, that‘s, you know, a clean way to manipulate the vote.  I‘m not sure they‘re doing it anymore.  It will be interesting, at the end of this season, this new Web site called Dial Idol, which is monitoring the voting based on busy signals, when this season is done and we match their results against the actual results from the show, I think we can actually audit to see if they‘re still doing it.  But I believe, three years ago, it was clear that they were doing it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Justin, does the best singer always win on “American Idol”? 

GUARINI:  Well, you know what?  You can sing really well, but there‘s also, you know, things like repertoire.  I mean, look at Paris.  I mean, she was clearly a very strong singer, a great girl, very well-supported.  And, you know, I think that she might have slipped on the repertoire and got voted off, so yes and no. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you agree with Tom O‘Neil that this voting may not be one person, one vote? 

GUARINI:  Well, you know what?  I don‘t know.  Who knows?  But, you know, one place I do disagree is that, you know, a lot of people are voting two, three, four, five, six, sometimes 20, 30 times.  So the numbers that he was talking about don‘t really add up in my head because of the crazy “Idol” fans. 

And I think that you and I both know that, at the end of the credits, it says, in some horrific catastrophe, the producers can choose, actually, who they want to keep on, but I doubt very highly that they‘re going to risk some sort of “Quiz Show”-esque incident. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Dina Sansing, let me ask you the same question.  Do you think the voting is fair when somebody picks up the phone and calls “American Idol” to vote for their favorite singer?  Do you think their vote counts? 

DINA SANSING, “US” MAGAZINE:  Well, I think people‘s vote counts.  It‘s really not in their best interest to rig the voting, because ultimately people are going to tune in to see the people they love.  And if those people aren‘t winning, then, you know, it just doesn‘t make sense for them. 

You know, they really want to make big stars of these people and getting people who are fan favorites is really the way to have a successful career afterwards.  So it just doesn‘t make a lot of sense to do too much rigging. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But, Dina, why is the voting process kept so secret? 

SANSING:  Because it adds to the mystique of it, you know?  If you don‘t know how close it was, you‘re going to tune in the next week because you have no idea who‘s the frontrunner.  It really keeps us on our toes the entire season. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Jessica, do you think that the voting, when you were there, do you think the voting was straight up and fair? 

JESSICA SIERRA, FORMER “IDOL” CONTESTANT:  I mean, you have to think about it this way.  It is a computerized voting system.  People are calling in.  Everyone‘s calling in.  You know, the phones are busy.  People are voting 20, 30, hundreds of times.  I mean, I think it can only be accurate so much. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And so you‘re not concerned if it‘s inaccurate on the margins, right? 

SIERRA:  I mean, I don‘t really think that it‘s inaccurate.  I mean, I just think that there‘s so many people voting, and everyone‘s trying to get in at the same time, not everybody can, you know, all get in at one time.  And, also, I think that the judges persuade people‘s votes completely, the way people are voting, so...

SCARBOROUGH: Tom O‘Neil, do you think that the judges decide?  Is your theory that the judges decide who they want to win, and then they allow the American people, the millions of people that watch “American Idol,” just pick up the phones, dial in their votes, but they already know, in effect, who‘s going to win? 

O‘NEIL:  I think so, in a way, yes.  They try to manipulate us first by their bossy opinions, which don‘t always add up to the performances we‘ve just seen.  But, also, I think it‘s kind of clear that night, for example, of the Clay versus Aiken fiasco, remember, they gave three different vote results when they were trying to explain what happened.  That‘s how confused they got.  It was absolutely ridiculous. 

And that year gave us the telltale sign, all the proof we needed, that the voting is rigged.  There was a company called Cingular in Evansville, Indiana, that got 240,000 spillover votes.  Clay beat Ruben by 70 to 30 percent.  That is a statistically accurate number that pollsters can use to extrapolate what the actual vote should have been.  Well, you know what?  Clay didn‘t end up winning that other vote 70-30. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Justin, I want to show you and show you these numbers that he‘s talking about.  I want to put up a full screen about what happened there.  Ruben Studdard won by 13,000 votes, 1,335 votes.  This, of course, during season two I‘m talking about.  Ryan Seacrest announced that he won by 13,000 votes.  Later in the broadcast, he tried to correct himself, said Ruben had won by 1,335 votes.  And later on, we heard about, you know, FOX said 130,000 votes. 

It just sounds like it is so inaccurate that it might be best, might it not, if they just post these votes live on the Internet and let people just see them as the votes are coming in, right? 

GUARINI:  Yes.  Yes, I know that would mess up some of the odds that we were talking about, I think, last week or a couple of weeks on the show, but you know what?  For me, again, even though there may have been inaccuracies that year, you know, I agree with what one of the other panel members said, is that the people tune in to see who they love, and the people who they really love end up really winning out. 

Clay didn‘t win that year, but his record has done phenomenally well.  He has a great career, and, you know, I think he‘s done quite well for himself.  And the people have followed him after the show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Justin, you think what makes “American Idol” actually—are the performances of these amateurs so, at the end of the night, while they want their person to win, they‘re watching “American Idol” to be entertained, right? 

GUARINI:  Yes, of course, they‘re watching “American Idol” to be entertained.  And I mean, there are people on “American Idol” that have only had 10 seconds of air time who have now gone on to have great local, great regional careers. 

So, you know, I mean, even though there may be inaccuracies here and there, and there have been some mistakes over the past few years, this is a live show.  This is a huge audience.  There‘s a lot to take care of.  And, granted, they‘ve got a big enough budget to take care of it.  But I think, at the end of the day, the people who are really talented, the people who are loved by the fans end up winning out, whether they come in first, 10th, or 126th.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  I want the panel to stick around, if you will.  We‘ve got a lot more to come straight ahead. 

But first, let‘s bring in Rita Cosby, host of Rita Cosby “LIVE & DIRECT.”  Rita, what do you have coming up at 10:00?

RITA COSBY, HOST:  Well, Joe, tonight we have a story that will make you especially as a parent furious.  Turns out dozens of paroled sex offenders, some with some very serious charges in their backgrounds, are living near Disneyland, of course, a place where a lot of kids hang out. 

How outrageous is this?  And what‘s being done to move these guys away from Disneyland? 

Plus, we‘ll talk to the nephew of Warren Jeffs.  He‘s the polygamist on the run wanted by the FBI.  Hear what his own relatives have to say to the cult leader himself. 

That‘s “LIVE & DIRECT” tonight, Joe, at the top of the hour.  I hope you and everybody else tune in. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I certainly will.  Thanks so much, Rita.  Greatly appreciate it.

And make sure you tune into “LIVE & DIRECT.”  That‘s coming up next at 10:00.

And we have more to come tonight on “American Idol.”  Next, the judges going after one another on and off the show.  Is it all an act?  Is it hurting the show?  Is it great drama?  We‘ll tackle that when we come back.   

And later, see why Hollywood bad boy Charlie Sheen and his ex-wife are giving me issues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN SEACREST, “IDOL” HOST:  Could you even see the moves that Paula was pulling off?  I feel like I‘m obligated to give her a dollar after that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s a show that all of America wants to see, and the question everybody is asking is:  Why are the “American Idol” judges at each other‘s throats?  Or are they? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON COWELL, “IDOL” JUDGE”:  In the real world, that was a terrible impersonation of...

(AUDIENCE BOOS) 

The dancing was hideous, and it was...

(CROSSTALK)

COWELL:  Shut up.  It was just karaoke with a capital K. 

SEACREST:  Let‘s start with Simon.  Have you ever lived in the real world?  Staff at his house, staff here, a driver, a Rolls-Royce.  I mean, please, that‘s hardly the real world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  So is all this fighting among Simon, Paula and Ryan all an act?  Is it taking attention away from the show?  Or do these people really hate each other? 

Let me bring back my panel.  And, Tom, I want to go to you first.  You know, obviously, it‘s great for ratings.  It distracts from actually the performances, but do these “Idol” judges really despise each other? 

O‘NEIL:  Sometimes they do, week to week.  Just a few weeks ago, Ryan Seacrest said on his radio show that he and Paula don‘t talk.  And he started spilling his guts about how bad it is. 

By the way, it got so bad that the producers of “American Idol” brought in a psychiatrist and forced those two, Paula and Ryan, to go through the equivalent of a marriage counseling session.  They did one.  They have to do another one. 

And a lot of the clashes between all of these people are aired—between all of these people—are aired in public, and it‘s really nasty.  Just a few weeks ago, when Simon was asked by the TV show “Extra” what he thought of Ryan‘s new $11 million mansion, he snarled and said, “Well, he wouldn‘t have it if it wasn‘t for me.”  This is the kind of pettiness that‘s going on, and it can destroy the show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Justin, a lot of pettiness, but what are these people really like when the cameras are turned off? 

GUARINI:  You know what?  I think there‘s a great chemistry on the show.  But when the camera turns off, you know what?  I was fortunate to be able to travel around with them, and we did a lot of things towards the end of the show.  And you know what?  Randy is great.  Randy is Randy.  At the end of the day, Randy is Randy. 

Paula is as sweet as can be.  But you know what?  She gets on Simons‘ nerves.  Simon, I think, is witty and funny, but he gets a Paula‘s nerves. 

And, you know, for me, I agree with the ratings comment.  Definitely, it‘s great for ratings.  You know what?  But it adds another sort of element to the show.  Originally, Randy was, you know, kind of sort of the in between character.  Paula was always the sweet one.  Simon was always the venomous one.

And now you have a little bit of that coming out in everybody, and I think it just—it adds a nice shade to the show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Justin, now it seems that Ryan is getting in on the act.  He‘s attacking Paula. 

GUARINI:  Why shouldn‘t he?

SCARBOROUGH:  I mean, obviously...

GUARINI:  Why not? 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... he must think that it‘s good for his profile, right?

GUARINI:  Sure.  Well, I would assume so, yes.  You know, I mean, you do have egos on that show, and everybody‘s got to have their moment and got to shine.  But definitely.  I really love Ryan for when he puts Simon in his place.  I think that‘s my favorite aspect of Ryan. 

SCARBOROUGH:  A lot people do.

Jessica, do you think it‘s all an act or do you think these people have trouble dealing with each other on and off the camera?

SIERRA:  I think it‘s pretty much an act.  I mean, people love controversy.  People turn on the show.  They want to see Simon, you know, down Paula‘s throat.  They want to see Ryan come back with a smart-aleck comment.  And they want to see Randy just kind of sit there like, “What, what‘s going—are you kidding, you know?”

Honestly, I think it‘s a lot of it, almost most of it‘s an act. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Dina, I‘ll ask you the same thing.  Do you think we‘re all being played for, you know, a bunch of yahoos in flyover space, buying into this friction, or do you think it‘s real? 

SANSING:  Well, yes and no.  I mea, I think the friction on the show is—you know, they‘re going to play it up.  People tune in for the drama.  Otherwise it just turns into “Star Search,” you know?  We‘re tuning in to see this. 

But, you know, what we‘ve really seen this year is it go after the show.  You know, they‘re fighting in public.  They‘re fighting, like they said, on the radio show.  It‘s really sort of gotten out of control. 

And I think what you‘re seeing is, you know, this is a successful show.  It‘s bigger than ever.  Egos are getting bigger, and there‘s going to be, you know, conflict out of that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Dina, the friction drives the ratings up even higher, doesn‘t it?

SANSING:  Absolutely.  I mean, that‘s why we‘re watching.  We‘re watching to see them fight and bicker.  We‘re not just watching for the singing. 

O‘NEIL:  But, Joe, they mean this.

SCARBOROUGH:  At what point does the fighting become so ugly that people just turn off their TV sets? 

O‘NEIL:  I think very soon. 

SANSING:  Never.

O‘NEIL:  Because, right now, they‘re really believing this thing.  Look what‘s happening to the most successful talk show right now in daytime, “The View”?  The cast is exploding.  Star Jones will not be on that show this fall because they can‘t get along with her.

Look at what‘s happened to some of the greatest shows in TV history, like “Gilligan‘s Island.”  You know, that show only lasted three seasons because, if they had tried to go to a fourth season, those seven stranded castaways would have been six dead castaways and one survivor.  And my money would have been on Tina Louise. 

SANSING:  But that‘s only because they were fighting behind the scenes.  When you get to actually see them fight, you want to tune in and see that.  I think that‘s going to help.  You know, this is the biggest year ever for “Idol,” and it‘s the most fighting ever.  I don‘t think that‘s a coincidence. 

O‘NEIL:  They‘re fighting behind the scenes, too, and it‘s tearing up the show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Justin, at what point does it become counterproductive for the show? 

GUARINI:  Well, you know what?  There was an episode where—and I think it was early on, in like the top 20 or top 30, whatever it is they have now—where, you know, Simon was whispering something to Paula, and Paula would then, you know, say it.  And it was just kind of—it wasn‘t even constructive; it wasn‘t even a criticism; it wasn‘t anything; it was just silliness. 

And I think the producers kind of got onto them about really focusing on the kids.  I mean, you have your fun, but when you start to really go off the mark and not make any sort of comments, just, you know, bickering back and forth, and it‘s not about the kids, once it really goes off that mark, then I think it becomes counterproductive. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, as always, Justin Guarini, Tom O‘Neil, Dina Sansing, and Jessica sierra.  Greatly appreciate you being here.

And I‘ll be right back with my issues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, welcome back.  I‘m Joe, and I‘ve got issues. 

First up, we‘ve got Brat Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Africa for the birth of their child.  Now, one of the most pressing questions in Hollywood right now has been:  How much money will the photograph of baby Brangelina fetch? 

Some are saying $1 million, others $2 million.  But the growing consensus is that the first photo of the offspring of the two hot stars will easily bring in easily a seven-digit sum.  Millions of dollars for a baby photo snapped in the midst of unspeakable poverty?  I‘ll tell you what:  The juxtaposition is simply depressing. 

Speaking of depressing, I‘ve got so many issues with Denise Richards and Charlie Sheen, I don‘t know where to start.  She‘s trashed him court papers.  He‘s trashed her in the press, and now the situation‘s gotten so ugly that even Charlie‘s pimp is slinging mud.

He claims the sitcom star hired two of his hottest girls to dress up like cheerleaders and perform a lesbian act for him.  The owner of the escort service then called the gossip sheet from Riker‘s Island to say that, in 2004, Sheen paid more than $20,000 for the women‘s acting services. 

Too bad Sheen didn‘t get a million dollars for the shot of his children, because, with his habits, a million bucks isn‘t going to be enough to keep this guy afloat. 

We‘ll be right back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And that‘s our show.  Thank you so much for being with us tonight.  I greatly appreciate it.  Rita Cosby “LIVE & DIRECT” starts right now—Rita?

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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