updated 12/29/2006 10:42:47 AM ET 2006-12-29T15:42:47

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Michael Crowley, Joshua Green, Anne Kornblut, Heidi

Bressler, Steve Adubato, Courtney Hazlett, Carmen Rasmusen, Marc Malkin

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight: Gerald Ford takes on the president,

Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld from beyond the grave, calling Mr. Bush`s

war a big mistake.

But first: NBC News has learned that Saddam Hussein could be put to

death as early as tomorrow.  And while the former Iraqi leader is staring

down his own death, President Bush is staring straight into a political

abyss created by chaos in the country the doomed dictator once ruled. 

Today, George Bush and his close advisers met in Texas to talk about an

increase in U.S. troop levels, this despite reports that his defense

secretary and soldiers in Iraq oppose that move.

Meanwhile at home, the results of a shocking year-end survey shows

that things could hardly be worse for Mr. Bush.  When the Associated Press

asked Americans to name this past year`s biggest villain, Mr. Bush topped

the list, ahead of the dictator expected to be executed in a matter of

hours, ahead of Osama bin Laden and ahead of the prince of darkness, Satan. 

Now, you don`t have to have a political doctorate in political science to

realize it`s never a good sign when you`re outpolled by Lucifer.

Here now to talk about the polling, Iraq and the meetings in Crawford,

Texas, "Newsweek`s" senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe,

Michael Crowley, senior editor for "The New Republic," and Josh Green, he`s

senior editor for "The Atlantic Monthly."

Richard, we will get to the whole Satan outranking George Bush in a

minute, but first let`s talk about the goings-on in Crawford, Texas, today. 

Do you have information that the president is actually listening to his

advisers in Crawford, or is this just a little summit that`s all for show,

with the Iraq review already completed?

RICHARD WOLFFE, "NEWSWEEK":  Well, he`s listening, but they`re all on

the same page.  I mean, there`s not a whole lot of dissent that I hear from

my White House sources that`s going on.  And look, if they were going to

dissent, they shouldn`t really be in this kind of administration or this

kind of cabinet.

SCARBOROUGH:  What do you mean by that?

WOLFFE:  This is not a president who really is going to hire people

who dissent that strongly from what he wants to do.  He`s very clear that

he`s the boss.  He doesn`t go to his national security team for an

approval, for a rubber stamp, he goes for how -- he goes for an affirmation

of what he`s looking for, and he wants to know how they`re going to execute

what he has already decided.  And what he`s decided here is that the

strategy of America should be to stand up to the Maliki government.  He

wants to know how they`re going to do it, not whether or not they agree.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Josh Green, if that`s the case, it seems to me

Mr. Bush has been attacked for not listening to others, and now we hear of

these more troops being sent to Iraq, despite the fact his generals, the

American public, the incoming secretary of defense and even a lot of troops

in Iraq have major concerns.  Have we gotten to a point where it is George

Bush against the world?

JOSHUA GREEN, "THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY":  Yes, I think so.  And I think

we were all sort of headed to this point.  I mean, to all outward

appearances, Bush made up his mind a little while ago that he wants to

escalate the war, and he spent the last couple of weeks, including this

meeting today, it looks like, searching for a rationale, you know, to use

as a justification and...

SCARBOROUGH:  So Josh, are you saying...

GREEN:  ... an explanation to the American people.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... it`s also a show summit?

GREEN:  I think to a large extent it is.  I mean, you know, Bush has

made clear he`s rejected the Baker commission report.  He`s made clear he

wants a surge in troops.  And you know, these are the same far-sighted --

you know, the same far-sighted visionaries he surrounded himself with who

got us to this point in Iraq in the first place.  So if you`re looking for,

you know, somebody who`s going to give you advice on how to change course,

having Condi Rice and Dick Cheney, you know, down at the farm isn`t really

going to get you there.

SCARBOROUGH:  And it`s not like bringing in the new secretary of

defense, Mr. Gates, is going to have much of an impact at all, especially

if he has misgivings.  According to "The New York Sun," he has misgivings

about sending in more troops, right?

GREEN:  Yes, he does.  And you know, we haven`t seen a lot of those

things.  And it`s really not that surprising, on the one hand.  I mean,

Gates was a member of the Iraq Study Group before he left and went off to

Texas A&M and went on to become the new defense secretary.  And if you`re a

part of that crowd, I mean, obviously, they all agreed on the need for, you

know, withdrawal sooner rather than later and took a position that is

antithetical to the one that Bush seems to want to take.

So you know, Gates may be a small voice of opposition down in

Crawford, but as I said, to all outward appearances, it looks as if the

president has made up his mind and is now, you know, looking for a

rationale, you know, making a public effort of soliciting advice, whether

or not he`s going to listen to it, in part, I think to appease some of his

critics.  I don`t know if it`s really going to do that, but...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, also -- also because -- as we talked about before,

he can`t just go down to Crawford this vacation and cut -- you know, clear

out brush.  Americans want action.  Americans are disturbed.

And Michael Crowley, I have seen some stunning polls this year, but I

would suggest that the American people are impatient when you have a poll

like this latest A.P. poll, that says George Bush is America`s top villain,

again, outranking Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, the presidents of Iran

and North Korea and Satan.

Now, that`s not good political news for any president, let alone a

born-again evangelical.  How has George Bush turned into such a villain in

the eyes of many Americans?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, "THE NEW REPUBLIC":  Joe, I mean, nothing`s gone

right.  Virtually nothing has gone right at least since the invasion of

Afghanistan.  I mean, this has been a tragic presidency.  And I have to

say, it`s incredibly depressing.  I mean, those numbers are kind of

hilarious on one level, but on another, it`s really depressing.  I mean,

remember Bush campaigned promising to restore honor and integrity to the

Oval Office?  You know, the honor part is undermined somewhat by the idea

that he`s competing with Satan and bin Laden in the popularity polls.  And

the integrity part has been undermined one time after another, particularly

having to do with the rationale for this war.

But you know, to some extent, he`s earned the vilification.  I mean,

you know, the list is familiar to you, and I don`t have to go through it --

I mean, Iraq, Katrina, any number of scandals under his watch in this

administration and in the Republican Congress that he was allied with. 

It`s not that shocking, but it`s just incredibly depressing.  I mean, it --

and it`s not just within this country, it`s around the world.  The

president has become, I hate to say it, a little bit of a laughingstock.

SCARBOROUGH:  And you know, it really did go -- it really did start at

Katrina.  I really think, Michael, that`s when a lot of Americans,

conservatives and liberals alike, started to lose faith in this presidency.

Richard Wolffe, talk about that poll.  Let`s put it up again.  It`s

the Associated Press poll talking about, again, the biggest villains in

America.  How does the president of the United States and the

administration respond to a poll that puts the president of Iran and the

leader of North Korea in better standing than himself?

WOLFFE:  Joe, I can`t believe you`re even surprised by this.  I mean,

25 percent of Americans are clearly Bush haters.  They have been for six

years.  Where have you been for the last six years if you didn`t know that

a quarter of the population hates George Bush?  What`s more surprising is

the numbers I guess you may be showing shortly.  The number of people who

think that Bush is a hero is surprisingly small, given how popular he has

been with his own base.

SCARBOROUGH:  And let`s put that up, Richard, right now.  Let`s put

this -- and this was -- you`re exactly right.  You killed Hamlet in the

first act.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  We`re going to next start talking about how divided

America is because George Bush is the top hero by a much, much smaller

margin, only 13 percent.  Jesus Christ below George Bush there!  So he can

take some comfort in that.  But again, a much smaller number than in past

years.  What does it mean?

WOLFFE:  Yes.  Sorry to tread on your punchline there.  But listen, 30

percent, big drop in his support.  Obviously, we saw that in November`s

elections.  We`ve also seen it since the election.  The big drop in support

for the war in Iraq, for instance, has come from the Republican base, who

are feeling all of a sudden very uncertain about the president`s commitment

to the war.  So that`s really the surprising number.

I mean, look, we always thought you love him or you hate him and

that`s George Bush.  But clearly, this country loves him and hates him, if

not in equal measure, then at the same time.

SCARBOROUGH:  It`s not anymore.  And Michael, let`s talk about the

hanging of Saddam Hussein tomorrow.  Do you think that turns things around

for Mr. Bush at all?

CROWLEY:  Joe, I hate to say it.  I don`t want to be flip, but I think

it`ll turn things around about the same way that the capture of Saddam

turned things around, the way the killing of Zarqawi turned things around,

the way the elections turned things around.  You know, we always have these

events and everyone promises this is going to be it.  There`s maybe a

momentary wave of optimism, and then things revert to the way they were and

worse.

And I just have to say I just don`t see how this changes the

fundamental problem over there, which is that you have a bunch of factions

who don`t want to get along and create a government and a country together. 

They hate each other.  And I don`t see how hanging Saddam Hussein gets us

any closer to that end game.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Josh, do you think the White House is going to do a

jig on camera after Mr. Hussein swings from the gallows, or are they going

to try to be a bit more circumspect?

GREEN:  Yes, Joe, I think they`re going to hang a big "Mission

accomplished" banner across the White House.  No, of course not.  They

learned their lesson, you know, in 2002 and 2003.  You know, you don`t make

a big show and a spectacle on something that`s going to come back and

embarrass you later on.  I mean, the one thing you can say for the Bush

White House post-2006 election is that at least they seem to have realized

that things are serious in Iraq, that things are going badly, that we`re

not on a course to victory.  Bush himself admitted this a couple of weeks

ago.

That doesn`t mean that the president has given up the dream of one

day, you know, democratizing Iraq and having stability there.  But I don`t

think there`s going to be any more of these kind of public relations stunts

and kind of chest-puffing over anything having to do with Iraq.

SCARBOROUGH:  Richard, do you think they may even go out of their way

not to seem pleased at all by the execution of Saddam Hussein?

WOLFFE:  Oh, yes.  Absolutely.  Listen, first of all, this is an Iraqi

process.  That`s what they`re going to say, it shows that there`s an Iraq

judicial system.  Secondly, they don`t want to inflame the insurgency,

especially the Sunni side of things, by jumping up and down on this one.

I hate to correct everyone here, but the whole Iraq strategy is

something -- the unveiling of it is a PR stunt in itself.  You don`t think

the commanders on the ground, the president isn`t looking all the time at

how to improve their performance and how to get things right?  There`s a

huge amount here of them reseizing the initiative, in PR terms and in

political terms, after this election.

And give them credit where it`s due.  Two months ago, everyone said it

was all about an exit strategy, about withdrawal.  Now everyone`s talking

about a surge.  They have actually been winning the PR game for the last

two months.  If they`d done this before the election, maybe it wouldn`t

have been such a bad result.

SCARBOROUGH:  But Richard, everybody is against them.  I mean, I could

say, Why don`t we invade Canada tomorrow, and I could -- if I were

president of the United States, that would certainly frame the debate, but

I would still be standing against the world in talking about invading

Canada.  Nobody supports this surge in America other than George Bush and

12 percent of the population.

WOLFFE:  But they have got this debate on their terms now.  People

aren`t saying, Everyone says it`s got to be a time for withdrawal, it`s,

How do you get it right?  He has made the case that actually leaving Iraq

in this kind of mess does not serve America`s national interest.  There is

a debate there that is already on his terms.

CROWLEY:  Joe, I think there`s truth to what Richard is saying, but I

think that we`ve seen this before, where they temporarily regain the

initiative with a big push.  I`m thinking specifically I think around this

time last year, the plan for victory or whatever it was, Bush gave, like,

five speeches in the course of a handful of weeks and he kind of had the

agenda.  And then everyone realized the plan was hollow and things were

just getting worse, and we kind of came back to reality and he had really

accomplished nothing.  So there may be sort of a fleeting advantage to

this, but I don`t see that there`s, like, any long-term -- there`s no new

light at the end of the tunnel for him, if you ask me.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, there`s certainly no light at the end of the

tunnel as long as they are unable to figure out how to stop Sunni

terrorists or insurgents and Shi`ite death squads or insurgents from going

around and spreading sectarian violence and civil war across the country. 

Hey, Richard Wolffe, Josh Green and Michael, thanks for being with us.

Actually, Michael, stay with us because coming up: Gerald Ford speaks

from beyond the grave, calling the Iraq war a big mistake and slamming Mr.

Bush`s reasons for invading.  Will the dark cloud be hanging over the

president`s head during Gerald Ford`s funeral?  That`s next.

Plus, a special preview of the new "American Idol" season.  We`re

going to introduce you to the new Taylor Hicks and the new William Hung. 

And later: Trump fires back after Rosie O`Donnell calls him a pimp.  His

subtle counterattack?  He calls her a fat pig.  Why personal insults may

add up to big bucks for Rosie and the Donald.  Straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, President Bush has been receiving a lot of

criticism over the Iraq war, but one person he probably didn`t expect to

get it from, especially after his death, President Gerald Ford.  In an

interview conducted two years ago and just released today, President Ford

calls the Bush administration`s motivation for going into Iraq, quote, "a

big mistake."

Here`s NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell --

Andrea.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Joe.  Gerald Ford

never spoke out publicly, but two years before he died, he confided strong

doubts about the Iraq war to Bob Woodward of "The Washington Post."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  Gerald Ford, loyal to the end to his closest former

aides, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, was privately torn about their most

controversial policy, the Iraq war.  Only weeks before Ford`s last visit to

Washington, in 2004, he told author Bob Woodward he strongly disagreed with

the decision to invade Iraq.  Woodward taped the interview with the former

president`s knowledge.

GERALD R. FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think

Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying

going into the war in Iraq.  They put the emphasis on weapons of mass

destruction.

MITCHELL:  The former president didn`t know George W. Bush very well

and is not known to have offered him advice on Iraq, but he told

Woodward...

FORD:  And I just don`t think we should go hellfire damnation around

the globe freeing people unless it is directly related to our own national

security.

MITCHELL:  Today, Woodward told NBC News that Ford was emphatic and

knew the interview would be used after his death.

BOB WOODWARD, "WASHINGTON POST":  He wouldn`t have done it.  It was

not a necessary war, in his view, and he criticized the justifications that

Bush and his team gave for launching the war.

MITCHELL (on camera):  In criticizing these decisions, he was

criticizing two people who were his proteges.

WOODWARD:  That`s right.  He said that Cheney, great chief of staff

when he had worked for Ford in the White House in the `70s, but said he had

turned -- "pugnacious" was the word he used.

MITCHELL:  Pugnacious?

WOODWARD:  Pugnacious.  You know, a fighter.

MITCHELL (voice-over):  Ford also told Woodward he would have relied

longer on economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein and U.N. inspections,

and that ultimately, it was the president, not his aides, who made the

decision to invade.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MITCHELL:  Former aides say Ford`s views were heavily influenced by

the war he inherited, Vietnam, and life-long regret that America had stayed

there too long and was finally forced to retreat on his watch -- Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks a lot, Andrea.

Right now, let`s bring in Anne Kornblut.  She`s a Washington

correspondent for "The New York Times."  And still with us, Michael

Crowley.  Anne, let`s begin with you.  It seems like this president just

can`t get a break.  Here we have a huge state funeral coming up, and

there`s going to be this dark cloud of criticism from the man of the hour,

Gerald Ford.  Talk about that impact.

ANNE KORNBLUT, "NEW YORK TIMES":  Yes, that`s right.  I would say that

it`s going to be especially perhaps difficult for Vice President Cheney,

who, of course, worked directly under former president Ford and who over

this next weekend is going to be accompanying the Ford family, picking them

up at Andrews Air Force Base, speaking on Saturday in the Capitol.  And he

obviously was most directly critical of Cheney, whom he knew.  And now

there`s nothing that Cheney or Rumsfeld can really say in response to their

former boss, whom they respected such a great deal.  So I would think that

for them personally, these words must be the most difficult.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, and I was just going to say, Rumsfeld and Cheney

obviously -- those were his fair-haired boys.  It certainly is so damning

for all of them and damning for the administration.  There are other

Republicans, though, that are starting to speak out more aggressively

against this president on this exact point, right?

KORNBLUT:  Well, exactly.  I mean, I would say that while it might be

personally painful for them to hear these words from former president Ford,

it`s not like he`s the first Republican to criticize the war.  Through

surrogates, we`ve heard criticism that Bush`s own father has of this war. 

Obviously, the electorate has great grievances.  So I wouldn`t argue that

President Ford`s interview with Bob Woodward is going to somehow tip the

scale of public opinion.

I do think, though, it might be interesting for historians that they

look back at Ford`s own feelings about Vietnam.  He was reported to have

been very troubled as -- called the only president to lose a war.  He --

and history may find that that is not the case, that he is not considered

the only president to have lost a war, given what happens in Iraq.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Michael Crowley, Gerald Ford, when you listen to

those tapes, he actually sounds like a real Republican.  I mean the type of

Republican that you heard in Washington, D.C., before George W. Bush came

to town, where he said, Sure, we`ll go to war and we`ll liberate people,

but we`re only going to do it when it directly relates to our national

interest.  It seems to me the entire Republican foreign policy apparatus

pre-George W. Bush has now turned on this president and his war.

CROWLEY:  Yes, Joe, I mean, this is the thing that`s so interesting to

me.  And if there`s something interesting about Ford dying now and then the

memories, the nostalgia and the reminiscences, is that it reminds you of a

different kind of a Republican Party.  It`s so different from the one

George Bush is leading.

And actually, by the way, it`s not just foreign policy, it`s economic

policy.  I mean, the changes on the economic side are almost as drastic,

with this relentless tax cutting for the richest Americans, this acceptance

of massive deficits.  And so you look at Ford and you realize that the

Republican Party of George W. Bush is not the traditional, historical

Republican Party.  Bush has actually sort of radicalized Republicans on

both foreign and domestic policy, remade the party`s image, taken it in a

new direction.  And unfortunately, it`s one that has had, you know, some

disastrous consequences.

KORNBLUT:  And I would expect going into this weekend that we will see

a lot of what we saw during Ronald Reagan`s funeral two years ago, which is

Republicans who are running for higher office, especially now that we`re so

much closer to 2008, looking back, reviewing history through the lens of

their own interest.  I would expect to see Senator McCain in particular and

perhaps even a governor -- even Governor Romney, Rudy Giuliani, talking

about President Ford through the lens of their own ambitions.

SCARBOROUGH:  But when you talk about the lens of their own ambition,

when you talk about John McCain, a guy that I just absolutely love, he`s

talking about more troops.  He supports the surge.  He`s with George Bush

and 12 percent of Americans.  Doesn`t this Gerald Ford comment actually

have a negative impact possibly on his campaign also?

KORNBLUT:  It will be interesting to see how he -- look, I mean, a lot

of people have argued that McCain has gone out on a terrible limb in

arguing for more troops.  It`ll be interesting to see how he discusses

that, whether he discusses, for example, adding more troops as being in the

national interest, the phrase that Gerald Ford used in the interview with

Bob Woodward.  We`ll just have to see how this weekend goes, when they all

gather at the Capitol.

CROWLEY:  But Joe...

SCARBOROUGH:  All right...

CROWLEY:  ... Anne made a good point -- I`m sorry -- by bringing up

the Reagan funeral.  Remember, that was a big kind of propaganda party for

Bush, and Reagan confronted the "evil empire" and he showed will in the

face of evil and stood them down.  And now I think, you know, the way

people are going to think about Ford in relation to Bush is that Ford is a

man who kind of from the grave is saying that Bush made this grave mistake,

and I don`t think it`s going to sort of play out as a political storyline

in a favorable way for this president, for Bush, as it did during the

Reagan funeral.  And I hate to talk about these things in such political

terms, but that is the reality of how they play out in our sort of national

discourse.

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael, let me just say, I am shocked, stunned and

deeply saddened that you would suggest that funerals in Washington, D.C.,

would be played for political interest.

CROWLEY:  I know.

SCARBOROUGH:  I mean, certainly, nobody did it when Ronald Reagan was

-- I loved Reagan, but didn`t it take us about 12 days to bury him?  That

certainly didn`t hurt George W. Bush at all.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  What`s that?

KORNBLUT:  Poor Tim Johnson is still in the hospital.  We were talking

about the change of power of the Senate when he first went into the

hospital two weeks or a week-and-a-half ago.

CROWLEY:  That`s right.

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, I know.  I know.  Great point.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I still have people coming up to me, asking about his

condition, and I think these people don`t really care if he recovers or

not.  It is a cynical, mean town.

Anyway, Anne, thank you for being with us.  Michael Crowley, thank you

so much.  Michael, go to confession or whatever you go to, to ask for

forgiveness for your cynicism.

Coming up next, a sneak peek at the good, the bad and the ugly

(INAUDIBLE) And man, they`re ugly!  We`re going to show you what to expect

from the new season and why there`s already concerns about the voting

process.  But first, more lessons in what you cannot say -- what you cannot

say -- on television.  "Must See S.C." coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, wake up your aunt, it`s time for tonight`s "Must

See S.C.," video you just got to see.  First up: The president will be glad

to see 2006 behind him, thanks to the late night comedians.  We have

examples of his less than memorable moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You want to give

me some thoughts about what I`m thinking about.

                Administrator Karen Candy (ph) -- Karen Pandy (ph) of the drug

administration -- administration...

                I was looking for a book to read (INAUDIBLE) we also read three

Shakespeares. 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, HOST, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS":  This is a change.

BUSH:  I`ve got an eclectic reading list. 

It`s the intradegence of the North Korean leader...

And I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to

learn English. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And, finally, this year we learned what we could and

what we could not say on TV, thanks to our good friend, Jimmy Kimmel.  We

have his year-end version of unnecessary censorship.  I love this stuff. 

Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I took 17 (bleep) in (bleep).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  On a much lighter note, if you`re a fan of

finger(bleep), and who isn`t, Natalie is the president of the club...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... the stadium where the president will be

speaking to the students was all but destroyed in...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  I bet he feels like doing that right now.  Coming up,

"American Idol" fever is in full swing, and the show isn`t even back on the

air yet.  We`re going to show you a sneak peek at this season`s awful

auditions.  What you`re going to see when "Idol" starts up next month.  And

why some fans are already concerned that their votes aren`t going to be

counted. 

And later, the cease-fire is officially over, as Trump goes back on

the attack, calling Rosie O`Donnell a big, fat pig.  Can`t we all just get

along?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Less than three weeks to go until the national obsession

that is "American Idol" returns.  And this time around, the ratings giant

is devoting the first six episodes to what everybody tunes in for:  the

good, the bad and the ugly auditions. 

AmericanIdol.com already has a preview of this season`s, quote,

unquote, "talent."  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Take me out to the ballgame.  Take me out to the

game. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don`t care if I never get back because it`s

root, root for the home...

               

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  So what can America expect this time around?  And just

how brutal is that "American Idol" audition process?

Here now, somebody who`s been through it all, Carmen Rasmusen.  She`s

a former "American Idol" contestant.  And we`re also joined by "OK"

magazine`s senior reporter and somebody who I`m sure will be going through

the "Idol" the next couple years, Courtney Hazlett.

Carmen, how tough is it?  How tough are these initial auditions where,

you know, we as Americans sit back, millions and millions of us, and watch

people and laugh at them?  How intimidating is it the first time you have

to go up there and sing in front of Simon? 

CARMEN RASMUSEN, FORMER "AMERICAN IDOL" CONTESTANT:  Oh, it`s

extremely intimidating.  In fact, my heart is pounding just listening to

those people.  It`s like I was taken right back there into those auditions. 

Well, it`s hard because it`s not like you audition, and then you get a

call back, and then you`re on the show.  I had to go through 10 auditions

before I was even in the top 12. 

So the nerves are terrible when you`re trying out.  And I actually

went through five auditions before I even met Simon, Paul and Randy.  So

it`s interesting for me to watch this audition process, because I kind of

know what`s going on, you know, behind the scenes, how long it takes to

actually meet Simon, Paula and Randy, if you, in fact, even get to meet

them.

So it`s really interesting watching -- and I know that a lot my

friends only watch "American Idol" because of the audition process.  They

think it`s the funniest.  But they don`t realize that these people have

already went through several rounds of auditions, and they`re put through

because they`re good TV.  So you don`t know once you get there, am I one of

the bad ones for good TV or am I one of the good ones that they`re really

going to send through?  You have no idea. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That`s the question I ask myself every night before

MSNBC lets me go on the air.  Let`s take a look at some of the worst

auditions from the last five seasons. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don`t care who you are, where you`re from,

what you did, as long as you love me. 

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, "AMERICAN IDOL":  Thank you. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE) don`t think of yesterday (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I look into your eyes, I tell you what I see. 

Girl, you`re the one I`m going to keep in my dreams.  I want to hold you

close (INAUDIBLE) let you know, you`re going to be wearing my diamond ring.  

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All by myself (INAUDIBLE)... 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Call me, brother, when you need a hand.  You`ll

need somebody to lean on. 

COWELL:  OK, thank you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She bangs, she bangs...

COWELL:  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Courtney, that really is what first hooks people into an

"American Idol" season, isn`t it? 

COURTNEY HAZLETT, "OK" MAGAZINE:  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  The bad and the worst. 

HAZLETT:  It`s like watching a car accident.  You`re appalled, but you

cannot look away.  Interestingly, though, it`s also what makes that middle

time between the heinous audition process and those last final three or

five people, it`s also what kind of turns "American Idol" into a show best

watched on your DVR.  Because you hit this middle ground that you`re so

used to getting teased with these atrocities in front of you, you just

don`t really know how to get through the repetitious part of the show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But what is it?  Again, you think it`s like a train

wreck, and yet people stay through all the way to the end.  I guess my

question is, how does "American Idol" and what is it about "American Idol"

where people will tune in to see the absolute worst?  And then they go all

the way through the end of the season when everybody`s great? 

HAZLETT:  The thing that`s keeping people there is you do want to see

who makes it out of this process.  Carmen made a great point.  When these

people go up there originally, they don`t know if they`re up there because

they`re really, really bad or because they actually might make it some day

in the music industry. 

So you get through that process.  And then one of the things that

helps in that boring middle ground is all these Web sites that crop up, the

ones that are making fun of the contestants, the ones that are pushing

certain ones.  There`s this secondary and tertiary level of the following

for this show that really draws people in. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, and, you know, the thing is, what drew me in the

first time I watched "American Idol" was the fact that we had somebody on

there, a guy that I didn`t know at the time, but somebody that would say

what you were thinking, something that I would never say to these people

because I`d like to consider myself a polite southerner, but Simon is not a

polite southerner.  He`s the main attraction.  And let`s take a look at his

work and what really draws people to "American Idol."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... ain`t no valley low enough... 

COWELL:  I`m going to be really nice and suggest to you an entirely

new career path... 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK.

COWELL:  ... which does not involve singing or performing. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... rolling, rolling on the river. 

COWELL:  I don`t think any artist on Earth could sing with that much

metal in their mouth, anyway.  You have so much metal in your mouth. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No matter what you`re going to say... 

COWELL:  I think every note was out of tune, Even the out-of-tune

notes are out of tune.  Awful.  Honestly, absolutely frightful, the whole

thing.  I`m not being rude, but you look like the Incredible Hulk`s wife. 

That`s what it is. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  That is so cold.  "You look like the Incredible Hulk`s

wife."  But, again, that`s why a lot of Americans watch, because of Simon,

right, Carmen? 

RASMUSEN:  Exactly.  Simon is the main attraction here on "American

Idol."  I think that it was quite a shock to the American public when

people would come up on stage and perform and actually get bashed.  You

know, you`re used to, as a young performer, your family members and friends

telling you, "Oh, you`re so wonderful.  We love you.  Go for your dreams." 

And then suddenly you`re up on stage in front of someone that says,

"Actually, you suck."  The first time I got in front of Simon Cowell, he

said, "That was ghastly."  And then surprisingly he changed his mind and

called me back to be on the wild card show. 

So I didn`t even know what he was thinking half the time, but he is a

very brutally honest person, and I think he`s what makes the show

interesting week after week.  He`s who everyone tunes in to listen to. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Courtney, your prediction for the new season.  Is

it going to be as big as the last season? 

HAZLETT:  I think it will be bigger every year.  Right at the

beginning of the season, people say, "Aren`t people tired of this?  Are we

sick of `American Idol`?  Haven`t we seen this shtick before?"  But every

year it surprises once again.  I think it`s going to be huge. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think it will, too. 

               

All right, hey, thank you so much, Carmen.  Greatly appreciate you

being here.  Always do.

Courtney, stick around, if you will.  We`re going to have your

"American Idol" audition in "Hollyweird." 

But coming up next, it`s the pimp versus the pig, as Trump launches a

new attack on Rosie O`Donnell.  Now the name-calling is getting even

nastier.  But will these two really end up in court in the end? 

And later in "Hollyweird," Lindsay Lohan assumes the pole position,

dancing at a real-life strip club, except she doesn`t do it so well.  She

falls over, breaks a couple of cables.  It gets ugly.  The latest on

Lindsay`s liaisons, coming up.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It`s the pimp versus the pig.  No, not the newest FOX

reality show, just the latest in the celebrity feud that refuses to go

away.  It`s Trump versus Rosie. 

Now, the Donald called into FOX News Channel today to launch his

latest attack, suggesting that Rosie just might be on the verge of a mental

breakdown. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, HOST, "THE APPRENTICE":  Rosie, I think, is just about

on the edge of cracking up.  There`s something mentally, in my opinion,

mentally wrong with Rosie.  But I sort have felt that for a long while. 

She`s obviously cracking up.  There`s something absolutely wrong. 

Rosie basically is a very untalented person who`s a bully.  Her

intelligence is less than average, in my opinion.  I`m very proud of the

fact that I`ve exposed Rosie for what she is:  a dummy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  A dummy.  So who`s winning this battle of the loud

mouths?  Has Trump finally gone too far?

With us now, Heidi Bressler.  She is a former "Apprentice" candidate,

now a director of advertising at "Trump" magazine.  And MSNBC political

analyst Steve Adubato.

Steve, let me begin with you.  Obviously, you`re a media analyst.  You

also advise clients regarding public relations.  Who is winning this P.R.

battle?  Or are they both losing it? 

STEVE ADUBATO, MEDIA ANALYST:  Well, they`re both losing, but if you

had to pick a winner, Rosie is winning, because Donald is coming off as

meaner.  He`s coming across as someone who`s far from a gentleman.  I have

to tell you, Heidi, I know you know him well, but you don`t call -- a

gentleman doesn`t call a woman a fat pig.  He doesn`t say she`s a slob.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I was going to ask you that, though, Steve.  Obviously,

Trump`s a smart guy. 

ADUBATO:  You don`t do that.

SCARBOROUGH:  Why is he going after a woman this way?  Does he feel

like Rosie -- I mean, does he have polls in his back pocket?  Are his P.R.

people telling him, "You know what?  Rosie is a free target.  You can say

whatever you want about this woman and Americans won`t be insulted"? 

ADUBATO:  Well, first of all, Joe, I`m convinced that Donald Trump is

the kind of guy who takes his own counsel when it comes to P.R.  And if you

actually were Donald`s P.R. guy and you say, "Donald, you`re going too far. 

You really are not coming across in a way that`s likable, and you look

mean-spirited," I think he would say the words that I know Heidi has heard,

and that is, "You`re fired."  And that`s not the kind of client you want to

work for.

You have to work for a client you can tell the truth to, and Donald is

too sensitive about his hair.  I think people (INAUDIBLE) "The Apprentice"

must have signed a deal that says you can`t talk about the outcome of the

show and you can`t talk about his hair. 

It`s ridiculous.  It`s a joke.  He has to take himself less seriously,

and he wouldn`t come across as so mean-spirited to Rosie, because frankly

she`s not such a likeable person, and he`s making her more likeable. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, Trump actually dragged Rosie`s

girlfriend, Kelli, into the feud today.  Listen to what he said on FOX. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  Can you imagine the parents of this nice woman, named Kelli,

when she said, "Mom, Dad, I just fell in love with a big, fat pig named

Rosie"?  Can you imagine the expression on their face? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, Heidi, come on.  Can nobody tell Donald to kind of

tune it down a little bit, tone it down a little bit? 

HEIDI BRESSLER, FORMERLY ON "THE APPRENTICE":  I think they do, but

Donald is a genius.  He knows what he`s doing.  I`m telling you, he

knows... 

SCARBOROUGH:  A genius?  He called her a big, fat pig. 

BRESSLER:  I know that, and it`s mean-spirited.  However, you guys

were in our boardroom.  He said some really mean things.

SCARBOROUGH:  What`s genius about that, Heidi? 

BRESSLER:  OK, what`s genius is it`s creating more attention to

Donald.  Therefore, if people are going to tune in to "The Apprentice,"

that`s what he wants.  He doesn`t care about -- let me tell you something. 

It is to a woman, but if Heidi Klum or another supermodel had said this

about Donald, I don`t think he would have been so negative.  He doesn`t

like Rosie...

(CROSSTALK)

ADUBATO:  But if you`re overweight, then you get the hit? 

SCARBOROUGH:  The thing is, though, I mean, Heidi, is it "all news is

good news" for Donald Trump?  Is he trying to be the Simon Cowell of

American industry? 

BRESSLER:  You know what they say:  Any publicity is good publicity. 

ADUBATO:  But that`s not true, Heidi. 

BRESSLER:  But it is true. 

ADUBATO:  No, it`s not. 

BRESSLER:  OK, but you know what?  People are talking.  They`re saying

what he`s doing is mean.  However, I agree with that.  But there are people

that do not like Rosie.  I`ve heard it on the streets...

(CROSSTALK)

ADUBATO:  A lot of people. 

BRESSLER:  A lot of people are like, "We don`t agree with both of

them.  However, we don`t like Rosie, as well." 

ADUBATO:  Heidi, Heidi, I don`t like her, either, but she is somewhat

funny in certain instances, but it`s not about her being funny or not. 

Let me ask you this.  Are you saying that Donald has no shame and

Donald says, as long as he is saying something that`s provocative and mean

and nasty and commenting on her weight, and calling her a fat slob, and

saying that her girlfriend wants to sleep with him, you`re actually saying

that`s acceptable in the P.R. game? 

BRESSLER:  No.  It`s not that it`s acceptable.  However, knowing

Donald, he`ll say whatever he wants to say. 

ADUBATO:  Does he mean it?

BRESSLER:  And one thing I respect about him -- and he does not care

what people think. 

ADUBATO:  Does he mean it? 

BRESSLER:  Does he mean it? 

ADUBATO:  Yes. 

BRESSLER:  I think so.  I don`t think he likes her.

ADUBATO:  OK, that speaks for itself.

BRESSLER:  I think he took to heart what she said about him.

ADUBATO:  What did she say, about his hair? 

BRESSLER:  It`s not just his hair.  She attacked him on his --

financially.

SCARBOROUGH:  Steve, hold on a second, Steve.

BRESSLER:  She attacked him a lot. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  She attacked him financially.

BRESSLER:  I know you`re a Rosie fan, but no matter what you say, I`m

going to defend Donald. 

ADUBATO:  But, Joe, he`s...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, stop, stop, stop.  I mean, Steve, she did call

Donald Trump a pimp. 

BRESSLER:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  She did say he went bankrupt.  It`s not like she`s being

the queen of nice here. 

BRESSLER:  And can I please -- can I just interrupt for one second? 

ADUBATO:  Joe, I agree with you on that, Joe. 

BRESSLER:  This whole fight started -- this whole fight started when

she was mocking him for giving, you know, Miss USA a second chance.  How

does that make him a pimp?  He was giving her a second chance.  He didn`t

encourage her to party. 

ADUBATO:  Joe...

BRESSLER:  She started it.  So no matter what you say, she started it. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Steve, I`ll give you the last word.

ADUBATO:  The pimp talk was absolutely wrong, but the bankruptcy talk,

while technically incorrect, the banks bailed him out.  Donald can`t act

like that didn`t happen.  But the pimp stuff, off the Marc.  Rosie, take

the higher road.  You have the opportunity to win the P.R. war.  Don`t be

so mean yourself. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Got to leave it there.  Steve, thanks for

being with us.  Heidi, as always, we greatly appreciate your insights and

taking us inside Trump, Inc. 

Coming up next, Lindsay Lohan takes us inside a strip club.  Break out

the dollar bills, because "Hollyweird" is next.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, tell your agent to cancel that New Year`s

appearance.  It`s time for "Hollyweird."

First up, Lindsay Lohan.  The "New York Post" reports she was in a

strip club earlier this week and dancing and apologizing to dancers for the

nasty comments she made about their profession.  All right.

Now to talk about it, "OK" magazine`s Courtney Hazlett, and here`s

Marc Malkin.  He`s E!`s Online Planet Gossip. 

Courtney, kind of ugly for Ms. Lohan with the pole.  Talk about it. 

HAZLETT:  It`s a little bit ugly, but where this all began was Lindsay

Lohan had started sending e-mails to her friends.  And her friends were

leaking them to the "Post." 

In one of those e-mails, she was saying really nasty things about

strippers, because she`s researching a role for a movie where she has to

pole dance.  And so, in her research, she decides strippers were not nice

people, and she used a colorful word for that.  And it got out.  And so

suddenly there was a huge backlash.  And Lindsay made good last weekend, in

the spirit of Christmas. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, when you lose the strippers -- I`ve always

said, Marc, that when you lose the strippers, you lose America.  Talk about

it.  Take us inside the strip club with Lindsay. 

MARC MALKIN, E! ONLINE`S PLANET GOSSIP:  Lindsay`s inside the strip

club.  She`s trying hard to be a stripper.  You know, as Courtney said, she

is researching a role to be a stripper.  But the one thing you`re not going

to see her do in this movie is really strip strip.  I`m told she`s

insisting that she has tassels and pasties to cover some private parts. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, she is a very subtle, reserved woman. 

Another subtle, reserved woman, Britney Spears.  Are fans turning

against the Britney?  Her most popular Web site is shutting down. 

Courtney, are Britney`s biggest days behind her? 

HAZLETT:  It`s starting to look that way.  One of her biggest fan

sites is saying, "You know what?  Britney is changing a lot.  She`s not the

woman we thought she was.  She`s not doing things that we`re really proud

of.  Maybe it`s time to close up the shop and focus on celebrities in

general."  So, yes, I think finally the zeitgeist is Britney`s day is over,

maybe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Britney, we hardly knew ye.  Marc, what do you make of it?

MALKIN:  I make out of it, the only reason people are looking on Web

sites for Britney Spears is to look at her private parts.  They are not

going to her fan sites.  So, you know, shut down this fan site.  How many

people are actually going there?  No, because they`re not showing her not

wearing underwear.  Those are the sites that are popular now.

SCARBOROUGH:  And, finally, those are the ones that are popping up all

over the place. 

And finally, Britain`s "Daily Mirror" reporting that Jennifer

Aniston`s New Year`s resolution is to stay single.  Marc, this woman has

been burned a few times, hasn`t she? 

MALKIN:  No surprise.  Vince Vaughn is the rebound man.  She`s

Jennifer Aniston, yes, she`s upset.  But then, next week, some tabloid will

report that she`s pregnant.  So, you know, back and forth, back and forth,

her tears, she`s sad.  Now she`s with her best friend.  She`s been hanging

out with Courteney Cox.  I think she`s going to be OK.  I think it`s just

time that she hooks up with George Clooney. 

SCARBOROUGH:  She will survive, won`t she, Courtney? 

HAZLETT:  She will survive.  Whatever it takes for Jen to get into her

happy place, I think so many people have put themselves in her shoes and

said, "You know what?  If I were her, I`d hurl myself into traffic."  So if

she`s finally making peace with the fact she needs some quiet time, some

alone time, everybody`s behind her. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Whatever it takes.  Courtney Hazlett, Marc Malkin, thank

you so much for being with us.  And thank you for being with us.  That`s

all the time we have for tonight.  We`ll see you on Monday in SCARBOROUGH

COUNTRY when I will learn to talk.  Good night.

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

END   

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

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