updated 1/19/2007 9:59:06 AM ET 2007-01-19T14:59:06

Guests: Ryan Lizza, Carmen Rasmusen, David Caplan, Matthew Felling, Rachel Sklar, Ted Casablanca, Courtney Hazlett

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight: The Iraqi prime minister accuses the Bush White House of promoting terrorism in Iraq.  Taking a page from Karl Rove‘s playbook, Iraq‘s prime minister says criticism of the Iraqi government by the White House is only emboldening terrorists.  He says, quote, “Such statements give mortal boosts to the terrorists, making them believe that they have defeated the American administration and push them towards making an extra effort.”

Despite the stunning charge, the White House is denying that there is any rift between Iraq‘s prime minister and Mr. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I‘m not going to get into a fight with the prime minister.

QUESTION:  He‘s in a fight with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  He certainly is, but the White House says he‘s not.  But tonight, the president is standing almost entirely alone in the world, against most American voters, against most of his generals, against a growing number of Republicans in Congress and the Senate, and against a prime minister who owes his very position to over 3,000 Americans who have died in Iraq and hundreds of thousands who have fought there.

Here to talk, though, about tonight‘s stunning events, MSNBC political

analyst and “Congressional Quarterly” columnist Craig Crawford, Ryan Lizza

he‘s a White House correspondent for “The New Republic”—and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Craig Crawford, last night, of course, the White House suggested that Republicans and Democrats who oppose the Bush surge were actually aiding terrorists, but today the prime minister of Iraq turns it around and accuses the White House of aiding terrorists.  This is a stinging rebuke from the government that Mr. Bush has set up in Iraq, isn‘t it?

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: 

It seems that way, Joe.  There could be a more complicated answer, and Maliki may be trying to show the folks in his own country that he‘s not a puppet of the Bush administration and talking tough.  He also seems to be taking a few steps against the Mahdi forces that...

SCARBOROUGH:  But still, Craig, it‘s stunning.  He has to know that when he tells reporters that George Bush is encouraging terrorism, he knows that‘s going to send political shock waves across the globe.

CRAWFORD:  I‘m stretching here to try to help out the White House on that story.  That‘s the best spin I can put on it for you.  I think—I think there‘s...

SCARBOROUGH:  What‘s the worst spin?

CRAWFORD:  I think there‘s a possibility that he really is trying to show domestically that he‘s not a puppet of the Bush administration.  But here in America, I mean, that is going to be taken as just another side of the isolation of the president.  I mean, Joe, we‘re getting down to—we thought it was a joke, you know, when the president said he‘d be for—he‘d be pursuing this even if the last supporters was his wife and his dog, Barney.  I think if Bob Woodward did an expose interview of Barney now, we might find out Barney is going to abandon the president on Iraq.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, we certainly don‘t want to have a contest where Bill Clinton was on one side of the yard and George Bush is on the other, and both are calling Barney because I don‘t think he‘d go George Bush‘s way right now.

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  These cornered presidents scare me, though, Joe.  I hate to see a president cornered this way.  God knows what they‘ll do.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, this president is more cornered, Ryan, than most presidents in recent American history, I would say even moreso than Richard Nixon, who had a higher approval rating in the polls, especially on the Vietnam war.  And you know, last night we learned that along with the generals—you talk about being cornered—along with the generals, along with the American public on this surge, the president was losing all Democrats in Congress and a lot of Republicans.  Tonight he is accused by the leader of Iraq of aiding and abetting terrorists.  Is this the president‘s worst case scenario?  Is he, as Craig said, truly backed into a corner?

RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  Yes, I mean, Craig‘s argument or explanation of what Maliki was doing, and this is the White House explanation, which is, you know, maybe this was—these were comments for domestic political considerations on the part of Maliki.  And in fact, Tony Snow used the phrase “political considerations” today to sort of—to sort of soft-sell what Maliki said.

The confusing thing is, this was an interview, as far as I understand it, that was done mostly with American reporters.  In other words, it sounds like Maliki was very purposely trying to inject these comments into the American political conversation, which makes the domestic political considerations argument really kind of baffling.  I mean...

CRAWFORD:  And you know, he took a shot the Condi Rice, also.

LIZZA:  Took a shot at Condi Rice and a shot at the president.  And it seems to me that he‘s saying, Hey, if you‘re going to support me, support me.  Don‘t make backhanded comments about me in America one day and say that I‘m your guy the next.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Pat, talking about Condi Rice, maybe this is the exchange that started it all, with what Condi Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:  I have met Prime Minister Maliki.  I was with him in Amman.  I saw his resolve.  I think he knows that his government is, in a sense, on borrowed time not just in terms of the American people, but in terms of the Iraqi people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you confident?

RICE:  I‘m confident.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, break it down for us.  Is this why Maliki‘s accusing the U.S. commander-in-chief of helping terrorists on the ground in Iraq?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Right.  Maliki‘s a very proud man.  He is the Iraqi leader, and after a democratic process.  And he is a fighting ally (ph), who, again, if this war goes down, he‘s going to pay with his life.  He‘ll be a dead man.  And here he sees his ally of Condi Rice running around the Middle East saying Maliki‘s living on borrowed time, and the president goes on PBS and says, I didn‘t like the way they handled the hanging...

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, do you disagree with what the president and Condi Rice did on that, leaving him out to—hanging him out to dry?

BUCHANAN:  Well, yes.  I disagree with that.  And I also really disagree with the deliberate leaking of the Hadley memo saying basically this guy‘s either lying or incompetent.  Now, here‘s a guy that‘s out there with his life on the line.  So in terms of his own dignity, he takes a shot at Bush and Rice, and he stood the president up for a dinner in Amman.  He does that, I think, for personal reasons, for his own dignity, and secondly, to tell the Iraqi people, Look, I‘m the leader here, and I‘m independent.  And third, I think he really is generally miffed and he feels he‘s about to be abandoned, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Like you said, when American politicians lose, they retire.  But when this guy loses, he‘s going to lose his life.  And Pat, we got to break this down because I‘ve been criticizing this Iraqi prime minister for quite some time because he‘s been propping up al Sadr.  But will you explain that the reason why al Sadr exists, the reason why the Shi‘ite death squads exist, is because the United States has been over in Iraq for three years—or when they were over there for three years, the Sunnis were running around just willfully killing Shi‘ites all over the place.  And there are a lot of Shi‘ites that love al Sadr because he‘s the first guy to fight back against the type of violence that we‘re seeing on the screen right now.

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  For years, under Sistani, the Shia took these deliberate murders and massacres of their people, and Sistani said, Calm down, don‘t fight back, no reprisals, we can win in a fair democratic election, that‘s what we want, and they‘re trying to provoke us.  Then they blew up the Golden Temple and they kept killing the Shia.  And finally, Moqtada al Sadr and the Shia hardliners said, Enough is enough, payback time is here.  And so they‘re starting to murder them.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And Pat, you look at the murder on the university a couple days ago, where the bombing was -- 70 Shi‘ite students were murdered by this bombing, again, it‘s going to inflame tensions.  And I guess the point I am making here is that while I hate al Sadr and want him out, while I hate the fact that Maliki stands up—is stood up by al Sadr, at the same time, if Maliki leaves and if there‘s a void on the Shi‘ite side, a killing void, so to speak, then the Sunnis are just going to keep blowing up more and more Shi‘ites, right?

BUCHANAN:  Exactly the point.  Now, here—look, what Maliki is seeing is, here are the Americans who look like they‘re going home.  You‘ve described how the war support has collapsed in this country.  We‘re heading out.  He‘s got an ally in Moqtada al Sadr, who‘s got the best army or the toughest army there, 100,000 people, who supports him.  We‘re asking Maliki, Look, bring down some Kurds and bring in—we‘ll bring in the Americans, and we‘ll all get together and smash Moqtada al Sadr. And this guy is saying, Look, that cuts my throat.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA:  Joe, the other thing that‘s going on here, in trying to figure out the complicated politics between Maliki and Bush and the leaking of the Hadley memo that made Maliki look very bad—the cynical explanation is, at the end of the day, if the surge doesn‘t work and if the war goes south and Bush decides that it‘s finally time to bring the troops home, Maliki is the fall guy and he‘s the excuse...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

LIZZA:  ... for the Bush administration that this just isn‘t going to work because this guy couldn‘t do it.

BUCHANAN:  This is the American...

LIZZA:  And I think that‘s part of setting that scenario up.

BUCHANAN:  This is the American way...

CRAWFORD:  I think that‘s...

BUCHANAN:  ... of abandonment, Joe.

CRAWFORD:  ... a very important—I mean, the blame game from the White House is getting pretty obvious.  I think that‘s one reason they keep talking about the Iranians.  They‘re setting up the media, the Democrats, Maliki and the Iranians as why we lost the war.

BUCHANAN:  This is a “blame and run” thing, Joe.  And that‘s—this is the American way of abandonment.  I remember Vietnam.  Remember the corrupt and dictatorial Ky (ph) regime...

LIZZA:  Right.  Right.  And that was the excuse for leaving.

BUCHANAN:  ... the corrupt and dictatorial Lon Nol.  OK, then we‘re morally OK for pulling the rug out from under them...

LIZZA:  Look...

BUCHANAN:  ... and those guys wind up before a firing squad.

LIZZA:  That may be the cynical explanation here, but it also may—it may be the truth, in the end.  It may be accurate that this government is destined to fail...

BUCHANAN:  Well, it‘s...

LIZZA:  ... and that‘s another good reason to leave.

BUCHANAN:  It‘s a good reason why we never should have gone in!

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Pat—well, let me ask you this, Craig.  Bob Novak reported that a Republican revolt is brewing because GOP pollsters have looked into their crystal ball, and it is getting even uglier for GOP candidates down the road.  Novak writes this, “One nationally prominent Republican pollster reported confidentially that if U.S. boots are still on the ground in Iraq and U.S. blood is still being spilled there at the end of the year, the GOP disaster of 2008 will eclipse 2006.”

And Republicans just got slaughtered at the polls a couple months ago, Craig, but they‘re looking—you know, they‘re looking forward to 2008.  And it seems to me they have concluded we either get out of the Iraq in the next year or we are going to get wiped out.  The Republican Party will be destroyed in the 2008 election.  So what do they do?

CRAWFORD:  Well, of course, the scenario everyone‘s anticipated, if that plays out, is the one that Pat says didn‘t actually happen in the Nixon days, when everyone thought it was Goldwater and the other senators who went to Nixon and told—and pulled the plug.  I think Pat makes a point that that didn‘t actually happen that way in the Nixon administration, but it certainly could in this one.

I mean, you could see John Warner, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations committee in the Senate, and others going to the president.  But the question is, Will he listen to them?  I mean, when you look at who‘s surrounding this president, you just go down the list of everyone that he‘s listening to in his White House, who in that room—I ask you guys, who in that room is telling the president anything other than what he wants to hear?

BUCHANAN:  Well, they‘re not.  But I‘ll tell you what will happen in the politics of 2008.  The entire Democratic Party will be anti-war in 2008, and the Republican Party will be divided right down the middle between anti-war conservatives versus McCain and Romney.  It will be a complete split inside the GOP.

LIZZA:  That‘s exactly right.  We‘ll have a reverse situation from 2004, where the Democrats were divided on this issue and it, you know, arguably damaged them and led to Kerry‘s loss.  This time, the Republicans will be the ones that are divided because all the Democrats, whether you‘re Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Dennis Kucinich, you‘re going to be in the same place on this war by the time the primaries come around.

CRAWFORD:  But you know, if you look at the presidential field, who on the Republican side is going to carry that charge?  Because right now, you got McCain—the top three, McCain Giuliani and Romney, all of them siding with the president on the surge.  Brownback‘s come out against it.  There seems to be room now...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... interesting, though, Craig, that Iraq really is a black hole for Republicans.  I want to read you something else from the Novak column.  A prominent party strategist told Robert Novak, quote, “Iraq is a black hole for the Republican.  What makes his comments so important,” Novak says, “is he‘s not a maverick Republican in Congress but one of George Bush‘s principal political advisers.”  And that goes back, Pat, to what Craig was saying before.  Who is George Bush listening to?

BUCHANAN:  Well, you see, but George Bush has got—I first think—

I take the man seriously.  I believe he believes that if we pull out, it is all coming down, and I think he‘s probably right.  Secondly, his legacy is on the line.  Third, he is not running again.  He is saying, Look, how is this going to look 10 years from now?  If I pull out now...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, but Pat...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... how is it going to look in 2008 when a Democratic president is elected, a Democratic Senate‘s in charge, and Democratic house is in charge...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... and they build up a majority like Democrats built up in 1974...

BUCHANAN:  Well...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... near the end of Vietnam...

BUCHANAN:  I know.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... that Republicans didn‘t crack until 1994.  We are talking about-...

BUCHANAN:  Wait a minute!  Wait a minute, Joe!

SCARBOROUGH:  ... the destruction of the Republican majority...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  What happened was, in 1976, Jimmy Carter...

CRAWFORD:  That gives the Democrats such an opportunity to be the war party.  I mean, we could get back to the World War II era, where the Republicans were the isolationist minority, the Democrats are running a war on terror, and you have another four years of Democratic rule.

BUCHANAN:  Well, what happens, Joe, is we‘ll get a Jimmy Carter, as we did in ‘76, after ‘74, ‘76, and then we get Ronald Reagan.

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, well, Craig Crawford‘s laughing.  Those are fighting words for Craig!

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Again, my favorite line from “All in the Family,” right after Jimmy Carter won the election, Meathead was making fun of Reagan, and Meathead was told by Archie Bunker just what Pat Buchanan told me, That‘s fine, Meathead, but in 1980, you‘re going to get Reagan!

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Archie Bunker was right.  Pat Buchanan may be right, too.

Hey, thanks a lot, Ryan.  Thank you, Pat, as always.  And Craig Crawford, stick around.

Coming up next: Iran‘s president warns that he‘s ready for a fight if the U.S. wants one.  But will war within President Bush‘s own party stop that war from happening?  Probably so.  We‘re coming up with that next.  And later: Some “Idol” fans complain that Simon, Paula and Randy are meaner tan ever.  Has the show finally gone too far?  And will viewers start to tune it out if the hit show doesn‘t start playing nice?

Plus, it‘s O‘Reilly versus Colbert as fake news meets Fox News.  We‘re going to show you the highlights from tonight‘s showdown as we try to figure out which one of these guys is the real conservative.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  In the face of spiraling disaster in Iraq, the Bush administration is considering launching another strike on another Middle East country.  But as the White House‘s new war plans to attack Iran seem to take shape in front of the world, a bipartisan group in Congress has launched their own preemptive strike against Mr. Bush‘s plans, introducing legislation requiring the president to gain congressional approval for any attack on Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. WALTER JONES ®, NORTH CAROLINA:  If the president is contemplating committing our blood and treasure in another war, then he and his administration must come to Congress and make their case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Are we looking at an ugly showdown over the president‘s authority to take us to war against Iran?

Here now, again Craig Crawford and Pat Buchanan.  Craig, I want to start by having you listen to a heated exchange between Ted Kennedy and Attorney General Gonzales.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  I believe that the president needs to have congressional authorization if he is going to invade Iran.  What is your position on that?  Do you agree with me?

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I‘m not aware of any plans to invade Iran...

KENNEDY:  I‘m not asking whether it is—he‘s planning to.  If he were to invade, would he—I believe that he would have to come to the Congress for authorization.

GONZALES:  Senator, for example, if there were an attack by Iran, I think the president would have constitutional authority to defend this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Craig, does it sound like the administration‘s already decided it can strike Iran without coming to Congress first?

CRAWFORD:  Well, if you hear what Gonzales says, what they‘re looking for is provocation, to defend the country in response to something the Iranians do.  So they need a Fort Sumter, Gulf of Tonkin, something that gives them provocation, justification.  They‘re not able to do this on the old preemptive doctrine, which I think is now thoroughly discredited as the basis for going into Iraq.  So they‘re going to have to have something, and it probably won‘t take much, and that‘ll put Congress in bind if the—if they can rally the country, get the country riled up about something the Iranians did.  I don‘t think the Iranians are dumb enough—dumb as this Ahmadinejad guy might be, they aren‘t dumb enough probably to give them the provocation.

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t know.  There are so many tyrants that have been stupid and misjudged American presidents in the past, whether you‘re talking about our friend in Panama...

BUCHANAN:  But you know, one reason—one reason I say that, Joe, is, I mean, Iran is in the catbird seat.  I mean, they don‘t have to do that.  They win-win.  I mean, if we succeed in Iraq and build up a democratic government there, that government‘s going to be friendly to Iran.  If we pull out, that‘s a vacuum they can fill.  They can win, no matter what happens in this situation.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Pat, you know, the president is keeping his options open.  Do you think the Democrats—as Craig said, I mean, they could be in a tough position.  Are they going to talk tough, or are they going to actually do something to bind the president, to make sure that the road to Teheran comes through Capitol Hill first?

BUCHANAN:  Well, you know, Walter Jones and Senator Kennedy—Walter Jones is exactly right.  He‘s a constitutional conservative.  He says, Look, there‘s no imminent threat that Iran‘s going to attack the United States.  Therefore, we have time.  And therefore, before we go to war against Iran, that means either attacking installations inside Iran related to Iraq, or going after their nuclear installations.  The president must come to Congress.  He must make the case foregoing to war, and he must get a declaration of war or an authorization for war.

Senator Kennedy should have followed up and not used the word “invade.”  He should have asked Gonzales, Does the president have the authority now to strike the nuclear installations of Iran without congressional authorization, or would he need congressional authorization to do that?  And the same on the sites where...

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, Pat...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... putting together IEDs.

SCARBOROUGH:  But Walter Jones aside, don‘t you believe that Democrats are not going to want to be the party that stopped a president of either party from taking nukes out of the Iranian madman‘s hand?  I mean, that would be in the GOP‘s talking points for years, wouldn‘t it?

BUCHANAN:  Yes, but here‘s what you do.  All you say is simply, Look, we agree with the president, Iran cannot get nuclear weapons and that would be terrible.  But if he‘s going to attack these plants, which they‘re a long way from building them, that threat is not imminent.  Therefore, if we‘re going to go to war, we go together constitutionally and we go together, and so you got to get permission.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Craig Crawford, you as a Jimmy Carter fan, you saw what President Carter went through in 1979 and 1980 and how Americans hated the Iranians, wanted to turn it into a huge parking lot.  Do you think Democrats are going to have the courage to stand up to this president and say, No, you can‘t attack the Iranians?

CRAWFORD:  Well, I think what we have to do as a country, if we‘re going to have a real debate about this, is stop talking about Iran as a monolith.  It‘s not Iran, there are many Irans and there are many moderate elements within Iran...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... sell that, though.

CRAWFORD:  I mean, I think if we learned anything in Iraq, the American people need to pay attention.  They need to prod Congress to debate this stuff and get into the complexities, get into the gray areas and not turn everything into black and white sound bites.

BUCHANAN:  Joe...

CRAWFORD:  I mean, this last December, for example, they had elections in Iran.  This president‘s party did not do well in those elections.  They‘ve got parliamentary elections coming up next year.  There are real signs...

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  ... elements in Iran could rise if we don‘t radicalize the country with all this belligerence.

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re going to have to go.  But Pat, I‘ll give you the final word...

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... since you were the guy that baked that cake in 1986 and handed it to the Iranians, those moderate Iranians, for Reagan.

BUCHANAN:  The thing to do is, all members of Congress should sign on to Jones‘s resolution, simply tell the president, If we‘re going to go to war, come to us and get the authority.  That is a winning issue, Joe, and it‘s the right thing to do.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Pat, for the record, you didn‘t bake that cake, did you.

BUCHANAN:  No.  Holly (ph) and I worked on it, but somebody else finished it.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Pat Buchanan and Craig Crawford, thanks so much.  Greatly appreciate it.  A cake in the shape of a key.  I mean, I tried to get Pensacola‘s Junior Leaguers to do that, couldn‘t do it.  Was going to take it over to O‘Reilly.

Anyway, coming up: Jay Leno shows us why snow can be dangerous, and dangerously funny.  “Must See S.C.” coming up next.  And later: “Idol‘s” mean streak.  Has the hit show gotten too nasty for its own good?  We‘re going to show you why some critics say this season is the nastiest yet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, it‘s time for tonight‘s Must-see SC.  Some video you‘ve just got to see.  First up, American auto makers are feeling the heat from their foreign competition, and Jay Leno shows us why some car companies are doing some pretty crazy things to stay ahead of the curve.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST:  Lexus has come out with a new luxury sedan that can parallel park itself.

Have you heard about this, this Lexus?  You press a button, the car automatically parks itself.  Pretty amazing.  But they haven‘t gotten all the bugs worked out.  Show them testing it the other day.  Take a look there.  There is it there.  Now, here it is here.  See, it‘s searching for a parking space now.  Now, it didn‘t get it there either.  But, you see, it‘s still looking for a place to park.  Oh, it hits there.  Well, let‘s see.  Now it senses a space.  Let‘s see if it finds it.  Let‘s see if it finds it.  Keep going, keep going, let‘s see.  Let‘s see.  Yes, there you go!

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think that was my 16-year-old son. 

And finally, Stephen Colbert is coming to a state representative near you.  Last night, he had his latest edition of “Better Know a District,” but sometimes you can know a district a little too well. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Your district includes Vancouver, Washington, which holds an annual sausage festival.  Would you care to hold my sausage? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you. 

COLBERT:  Now, tell me about what your goal is in this next Congress to balance the budget? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If we keep passing on this debt to our kids, I think it‘s immoral.  The interest rates will at some point exceed the revenue of the country, and we can‘t...

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT:  Thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you.

COLBERT:  Let me ask you this.  Oh, that is fantastic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m going to have to call my mother after the show.  Coming up, speaking of Colbert tonight, the fake news host enters the no spin zone.  He goes head to head with Bill O‘Reilly, the man he mocks every night.  But which one is the real conservative?  We‘re going to show you tonight‘s clash of the titans, coming up. 

And next...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  You look like one of those creatures that live in the jungle with those massive eyes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  “American Idol” is back, and it is meaner than ever.  Is the show getting too cruel to the contestants this year?  And will viewers start to tune it out if that ugly mean streak continues? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up, Stephen Colbert and papa bear, Bill O‘Reilly,  go head to head on each other‘s shows, but can Bill handle the truthiness of it all?  We‘re going to show you how round one went down just a short while ago.  That story and a lot more in just minutes. 

But first, “American Idol” is back.  And America tuned in a huge way: 

37 million people, almost as many people who watch SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY every night watched Tuesday‘s nights premiere.  But what they saw was anything but nice.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COWELL:  All right.  All right.  All right.  Jesse, why do you think we are looking for a 2-year-old who can‘t sing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And I ain‘t seen the sunshine since I don‘t know when...

I love country music.

RANDY JACKSON, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Me, too, but I don‘t try and sing it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t want to cover my eyes.

JACKSON:  You shouldn‘t be a vocal teacher.  I wouldn‘t take vocal lessens from you.  I wouldn‘t tell anybody to take vocal lessons from you, coming in and singing like that. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Give me your love.  Give me your love.  Give me your love.  Give me your love. 

COWELL:  No, no, we‘re not going to give you any love. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Who is that girl I see staring straight back at me?

I just—I have a really dry throat, and I‘m nervous.

COWELL:  Amy, you could lie a bath with your mouth open and you still wouldn‘t sing—but it‘s true.

You just put through a giraffe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If I were the king...

COWELL:  Sometimes I like to put one sugar in my coffee to make it sweeter.  That was equivalent of putting 11 spoonfuls in. 

This is just ridiculous, if you don‘t mind me saying, and I‘m not being rude. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  My throat‘s dry.  Even “Idol‘s” most dedicated fans—by the way, I got this for Christmas.  It‘s the “American Idol” microphone I‘m taking home to my daughter.  Even fans are critical of this season‘s cruel new turn.  The “New York Post” TV critic wrote, “‘American Idol‘ was, for the most part, sad and painful.  It was like laughing at the handicapped.  The show went from a high-note finale last season to a very sour note season premiere.  It‘s one thing to laugh at the talentless yet hopelessly arrogant; it‘s another thing to laugh at the hopefuls who are just hopelessly sad.”

So was “Idol” crossing the line?  And will loyal viewers start to tune out on this nastiness?

Here now, someone who‘s been through the cruel additions, we have Carmen Rasmusen and also—of course, well, she‘s a former “American Idol” contestant.  We‘re also joined by I think a guy who‘s going to probably be a contestant next year, “Star” magazine‘s deputy New York bureau chief David Caplan.

Carmen, let‘s being with you.  You‘re an “Idol” defender, but it got so mean the other night, would you dare put yourself out there in front of these tough judges if you had to do it all over again this year? 

CARMEN RASMUSEN, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  Absolutely not.  I don‘t know how those contestants got up there.  And in a way, they know what they‘re getting themselves into, but it‘s one thing to be criticized for your vocal abilities.  It‘s another thing to be criticized on your physical attributes.  And that seemed like the main thing that the judges were focused on, is the way people look, instead of maybe the way people sang. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Carmen, I thought—I really did think it was cruel.  It‘s one thing to laugh at these people for the way they sing, but they made fun of a guy because his eyes were too big.  They made fun of other people because they were overweight. 

RASMUSEN:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m not exactly sure why people tune in to watch that.

RASMUSEN:  I don‘t know either, saying that they look like creatures of the jungle or that they‘re a giraffe.  Like I said, it‘s one thing to criticize someone because of their vocal abilities.  But it seems like, as a society, we are obsessed with being the perfect 10. 

And the reason why I think so many people tuned in to watch “American Idol” is because people like Clay Aiken, Taylor Hicks, Ruben Studdard, people will maybe less-than-perfect images prove that talent can supersede image.  And now it seems like they‘re just making fun of people that maybe look different and, like I said, calling them giraffes and creatures of the jungle.  That‘s just rude.  That becomes destructive.  It‘s destructive criticism, not constructive criticism.  And I think it‘s unnecessary. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, again, this coming from somebody who‘s been a longtime “Idol” fan and a longtime “Idol” defender.  Let‘s look at some of the other people that the panel made fun of. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Don‘t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t you want a boyfriend that‘s freak like me? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t you?  Don‘t you?  Don‘t you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t you wish your girlfriend was raw like me? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t you wish your boyfriend was fun like me? 

Don‘t you?  Don‘t you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Don‘t you want your girlfriend be hot like me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t you wish your girlfriend—don‘t you wish your boyfriend was raw like me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Raw like me, an old freak like me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I had a feeling.  Leave it alone.  Leave it alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Because it ain‘t love, it ain‘t love (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And let‘s keep it friendly.  You have to play fair...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... because if it‘s love I don‘t care, but I know she ain‘t going to...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Thirty-seven million people saw that, David Caplan.  I mean, that‘s Academy Award sized audiences.  I mean, that‘s amazing. 

DAVID CAPLAN, “STAR” MAGAZINE:  I know, it‘s huge.  And the funny thing is, it‘s almost like gladiator-like atmosphere.  These people are going into the room being judged by Paula, by Simon, by Randy, and they‘re being torn apart.  And Carmen‘s right:  It‘s really these personal jabs. 

I mean, these singers, let‘s be real, they‘re not the greatest people, but the attacks are just unreal, and the people are tuning in to watch them just being torn apart and ridiculed.

SCARBOROUGH:  So forget “Mean Girls.”  I mean, we are a mean country.  Again, 37 million people tuned it.  They like seeing people get torn apart by Simon, right?

CAPLAN:  Yes, absolutely.  And the thing is, 37 million people, that‘s 5 percent more than last year.  So the ratings have always again great, and the funny thing is, is that this is really bucking the TV ratings trends.  A lot of these shows, they lose viewership over time.  “American Idol” is gaining more, and people are liking it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, you know, the thing is, it‘s all about the bad singers, Carmen, also.  Take a look at this. 

On Tuesday night, “Idol” didn‘t get to a good singer who passed the audition for 33 minutes and four seconds.  On Wednesday night, they did a little better, 29 minutes and 17 seconds of bad additions, until the first good singer appeared.

Carmen, you‘re not looking at “American Idol.”  I mean, we‘re looking at a show that really should be called “American Idiots.”  I mean, they‘re trying to get losers on the show and kick them around, right? 

RASMUSEN:  Exactly.  People think it‘s entertaining to watch people get bashed around.  And the thing that people don‘t realize—as I‘ve said before, these people have gone through three rounds of auditions before they‘ve even met Simon, Paula and Randy.

SCARBOROUGH:  So they‘re purposefully looking for people for these people to abuse.

RASMUSEN:  Exactly, that they can make fun of.  Exactly.  So these people are thinking in their minds, “Wow, I‘m really good.  I‘ve made it past all of these people, and I actually get to meet Simon, Paula and Randy.  I must be one of the good ones, because I beat out all of these people,” when really, yes, there‘s something different about them, but it‘s not something good.  It‘s because they‘re funny-looking.  It‘s because they‘re different, they‘re quirky.  It‘s because they have such a terrible voice that they want to make fun of them on national television. 

I don‘t think that—I don‘t think that‘s fair.  I think that it‘s very destructive, and I think that it‘s not fair to that person, that they think that, oh, I‘m really getting up here because I‘m good, when really they‘re not.  And they‘re being made fun of.

And, like I said, it‘s not just because they sing bad, but they‘re making fun of their looks, things that people can‘t change about themselves. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That people can‘t help.  And, you know, even the youngest contestants weren‘t spared from the judge‘s harsh criticisms. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Every moment, biding all my time.  I‘m standing out here on my own...

COWELL:  You have just summed up Minneapolis, mate.  You (INAUDIBLE) everything.  I mean, even the juggling was pathetic. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) cut me off.  They said I couldn‘t sing.  They said I was perfect for juggling, to dance.  Paula, oh, my god, she was just so (INAUDIBLE) rude that (INAUDIBLE) and I could tell they hated me.  They were on the (INAUDIBLE) I‘ve never been so insulted in my life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s how most of my guests leave my show.  That‘s my goal.  I want them to storm out the door like that.

David Caplan, should parents be allowing—and this is a serious question, I‘m not being self-righteous about it at all—but I don‘t know that I want my kids to be watching this show, where you learn basically how to kick people around? 

CAPLAN:  Yes, I mean, these kids watching it—and, obviously, kids and young adults make up a large part of their viewership are watching this, and they‘re thinking it‘s funny, seeing essentially cruel and unusual punishment.

And then, the funny thing is, at these auditions, you see some of these parents standing right next to the kid, like we saw before, just standing there.  And you‘re sort of wondering what‘s going on there, that the parents should know better by this point in the show‘s history, that it‘s never been completely nice to begin with.  It‘s not a shock that they‘re mean.  So you think some parents would be like, “You know what?  Find yourself another reality show to become a star.”

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.  Hey, David, thank you so much.  I appreciate it.

CAPLAN:  Take care.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Carmen, thanks for being with us.  And I hope “Idol” turns around so you can come back and say the very nice things that you usually say about it.  

RASMUSEN:  I hope so. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘ll see you next week.  Thanks for being here and being so straight with us.

And coming up next, Stephen Colbert enters the no spin zone and comes face-to-face with papa bear O‘Reilly.  Which of these guys is a conservative and which one‘s a joke?  We‘ll show you the highlights.

And later, Cameron Diaz bounces back from her break-up with Justin Timberlake.  The latest in celebrity news coming up in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A meeting so super colossal, the no spin zone could tilt on its axis.

COLBERT:  After this, it‘s all downhill, unless Jesus accepts my offer to host the apocalypse.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SCARBOROUGH:  See, I need the camera here so then I can go, “Tonight, the no spin zone meets “The Colbert Report.”  The inspirerer meets the inspired.  It‘s Bill O‘Reilly versus Stephen Colbert, France versus Ireland.  Of course, Colbert‘s Comedy Central show is a parody of O‘Reilly‘s no spin zone, so when O‘Reilly interviewed Colbert tonight, it was like he was interviewing himself.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLBERT:  You know what I hate about people who criticize you? 

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST:  Who?

COLBERT:  They criticize what you say, but they never give you credit for how loud you say it.

O‘REILLY:  That‘s true.  There are not many people...

COLBERT:  Or how long you say it.

O‘REILLY:  As loud as I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, but which one is more conservative?  And who won the smackdown?  Here‘s Rachel Sklar.  She‘s the media editor for the HuffingtonPost.com.  And Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs. 

Rachel, who won this smackdown?  And who‘s the real conservative? 

RACHEL SKLAR, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  I don‘t know if you can even say that anybody won, because it was like a wrestling match.  It was extremely staged.  And they didn‘t really actually tussle over any actual issues.  So I would say it was a little tense, and it wasn‘t that fun.  It was kind of weird. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It really didn‘t seem too fun, did it?

SKLAR:  So I guess we‘ll have to wait and see what happens tonight, where they‘ll probably be more relaxed on “The Colbert Report.”  And if that‘s the case, then I would have to give it to Colbert.

SCARBOROUGH:  And, of course, Matthew Felling, Bill O‘Reilly kept going back to the fact that everybody loved Colbert and everybody hated O‘Reilly.

MATTHEW FELLING, THE CENTER FOR MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS:  Yes, on the show tonight, it was really interesting.  Right after he had Colbert on, he had on two guests to talk about how horrible Colbert is to America and to conservative causes.

And I thought to myself, no spin zone?  It‘s the no spine zone.  You had Colbert in front of you, locked in your crosshairs for eight minutes, and you just played straight man to him.  And it was just—I agree with Rachel.  It was complete theater. 

I was expecting, you know, more of a Super Bowl, but instead it was like Harlem globetrotters, where, you know, Bill O‘Reilly was sitting out there, putting up the ladder, and letting Colbert slam dunk all over him. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And here‘s another clip from Colbert‘s interview with O‘Reilly tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘REILLY:  Colbert, that‘s a French name, is it not? 

COLBERT:  It‘s a French name just to get the cultural elites on my side, Bill.  I‘m as Irish as you.  I‘m a Tormey.  I‘m an O‘Neil.  I‘m a Tuck.  I‘m a Fie.  I‘m a Connolly. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘REILLY:  Because I talked to you...

COLBERT:  I could sit toe-to-toe at a potato table with anybody.

O‘REILLY:  I talked to your third grade teacher, Ms. Crabtree?  She said back then you were little Steve Colbert in South Carolina. 

COLBERT:  I was Steve Colbert.

O‘REILLY:  But you, once you got here to Manhattan, from South Carolina, changed from little Steve Colbert to Stephen Colbert. 

COLBERT:  Bill, you know you‘ve got to play the game that the media elites want you to do, OK? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  And he plays that game.  And Colbert‘s a genius, isn‘t he, Rachel? 

SKLAR:  You know, he‘s very quick.  He‘s very clever.  He‘s definitely got the shtick down.  I really would have liked to have seen a little bit more.  And maybe it‘s because I watch the snow, and so I recognize a lot of the lines.  I‘ve heard the thing about him being French and all of that.  I just would have liked to have seen a little bit more, but they didn‘t engage on any specific issue, and I think that that‘s really where the segment fell short. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Well, we can watch later on tonight.  Rachel, Matthew, sorry so short.  Big Iran debate up top.  Appreciate you being here.  And while O‘Reilly is headed over to Colbert tonight, I got there first.  You can see what a true conservative said on the show by checking our highlights from my appearance online at Joe.MSNBC.com.

“Hollyweird” is next, with Courtney.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, run the red lights, just don‘t the paparazzi catch you.  It‘s time tonight for “Hollyweird.”

First up, is it the end of the “The View” for Rosie O‘Donnell?  “TV Week” reports that she‘s in talks to get her own show.  Here now to talk about it, “OK” magazine senior reporter Courtney Hazlett and E! Online columnist Ted Casablanca.

TED CASABLANCA, E! ONLINE:  Hey, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  How you doing, Ted?  Which, of course, means White House in Germany.

CASABLANCA:  One of your favorite places, remember.

SCARBOROUGH:  In Germany, exactly.  Exactly.  Do you know what San Diego is in German?  Anyway...

(LAUGHTER)

CASABLANCA:  A German lesson. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, exactly.

CASABLANCA:  I thought you wanted to talk about Rosie. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I do, and we‘re going to do that right now, Ted. 

Thanks for directing me, buddy.  I got people screaming in my ear already. 

We don‘t need you screaming me, either.

So, anyway, Courtney...

COURTNEY HAZLETT, “OK” MAGAZINE:  Anyway.

SCARBOROUGH:  Rosie is going to get her own show possibly.  Could it mean the end of “The View”? 

HAZLETT:  It‘s not going to be the end of “The View.”  “The View” will live on, I‘m convinced.  It‘s a fantastic show.  They‘ve got a great formula.

Now, what‘s interesting here is I have a source telling me that the reason Rosie went and signed onto “The View” is because she wanted to see if the American public was ready for her to be back on TV. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Would take her back?

HAZLETT:  And also to see if it was a routine she wanted to get back into.  She‘s since learned the answer to both questions is yes, and she‘s ready to actually—it was just a one-year contract to begin with.  And she‘s just going to go elsewhere after this. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Wow.  And, Ted, of course, she also wanted to make sure she could get back in the good graces of Donald Trump.  That‘s worked out very well, too.  Do you think we‘re going to see Rosie on her own show again, the queen of mean?

CASABLANCA:  Oh, I hope not.  I think she works great on “The View.”  I think she could easily whatever she wants at this point, because the ratings have gone up quite a bit.  But “The View” needs Rosie‘s bite right now, because, I mean, if Danny DeVito has been on the show and he‘s had too much to drink, Barbara doesn‘t exactly know what to do with that.  But Rosie knows exactly what to do with it. 

Or if Kelly Ripa has been making homophobic remarks, in Rosie‘s opinion, she‘s going to call that as she sees it.  And the other gals on “The View” aren‘t going to be going there, and the public is really liking this and eating it up, because she‘s outspoken. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, they are.  The ratings just keep exploding.

CASABLANCA:  Absolutely.

SCARBOROUGH:  And MSNBC.com is reporting that Britney Spears isn‘t going to be going to this year‘s Vienna Opera Ball because former friend Paris Hilton uninvited her.  I mean, where‘s she going to go, Courtney, the Pittsburgh Opera Ball?  What‘s happening here?

CASABLANCA:  I know you‘re weeping, Joe, weeping.

SCARBOROUGH:  I am.

HAZLETT:  I‘m hoping that she‘s going to go home and hang out with her kids, actually, work on her record or her career or something like that.  Truth be told, hanging out with Paris Hilton and traveling to Vienna is really not in her best interest right now.  She needs a huge image makeover, and hauling off to Vienna with Paris is really not going to do it. 

CASABLANCA:  Actually, I couldn‘t disagree more.  I think she should go off and do something very elegant like a ball, because, you know, hanging out at Taco Bell right now really isn‘t cutting it for Britney.  I think she needs to clean it up a little.

But, Joe, it‘s important to remember here, this is also, like so many things in Hollywood, it is somewhat about a man.  Matt Leinart, remember, was one of Paris‘ favorites.  And then Britney hooked up with Matt.  And so I think that‘s what finally got them to just absolutely call it off.

SCARBOROUGH:  Call it off.  And, Courtney...

(CROSSTALK)

CASABLANCA:  And then, you know, we‘re somewhat incestuous in Hollywood.  Don‘t forget, because that takes us to Cameron Diaz, who‘s now hanging out with Kelly Slater, who, don‘t forget—now, take notes here—was the first one that Gisele, when she left Leo, went off with.  So, you know, it‘s always—there‘s going to be a man at the bottom of every story. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  There is.  We‘ve got to go.  But very quickly, why didn‘t I get an invitation to this Vienna ball thing? 

HAZLETT:  To the Vienna ball?  I don‘t know.  Talk to Paris. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ll talk to Paris, and we‘ll talk to you tomorrow night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 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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