Video: Anna Nicole's first husband on son's death

Support for Anna Nicole Smith

Now more people are speaking out about Anna Nicole Smith’s terrible loss of her son and the surprising news of who’s the father of new baby daughter. Two people who were touched by the loss of Daniel Smith in different ways, his father Billy Smith and Anna Nicole’s former publicist and family friend, David Granoff, spoke with me today. David Granoff also spoke to me about the two men claiming to be the father of Anna Nicole’s 2½-week old daughter.

Billy Smith, Anna Nicole’s first husband, spoke out for the first time to me today about the loss of his son, Daniel, earlier this month. For him this loss was so difficult.  He told me, “I still feel like it left me empty, stunned. He was only 20 years old.” In the midst of all the controversy surrounding his son’s death, he said that his family thinks there was a medication overdose with anti-depressants. He hopes that Anna Nicole will reach out to him and he told me that he gives her his condolences during this tough time. He told me actually just spoke with Anna Nicole’s mother and plans to attend the funeral and memorial service she is setting up in their hometown. Even though he’s been estranged from his son and Anna Nicole for so many years now, you could tell the loss was still heartbreaking and painful for him to speak about.

Afterwards I spoke with David Granoff, and he also expressed genuine sadness about the loss of Daniel, who he had watched grow up. He wanted to let Anna Nicole know, “I’m deeply, deeply saddened and terribly shocked.” He told me that “the whole world is mourning for Daniel” and that “there is one thing the whole world has in common, they’re all giving you their sympathy and they’re very, very sorry.” It’s clear that so many people are so confused and saddened by the loss of this young man and the unanswered questions in this case. Additional autopsy results are expected any day now and could at least provide some answers for friends and family members.

Congressman comes to Dog's defense

Now Dog the Bounty Hunter is getting the attention of lawmakers on Capital Hill. Today I interviewed Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo, who’s now a vocal advocate for the famous bounty hunter. Rep. Tancredo has always been critical of our immigration policies and discussed corruption on the Mexican side of the border.

Today, he told me he’s written a letter to the Attorney General asking who “was in charge of prioritizing assignments. Is it this administration-or the one in Mexico City?” He spoke to Dog on the phone in the last few days and believes, as many Americans do, that this man is a hero for getting a convicted rapist off the streets. The Congressman believes that justice officials on both sides of the border have their priorities out of whack to be focusing on bringing Dog back to Mexico when they have so many more severe problems at hand. He also wondered if it’s more than coincidence that Dog and two of his other team members get hauled in by U.S. Marshals only days before a major drug lord from Mexico gets brought back to the United States.

The Congressman, known for fighting for what he believes in, is really trying to do what he can to keep Dog on U.S. soil and free from any further legal actions stemming from the Andrew Luster case. He’s also written a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and asked the public watching our show to log on to his web site to read the letters and reach out to their congressmen and get them to sign onto his letters so that his message can gain momentum.

Having known Dog and his team for years, it’s amazing for me to see how popular he’s become with the American public who’ve gotten to know him from my interviews, but also his now top-rated A&E show, “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” Now the man known for catching what he says are more than 6,000 fugitives is catching the attention of Capital Hill and probably one of the most passionate Congressman, who says he’s now loyal to the Dog.

Feisty hour

I hope you get a chance to tune in Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET, as we have four great guests and topics.

We’ll have controversial former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker on to talk about his latest business venture that’s causing fireworks. He’s got a new “Speak English” t-shirt and bumper sticker for sale on his Web site. It’ll be interesting to ask him why he’s doing this now, especially after he has publicly apologized for what many saw as his racist, sexist and homophobic comments to Sports Illustrated in 1999.

Representative Tom Tancredo will also be joining us tomorrow, to share his outrage at the arrest of popular bounty hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman. Congressman Tancredo, of Colorado, spoke with Dog personally and will be telling us why he is so angry that the U.S. Government arrested the man who caught fugitive rapist Andrew Luster. Find out why he feels that immigration officials have their priorities out of whack.

We’ll also be talking with both of the drivers in that now famous racing track brawl on the Toledo Speedway over the weekend. It looked more like the WWE than racecar driving when one driver dropkicked another driver’s car and began pummeling the other driver all caught on tape. Both drivers are now sad about the whole ordeal and plan to be together on our air for the first time to talk about it.

It should be an interesting hour, with four people who don’t hold back in what they say or do.

The Dog is Back

Be sure to tune in to A & E's special tonight on Dog and his family, as they also interviewed me about my experiences with the famous bounty hunter through the years. He's now out on $3,000 bail, and he is ready to talk and tell all about what really happened in Mexico three years ago, and why he believes, he should never be forced to step foot on Mexican soil again.

I also did an exclusive interview on Monday with Duane “Dog” Chapman, his wife Beth and a victim of convicted rapist Andrew Luster, who set up a defense fund to help Dog, telling me that Dog "may have literally saved her life."  Dog, as you know, was responsible for getting Luster off the streets when he busted him in Mexico back in 2003.

Tonja "Doe" was so thankful for Dog’s capture of Luster, and even tearful as she spoke to Dog on the air with me. She said,  “Andrew Luster had a hit list with my name on it, amongst a lot of other people.”  “Thankfully Dog was able to capture him before anything like that could have happened to me or anyone else.”

Dog offered Tonja a heartfelt thanks for her support as he faces charges now again from the Mexican government. Dog told Tonja he is “very sorry he did this to you, and I’m glad that he’s in prison, and thank you for sticking up for me.” Dog tried to comfort Tonja explaining, “it looks bad right now, but we live in America. It’s going to be okay... I promise."

In our interview, Tonja announced a new legal defense fund she set up with her lawyer, available online at www.dogdefensefund.com. It wasn’t the first time this brave survivor had helped the Chapmans while they were in a tough situation.

Years ago, after the Chapmans had spent all their own money capturing Luster and hadn’t been paid a cent for it, Tonja sent the Chapmans money one December. Dog’s wife Beth admitted, “Frankly, my children would not have had a Christmas, Tonja, had you not sent that money to them.” It showed how stretched this bounty hunting team was back in 2003 right after the Luster ordeal.

Through the years that I have interviewed Dog, he has never lost his determination. Dog and Beth told me they are going to fight extradition to Mexico now “tooth and nail.” Even after a dozen U.S. Marshals came to his door last week at 6 a.m. to lead him away from his family in handcuffs, Dog still has faith in the American justice system. “We believe in truth and justice. And truth and justice in the American way will prevail.”

Click below to watch Rita's interview with Duane "Dog" Chapman and his wife Beth Chapman.

Video: Exclusive interview: 'Dog' Chapman

Free The Dog

I have received so many emails since we broke the news yesterday that Duane “Dog” Chapman and two members of his bounty hunting team were suddenly arrested in the wee hours of the morning by U.S. Marshals.

Overwhelmingly, the emails you sent me have said that this move by the Mexican and U.S. governments is a tremendous miscarriage of justice and that The Dog, his son and Tim Chapman should be freed and never returned to Mexico. Today, there will be a bond hearing in Honolulu, where it will be determined if Dog and his men can even get out on bond. Either way, Dog will passionately fight extradition to Mexico.

What so many people are stunned about, including myself, as I’ve covered this story closely for years, is why, three years after the fact, the Mexican government is suddenly demanding Dog Chapman to come back to their country, claiming he’s now a fugitive from justice. What happened behind the scenes in the last few weeks or months to cause the Mexican government to make such a move?

Dog’s wife Beth told me a short time ago that Dog told her in the last 24-hours, “this is outrageous. I’m clearly being traded for some people in Mexico that the Americans want. There’s clearly a deal here.” He also said he’s worried because he’s had virtually no access to his own family and hasn’t gotten his blood pressure medicine that he normally takes. So was there a sudden deal behind the scenes? Or as some of our viewers have suggested, was there a payoff to someone in Mexico to make this happen out of the blue?

And now, we’ve learned there’s another surprising twist to this case.  Today Beth Chapman herself has a court hearing to determine whether or not she might be facing contempt of court charges. She and her husband were in the middle of filming for the fourth season of their successful show on A&E when all this broke, and she had microphone equipment with her in the courtroom yesterday. She told me she and her family feel they’re being targeted by authorities, as it was obvious she couldn’t be secretly recording anything because the courtroom walls were too secure.

Most Americans who’ve contacted us are extremely emotional about this case and believe Dog is a true American hero who got a convicted rapist off the streets. They’re offering to protest outside the courthouse and have even set up websites in the last 24 hours like www.FreeDogTheBountyHunter.com.

As the man known for nabbing thousands of bad guys now is behind bars himself, his many supporters see no irony in this, but only anger. We are working hard to find out what really happened here and find out what was behind the statement made to me by one of Andrew Luster’s own former attorneys, when he told me yesterday that they’ve been pushing the Mexicans to do this for some time, including making some recent efforts.

'Dog' the Bounty Hunter arrested by U.S. Marshals(Rita Cosby)

I was quite stunned when I heard that "Dog" was awakened by US Marshals this morning as they entered his home to take HIM into custody.

At 6 a.m. local Honolulu time, more than half a dozen U.S. Marshals arrested bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman in Honolulu, Hawaii. They also arrested his son, Leland Chapman, and another member of his team, Tim Chapman.

Duane "Dog" Chapman is the star of the A&E series "Dog the Bounty Hunter," which is currently in the midst of its fourth season and is also one of the highest rated shows on A&E.

The U.S. Marshals arrested Dog and two others at the request of the Mexican government, which issued an arrest warrant in connection with his successful capture of fugitive Andrew Luster in Mexico in June 2003. Bounty hunting is illegal in Mexico. Back in 2003, Mexican officials arrested Dog, Leland, Tim and their cameramen after they detained high-profile suspect Andrew Luster while he was on the run from a California rape trial. Dog and his team were held for a few days in a Mexican jail and then released on bond, told to report back with Mexican officials once per week.

The Mexican government also formally arrested Luster after Dog Chapman tracked him down and returned Luster to the U.S. and the FBI.  He was subsequently convicted and is now serving a 124-year sentence in connection with drugging and raping three women.

The U.S. Marshals Office says regarding Dog's arrest today:

"The arrest warrant was signed by a U.S. magistrate in Hawaii on Sept. 13. The warrant was based on a formal request based on a diplomatic note from the government of Mexico."

He'll have a hearing today in court in Hawaii, and it'll soon be determined if he can get out on bond. No doubt he will vigorously fight extradition to Mexico, so this process could take weeks, even months. A U.S. judge will also ultimately have to decide if Dog should be handed over to Mexican authorities.

James Edstrom
The people in this photo are from L to R Duane "Dog" Chapman, Beth Chapman, Tim Chapman and Leland Chapman.

Dog Chapman's wife, Beth, is devastated and outraged that her husband would be arrested three years after getting a wanted fugitive, who's convicted of raping three women, off the streets.  She told me that early this morning armed marshals stormed into their house while Dog was sleeping. They cuffed Dog Chapman and led him into their vehicle. They later tracked down Tim Chapman and then also Dog's son, Leland Chapman.

She now desperately wants to talk to her husband... and will do all she can to try to make sure Dog and his bounty hunting team stay on U.S. soil.

Click below to watch Rita's interview with Beth Chapman, "Dog" the Bounty Hunter's wife:

Video: 'Dog's' wife 'surprised' by his arrest

A tribute to 9/11 heroes

Today is such an emotional day for all Americans, and an important tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11, five years ago. We all remember where we were when we got the confusing news that something may have happened to the World Trade Center.

I was at my mother’s house in Connecticut, on a rare day off, and I remember my mother rushing me to the TV set, saying it looks like there was a fire in one of the Twin Towers. Immediately, I thought of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and called my law enforcement and intelligence contacts. I will never forget being on the phone with the CIA when it was clear that a second plane had flown into the second tower only minutes after the first. At that moment, we all knew we were under attack. Even the usually calm CIA was frantic, and immediately my contacts believed Osama bin Laden was behind the surprise and deadly attack.

As the day unfolded, like all Americans I watched in horror as another plane slammed into the Pentagon. I soon learned that my friend Barbara Olsen, a known political strategist, was aboard that fateful flight. I had just interviewed her days before and she was so optimistic and full of life.

We can never forget the brave rescue workers who, against all odds, tried to save lives on 9/11, many losing their own in the heroic process. The words of Todd Beamer, “Let’s Roll,” still echo in my mind every day, as I’m amazed at the courage displayed by everyday passengers aboard United Flight 93 when they knew that their plane, the fourth hijacked flight, was headed toward Washington, D.C.

But today, five years later, we must be thankful that we have not seen another major attack, but also never be complacent because the enemy against America is determined and ruthless.

I believe we will be fighting against those who hate America throughout my lifetime. But I pray that the lessons learned from 9/11 will keep us united and help us avoid another major tragedy on American soil.

California brawl exclusive

You might be surprised to hear the reaction I got from the man seen on that videotape punching and knocking down a San Diego TV reporter. I just finished speaking with Mr. Assad Suleiman in his first interview since the September 5th brawl, which left reporter John Mattes with lots of visible cuts, bite marks and reportedly cracked ribs. Mattes was investigating Suleiman for real estate and identity fraud for some time, and says Suleiman had verbally threatened him before.

Now, in my exclusive interview, the quite outspoken Suleiman tells his version of the events and says he's not sorry or ashamed of his actions caught on tape. He admits he has "anger management issues," but says he thought he was defending his wife, and claims it was the reporter who was "out of control, and pushed him too far." He also maintains he's being falsely accused of crimes by the journalist which he says he did not commit. Suleiman says the reporter has ruined his life, and even goes so far as to saying that the reporter should be held accountable for his actions.

Both Suleiman and his wife have posted bail, but are due back in court Monday. His attorney tells me they will plead not guilty. Be sure to tune in to MSNBC all weekend as we'll run Suleiman's comments, which may surprise you as well.

Life after Trump (Rita Cosby)

I just spoke with Carolyn Kepcher, well-known as Donald Trump’s right hand in the popular TV show, "The Apprentice." After 11 years running Donald Trump’s golf properties and rising to one of the highest ranking females in Trump’s company, she and Donald Trump parted ways last week… and many news organizations are claiming that she was fired because speaking engagements and fame kept her from concentrating on her primary job.

When I spoke with Carolyn today, she couldn’t have been more of a class act about the whole ordeal. She described her side of the story. She says after more than a decade working for his organization, she and Donald had been talking about her future and finally decided it was best for her to find new opportunities. Carolyn warned not to believe everything out there in the media… she said there were no hard feelings with Trump and even described him as a good friend and great mentor.

Also, she believes this turning point in her life will work out to her advantage. She says "the phone is ringing" and that she’s already been offered jobs with the PGA and from the TV world, but hasn’t decided on her next move yet. Carolyn said of her new career path, "I’m very proud of myself. I’m proud of my accomplishments. So, am I going to survive this and go forward? Absolutely. Not a doubt in my mind."

Video: 'I wasn't fired by Trump'

Justice for Jeffs

We’re now outside the courthouse in Las Vegas, where just hours ago the extradition hearing took place for notorious polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs. Security in and around the courtroom was intense. Armed guards from Las Vegas tactical units surrounded Jeffs, wearing bulletproof vests as he faced the judge. All the law enforcement officials I spoke with said they were extremely concerned that one of his many followers, or even Jeffs himself, could attempt to do something in the courtroom. Jeffs will soon arrive in Utah to face sex charges, including rape by an accomplice, which is a first-degree felony and could carry up to life in prison.

For those who escaped his sect, this justice is a long time coming. They described decades of sexual and verbal abuse directed by this so-called prophet...they will be watching the wheels of justice carefully.

The other amazing twist in this story is how one of the FBI’s top 10 most wanted fugitives was finally nabbed. I just finished talking to Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Eddie Dutchover, a humble and dedicated law enforcement officer who was just making what seemed like another routing traffic stop Monday night on a Vegas interstate. This smart-thinking and intuitive trooper noticed a guy in the backseat was extremely nervous, and noted that he told a story as to where they were driving from that differed from his brother’s, the driver behind the wheel. Dutchover suspected it could be one of the most wanted men in the country and called in the FBI, who finally got Jeffs to admit who he was.

It was the end of the road for Warren Jeffs, who, after leading over 10,000 followers, now sits in an isolated cell waiting to learn his fate.

Back to square one

As I write this from outside the Court House in Boulder, Colorado, there is such a sense of disappointment and anger with the district attorney and the JonBenet Ramsey case. D.A. Mary Lacy just finished talking to reporters for nearly two hours, as she tried to explain why they wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars to bring a man over from Thailand who was making wild claims about being involved in the case and who had no physical evidence to back him up.

Many people here are furious at the D.A. and are even talking about having a recall, since she’s an elected official. The D.A. did say a few minutes ago that she “should” be held accountable and owes the public an explanation for what happened. But the bottom line is, all they had in this case were the rantings of what some say is clearly a madman with a history of hallucinations and lies, even according to his own family.

Adrienne Wheeler / Msnbc-tv

At this hour, John Mark Karr is in his six-by-nine-foot jail cell, just a few miles from where I’m standing. He’s said to be nervous and anxious, with now another hearing set to take place in a few hours…this time an extradition hearing to California where he’s wanted on child pornography charges.

With a sea of media looking on, some coming from as far away as Japan, Boulder residents are shaking their heads, especially now that the D.A. has said that she does not believe John Mark Karr committed this crime and she has no other suspects in the case right now. The fact that Boulder authorities took Karr’s confessions so seriously is disturbing to many people…but even more so considering the 10-year anniversary of JonBenet’s death is now only months away and the brutal killer of this 6-year-old girl has yet to be found.

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Looking into the eyes of John Mark Karr

As I write this, I just finished starring into the eyes of a man who, only hours before, was thought to be JonBenet Ramsey’s killer. I was standing just inches away from John Mark Karr as he was being driven to the jail. He starred at me through the window, seeming to look at no one else.

AP

Tune in tonight for our special at 10pm eastern to hear about what it was like to see him up close and to hear about the day’s stunning. It truly has been a surreal last few hours in Boulder, Colorado, and now once again, the Boulder community is left with the question… who killed JonBenet?

Video: Patsy Ramsey's sister speaks out

Who Is John Mark Karr?

After reporting from Boulder, Colo., for several days, I’m now in Hamilton, Alabama, John Mark Karr’s hometown where he was married twice to local teenagers and had three children. Everybody in town has been so cordial and kind to us, and they are scratching their heads about this man that they grew up with who says he’s connected to such a horrible crime.

A lot of people in town talk about John Mark Karr’s dark side. They describe him as peculiar.  They say that he was smart but acted odd and often uncomfortable. A few of his classmates have shown me their yearbooks that he signed with strange messages; he made references to suicide cult leader Jim Jones and signed year books as “Rev. J,” Reverend John.

Additionally, I spoke exclusively to one of John Mark Karr’s former classmates, Wendy Nichols, who says that just months after JonBenet Ramsey was killed, John told her he was there and he did it. Wendy says that John Mark Karr was helping her and her children pull up a Web site at her computer at her home in 1997. He was calm and engaged in casual conversation until a story about the child beauty queen came on the news. Nichols says that John Mark Karr “turned around and he looked at the television and started arguing with the television.” She says he told her that “he felt that the investigators were incompetent and that he knew what went on” and that he could tell her why there were no footprints in the snow outside the Ramsey’s house, and how the intruder broke in. According to Nichols, Karr told her “that he could tell me because he was there and he did it.” He also mentioned in the conversation that he loved JonBenet. And again, this was only a few months after the beauty queen was murdered.

Video: Karr's childhood

Wendy Nichols regrets not coming forward sooner, but contacted the Boulder District Attorney’s office this week, because now she wonders if what Karr was telling her may have been true.

In John Mark Karr’s hometown of Hamilton, Ala., with a population of about 7,000 people, everybody seems to have met Karr at some point. Now they’re just trying to figure out if the man is delusional or…much worse…the killer of JonBenet Ramsey.

Unsung Hero

Tonight on “Scarborough Country,” at 9pm EST, I’ll be interviewing someone who never sought fame or glory, but heroically saved people on September 11th…ex-Marine Sgt. Jason Thomas.

Just last Friday, I saw the movie “World Trade Center” by Oliver Stone, which was a moving account of two Port Authority police officers who were trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center, near death. They were suddenly spotted and rescued by two brave ex-Marines. Those marines walked over the scalding rubble of the Twin Towers and were determined to find any survivors.... they suddenly heard a voice and knew someone was alive.

Video: Mystery hero of 9/11 revealed

Since then, both the rescued policemen and producers for the movie “World Trade Center” have been searching for one of the rescuers, known simply as “Sgt. Thomas.” Sgt. Thomas suddenly saw a commercial for the film just a few weeks ago, and realized they were talking about him and what he did that fateful day. He just came forward to share his memories and pay tribute to those who lost their lives during the worst terrorist attack on US soil.

After talking to Sgt. Thomas, I was so inspired, this is a man who’s truly dedicated to making a difference and is genuinely a patriotic American. He said he was “just doing his part” since he wanted “to help his city.” This is an interview that truly shows how every American can make a tremendous difference.

Could They Be the Next Taylor Hicks?

Believe it or not, it’s "American Idol" season again.

I just came back from round one of the American Idol auditions just outside of New York City, and you would not believe some of the colorful characters who are trying out for the biggest show in America. We saw so many contestants with wild hats, brightly colored hair, face paint, loud clothes, and quirky dance moves. When we arrived there at the arena, everybody wanted to audition for our cameras.  One one guy literally flew across the parking lot singing, appropriately, “I Believe I Can Fly.” There were also thousands of talented singers who didn’t make it through this first round.

Tune in to “Scarborough Country” at 9pm tonight and you’ll get a sneak peek at some of the most vibrant and outrageous performers who dream of winning the sixth season of American Idol.

Riding with ‘American Chopper’
(Rita Cosby)

IMAGE: Rita Cosby with Paul Teutul

I hope all of you will tune in this Thursday night on “Scarborough Country” to see some of the most colorful and humble people I’ve interviewed in a long time: the stars of the wildly popular Discovery Channel reality show “American Chopper.” They are a true American success story — going from unknown iron workers to the most recognizable custom motorcycle makers in the world, providing custom bikes to people like Jay Leno and Bill Murray.

IMAGE: Rita Cosby hitches a ride with Paulie Teutul.
Photos by Andrew Dallos/MSNBC-TV
Rita Cosby and Paul Teutul Sr. turn heads on the mean streets of Secaucus.

When the Teutuls arrived here at our MSNBC studios in Secaucus, N.J., this morning, the place was hopping. As word spread that Paul Sr. and his sons, Paulie and the always funny Mikey, were in the building, people came out of the woodwork to meet them. These guys are the real deal — a hard-working American family who are just like most of us. Paul Sr. argues with his kids, both on and off camera, and they wish Dad would lighten up.

You have to tune in to see their candid comments about why they think the show is hitting a chord with so many fans, to hear about their romances off camera and to get a sneak peak at what can only be described as a piece of art: their first mass-produced bike, the OCC Splitback. Tune in to also find out how they’re going global and what surprising new ventures they’re about to embark on.

IMAGE: Rita Cosby with the ‘American Chopper’ crew
Rita Cosby with the ‘American Chopper’ crew

And speaking of bikes — the favorite part of the whole morning for me was getting a ride with Paul Sr. on one of his specialty items. We turned a lot of heads and got a lot of honks as we speeded down the local streets on one of the finest bikes to hit that pavement ever. I’ve done some fun things in my day, but this one definitely makes the list, and I hope you catch now “Easy Rider” Rita and the great guys from “American Chopper” all in action. Talk about must see SC!

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The Mideast cauldron (Rita Cosby)

As I closely watch events unfold between Israel and Hezbollah, I cannot help but think about my interview with then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in late December 2001. Today, while the rockets and air strikes continue, the health of the former prime minister has continued to deteriorate, making many wonder what would Gen. Sharon have done during this difficult point in history.

It was Christmas 2001, and after countless phone calls, I received word that both Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon had agreed to separate back-to-back interviews with me in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Arafat had just been denied permission to visit Bethlehem, and hostilities were raging high. I had about an hour to pack and say goodbye to my family for the holidays as I rushed on an El-Al Airlines flight to Israel.

Arafat changed the hour of the interview numerous times, but we were finally able to sit down face to face in a small room which had been visibly damaged from the Israeli bombings, which were continuing at that time. Arafat had just officially closed the Hamas offices and was proud to point that out publicly, but I asked him why he had not done that years ago and whether it was all for show. Also, as I looked closely at this man who had led the Palestinian people for decades, I asked him what message he’d like me to pass on to Ariel Sharon, as I was interviewing him the following day. Arafat responded, “Tell him it is time for peace in the Middle East, not just for our children, but for our children’s children, future generations.”

I met Ariel Sharon at his beautiful farm in the Negev less than 24 hours later. Given that tensions were especially high at that time, his farm that day closely resembled a heavily armed fortress with snipers lurking at every corner. Although I saw a very human side to this man, it was clear on that day I was also talking to Gen. Sharon, who made his military reputation during the 1967 Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War.

He recounted to me a day that could have changed history. Back in the early 1980s, during the Lebanon War, a conflict that involved Lebanon as well as the Palestinians and Israelis, a young Israeli soldier told Gen. Sharon that he had Yasser Arafat in the scope of his rifle, and he calmly asked Sharon, “Should I take the shot?” Sharon told me he hesitated and ultimately told him, “No.” On that day when I spoke to Sharon in 2001, almost two decades later, Sharon was not sure he had made the right decision, visibly anguished, wondering how different the world could have been if he had told that young soldier to fire away. Years later, as the peace process further deteriorated, Sharon told me he definitely made a mistake that day and should have ordered the shooting.

But Sharon also realized his place in history and wanted the new reality of the Middle East to be one of peace. In his final years, Ariel Sharon made some large concessions, pulling Israeli soldiers out of significant territories for the sake of peace.

Today, as Ariel Sharon remains in a coma, sadly near death, I cannot help but wonder whether, if he were still leading his country, he would order young soldiers to take those shots now against Hezbollah? Or would he demand that international diplomacy take hold?

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Look at us now ... (Rita Cosby)

You’ve probably noticed some big changes at MSNBC and may have seen me on the air now at all different hours of the day and night. That’s because I don’t need a lot of sleep, as I’ve learned over the years in television ... and because most important, we’ve set up a brand new team called “The Rita Cosby Specials Unit.”

We’ve assembled some terrific and very talented people and plan to deliver to you, our viewers, top-notch interviews and big breaking news. The goal of this hard-working unit is to get interviews with people you want to hear from, people who are making a difference, and get them to answer the tough and intriguing questions. Hopefully, they’re the same ones you at home want to hear. When there’s breaking news, trust me, we’re going to be right there on the scene giving you the inside scoop on the biggest story.

In this day and age, the stories that matter to you are happening at a fast and furious pace. It’s an incredible time to be a journalist, with the world changing and evolving literally by the minute. Rest assured, we’ll experience that change with all of you and bring you closer to the story and the people who are making it all happen.

I will also be anchoring some of our top-rated MSNBC Investigates, which now air every night at 10  and 11 p.m. ET. I really enjoy these in-depth, long-form documentaries that allow us to better understand a story and take us along for the journey, whether it be inside a prison or along the border or anywhere else.

This past week alone, I’ve reported on the man who allegedly blew up his own New York building; talked to Mark and Ruth Lunsford, the relatives of little 9-year-old Jessica, who was brutally raped and murdered last year; interviewed former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the crisis with Lebanon and Hezbollah; and, on a much lighter note, spent time with almost all of the finalists from last season’s “American Idol,” who are now on a concert tour.

The world is certainly not a dull place, and “The Rita Cosby Specials Unit” plans to cover it all ... 24 hours a day.

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All-Access ‘Idol’: A morning with the ‘Idol’ finalists (Rita Cosby)

Thursday, I had one of the most fun days I’ve had on the job in a long time. I spent several hours with the top finalists from this year’s “American Idol” in a behind-the-scenes look at their upcoming tour. In addition to meeting all the Idols, I learned the “Bucky Slide” from finalist Bucky Covington and was serenaded by Idol “hunks” Ace Young and Elliot Yamin.

It was such a pleasure to meet this year’s “American Idol” finalists. They are all so down-to-earth. They showed up in casual clothes, and you could just sense the camaraderie among the finalists. They are all so genuine, on and off air. Right away, you can tell that these new superstars are all so well grounded, and you get the sense that fame will probably never change them. I had interviewed a few of the finalists on satellite before (when they were at a different location from our studios), and they were quick to gives me hugs when I finally met them in person.

I got the sense that the finalists were still shell-shocked — that their recent catapult to fame had not yet sunk in, especially for Taylor Hicks, who won it all. What a difference a year has made for Taylor ... he went from singing in roadside stands in Birmingham, Ala., to being crowned People magazine’s Hottest Bachelor of 2006. Yet, Taylor, along with his fellow “Idol” finalists Ace Young and Elliot Yamin, blushed when I asked him about his high status with women across America. The three Idols even told me humorous stories of all the marriage proposals that have been coming in and the creative ways women throughout the country are now trying to contact them.

These new celebrities haven’t forgotten where they came from. Both Ace and Elliot talked with me about their amazing mothers. And Elliot even told me how excited his mother was that he was appearing on my show — she’s apparently a big fan, which I was really touched to hear.

All of the finalists were just so sweet, and so appreciative of their instant success. Kellie Pickler, from Albemarle, N.C., is so proud of her Southern roots, and she still has a tough time pronouncing “salmon.” Mandisa talked with me about her faith and says she doesn’t hold a grudge against Simon’s negative comments about her weight. When we showed finalist Paris Bennett the tape of Connie Chung’s swan song from “Weekends with Maury and Connie,” her facial reactions were priceless. And Lisa Tucker was just so gracious and a real sweetheart, always providing support for the Idols who beat her out in the competition.

Like Taylor Hicks’ first commercial for Ford, all of these finalists are pure Americana. They each represent a different slice of American life. After meeting them all in person, I am just really happy for the finalists of “Idol.” It is so inspiring that the average American can suddenly become an instant success and deserve it.

The secret life of a suspected sniper (Rita Cosby)

Suspected sniper Darren Mack is still on the loose, and police have released a description of his vehicle, yet the story surrounding his ex-wife’s killing and the shooting of a family court judge is still unfolding. We found out on our show that Darren had been spotted at the Bunny Ranch, a Reno, Nev., brothel, only a few days before the killing of his ex-wife and the shooting of Judge Weller. This new information is added to the knowledge that Darren Mack was involved in exchanging partners with other couples, also known as “swinging.” And while his wife apparently acquiesced before they had a child together, people close to the couple say she had changed her mind once the baby was born.

Darren’s relationship with his ex-wife was complicated also by the settlement in divorce court, where he was allegedly paying for almost all of his ex-wife’s living expenses. This is the settlement that Darren tried to expose as corrupt to television journalists in Reno.

As the facts come to light, it seems as if this once picture-perfect couple dealt with quite a few financial and sexual differences that reportedly escalated the tension in their family court settlement. It is just so sad to hear of such a bitter breakup turning so contentious that it potentially could lead to actual physical violence. Sadly, there will always be cases of violence and abuse surrounding child custody and divorce trials ... but even after covering so many murders and shootings, I am struck by the blunt brutality of these alleged crimes. And I can only hope that the perpetrator will be found and brought to justice.

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The Reno custody battle: What went wrong? (Rita Cosby)

What could drive someone to attempt murder over a nasty divorce and child custody case?

Police are still desperately searching for Darren Mack, a respected Reno businessman who is suspected in the killing of his wife and the multiple shooting of a family court judge who worked on his divorce and child custody case. Darren, the owner of a successful pawn shop, apparently was caught up in a bitter divorce battle and fight for his children, and he is thought to have just snapped and gone on a violent, vengeful spree.

This case has really brought heated divorce and child custody cases to the forefront. On our show this week, some have said the legal system is skewed against fathers. There are staggering statistics: 90 percent of divorced fathers have less than full custody of their children, and about 40 percent of divorced fathers have no access or visitation rights. Darren blames the outcome of his case on an alleged campaign contribution scandal involving the presiding judge. He even contacted a local Reno journalist a month ago about doing the story. While I can definitely understand the tense situation that divorce and custody battles create for all involved, there is absolutely no excuse for the horrible violence that Darren is suspected of inflicting.

At some point, probably all of us have had tense moments with a spouse or a significant other, and this case, if the allegations prove true, is definitely an extreme situation. But sadly, there were few warning signs. I spoke with Dean Tong, a forensic trial consultant, who worked on Darren’s divorce and child custody case. Tong said he subjected Darren to a variety of domestic violence and physical child abuse propensity tests. How did he do? Tong says, “He passed with flying colors.” One of Darren’s former employees also says that Darren is a “very, very nice guy” and that this news “is an out-and-out shock to me.”

I’ve covered so many violent crimes, but when a successful businessman seemingly snaps over a nasty child custody battle and a bitter divorce, it really strikes a chord. Can our system or our culture really drive people to kill over their kids? Or is this just an isolated incident with few warning signs.

Right now, my thoughts are mainly with Darren Mack’s children and with all of the children who witness bitter custody battles.

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A trail of terror (Nina Bradley)

We are learning details today about the suspect accused of strangling Clemson University student Tiffany Souers last month in her South Carolina apartment.

Jerry “Buck” Inman, 35, was picked up overnight in Tennessee, where his mother and sister live in Dandridge. Inman is a registered sex offender in Florida, and he also has a felony record in North Carolina.

Video: Inman in court

There’s more: We have just learned from investigators that Inman will be charged with a May 23 assault on a woman in Rainsville, Ala., in which the victim was tied up. And he will also be charged with the May 24 rape of a Sevierville, Tenn., woman. Two days later, on May 26, Tiffany Souers was found raped and strangled in her Central, S.C., apartment. So if you take a look at how the dates and the alleged crimes took place, that means Inman, if he’s the culprit, was on a terrifying trip across three different states in a matter of just four days.

We are all angered by how this man, if he did these horrible things, could be walking the streets freely with such a sick criminal past, and we are working hard to get answers for Tiffany’s loving family and friends.

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A powerful journey (Rita Cosby)

As many of you know, I’ve just returned from a brief vacation in beautiful Hawaii. It turned out to be an incredible trip filled with intense highs and lows.

I attended the wedding of my friends Duane “Dog” Chapman, the bounty hunter, and his longtime girlfriend, Beth Smith. It seemed like the most magical wedding, complete with a Hawaiian sunset and the groom dressed all in white, arriving on a raft, with a conch shell player announcing his dramatic entrance.

IMAGE: Rita Cosby with ‘Dog’ Chapman and his new bride, Beth Smith.
Personal photo
Rita Cosby with ‘Dog’ Chapman, far right, and his new bride, Beth Smith.

But the day began with news of a sudden tragedy. Dog was awakened to learn that his 23-year-old daughter, Barbara, was killed in a high-speed car accident in Alaska. Visibly devastated, Dog spent much of his wedding day praying with his family and his priest, trying to decide whether they should continue with their wedding plans. In the end, they decided it was best to not only honor their love for each other, but also honor his daughter. At the reception, Dog renewed his vows to his new bride but also renewed his fight against those who sell or use drugs. Barbara had used drugs for some time, and he desperately tried to help her quit. His speech that night was one of the most powerful and heartfelt messages I’ve ever heard.

From experiencing the preciousness of human life to the spirit of animal life ...

Several days later, I spent a lot of time swimming with the dolphins at Dolphin Quest, a truly amazing experience in which you get to see up close and touch these incredibly smart mammals. There are 10 dolphins in total at this pristine facility, ranging from 2 to 34 years old, including a 500-pound male appropriately named Lono, Hawaiian for “God of Harvest.” After all, Lono has fathered seven other dolphins! Getting so close to these dolphins was extraordinary, and I encourage any of you to have this unforgettable experience if you ever get the chance.

IMAGE: Rita Cosby in Hawaii with the dolphins.
Courtesy Dolphin Quest
Rita Cosby in Hawaii with the dolphins.

We also traveled many hours to the other side of the Big Island of Hawaii, to the erupting volcano.  Last time I did this, years ago, I’m sure I cheated death, since I came within a few yards of the lava spewing from the lava tubes. But this time, we were strongly and wisely urged to stay far away from the lava, since only a few months ago, they said a 40-square-mile area of land around the volcano site suddenly broke off one day. So park rangers would not allow even adventurous visitors like me to advance near the scene. Still, to see the lava flow into the ocean, causing large orange streaks visible to the naked eye from miles away, was quite powerful.

This natural beautiful of our country will be etched in my memory forever, but even more so will be the resolute love in Dog’s eyes for his daughter. This trip was not a vacation but a lesson of what’s important — to love those around you and make every day special, since life is truly a gift.

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‘Idol’ finalist love fest (Nina Bradley)

Elliott Yamin is the real deal. We had the wonderful opportunity to interview him last night on our show , and he was so down to earth and genuinely nice both on and off camera. Since many of us on the “Live & Direct” staff are serious “American Idol” fans, we all watched him this season make his way to the finals and become one of the final three contestants. While I am still pleased that Taylor Hicks won the whole thing, I am completely confident that Elliott will end up being an enormous success and do a lot of good for some important causes close to him. He told us yesterday that he is a diabetic and partially deaf in his right ear. Elliott said he’d like to use his new platform to help spread the word about diabetes and deafness. After he said that during our interview, I realized why so many fans adore him. Elliott is the real deal, and we love him for that!

Here are some of YOUR emails you sent to us about Elliott Yamin. Thanks for writing in!

Thank you so much, Rita for showcasing this amazing new talent. Elliott Yamin is one of the most talented singers I’ve heard in a very long time. Everyone who is so inspired by this young man’s talent and personality truly look forward to these opportunities. Please tell Elliott that Miami loves him! Thanks so much!!
Nancy A. Dominguez

Just wanted to thank you for having Elliott Yamin on your show — I love the fact that Elliott is finally getting the media coverage he deserves and I heard your interview was the best of all.

Thanks so much.
Cher
Elliott’s # 1 fan in Massachusetts

As a devoted Elliott fan, I can’t thank you enough for the intelligent, learned and fun interview you conducted with him. Thanks to you, we are virtually certain he will be getting a record contract and putting out a solo CD in the near future, which is something his fans desperately need to hear. You helped show America what a great guy and great singer he is. Thank you for keeping him in the forefront. We think he will have a HUGE careers.
Cindy Allen
San Marcos, Calif.

After watching the interview [with Elliott Yamin], I had a smile on my face the size of Texas. I had seen interviews with Elliott earlier today on different shows, but none of those interviews compared with yours. You asked the different questions and made the whole thing a lot more enjoyable for a fan to watch. I especially liked the surprise phone call from Ace Young. I appreciate that you had some background knowledge on E, making it possible to ask the more in depth questions. I really just want to thank you for conducting and excellent interview with Elliott. It made my day!

May you have continuous success in your career!
Morgan Joyce

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