updated 1/23/2007 12:50:49 PM ET 2007-01-23T17:50:49

Guests: Ryan Lizza, Joan Walsh

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight: Iran launches war games with missiles.  And that‘s not all.  The Teheran madman takes another step toward a showdown by kicking out U.N. weapons inspectors.  Does that sound familiar?  Is there a coming war with Iran?

But first: On the eve of the State of the Union, 28 American families face the tragedy of a loved one killed in combat after the third deadliest weekend ever for U.S. troops in that troubled country.  And today, more than 100 Iraqis slaughtered in twin bombings in Baghdad.  President Bush facing the nation tomorrow night with plummeting support.  A new “Wall Street Journal”/NBC poll released tonight shows that just 35 percent approve of the job President Bush is doing.  A separate poll finds that Mr.  Bush is more unpopular than any president before the State of the Union address since Richard Nixon in 1974.

When the commander-in-chief looks out at Congress tomorrow, he will find a growing number of Republicans breaking ranks with his policies.  Today, the long-time Bush and Iraq war supporter and one of the most respected men in the Senate, Senator John Warner, came out against President Bush‘s plan for a troop surge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE:  I feel ever so strongly that the American GI was not trained, not sent over there, certainly not by resolution of this institution, to be placed in the middle of a fight between the Sunni and the Shia and the wanton and incomprehensible killing that‘s going on at this time.  We say to Mr.  President, Go back and look at all the options.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And tonight, as U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne arrive in Iraq to find they‘re in the middle of a civil war, the question at home is, Can the president, the commander-in-chief, do anything tomorrow night to turn the tide for his presidency, for the war, and for this country?

Here now, Ryan Lizza—he‘s the White House correspondent for “The New Republic”—Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com, and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Ryan, let me begin with you.  The bloodshed just keeps getting worse, over 100 Iraqis killed today, over 25 U.S. troops killed this weekend, the president‘s polls lower than ever, according to the NBC/”Journal” poll.  Only 22 percent of Americans think the president should take the lead in setting U.S. policy.  And of course, 57 percent think Congress should.

Talk about the president‘s weak, weak standing on the eve of the State of the Union address.

RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  Well, look, let me first say about what‘s happening in the Senate, Joe.  Look, the president‘s decision to escalate the war—in doing that, he basically ignored the electorate in the 2006 election.  He ignored the—every poll that we‘ve seen.  He ignored the Iraq Study Group.  He seemed to have ignored most of world opinion.  And I hate between critical here of these Republicans who are showing some bravery in opposing what he‘s doing, but a Senate resolution is not going to do anything, at this point.  After ignoring all of these other folks, what makes Senator Warner and other Republicans think that if they vote on a non-binding resolution to oppose this plan, that George W.  Bush is suddenly going to listen?

SCARBOROUGH:  What would you recommend the Republicans that are in the middle of this revolt against the commander-in-chief at a time of war do beyond trying to pass this resolution?

LIZZA:  I‘m not recommending anything, I‘m just saying that if they think they‘re going to influence this president, a non-binding resolution isn‘t the way to do it.  The only thing that this administration understands is pushing back with power, and the only power that Congress has over the administration is the power of the purse.  And if they‘re serious about stopping the escalation, then the thing they ought to do is get brave and say that they‘re going to cut off funds.  It seems to me...

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan...

LIZZA:  ... that that‘s the only option they have.  Non-binding resolutions are going to be ignored by this White House.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Pat Buchanan, of course, that‘s what you‘ve been saying for some time.  If the Democrats and these Republicans are really against this war, then they need to put their money their mouth is and defund the war.

I want to show you, Pat, another poll that came out tonight.  And again, this situation for the president keeps getting worse when it comes to the polls.  A new ABC/”Washington Post” poll says 64 percent call the Iraq war a mistake, moreso than did Americans at any time during Vietnam.  It‘s safe to say now that when you look at the polls, Iraq is less popular than the Vietnam war, and we thought, of course, that that was about as bad as it got.

What does a president do with bloodshed escalating in the Middle East, and of course, these poll numbers going lower than even LBJ and Nixon had to deal with during Vietnam, while you have John Warner revolting in the United States Senate, probably the most respected voice on foreign affairs and defense, other than John McCain?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, what‘s happening is that

and I agree in part with Ryan that the Republican Party wants to move its flag to another hill, away from the president of the United States, but they don‘t want responsibility for undercutting him or bringing about a certain failure of the surge by consulting off funds.  In that, they‘re joined by, I think, the center and the center left of the Democratic Party, which wants to take a stand saying, We don‘t agree with the president, we don‘t agree with the surge, we don‘t like it, but we‘re not going to defund it.

The president is, indeed, increasingly isolated.  I think one of Warner‘s motives, however, is also to undercut Hagel, to this extent, to isolate him as going too far and to provide a position that other skeptics of the war—and they‘re probably very numerous in the Republican Senate.  They can move to a position which is not all the way to Hagel, which is not 100 percent behind the president.  It is not heroic, I agree.  It‘s got a large component of politics here to enable a lot of Republicans to say, We are not for this surge.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, what else, though, Joan, can these Republicans do, what can the Democrats do, short of defunding the troops?  Because it seems to me Ryan brings up a great point.  This is a president that hasn‘t listened to American voters.  He certainly didn‘t listen to them in November.  He‘s not paying attention to the polls.  He‘s not listening to his generals.  He‘s certainly not listening to world opinion.  He‘s not listening to his closest advisers.  So what in the world is a non-binding resolution from Republicans and Democrats going to do?  If you want to stop this war, you‘re going to have to do a lot more, aren‘t you.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  I think you are, eventually, Joe.  I think the one point—look, I was disturbed by the language of the Warner resolution, but this is an evolutionary process.  It really is.  First of all, they really can‘t stop this surge.  He has the money to send those troops over.  He has basically told us he will do it.  He will put them in harm‘s way, as everyone uses the term, and then by doing that, he boobytraps the political process for both Democrats an Republicans because they‘ll be cutting funds for the troops in harm‘s way.  So let‘s...

SCARBOROUGH:  Is that what he‘s trying to do, Joan?  Do you think that this...

WALSH:  I think that‘s absolutely what...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... president is...

WALSH:  ... he‘s trying to do.  I think that‘s...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... cynically trying to set up...

WALSH:  That‘s what...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... Democrats and Republicans to defund the troops.

WALSH:  That‘s what Steve Hadley said last week.  Well, I think he knows that they won‘t defund the troops, so I think he knows he‘s got his surge.  He has the money to do it.

But let me tell you what I think is going on here.  I think John Warner has the same disease as Jim Baker, and as many people, in the sense that they are powerful people and they simply cannot believe that this president is not going to listen to them.  So Warner and Susan Collins are very concerned, We don‘t want to put a stick in the president‘s eye.  We don‘t like the language of the Hagel resolution.  They call it—Hagel called it an “escalation.”  The president doesn‘t like that language.  We‘ll call it an augmentation, like Condi Rice called it last week.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.

WALSH:  So they‘re borrowing the president‘s language, and they think they can make it palatable...

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat...

WALSH:  ... just like Jim Baker thought he could make it palatable.

SCARBOROUGH:  And of course...

WALSH:  And they can‘t, so they‘ll learn.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... the president ignored him.  Pat Buchanan, though...

WALSH:  So they‘ll learn.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... I want to show you the president‘s—yes, so they‘ll learn.  I want to show you the president‘s approval ratings.  Again, on the eve of the president delivering this speech, the NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows his approval ratings at 35 percent before this State of the Union address.  It was 39 percent a year ago, and a full 50 percent two years ago in January ‘05.

You were around a president in Richard Nixon that had extremely low approval ratings, but Richard Nixon still understood that he couldn‘t lose his own Republican Party and stay in power.  Do you think this president may be even more isolated from Congress and the country than the president that you served and loved, Richard Nixon, back in the mid—early 1970s?

BUCHANAN:  Well, early 1974, Joe, was after—two months after the so-called “Saturday night massacre,” and there were impeachment resolutions in the House.  And so the president was on the way, frankly, to being—getting a vote of impeachment in committee.  And it didn‘t get to the floor.  He resigned.

But I don‘t think the president of the United States is remotely in as difficult a position as Richard Nixon was in 1974, January.  But what you‘ve got to remember, in January 1974, Joe, we weren‘t in a war.  Richard Nixon had had all the troops and the POWs, including Johnny McCain, home for a full year.  The war was over for the United States.  It wound end for South Vietnam about 15 months later.

This was an entirely different problem.  Richard Nixon was in a terminal political crisis.  I don‘t think the president of the United States is in that.  One thing I will say on his behalf.  There‘s no doubt the whole world is against this surge.  He—I do believe he must believe in his heart it is necessary and may stave off a defeat and may prevent a defeat, even though everybody disagrees with him.  And the one argument he does have is nobody else knows how to stop a military defeat, a strategic disaster for the United States, in Iraq and in the Middle East if and when we pull out.

SCARBOROUGH:  Ryan...

WALSH:  But the only thing the surge does—the only thing the surge does is put more American troops in harm‘s way.  When we surged over the summer and fall, we saw troop casualties rise.  We‘re seeing it again this weekend.  It‘s tragic.  And that is the difference, Pat...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  The president doesn‘t agree with you.  I mean, it‘s as simple as that.

WALSH:  Well...

BUCHANAN:  He doesn‘t agree with us.

WALSH:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Ryan—let me bring you in here, Ryan.  What‘s going on at the White House?  Does the president find himself isolated even in the executive branch with people?  Because I certainly have heard a lot of whispering.  There are a lot of people there rolling their eyes, saying, I can‘t believe he‘s continuing to take us down this road, when Democrats, Republicans, conservative, liberal all believe that this is a losing cause.

LIZZA:  Yes, like it always has been, this administration is factionalized when it comes to foreign policy, and Bush is listening, as he usually does, to the most hawkish faction.  And I think, you know, the $64,000 question is what Pat poses.  This does—there is a chance that Bush does believe that this is the right course.  I think there‘s also a chance that he just believes he‘s backed into a corner.  He won‘t accept defeat.  And he wants to try anything that sounds like a one last chance before the time runs out on his administration and he can kick this problem over to the next president...

BUCHANAN:  Joe?  Joe, let me—let me...

LIZZA:  ... who‘s going to have to pull out.

BUCHANAN:  ... add something here, Joe.  You‘ve got Giuliani, the most popular Republican in the country now.  You got McCain‘s probably number two.  You got Romney‘s three, and maybe Newt‘s four.  All of them are backing, as far as I know, the president of the United States‘ surge.  So inside the Republican Party at the grass roots, I think out there right now, supporting the surge, is probably 60 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Republicans.  Now, that‘s not a huge share of the country, but I think that‘s probably true inside the Republican Party.

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan, if that is the case and you have a president who‘s simply following his base, do you think—if the president is followings his base and more Republicans support this surge than oppose the surge, then why do you have conservatives like Sam Brownback breaking?  Why do you have moderates like John Warner breaking?  Why do you have moderate-to-liberals like Susan Collins breaking?

WALSH:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  It seems like these senators, these Republican senators, are running away from the president and this surge as quickly as they can.

WALSH:  They are.  And you know, Pat‘s right numerically.  A majority of Republicans do support the surge in all the polls that I‘ve looked at.  But Joe, those numbers are cratering.  They‘ve come down from high 70s into the 60s and 50s.  So it‘s not like Republicans aren‘t seeing this, either.

I really think that the people who are supporting the surge will pay a price, and that‘s why so many of the people who are vulnerable in ‘08 in the Senate are starting to be concerned and starting to take action.  So I don‘t think it‘s safe to say that the Republicans will be fine in ‘08 backing the president.  I think it‘s really damaging to the party.

SCARBOROUGH:  And you certainly look at the senators, the Republican senators who are up in 2008.  They were some of the first to come out and oppose the president‘s surge plan the night after he announced it.

Hey, thanks a lot, Joan.  Ryan and Pat, stick around.

Coming up, a lot more.  The coming war with Iran.  The madman across the water announces new missile tests on the same day Iran turns away U.N.  weapons inspectors.  If that doesn‘t sound familiar to you, you must not have been around at the beginning of the last war.  So is war with Iran inevitable?  That‘s coming up next.  And later:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  You look a little odd.  Your dancing is terrible.  The singing was horrendous.  And you look like one of those creatures that live in the jungle with those massive eyes.  What are they called, bush baby.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  “American Idol” crosses the line again, picking on those who can‘t defend themselves.  We‘re going to show you how two “Idol” rejects are sticking it to Randy, Simon and Paula and why some of the viewers have had enough of the show‘s increasingly bad reputation, and they‘re even going after kids from the Special Olympics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Iran gets serious about going to war with a very public show of force and defiance today.  Iran‘s Revolutionary Guard launched a series of war games showcasing its pair of missiles on the same day Iran banned 38 members of a United Nations inspection team from even entering their country.  A military official told the Associated Press that Iran‘s military has been put on, quote, “high alert.”  Is all this just posturing, or is Iran planning an attack?

Still with us, Ryan Lizza—he‘s a White House correspondent from “The New Republic”—and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.  Pat, does the United States government have plans for a possible attack on Iran?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, I‘m sure they do.  I‘m sure they‘ve planned—they‘ve got plans, and I‘m sure they‘ve made preparations, if necessary, to hit every nuclear site in Iran, probably to take down the air defenses first, to take out the Silkworm missiles, to take down...

SCARBOROUGH:  Aren‘t you writing about this...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Aren‘t you writing about this, Pat?  Haven‘t you talked to somebody?  I mean, don‘t you know of plans that somebody has seen?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, listen, the United States has been talking about the possibility we may have to do this, so we‘ve got the plans to go it.  The question is, is what we are doing right now with the carriers Stennis, with the Patriot missiles, with the overflights of Iran by these drones—is this preparatory to an imminent American attack?  I think, Joe, the answer is no.

Iran does not want a war with the United States.  It doesn‘t want a war with Israel because it‘ll get beat in either one of those wars.  It hasn‘t started a war in 27 years.  What it wants is to be able to continue with its enrichment of nuclear power without being forced to back down.

I think the Americans may be winning the argument here because it is clear there‘s a tremendous split inside the Iranian government.  The hard-line ayatollah is telling Ahmadinejad to get out of the nuclear thing.  They‘ve got sanctions voted unanimously by the Security Council.  Iran is increasingly isolated.  Ahmadinejad‘s provocations, verbal provocations, have turned the whole world against him and also gotten the Israelis almost hysterical.  And he has made a lot of blunders.  I think the U.S. policy is aimed at dumping Ahmadinejad.

SCARBOROUGH:  Ryan, are the president‘s closest aides, though—let‘s say Vice President Cheney.  Do you believe that they‘re suggesting to the president that he go in and take care of nuclear program and not allowed the Bush administration to leave with nukes being developed in Iran, quite possibly the most dangerous country on the planet today?

LIZZA:  I think you have to assume that there are some voices in the administration, and Cheney is usually sort of the—you know, the figurehead for this camp, that believe that.  They believe that we can‘t get out of—out of Washington—our administration cannot end without dealing with the nuclear threat from Iran.

I think one way to look at the Bush administration‘s recent provocations towards Iran—the most optimistic way, in my mind, is that Iran was winning sort of a PR argument with the United States in the Middle East, and that what the Bush administration had to do was sort of brush them back a little bit, and maybe that‘s what the raid on the consulate was.  That‘s what moving another carrier into the region was.

I think the most optimistic scenario is that maybe they were brushing back the Iranians a bit as a prelude to opening up some negotiations.  In other words, they dismissed out of hand neighborhoods...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, that is optimistic because...

LIZZA:  That‘s the most hopeful scenario.

SCARBOROUGH:  That is a hopeful scenario, but don‘t you believe that this president and the vice president and this administration already believes they have sufficient provocation to attack or invade Iran right now?

LIZZA:  Well, look, Joe, if you were the president and you were looking for a casus belli, you could probably make the case that there are Iranians in Iraq that are contributing to the death of Americans.  And you could blow that case up into a cause to go to war.  He hasn‘t done that yet, thank God, because going to war with Iran would be a very bad thing, in my opinion, but...

SCARBOROUGH:  But Pat Buchanan, we have actually gone into the Iranian consulate...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... kicked down the doors and arrested Iranians.  That‘s about as serious as it gets...

BUCHANAN:  Well, no...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You could have been a lot more serious.  You could have...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  This is it, Joe.  I think that was somewhat contained.  Let me tell you what I think.  My bottom line is, I agree.  I think it‘ll be very hard for Cheney and Bush to go home with Iran‘s nuclear program going full speed ahead, no IAEA inspectors in there.  But I am beginning to think they think, and they may be right, that they can win this thing diplomatically.

I saw Tony Snow‘s statement today, and he was saying, in effect, We‘ll help build nuclear power for you, you just can‘t play with the firecrackers.

LIZZA:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  We‘ll bring them over.  And I think that ultimately is how the president wants to succeed because I agree Ryan, a war with Iran, we would smash them, but it would be a disaster for the United States‘ position...

LIZZA:  Right, and...

BUCHANAN:  ... in the Middle East and the price of oil in the world.

LIZZA:  So we have to hope that this...

SCARBOROUGH:  All right...

LIZZA:  ... is a bit of a stick before—before the carrot.  And I know that‘s—you know, that may just be wishful thinking.  You‘re right about that.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, we shall see.  Thank you, Ryan.  Thank you, Pat.

And I just want to say for the record, I don‘t want anybody to misinterpret what I‘m saying here.  I don‘t think the Bush administration should leave office with the most dangerous terror state in the world having nuclear weapons.  I mean, Iran‘s been the epicenter of terrorism on this planet since 1979.  The hell that has been unleashed across the Middle East in the ‘80s and the ‘90s and in the 21st century and even 9/11 all had its beginning in 1979 with the Iranian hostage crisis.  Those people cannot possess nuclear weapons.

Coming up: Are the “American Idol” bunches (ph) a bunch of American psychos?  I mean, these people—this is—it‘s shock to me.  These people actually are picking on kids, young men, young women who are disabled.  One of them was actually a participant in the Special Olympics.  Has this show gone too far?  Of course, it has.  Only question is, have viewers had enough?

And up next, Jay Leno pulls a Maury Povich with monkeys.  A paternity test for primes coming up in “Must See S.C.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, it‘s time for tonight‘s “Must See S.C.,” some video you just got to see.  First up, the judges of “American Idol” are as cruel as ever, and some have even called this the nastiest season yet.  Jimmy Kimmel shows us why no one is immune to the “Idol” mean streak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAULA ABDUL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Thank you, Jesse, for coming down.

RANDY JACKSON, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Thank you, Jesse.

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Other door.  Other door. 

JACKSON:  Punch the other door.  Punch the other door.  Punch it.  The

other door

COWELL:  Other door. 

ABDUL:  Other door.

JACKSON:  Other door.

COWELL:  Other door.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And finally, when a female chimp had a surprise baby at a Louisiana zoo, it stunned the zookeepers.  The only question left is, who is the baby‘s daddy? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  The chimp in a monkey sanctuary in Louisiana has given birth—do you know about this story? -- despite the fact that the zoo‘s entire male population has had vasectomies.  And somehow this monkey got pregnant.  They did DNA tests.  Today they released the results of the DNA tests.  Do we have that?  Can we show that?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAURY POVICH, TALK SHOW HOST:  Justin, you are not the father. 

(APPLAUSE)

James, you are the father. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And coming up, God and country.  We‘re going to be talking to the director of “Friends of God” about her trip across the Bible belt.  What did the daughter of the speaker of the House, Alexandra Pelosi, find out about evangelicals in America?  Well, they‘re not all Ted Haggard.  Her discoveries coming up, and you may be surprised.

But first, “Idol” exposed.  We‘re going to take inside the “Idol” machine and how it sets up wannabes to fail.  Is this season of discontent the end of the line for viewers who once contended the show wholesome family entertainment?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up, Alexandra Pelosi, she‘s the daughter of the speaker of the House.  She‘s here to talk about her new documentary that does for evangelicals what her previous documentary did for George W. Bush.  It gives you a behind-the-scenes look.  And many believe that‘s a positive thing.  That story and a lot more straight ahead. 

But first, “American Idol” might be TV‘s top show, but the new season is hitting a low note with fans and critics who say “Idol” is crossing the line.  I‘ve got to say, I do, too.  I mean, this is a show that I really enjoyed a couple of years ago.  I‘d sit there and laugh, but it‘s just gotten cruel. 

I mean, at least for me, the most outrageous example, they had two young men from Seattle who auditioned in last week‘s episode.  Did you see that?  Well, America watched as the judges ridiculed everything from their singing to their looks.  But as NBC‘s John Larson shows us, not everyone is finding it funny, especially when they‘re making fun of a guy was in the Special Olympics. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN LARSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  “American Idol” is as famous for celebrating the talented as for roughing up the rest. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I need your love...

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

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Now, what the bloody hell was that? 

LARSON:  This year, “Idol” began its sixth season on a sour note. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Somebody to lean on...

COWELL:  You are probably the worst we‘ve had today. 

LARSON:  And then it got even worse.  Harsh criticism is one thing, but the judges seemed to get mean and personal. 

As 37 million viewers looked on, two young men from Seattle were ready to show America their stuff. 

COWELL:  Have you borrowed Randy‘s trousers? 

ABDUL:  What?

LARSON:  First, 21-year-old Jonathan Jayne, a Special Olympics competitor whose parents say has mild autism, and his pal, 23-year-old Kenneth Swale. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I can‘t take it anymore...

COWELL:  Nor can I.

LARSON:  Both saw their big break get ugly. 

COWELL:  Well, you look a little odd.  Your dancing is terrible.  The singing was horrendous.  And you look like one of those creatures that live in the jungle with those massive eyes.  What are they called, bush baby?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It hurt me to the point that I never knew that a human being like Simon could degrade a person down so low. 

LARSON:  And it shocked a lot of “Idol” viewers in Seattle and across the country. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t agree with them making fun of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There was definitely a line crossed. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Absolutely. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Our audience feels that way.  We‘ve gotten tons of e-mail, tons of phone calls on that tonight.

LARSON:  Molly Jester (ph) was so upset, she won‘t allow her kids to watch the show again. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I just was completely offended that it would be considered entertainment to make fun of people that had obvious differences. 

LARSON:  While FOX Television refused to comment for this story, our story of Jonathan and Kenneth ends on a high note. 

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, “JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE”:  He said you look like a bush baby.  Meanwhile, who looks like the bush baby now right here? 

LARSON:  Humiliated on one show, embraced by the next.  Now both have agents and adoring fans across the country. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Getting back at Simon in that way was just too much fun. 

LARSON:  John Larson, NBC News, where else but in Hollywood?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Where else, indeed?  Simon Cowell may be feeling a bit guilty about his comments.  On Saturday, he told TV critics, quote, “I take your point, which is it‘s a singing competition, and why should I call someone a bush baby?  There are times, trust me, when I watch this series and just think, ‘God, I wish I hadn‘t said that, and why did they put it on the show?”

But with several more auditions still to come, look for the show to give dozens of more contestants false hope, having them audition over and over, only to be mocked and ridiculed on national TV.  Will there be a backlash against the show‘s mean streak?

Here now, former “American Idol” contestant Carmen Rasmusen and “Star” magazine‘s editor-at-large Jill Dobson.

Carmen, you know a lot doesn‘t shock me.  I mean, it‘s about TV.  It‘s about the ratings.  I certainly understand that.  And it‘s not even a news show. 

CARMEN RASMUSEN, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  Exactly. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s an entertainment show.  But I would be ashamed if I were FOX, if I were anybody associated with this show, where they get a young man, a Special Olympics contestant, who came on with autism and sang “God Bless America,” and then they mocked him and ridiculed them, and not only that, but then ran it.  They did not have to run the clip of a young man with mild autism for ratings.  I mean, this is just obscene, isn‘t it? 

RASMUSEN:  It is.  And it was my understanding that they didn‘t actually know the person was handicap until after he had auditioned.  Here‘s my thing.  If a person is incompetent and it‘s obvious, I think it should be the job or responsibility of a parent or guardian to stop them from trying out for the show.  I mean, they know it‘s a cruel show.  Simon will criticize anyone, the good, the bad. 

And I think it should be their responsibility to stop them from trying out.  If the person is competent enough to not need a guardian and they enter it at their own risk, basically, I guess they have the potential to become infamous like William Hung.  And he‘s made a million dollars.  And now these two people will have agents and could possible do the same thing.  So it‘s hard to say...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Carmen, I mean, in William Hung‘s case, I mean, I don‘t think anybody ever suggested he was autistic. 

RASMUSEN:  No, that is different, because he‘s not handicapped.  Exactly.  But it‘s hard when you have 100,000 people auditioning to screen them, to say who is really handicapped and who is not.  And some people go on the show...

SCARBOROUGH:  But, Carmen, as you said yourself, though, Carmen—hold on though, Carmen.  You told me yourself and told all of us that these people go through three auditions before they even see these people. 

RASMUSEN:  They do.  Absolutely.

SCARBOROUGH:  So don‘t tell me somebody at “American Idol” didn‘t know this young man who‘s singing “God Bless America” here, you know that he thinks he‘s doing a good job of it.  Don‘t tell me that they didn‘t know that he had problems. 

(CROSSTALK)

RASMUSEN:  Joe, I know personally of people who have auditioned for the show and purposely acted weird or incompetent because they wanted air time.  And with 100,000 people, they probably thought, “Oh, this person is funny.  Let‘s send him through.”  I don‘t know if they actually knew this person is autistic. 

If that was the case, I agree with you.  I don‘t agree with making fun of people who are competent or incompetent, but especially somebody who‘s been on the Special Olympics and is autistic.  I agree with you:  That is not right. 

But with 100,000 people going through, some people are acting that way to get air time and to get publicity.  And who‘s to say if some of the people are or aren‘t?

SCARBOROUGH:  And who knows?  And, of course, everybody is looking at Simon and Randy and Paula.  But, of course, there was somebody in that editing room, a producer whose names we don‘t know, I think, in the end, made a very bad decision and embarrassed these hosts and, of course, embarrassed FOX in the process.  I want us to take a look at some more auditions. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You don‘t have to be beautiful to turn me on. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All I need is your body, baby, from dawn ‘til dusk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You don‘t need experience to turn me out.  You just leave it all up to me.  I‘ll show you what it‘s all about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You don‘t have to be rich to be my girl.  You don‘t have to be cool to rule my world. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ain‘t no particular sign I‘m more compatible with.  I just need your extra time and your kiss.  You don‘t have to be rich to be my girl.  You don‘t have to be cool to rule my world.  Ain‘t no particular sign I‘m compatible with.  I just want your extra time and your kiss.

JACKSON:  Dog, Prince will never be on this show again, man. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, Jill, a lot of that was just very funny.  I mean, there‘s a difference between making fun of a handicapped kid or I guess a kid that was in Special Olympics and people that just go out there and make fools of themselves.  But why is it that the meaner they get, the higher the ratings go? 

JILL DOBSON, “STAR” MAGAZINE:  I think it is just funny.  I mean, I‘m sitting here laughing watching these clips.  And a lot of these people I feel like kind of deserve this.  They‘ve seen this show before. 

If this was season one, I would really, really be taking up for all the contestants and saying unacceptable, they didn‘t know what they were going into.  They probably assumed if they were bad, they wouldn‘t end up on TV.  But now everybody knows the score. 

And I also have to point out that Jonathan Jayne, the young man who has competed in Special Olympics, he went on the “Today” show this morning.  As Carmen mentioned, he said that he has an agent now.  He also said he thought it was funny when they asked him if he borrowed his pants from Randy, a joke about his weight.  He found that joke amusing, or at least that‘s what he said on the “Today” show this morning.  And the Special Olympics has come out and said they think that he was treated OK, and they‘re glad that he had the opportunity to be part of this program and wasn‘t excluded because he had some special needs. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, so, Carmen, I guess I‘m just overly sensitive tonight.  But don‘t you think, though, Carmen, also, that Simon—I would guess Simon is a guy who‘s very concerned about his image.  And there‘s a big difference between being caustic and being cruel.  Do you think he‘s talking to some people at FOX saying, “Don‘t ever expose me like that again; leave that stuff on the editing room floor”? 

RASMUSEN:  Possibly.  I mean, you read that is statement, that he said he watches some of the stuff, and I don‘t think he‘s always there when they edit.  In fact, I don‘t know if he‘s ever there when they edit it. 

So I think that a lot of times, after so many people, he gets tired and he says things he shouldn‘t, and is probably embarrassed about some of the things he says and probably shouldn‘t say half of the things he says, but that is why people watch.  The show is number one about entertainment, and then the second part is about talent.  So that‘s why people tune in, to watch what he says. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And I think like 38 million people tuned in last week. 

RASMUSEN:  It‘s ridiculous.

SCARBOROUGH:  It is unbelievable. 

RASMUSEN:  It really is. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Carmen, like I said last week, this is almost as many people that watch SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY every night. 

RASMUSEN:  I know.

SCARBOROUGH:  Carmen, we‘ll see you on Thursday.  Jill, stick around. 

Coming up next, Alexandra Pelosi is here to talk about her new friends.  The daughter of the speaker of the House took a road trip and found Jesus.  Well, evangelicals, anyway.  We‘re going to take a look at her new documentary, “Friends of God,” coming up. 

And later, Brad Pitt says he owes his entire career to strippers.  Amen.  You hear that Angelina?  Well, actually, she probably couldn‘t care less, but I bet Jen would.  That story coming up later in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  The daughter of the current speaker of the House has found God in her latest documentary.  Her first documentary, “Journeys with George,” was an upbeat look at then-candidate George W. Bush in the road to the White House in 2000.  And now her new film, “Friends with God,” Alexandra Pelosi is taking on another red state topic:  evangelicals in America. 

I talked to Alexandra about her role and the role they play in America, and the most notorious one out there these days, the scandal-ridden Ted Haggard. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PASTOR TED HAGGARD, FORMER PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF

EVANGELICALS:  All the surveys say that evangelicals have the best sex life of any other group. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, come on.

ALEXANDRA PELOSI, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER:  No way.

HAGGARD:  Oh, yes.  But let‘s just find out.  How often do you have sex with you wife? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everyday.

HAGGARD:  Everyday?  How about twice a day sometimes?

SCARBOROUGH:  Were you surprised at all when Ted Haggard had the scandal that basically finished his preaching career?

A. PELOSI:  Well, the reason that I chose him Pastor Ted Haggard as my tour guide through the red states was because, when I met him in Colorado Springs, he seemed reasonable.  He wasn‘t fire-breathing, and he wasn‘t homophobic, and all of the things that we think a leader of the evangelical movement would be.  We had really reasonable conversations. 

He didn‘t seem to me like a hypocrite.  When all of that came down, it seemed to me that, you know, I was just as surprised as the next person.  But now, looking back, of course, I‘m in the position where I have to say, “Well, I guess I should have suspected it, because he was so open-minded.”  When we had conversations, he didn‘t seem to be as hard-line as the rest of the evangelical leaders. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Tell us why you chose the subject of evangelicals.

A. PELOSI:  Well, because after the 2004 presidential election, people like you on TV were saying that the evangelical Christians had all of this influence in the outcome of the 2004 presidential election.  So I wanted to figure out, who are these evangelicals?  And what is their influence in our electoral process?

So I packed my bags and went out and hit the road to meet some.  I followed the Christian wrestlers in the documentary.

A lot of pain for Christ. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, it is.  Buy you know what?  It‘s all worth it, because when you think about the pain Christ went through on the cross for us, this pales in comparison.

SCARBOROUGH:  If you look at the exit polls, a lot of pollsters and pundits said that it was the evangelical crowd that put George W. Bush over the top over John Kerry.  I‘ve talked to a lot of evangelicals over the past six months.  They seem very disillusioned with this president and even with the Republican Party.

Did you find that while you were out there making this film?

A. PELOSI:  Not so much, because I tried to stay completely apolitical.  Because whenever you get to politics, it gets confrontational, and I was trying not to document, you know, the politics of evangelicals, but more the cultural influence that they have. 

SCARBOROUGH:  There are a lot of people on the coasts that do have cartoon-type images of these the evangelical community and are very scared, very scared about the so-called right-wing religious nuts.  What do you find most frightening or most off-putting about your time around the evangelicals? 

A. PELOSI:  Well, funny that I should be the one defending the evangelicals here, but that seems to be what I‘ve been doing these days, because everyone I met seemed really reasonable.  I didn‘t go really deep into the fire-breathing dragon side of the evangelical movement, if there is such a side. 

I tried to stay on the periphery, with the really nice, more moderate evangelicals.  I didn‘t go towards like the Pat Robertson side, because I always got the impression that he wasn‘t a very good representation of evangelicals, so I thought, instead of furthering the stereotypes, I should try to meet some new, average, ordinary, everyday evangelicals and see what they think, instead of trying to just stick to that same, old caricature that we‘re, on the coasts, we‘re really used to.

SCARBOROUGH:  Can we talk about your mom for a minute? 

A. PELOSI:  Sure.  Go ahead.  What do you want to know?

SCARBOROUGH:  I didn‘t know how she was going respond to the pressures of being sworn in and having the whole world look at her.  I tell you, I was stunned by how at ease she was with that gavel in her hand.  What made that day so special for your mother and for your entire family? 

A. PELOSI:  Well, that was a very special day for our whole family.  She had realized her dream of the second half of her life.  It was interesting for us was that my mom was a stay-at-home mom.  She made Halloween costumes, and had birthday parties, and drove carpool. 

And then, when I went to college, she went to Congress.  This was like her empty nest syndrome.  She went off to Congress at the age of 44.  And so this was the second act of her life, and this was sort of the culmination of all of her efforts. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Alexandra, thank you so much for being with us. 

Greatly appreciate it. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  And I‘ll tell you what, I want to thank her, also, as somebody that grew up in the evangelical community.  I‘ve seen cartoon caricatures drawn of evangelicals my entire life.  This looks like a very good documentary to really talk about what goes on in evangelical communities. 

Alexandra Pelosi‘s documentary, “Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi,” airs January 25th, 9:00 on HBO.  “Hollyweird” is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, that‘s about all the time we have for tonight, but let‘s take a one-minute trip to “Hollyweird.”  First up, Brad Pitt.  The superstar is telling “Newsweek” he owes his career to strippers.

Here now, editor-at-large for “Life and Style Weekly,” Dawn Yanek. 

Still with us, “Star” magazine‘s Jill Dobson. 

Dawn, you have been totally ripped off tonight.  Let‘s go to you. 

Tell me about Brad Pitt and strippers. 

DAWN YANEK, “LIFE AND STYLE”:  Well, apparently strippers are the unsung heroes of Brad Pitt‘s career.  Apparently, when he was a struggling actor, he would chauffeur strippers around, collect the money, collect their clothes.  And one of the strippers actually introduced him to his first acting coach, and that sent him on the right path to this career.  So that is why he owes his career to strippers. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, that‘s actually how I got my job in the news business, but we‘ll have to tell that on the Web.  Go to Joe@MSNBC.com.  We‘ll show you the rest of “Hollyweird.”  See 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   

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