updated 2/6/2007 12:40:42 PM ET 2007-02-06T17:40:42

Guests: Richard Wolffe

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, “American Idol” ups the ante on bizarre behavior, and we‘re not talking about Paula.  Why critics say producers are crossing the line once again.  That‘s coming up.

But first tonight, serious business.  The Senate showdown over President Bush‘s surge is killed by a Senate procedural vote.  Republicans killed the debate over this resolution that was offered up by one of the president‘s former top allies in the Senate, GOP senator John Warner.  But even John Warner himself fell meekly in line with the rest of the Republican minority, killing any Senate floor debate about the president‘s surge that most Republicans oppose.

The Republicans moved (ph) through these fiery words from Democratic majority leader Harry Reid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NE), MAJORITY LEADER:  If they stop us from going forward on this debate, this does not end the debate on Iraq.  It may end the debate for a few days or a few weeks.  You can run, but you can‘t hide.  We are going to debate Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  So have Republicans once again fallen into line with the president whose Iraq policy has cost them so dearly politically—certainly cost the House and the Senate this past year—or is today‘s victory masking a brewing civil war in the GOP, as a lot of senators and congressmen from my own party are telling me?

Here now is “Congressional Quarterly” columnist Craig Crawford.  We‘ve got Richard Wolffe—he‘s “Newsweek‘s” senior White House correspondent—and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Let‘s start with you, Craig.  You cover the Hill an awful lot.  Not a lot of profiles in courage here today.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  How could, for instance, John Warner, who was called a traitor on Friday by his own Republican Party and certainly seen by the White House, turn around on Monday and vote with that same White House and his conservative colleagues to kill the debate on this Bush surge, which he opposes?

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

The president has won another short-term victory in this ongoing debate over Iraq.  It‘s something he‘s done before, and I think he‘s done it again.  And that‘s largely because many in his own party for now are buying his basic argument, going back to the State of the Union, which is the old twist on John Lennon‘s song, you know, All I‘m saying is give war a chance.  They‘re willing to give it a chance, but probably for not more than another six months.  Mitch McConnell himself has said this is the president‘s last chance.

SCARBOROUGH:  But Craig, you know, I want you to look to these Republicans, who were standing up to the president on the surge issue, who said they crossed him, but then they backed down today.  You have Warner, you have Hagel, you have Gordon Smith, who said this war close to criminal, you have Susan Collins, Norm Coleman, Sam Brownback, who also said this is a moral issue, and Maine senator Olympia Snow.

Do you think it was the White House pressure or the suggestions by some conservatives in the Senate that these people are on the side with terrorists that may have cowed them once again?

CRAWFORD:  I think maybe so.  And also, you know, this is early enough for them to cast their votes in many different directions, take many different stands and wait and see what happens.  They have time to position themselves later on, Joe, because the 2008 reelection for all these folks is far enough away, they‘ve got a little time to play all sides of the story and see where it ends up, come when they have to make decisions.  That‘s not brave, but that‘s politics.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Richard Wolffe, I had predicted the night of the president‘s State of the Union that Republicans would meekly fall in line.  Barack Obama suggested that I was wrong, that Sam Brownback and all these other people would fall in—actually go against the president.  But it is just so hard to go against a commander-in-chief in your own party at the time of war.

Talk about the intense pressure that this White House put on all these congressmen and senators to stand in line.

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, it‘s twofold.  You‘re right, they put a lot of pressure on them.  They‘ve been working this one over time.  And so has Mitch McConnell in the Senate, as well.  He‘s very close to the White House.  But on top of that, they‘ve got public opinion weighing on them and especially what the Republican base thinks about this war, and it‘s deeply divided.  So really, their ideal position was to say nothing and do nothing because the Democrats‘ position was to say something and still do nothing.

But what you have is this twofold thing.  Public opinion is against the war, but there‘s no clear direction about what to do now.  And that‘s where Republican senators are much happier doing nothing.  It was an easy sell for the White House in that context.  Just keep your head down, get a procedural vote out of the way and just give us some time.

CRAWFORD:  And you know, Joe, there are more Democrats than some might think who wouldn‘t mind not having to go on the record on this, as well.

SCARBOROUGH:  Why is that?

CRAWFORD:  I think—as I say, I think many of the politicians now are beginning to wonder if maybe Bush can‘t pull off some sort of miracle over there and turn that story around and get it off the front pages come election time.  They have to think ahead.  There‘s always a chance that down the road, when they go back before the voters, that this story looks a lot different than it does right now.  I mean, not many people betting on that, but I think a lot of these politicians are beginning to think they better place their bets on both sides.

SCARBOROUGH:  And of course, that‘s what pat Buchanan has been talking about for quite a long time.  Pat, you‘ve been saying these Democrats may back off.  They may be afraid to actually stick it on the line, despite the fact that that‘s exactly what their base and the people who elected them to run the Senate and House wanted to do.

Now, Pat, again after the State of the Union, I was talking about how all these tough-talking Republicans would cave to the president once again because, again, the pressure not only from the president but from the conservative base would be too strong because they don‘t want to see their conservative and moderate Republicans going against the president, the commander-in-chief, in a time of war.

Did the president or his party bully these wayward senators into backing down in a very public, and I would say, embarrassing way?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think these—the dissident Republicans, led by Warner and particularly Hagel, what they did—they were persuaded by their own party, Joe, by this kind of argument.  Look, we will give you the vote on the Warner resolution, which in effect, is a vote of no confidence in the commander-in-chief‘s present policy, if you will give us votes on McCain‘s conditions and give us a vote that forces the Democratic division to come to the surface.

Now, that vote was, Let‘s cut off funds for the troops in Iraq and start (ph) out.  And the Democratic Party was terrified of three votes.  The Republicans said, We‘ll give you your vote, and let‘s have the other two so we can see that the Democratic Party is as divided as our party.

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, I need you to explain something to me.  Why is the Democratic Party so scared to take a position that right now, by my last count, 75 percent of Americans support?  I mean, more Americans oppose us sending more troops to Iraq than opposed the Vietnam war after Ted, after Cambodia, even up into ‘73?

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s why.  Here‘s why.  The Democrats are terrified of what happens if they can successfully vote their policy into effect or if their policy is implemented.  They see the nightmare scenario.  Look closely at Joe Biden‘s interview up there with that national—or that “New York Observer.”  He said Hillary Clinton‘s policy would bring total disaster.  John Edwards didn‘t know what the heck he‘s talking about.  He doesn‘t realize we got vital interests.  We can‘t just pull out.  If we undercut Iraq, this thing could go to hell in a handbasket.

What Republicans want—they‘re saying, in effect, You fellows want to play hardball, you can vote on our thing, which undercuts the president, and then we vote on the one where you undercut the troops.  And Harry Reid is frightened to death of that second vote, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Craig Crawford, I want you to listen to two Republican heavyweights that went after each other this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t think it‘s appropriate to say that you disapprove of a mission and you don‘t want to fund it and you don‘t want it to go, but yet you don‘t take the action necessary to prevent it.  If you really believe that this is doomed to failure and going to cost American lives, then you should do what‘s necessary to prevent it from happening, rather than a vote of, quote, “disapproval,” which is fundamentally a vote of no confidence in the troops and their mission.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  What we‘re saying is, Do not continue to escalate military involvement in Iraq, George.  This notion that somehow we‘re not supporting our troops—that‘s not true.  In fact, I think if you want to go to a disingenuous resolution, this idea about putting benchmarks on the Iraqis...

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, “THIS WEEK”:  Senator McCain‘s idea?

HAGEL:  Yes—and then having no consequences, now, that‘s intellectually dishonest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, Craig, you had Chuck Hagel calling the guy that most people believe is going to be the next Republican nominee in 2008 for president a liar and disingenuous, intellectually dishonest.  Is this a Republican Party that is at war?

CRAWFORD:  Well, at least in terms of the presidential sweepstakes between these two men.  I was fascinated to see just how much further Hagel continues to go to establish himself as the anti-war candidate on the Republican side and more going beyond Sam Brownback who has opposed the surge.  There maybe room in the Republican Party for that.  He reminds me a little bit on the flip side with John Edwards on the Democratic side trying to move to the left, appealing to the activist base of his party on the issue.

So there may be some presidential sweepstakes there, but at the same time, there is a deepening division among Republicans.  But I think it‘s on hold until this chance that they‘re giving the president to see if his new policy is going to work on the ground.

BUCHANAN:  You know, Joe...

SCARBOROUGH:  Richard Wolffe?

BUCHANAN:  Go ahead.

SCARBOROUGH:  I want to ask Richard, How much time does the White House think they have?  They certainly understand that the party, the Republican Party, is splitting in half.  Democrats may not be much better, but the Republican Party is splitting in half.  How much time do they think they‘re going to be able to pressure these wayward Republicans to stay in camp?  Two months, six months?  What‘s it look like?

WOLFFE:  Well, they‘ve always said, Just give us another six months, but really privately, they‘re talking three or four months for showing some progress.  Doesn‘t have to be clean.  It can be some progress and some things falling back.  More bloodshed, of course, is what everybody expects.

But they understand that Republicans are far more split on this than Democrats.  Having said that, look at what they‘ve done.  We‘ve written off the White House so many times before, and here they are, showing how—in their own terms, they‘ve managed to show everybody else as being weak.  No one else has shown any kind of leadership.  And you can say their leadership is wrong inside the White House, that they‘re leading America further into the quagmire, but they‘re still leading, and that‘s a very different profile they‘re projecting there.  It‘s very helpful for them.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... Joe, the White House—whatever you say about Cheney and Bush, they‘re willing to take historic responsibility for what they‘re doing.  If this doesn‘t work, they know they‘re finished.  And they got six months to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  They don‘t know what‘s going to happen, and they don‘t want to be on the wrong side of it again!

CRAWFORD:  That‘s right, and they‘re taking full advantage of the lack of a supermajority in either house for any way forward on Iraq.  There‘s a bare majority...

BUCHANAN:  There‘s also a lack of guts!

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  ... supermajority to withstand—that‘s veto-proof and filibuster-proof.

BUCHANAN:  And there‘s a lack of guts.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what‘s so interesting, Craig, is the night of the State of the Union, I was on the House floor and was talking to Republican congressmen.  A Republican senator came up to me who used to be in the House.  I said, How‘s it going over there?  How are you handling the minority?  It must be terrible for you?  He said, No, actually, he goes, it‘s a lot of better.  He goes, Joe, I can‘t explain it to you, but we have more power in the minority than we did in the majority.

BUCHANAN:  And that‘s like...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Explain that to America.

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  One actually told me—you know, one of those members told me, You know, it‘s a lot easier to throw rocks than catch them.

BUCHANAN:  Republicans are better in the minority.  They always were.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, no doubt about it.  I mean, when we get in the majority, the deficits explode...

BUCHANAN:  Sure!

SCARBOROUGH:  ... debt explodes...

BUCHANAN:  Start spending and start acting like the other guys!

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  Exactly.  Now, I want to read you guys what “The New York Times” wrote on the front of the newspaper today.  The headline read, “Many Iraqis say pace of U.S. plan allowed attack.”  And the article goes on to say that a growing number of Iraqis are blaming the United States for creating conditions that led to the worst single suicide bombing in the war.

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.

SCARBOROUGH:  How do you...

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s how, Joe...

BUCHANAN:  How do you blame the surge for that?

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s how, Joe.  What happened is, the surge was coming.  Moqtada al Sadr told his—his militia—he told the—his army, the Mahdi Army, Stand down.  Don‘t mix it up with the Americans.  So the Mahdi Army runs to earth.  Now, the Mahdi Army not only is partly responsible for atrocities against Sunnis, it‘s the defenders of the Shia.  They‘re gone.  So these Sunni terrorists come into the Shia neighborhood, explode this horrible bomb, 135 dead, 300 wounded.  And they‘re saying the Americans by, in effect, chasing out the Mahdi Army, has left the Shia groups naked to attack.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, they have.  And that‘s the dirty little truth here.  We‘ve all been critical of the Mahdi Army and of al Sadr, but the only reason al Sadr become powerful was because the United States and the allies could not protect Shi‘ites, who continued to get blown up.  And once we take al Sadr and start—we‘ve started killing his lieutenants by the day—once that happens, you‘re going to see these terrorist attacks from Sunnis continue.  It is an ugly situation, and there are few good options.

Richard Wolffe, Pat Buchanan, Craig Crawford, thanks so much.

Coming up next: Iran warns of a major announcement by next week.  Many believe we‘re just days away from a nuclear Iran.  How the White House is handling that brewing crisis that could lead to war—coming up.

Plus, “American Idol” under fire after delving into contestants‘ personal lives.  Did the show cross the line by exploiting singers?  Of course they did!  But we‘re going to show you the hit show‘s latest controversy and let you be the judge on this ratings juggernaut that is influencing Hollywood.

And later: A predator sting, and man, it looks like it stings.  It‘s literally shocking.  Chris Hansen joins us more of his Long Beach hidden camera investigation and tells us about the most aggressive predators he‘s met so far.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  In less than a week, just six days, Iran will announce its right to nuclear technology.  According to reports, Iran‘s president is set to unveil, quote, “giant achievements” in Iran‘s nuclear program, saying today, quote, “The bullying forces are aware of Iran‘s development.  Their new plan is doomed to failure.  The enemies of the Iranian nation will get nowhere.”

And today the British Broadcasting Corporation reporting that Iran has set up more than 300 centrifuges at two uranium enrichment sites and has at least 2,000 more -- 2,000 more! -- ready to install.

Still with us to talk about the possible coming war with Iran and these frightening nuclear developments, Pat Buchanan and Craig Crawford.  Craig, this is what you wrote about President Bush‘s recent rhetoric.  You said on Iran, Bush has been on and off, playing the roles of both good cop and bad cop since he labeled that country, Iran and North Korea, the “axis of evil” five years ago—Iraq.

Why is the White House sending mixed messages on Iran right now?

CRAWFORD:  Well, there could be different reasons.  They‘ve really stepped up this rope-a-dope, I call it.  I hesitate to use boxing metaphors because Pat‘s the former boxer among us here.  But it seems like his strategy is to both confound his enemies here and abroad and frighten his supporters with this constant rhetoric, but then follow it up within a day or so by soft language, either from the president himself or from Secretary Gates.  Defense Secretary Gates twice now has come out after the president‘s tough words on Iran to say, We have no plans for war with Iran.

But of course, I point out the administration doesn‘t seem like they had plans for war with Iraq, either.  So just not having plans doesn‘t mean they won‘t do it.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, they‘re certainly keeping their options open.  There‘s no doubt about that.  Pat Buchanan, what do you make of Iran‘s announcement that they‘re only six days away from telling the world about huge advances in their nuclear program, and this BBC report that suggests they are way ahead from where Saddam Hussein was in the early 1990s, when he was developing a nuclear program?

BUCHANAN:  I think—I think Ahmadinejad is—is—there‘s a high BS content...

(LAUGHTER)

CRAWFORD:  Yes!

BUCHANAN:  ... on the part of these Iranians, Joe.  Look, if you‘re going to put 3,000 centrifuges into exactly a place—a great, big room exactly where we know it is, in Natanz, you‘re inviting the Americans to blow it to kingdom come.

I‘ve been reading reports, some of which say they‘re very close, others of which say this thing is about as advanced as the chemistry lab at Pensacola Catholic High School, Joe.  So I think this.  What the president is doing—the Iranians have gotten the message that the Americans are moving and we are headed down the road to a confrontation unless something happens.  Either the Iranians back off some way—and this may be their excuse to back away.  They say, We‘ve got the technology, now we‘re not going to perfect it so we can negotiate—or Congress has got to step in here and say, Mr. Bush, you don‘t have the authority to attack Iran unless you come to us.

CRAWFORD:  You know, Pat‘s so right about the BS...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on.  I‘ve got to interrupt you for a second because Pat is a Northeast elitist, even though he plays a working-class man...

CRAWFORD:  He‘s a—he‘s a...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  For the record, Pat Buchanan, for the record, Pensacola High School is listed in the top five high school in America in “Newsweek.”

BUCHANAN:  Was that after you got out, Joe?

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  So you take your—you take your—of course it was! 

You take your snooty elitism back to Chevy Chase for me!

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, moving on, Craig Crawford, if you want to insult my hometown, you can do that also.

CRAWFORD:  No!  No way!

SCARBOROUGH:  Of course not.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  But it seems to me—the thing that confuses me about what‘s going on in Iran—and of course, Craig, what‘s so fascinating is that you tell us the president‘s sending mixed messages, he‘s good cop, bad cop.  The Iranians are also because you get the sense that this little president, who‘s out there acting like a little tyrant, is now getting sort of pushed to the side by the religious mullahs over there.  Do you think Iran‘s also playing good cop, bad cop?

CRAWFORD:  And there‘s a lot of division with Iran.  I mean, I‘ve said before, I mean, we should not look at Iran as a monolith.  We have this leader, who‘s a huge problem, to be sure, and some might argue he actually got to power because of some of the belligerent language coming out of the White House.  And he seems to be losing some power, but that power could shift to even worse elements.  So there‘s a lot to consider about Iran that‘s—it‘s not just one country heading in one direction.

But I love what Pat said about the BS factor because, you know, We went through this with Hussein.  One reason we thought he had weapons of mass destruction was because he was always hinting at it.  There‘s a pattern with leaders in this region wanting to show their neighbors and be the tough guy, threaten and scare their opponents, Israel among them, that they have these things.

BUCHANAN:  Joe, let me...

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.  And you know -- (INAUDIBLE) Pat, very quickly, what‘s the name of that book, “The 1 Percent Solution” or “The 1 Percent Option”...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... Cheney said if they got 1 percent chance, we go.  But let me say this about Ahmadinejad...

SCARBOROUGH:  And under—under that scenario, then the White House is going to go into Iran, if they keep saber rattling like this.

BUCHANAN:  Listen, there‘s a real possibility of that, but I think it‘s a bit down the road.  Let me say this, Joe.  The Iranian mullahs and the people (INAUDIBLE) got a real value in this country.  They know they‘ve got a nut case and a fanatic on their hands.  They‘re not going to let him get them into a war  with the United States because they think that in the long run, they‘re going to dominate the Persian Gulf.  They‘re the biggest power, and the Americans are going to go home.  Why get in a fight with the Americans?  I think we can count somewhat on those guys maybe to clip the wings of the little man over there.

SCARBOROUGH:  I think they may.  And I‘ll tell you what.  Make no mistake of it, the hanging of Saddam Hussein, the guy that helped start a war that killed a million Iranians and Iraqis through the 1980s, sent a very strong message to the mullahs over in Iran that we may not know how to occupy a country, but we sure know how to invade a country, take over a capital and arrest leaders.  I think that‘s freezing them right now, and they‘re going to tell this little man he needs to sit down and shut up or get out of office.

Thank you, Craig Crawford.  And thanks, Pat Buchanan, even though you insulted my hometown.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  It‘s a great high school!

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, whatever, you snob!

And coming up next, the latest on the—well, actually, if you want to get the latest on the possible coming war with Iran, you can check out our Web site, joe.MSNBC.com.

Still ahead here, though, “American Idol” sob stories.  Why is the hit show exploiting personal tragedies of its contestants to boost already sky-high ratings?  Are these people shameless?

But first, Tyra Banks weighs in on some heavy issues.  Our “Must See S.C.” coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, it‘s time for tonight‘s “Must See SC,” some video you‘ve just got to see. 

First up, when recent swimsuit pictures of Tyra Banks surfaced, it showed her looking a bit heavier than usual.  The daytime host confronted the tabloids on her show.  But if you thought that would stop the controversy, fat chance. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  She showed beach photos of herself today on her show.  She looked beautiful, but she showed the photos.  To be fair, the camera does add 10 pounds, so I could see how the tabloids might make.  Here, take a look.  Take a look.  Now, here she is from her show...

TYRA BANKS, HOST, “TYRA BANKS SHOW”:  When it happens to you, you realize how crazy it is and how hurtful it is.  And this is the raw film from that photo shoot, which means that none of these photos were retouched or altered in any way.  So this is me. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And finally, Jimmy Kimmel shows us what our favorite show would look like if the FCC was in charge, in another edition of unnecessary censorship.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go Bears!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you a (bleep)ing Bears fan, man? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am (bleep)ing Bears fan, but it‘s worth it. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You‘re already missing here (bleep).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Was it a very small (bleep)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Probably medium size. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right, ladies, just so you know, if it were up to me, I‘d (bleep) each and every one of you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re television neighbors again.  Now, I‘ve got a lot of (bleep) with me today. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, he‘s got a big (bleep).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And coming up next, has “American Idol” crossed the line by exploiting contestants‘ personal tragedies for ratings gains?  See why the hit show is under fire again. 

And later, more of NBC‘s hidden camera predator sting.  “Dateline‘s” Chris Hansen shows us the latest group of suspects and talks about how the series has changed him as a journalist.  It‘s ugly.  You‘ve got to see it, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up, are online predators getting more aggressive than ever before?  “Dateline‘s” Chris Hansen on why his hidden camera investigation was one of the most disturbing so far, and how the series has changed him.  That story and a lot more, straight ahead.

But first, has “American Idol” crossed the line in exploiting its contestants?  Now, the most recent auditions brought a round of sob stories that have critics charging that the show has once again gone too far, exploiting these poor people too much.  The “New York Post” writing this, quote, “The producers have upped the ante on insanity.  The passing parade of pathetic persons on “Idol” this season has crossed the line that separates the mildly amusing from the deeply pitiful.”

Well, friends, you be the judge. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  If you‘re ever in my arms again, this time I‘ll love you much better...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  All around the world, are you ready for a brand-new beat?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  Believe me, since you‘ve been gone, everything is going wrong.  I‘m going...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  You give me hope to carry on...

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Thank you.  Unfortunately, not a note is in tune. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, it‘s not, and you are correct. 

COWELL:  Right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  You are correct, sir.  So, are “American Idol‘s” producers actually exploiting contestants and their personal tragedies for ratings?  Here now, former “American Idol” contestant Carmen Rasmusen and “InTouch Weekly” senior editor Tom O‘Neil.

Carmen, talk about it.  Are they exploiting these poor people, using their stories now to get big ratings? 

CARMEN RASMUSEN, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  “American Idol,” they know how to get good stories, they know how to talk to contestants and to get them to spill about their personal lives.  And the lack of experience or naiveness on the contestant‘s part is that they feel like, “Oh, I can open up to someone.  They really truly are interested in my personal life,” when really, to be honest, they are just trying to make good TV. 

And that will come with experience.  These contestants will learn you don‘t want to share too much about yourself.  You want to keep a little mystery, a little intrigue.  You don‘t want to get too personal, because, just like the “New York Post” said, I mean, it‘s everywhere, what the story that the girl said about her stepdad, you know, shooting her mom and then turning the gun on himself or something.  It was a terrible, terrible story, and maybe a little bit too personable for this early in the competition. 

But what “American Idol” is doing is they‘re trying to bond the audience to these contestants, to try to create fan bases, and form attachments with these certain contestants.  And, right or wrong, I mean, they‘re getting people to watch the show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, trying to create these personal attachments because of personal tragedies...

RASMUSEN:  Exactly.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... is pure exploitation, though.  And let‘s take a look at another audition that‘s getting an awful lot of attention for the contestant‘s sad sob story. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COWELL:  Tell me something interesting about you. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I live with my grandma, and my Daddy‘s paralyzed. 

PAULA ABDUL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  I‘m sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  From like here down.  He shot hisself like right here, but it‘s OK. 

RANDY JACKSON, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Why?  What...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  His wife was cheating on him, which was my step mama, and he caught her in the act.  And it wasn‘t the first time, so, like, he shot her and then he shot hisself.  And now I live with my grandma to take care of him.  It‘s OK.

(singing):  Who is the girl I see staring straight back at me?

COWELL:  Yes or no?

ABDUL:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, my god.

COWELL:  I would have said no, but you‘ve made it to Hollywood. 

JACKSON:  We said yes.  Just remember that. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you.  Thank you so much. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Right there, Tom O‘Neil, right there.  What‘s going on here?  I mean, that is just—it‘s just pure exploitation, and it‘s so ham-fisted, I can‘t believe the producers think they can get away with that, and we can‘t really call them on it, that they‘re really exploiting people‘s tragedies to get a few rating points. 

TOM O‘NEIL, “INTOUCH WEEKLY”:  Sure, the most pathetic thing about that clip we just saw, Joe, was the fact that their reactions, you know, Paula and the rest of them, were so fake, they knew this was coming.  This story had been told to producers early on during pre-interviews. 

They staged it for part of her act, and it really was kind of sad to watch Paula just gasp in horror.  It used to be on the show that the sad, personal stories of the contestants mattered, like learning that Fantasia was a single mother who never married and raised this child.  You could say, on one hand, she‘s courageous.  Other people who are a more moralistic in a strict religious way can say that‘s terrible, but that‘s as bad as it used to get.  Now we‘re getting into shootings between infidels. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, no doubt about it.  And, Carmen, apparently this woman‘s family is just enraged.  These people go up there; they air their dirty laundry; they think that it‘s going, I guess, to help them in a way.  But, again, they‘re just used, and it‘s cut up, and I mean it‘s just all a big, fat reality show, where they‘re preying on people‘s problems, isn‘t it? 

RASMUSEN:  It really is.  It really is.  It‘s a reality show, and they‘re trying to make great TV.  They pretend that they care about your personal life, and maybe they do to some degree, but for the most part, like you said, Joe, they are trying to get great rating. 

And because it worked in the past with Kellie Pickler‘s story, with her dad being in jail, with Fantasia being a single mom, they‘re trying to dig up stuff.  We actually had a woman move into the mansion with us to try to get dirt when we were living there, to try to find anything bad about us that she could so they could make a great show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Did they try to pry into your personal life? 

RASMUSEN:  Not mine.  My personal life is pretty boring, plus my mom was with me, so she was the only one that—you know, she really protected me when I was on the show.  My mom and I aren‘t very super-exciting people, so we were mostly downstairs just chilling, and they were talking to all the other contestants.  So...

SCARBOROUGH:  Drinking milk and cookies while everybody else on stage is talking about sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  This season‘s producers had no problem at all making contestants look as pathetic as possible.  Watch this clip, Tom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is there anything that I can do to change your mind? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘ll do whatever it takes.  I‘m sorry, I can do something...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘ll get on my hands and knees. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Please, give me something else.  Please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You‘re not going to let me through.  A true artist, I‘m stunned. 

COWELL:  You were absolutely useless during that audition. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Just let me do it now for you.  I swear to God, if I do not make it, if I do not make it, I was wrong. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Let me do another one. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  America, they‘ll love me. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Just give me a chance. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All I‘m saying is, if there was a way, if there was some way, we can work it out. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I can do whatever, cartwheels.  Do you want me to do a cartwheel? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘ve worked so hard for this. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘ve got one more for you.  I can do something else. 

COWELL:  I‘m sure you got a hundred. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I can do blues.  Can I give you guys something else? 

COWELL:  Yes, an exit. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Tom, what does it say about Americans that they love watching these people beg and shame themselves and that they like having these hosts, these judges, insult them so much? 

O‘NEIL:  I know.  On one hand, this is so bad what we‘re seeing here, on a show that is supposed to be aspirational.  Joe, the whole reason we love this show is it‘s supposed to give us a chance, to believe in the dream, that these people are talented enough, they could go the whole way and back superstars. 

But there‘s a lie here, of course, that is, that they‘re focusing so much on the bad acts that, in two weeks when we finally meet the contestants, we‘re not going to know most of them, because they were so busy concentrating on the bad ones. 

Carmen, remember, her audition was never even shown during the elimination because they were so busy concentrating on the bad stuff. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it.  It is so sad. 

Anyway, hey, Carmen, thank you so much.  Tom O‘Neil, stick around, because when we come up next, we‘re going to have—actually, we‘re going to have “Hollyweird.”  But straight ahead, we‘re going to have “Dateline‘s” Chris Hansen encountering some of the most aggressive predators he‘s met so far, including a man who works in children‘s television.  He joins us with more shocking information from NBC‘s hidden news investigation.

And later, did Lindsay Lohan leave rehab to party with Paris?  The mean girl‘s rocky road to recovery, coming up in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, we‘ve got more of “Dateline‘s” hidden camera sex stings.  The “To Catch a Predator” series continues tomorrow night on NBC, where “Dateline” busted more potential predators in Long Beach, California, looking online for sex with underage teens. 

Even though the show has been on the air for over two years, some men still haven‘t wised up.  “Dateline” nabbed 38 potential predators in just three days, and I talked to Chris Hansen from “Dateline NBC” about these most recent busts. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS HANSEN, CORRESPONDENT, “DATELINE NBC”:  I‘m Chris Hansen with “Dateline NBC.”  And we‘re doing a story on adults who try to meet kids on the Internet. 

I‘m Chris Hansen with “Dateline NBC,” and we‘re doing a story on adults who meets kids on the Internet. 

I‘m Chris Hansen with “Dateline NBC,” and we‘re doing a story on adults who meet kids on the Internet for sex. 

How are you doing? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m sorry.  (Bleep).

HANSEN:  What‘s wrong?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m sorry. 

HANSEN:  Hey, man, how are you?  Now, Matt, I need to talk to you for a minute.  Matt, why don‘t you have a seat right over there?

In the Long Beach investigation, Joe, I saw some of the most aggressive chats I‘ve seen to date.  You know, they‘re all explicit.  You get a little creeped out after reading, you know, 60 or 70 of them over three days, but these were very aggressive. 

(voice-over):  Back at the house, our female decoy is about to say hello to 27-year-old Justin Smith, a video post-production editor who does freelance work for Nickelodeon, a cable network geared towards kids.  Using the screen name “ResidentSmith,” he chats online to a decoy who tells Smith she‘s a 13-year-old girl. 

After the decoy sends a picture, Smith writes, “It‘s definitely bad I think you‘re this cute, LOL.”  The girl asks, “How come?”  He writes back, “Because I‘m 27.” 

He sends her several naked pictures of himself, but the next day Smith seems to express regrets.  “It can be dangerous,” he writes.  The girl asks, “How come?”  Smith replies, “Because it‘s illegal.”  Over the course of 10 days, Smith sends her links to 40 pornographic videos, showing everything from oral sex to sex among multiple partners. 

He tells her, when he comes over, he wants to perform oral sex on her, and now here he is, walking into the house. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hey, come on in.  How are you doing? 

JUSTIN SMITH, ALLEGED CHILD SEX PREDATOR:  Good, how are you? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Awesome. 

SMITH:  Good. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I made us some drinks. 

SMITH:  Awesome. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And we have a hot tub.

SMITH:  Awesome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I really liked your videos, by the way. 

SMITH:  Did you really? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So how have you been?

SMITH:  I‘ve been great.  It took me like 21 minutes to get down here because there was so much traffic. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you serious?  Where do you live?

SMITH:  North Hollywood. 

HANSEN (on screen): We have a lot to talk about, you and I.  Why don‘t you just have a seat right there, please?  No, I need you, seriously...

SMITH:  No, I have to get going. 

HANSEN:  You‘re going to want to talk to me. 

SMITH:  I‘m sorry.

HANSEN:  Trust me on this one.  Now, you work at Nickelodeon, huh? 

You don‘t?  What‘s your name? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Police!  Get down on the ground.  Get on the ground.  Get on your knees.  Put your hands on the back of her head, back to your head.  On your knees, both knees. 

SMITH:  I‘m so sorry, I swear to God. 

HANSEN (voice-over):  Smith is taken to the processing center where a police investigator interviews him. 

SMITH:  (INAUDIBLE) to my job, to my friends, to my family (INAUDIBLE) girlfriend I have (INAUDIBLE) together.

HANSEN:  Smith later pleaded no contest to two counts, an attempted lewd act on a child and attempting to send harmful matter.  Nickelodeon told us they fired Smith and that he had no contact with children when he worked there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘ve got all these guys.  You basically you just set cameras up in the house and all of these guys swarm to it.  It‘s going on in every town, every city, every community.  Is it not frightening to you? 

HANSEN (on screen):  It is frightening.  You know, I mean, we can‘t be everywhere, the police can‘t be everywhere, so the best line of defense is the dialogue between the parent and the child.  And you have to say, “Look, these people are out there.  They will try to communicate with you if you go into an area where they can find you.” 

SCARBOROUGH:  How have the past two years impacted you as a journalist? 

HANSEN:  Well, you know, in a couple different ways.  One, you know, I have seen firsthand that this kind of enterprise reporting, you know, using hidden cameras and pushing the envelope a little bit, can produce not only compelling television, but I think it‘s eye-opening journalism, and I think we have created awareness and a dialogue on this subject. 

But you do wonder sometimes, you know, what the limits are of human behavior.  I mean, what drives a guy to, first of all, get involved in a conversation like this with a child, and then have it go so far as to actually walk in the door?  And to see these guys walk in almost, in some cases, feeling comfortable, like they own the place, is really mind-boggling. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Chris Hansen, thanks for being here.  I look forward to seeing you again. 

HANSEN:  Joe, thanks very much.  Always a pleasure. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  And you can catch “Dateline‘s” “To Catch a Predator” tomorrow night on NBC.  But coming up next here, how did Tom Cruise win over Katie Holmes?  It turns out, he uttered, “Hello.”  Katie‘s first big interview about her husband, next in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, gas up the private jet.  It‘s time for “Hollyweird.”

First up, Lindsay Lohan, the actress who took a break from rehab this weekend to hit the L.A. club scene.  Here now to talk about it, “Star” magazine‘s editor-at-large Jill Dobson and, still with us, “InTouch Weekly‘s” Tom O‘Neil.

Jill, what‘s going on with this girl?  Girl, lady, whatever you want to call her.  In rehab, out of rehab to shop, in rehab, out of rehab to go out partying with Paris Hilton.  What‘s going on? 

JILL DOBSON, “STAR” MAGAZINE:  That‘s what it sound like.  There are reports that she spent the weekend at a bar in L.A. with Paris Hilton and then was seen at another bar without Paris.  And we certainly hope that these reports are inaccurate, because, you know, I‘m no addiction expert, but I‘m sure that going back to the same places and hanging out with the same people that landed you in rehab is probably not recommended when you‘re still in rehab. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Probably not.  And, Tom O‘Neil, we‘ve got video that we‘re showing of these two out on the town, again, coming straight from rehab.  Is this a girl that‘s just totally out of control and going to end up a very sad Hollywood story? 

O‘NEIL:  Boy, you know, that‘s a really good question, Joe, because it doesn‘t look good here.  When you take a break from rehab, you‘re supposed to go to a spa or go home and see Mom and Dad.  You‘re not supposed to go out clubbing, the scene of the crime. 

Her alcoholism, remember, is so bad that, at first, a couple months ago, she publicly admitted that she was in AA and that it didn‘t work.  The problem was so severe she needed to check into a live-in rehab.  So she goes there, she gets out occasionally, and where does she go?  Back to the clubs.  It just doesn‘t make sense. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No sense at all.  And what makes no sense to me, Tom, is the fact that Katie Holmes is telling “Harper‘s Bazaar” that Cruise had her at hello, that she loved him the second she shook his hand.  Tom, is he really that magnetic? 

O‘NEIL:  Ah, this is a fascinating interview, Joe.  This is the first time that Katie has been in public, talking to journalists, without Tom hovering over her.  So she didn‘t make a run for it like she possible could have.  She said instead she planned—I guess she really loves this guy.  She‘s planning to actually have another baby with him, she says.  Wow. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Wow.  And, finally, Britney Spears tagged at New York‘s fashion week.  Photographers snapped photos of the pop tart in a dress that still had a tag on it.  Jill Dobson, a latter-day Minnie Pearl?  What‘s going on here?

DOBSON:  Well, Joe, the funny thing about Britney is that this isn‘t the first time this has happened.  We‘ve seen her with a necklace on that still had a Banana Republic price tag, which gives people the impression that she‘s planning to wear it and then return it and get her $32 back for the necklace or however much it was. 

And you have to wonder, this girl made, what, $50 million last year?  Cut the tag off.  Keep the item.  You know what?  You can afford it.  No matter how the settlement ends up with K-Fed, you can still afford to keep whatever clothes you bought. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Jill Dobson, Tom O‘Neil, thank you so much.  Really appreciate you being with us.  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  We‘re going to see you back here tomorrow night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  But don‘t go anywhere, because, coming up next, a report you‘re not going to want to miss, “Children for Sale.”  Take a look. 

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

END   

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