updated 2/16/2007 11:15:22 AM ET 2007-02-16T16:15:22

Guests: Arianna Huffington, Jill Dobson, Dawn Yanek, Carmen Rasmusen

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Well, I‘m coming to you tonight from Washington, D.C., because I still can‘t get home to Florida.  Tonight, how hundreds of passengers, including me, were stranded on airplanes for as long as nine hours yesterday, and how my airline of choice is spinning it today.  Looks like (INAUDIBLE)

But first: Is George W. Bush losing the war in Afghanistan?  With Iraq spiraling further into chaos and civil war, the president is forced to finally face down another crisis, the almost forgotten war in Afghanistan.  Now, today the president announced a 3,000-troop surge for troops who were supposed to be headed to Iraq.  Instead, they‘re going to be shipped off to Afghanistan, where a growing Taliban threat is leading Republican lawmakers to tell me how we are losing Afghanistan.

Today, Mr. Bush scolded America‘s NATO allies and demanded that they send more troops to that country that is now on the brink.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When there is a need, when our commanders on the ground say to our respective countries, We need additional help, our NATO countries must provide it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  So why are we losing Afghanistan?  Because of Mr. Bush‘s policies elsewhere.  And how can we take our eyes off the country that was most responsible for September 11?

With me now to talk about it, Arianna Huffington—she‘s, of course, the founder of Huffingtonpost.com—and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Arianna, a conservative Republican congressman took me to the side when I visited the House floor recently and said to me, Hey, Joe, we‘re all talking about Iraq, but we‘re losing the war in Afghanistan.  And Arianna, a lot of Democrats would call this guy a right-wing, pro-military, pro-Bush type Republican, but then he took me to the map—and this understands the military better than most guys in Congress—took me to a map of Afghanistan and pointed out all the reasons why we are losing there.  How did this happen to the country that was supposed to be ground zero in the war on terror?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  Well, Joe, that‘s one of the most tragic unintended consequences of focusing on Iraq and actually taking our eye off Afghanistan.  In fact, at a small meeting with journalists recently, John McCain said, I‘m scared to death—and I‘m quoting—that it‘s going to be a very hot spring in Afghanistan.  And when I asked him, If that‘s the case, why not send the 20,000 troops that are going to Iraq to Afghanistan instead, he did not see the logic of those two positions.

And how irrational it was to be scared to death about what‘s happening in Afghanistan and yet continue to insist that 20,000 troops should go to Iraq, even though most people know this is an act of desperation that will have no real impact on what is happening in Iraq.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, again, Arianna, how do you explain to Americans that, again, this area that‘s ground zero in the war on terror has somehow been lost and that we‘re actually not only providing all the troops that are needed to be there, but also providing what this Republican lawmaker told me, safe haven for Taliban fighters, not only in Pakistan but inside of Afghanistan itself?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, because, really, so much of the Bush policy on Iraq has been based on pure delusion, the delusion that this is the heart of the war on terror—how often have we heard that again and again and again—that we have to win in Iraq, otherwise we are going to lose the war on terror.  And as a result, the reality, as you‘ve said, is that the people who did 9/11, were behind the horror of 9/11, are still hiding somewhere around Afghanistan or Pakistan, and we are letting that country get into more and more chaos.  And of course, the production of opium is also accelerating to a tragic degree.

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, no doubt about it.  And that, of course, is funding terror operations for the Taliban and a lot of other countries.  And you know, Pat Buchanan, a lot of people—we‘ve been talking about Iraq.  We‘ve been talking about Iran.  But you talk to military men and women who look at the globe and see where the biggest threat of nuclear proliferation comes from, and what do they tell you?  They tell—they say Pakistan, and also, what could happen in Afghanistan.

Now, Pat, I need you to explain to me because this very conservative, pro-military, pro-Bush Republican, when I was on the House floor, he took me into the Republican cloakroom.  He showed me the map inside of Afghanistan and he showed me where there were sanctuaries for Taliban fighters, where we had said, You guys can have this area, we‘re just going to leave you alone there.

Why is America giving sanctuary, not only in Afghanistan but in Pakistan, to the group that covered for Osama bin Laden on September 11?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I don‘t think it‘s the Americans, Joe.  The Pakistanis—my understanding is the intelligence units in Pakistan have cut a deal with the Taliban and the forces in the Waziristan area.  They‘re not going to after them anymore.  The Pakistanis lost an awful lot of troops, so what‘s happened is the Taliban have a privileged sanctuary.  And whenever a guerrilla movement gets that, I don‘t know of any occasion where it has eventually lost the war, if they‘ve got a place to come to, go to, rest, recuperate, plan, prepare, and then attack.

I think we‘re going to have a spring offensive against the Americans and against the NATO forces there.  I think the president is right to send the 3,000 troops.  But the deal that was cut for a truce in southeast Afghanistan was between the Brits and the Afghans and the Taliban...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, yes—yes, the Brits...

BUCHANAN:  ... and they broke it, eventually.  They broke it.  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  The Brits and also NATO, obviously.  The president doesn‘t think NATO‘s doing enough.  And of course, Arianna, if things weren‘t bad enough in Afghanistan, the meltdown in Iraq continues to dog the White House.

Now, today we saw White House predictions from 2002 suggesting that there would only be a couple thousand troops in Iraq by now.  There were only about 135,000 or so off.  And Tony Snow was asked how the White House could get it so wrong.  Listen to his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What went wrong?

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I‘m not sure anything went wrong.  The fact is, a war‘s a big, complex thing, and what you‘re talking about is a 2002 assessment.  We‘re now in the year 2007, and it is well known by anybody who‘s studied any war that war plans immediately become moot upon the first contact with the enemy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Arianna, I love Tony Snow, but it seems to me that sort of denial is terrible for credibility.  And when you have Tony Snow coming on, speaking for the White House, saying, I‘m not so sure that anything went wrong, it seems to me you‘re just feeding your opponents quotes to bash you over the head with.  And also, you‘re undercutting Republicans that have stuck their neck out on the line now for four years during this war.  I mean, that can‘t help the White House, can it, to say, We‘re not so sure anything‘s gone wrong...

HUFFINGTON:  As you know, Joe...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... in Iraq?

HUFFINGTON:  But this is really part of a pattern.  This is not an isolated quote.  Remember, we had the vice president telling us that the insurgency was in its last throes when it was actually getting stronger.  We had all the previous predictions of being greeted as liberators.  We had all these constant assumptions that we‘re winning in Iraq, that are continuing now.  And it‘s really that sense of living in a delusional environment that was also...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and Arianna...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And let me take everybody back, for anybody that read Bob Woodward‘s book and heard some of the generals‘ quotes.  You had generals out of Iraq in the fall of 2003 trying to tell this president that there was a growing insurgency, and the president in a videoconference saying back to the generals, We‘re not going to use those words.  Stay with me, guys.  Let‘s stay shoulder to shoulder.  Let‘s stay positive, and saying, basically, You‘re not allowed to use the word insurgency around me.

Then, of course, Arianna, you remember that press conference in 2004 where the president was asked to name his top mistake and he said he couldn‘t really think of any mistakes that he had made his first four years.  I mean, it is a pattern, right?

HUFFINGTON:  But it continued yesterday, too, at the press conference.  Remember, when he was asked whether what is happening in Iraq is a civil war, he actually gave this unbelievable answer, which is that living in this beautiful White House, how can he possible know if it‘s a civil war.  Well, if he‘s living in this beautiful White House and he can know that sending over 20,000 more troops is going to make a different, how can he not know in what environment is he sending those troops?

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  Exactly.  Again, it just seems like the White House is hurting itself with its own Republican Party, these guys and women that have stood shoulder to shoulder with him over the past four years, Pat Buchanan.  And that may be, Pat, why the president‘s lost about a dozen hard-core Republicans so far in this debate.  Do you think it‘s in part because they feel and they‘re starting to say on the record what they‘ve been saying off the record for some time, that the White House may not be facing up to the bleak realities that are facing our troops in Iraq?

BUCHANAN:  I think what these guys have concluded is that the war—and they haven‘t said it, Joe—but the war in Iraq is lost as far as the United States is concerned.  We‘re not going to win it.  We‘re not going to have a pro-Western, pro-American, democratic Iraq survive.  We‘ve put too much into it.  It‘s a loss.  We‘re going to have to start turning around and moving out.

But Joe, to get back to Afghanistan, we‘re facing two strategic defeats for the United States.  Now, let me put one point out here that hasn‘t been made.  Look, after five years, you would think the Afghans, who are very brave people, could take care of their own democracy and defend themselves.  You would think the same about the Iraqis.  After all, they stood up for eight years against the Iranians and lost half a million men fighting them.

So what we‘ve got here is United States soldiers, heroic and brave as they are, are propping up both these places.  And frankly, I don‘t see how you win the Afghan war if the number of attacks are increasing, they‘ve got a privileged sanctuary, they now are protecting the druggies because they druggies are them money...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And you know, Pat, Rick Keller, a congressman from central Florida, I thought he had a great analogy, and I‘d like for somebody to tell me why he‘s wrong.  Rick said, It‘s kind of like you‘re looking next door and seeing that your neighbor‘s not cutting his grass, so you say, I‘m going to cut my neighbor‘s grass.  And so you go next door, and for four years, you cut your neighbor‘s grass.  He keeps allowing it to grow up and the weeds get worse.  And sometimes you get shot at.  Sometimes, the people that you send over there get shot.  And after four years, you start saying, Well, why should I continue taking care...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... of this guy, who‘s not going to take care of his own yard?  I agree with you on Afghanistan.  At what point do we tell Afghanistan, at what point do we tell the Iraqis, We‘ve given enough blood, we‘ve given enough treasure...

HUFFINGTON:  Well, you know what...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... we‘ve given enough of our sacrifice, it‘s time for you to stand...

BUCHANAN:  Well, this is exactly...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... up your own government!

BUCHANAN:  Joe, but this is what the American people...

HUFFINGTON:  Joe?  Can I say something, Pat?

BUCHANAN:  ... are saying—well, wait a minute.  Let me say something, all right?  This is what the American people are saying about Iraq.  It‘s what those Republicans, who are bleeding and dying to vote against their president because they like the guy, are saying.  And frankly, Joe, it‘s what‘s going to be said—if there‘s a major offensive in Afghanistan, a Tet-style offensive on a small scale, Americans are going to be saying, What are we doing there, too.  We got rid of the Taliban.  We‘ve got rid of al Qaeda.  Let‘s go home.

SCARBOROUGH:  Arianna, go ahead.

HUFFINGTON:  You know, let me just say I think the best speech yesterday in the House was given by Congressman Pat Murphy from Pennsylvania.  And he ended his speech by saying that nearby here is the Vietnam memorial, and half the people on that memorial wall, half those names, were people who died after our leaders knew that we could not win in Vietnam.

And that‘s really the tragedy of sending more troops, that our leaders know, whether they are saying it out in public or not, that we can‘t win in Iraq.  Then how immoral is it to be sending more troops to a war where our leaders know we are not going to win just by sending 20,000 more troops?

BUCHANAN:  I think what they‘re saying is—the leaders are saying, even the ones that think we may not be winning and those who are saying this may not work—they‘re saying we‘ve got—if it doesn‘t work and we can‘t win, we‘ve got to salvage something.  We can‘t have this whole thing go down and a monster war across the Middle East result.  What is the best way—and this is what I think we ought to be doing, Joe.  What is the best to get out of this place with the least possible damage to America‘s position in the world and the least possible humanitarian catastrophe inside Iraq?

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  Well, I‘ll tell you what.  I‘ll tell you where I am right now on this war.  I supported the war from the very beginning.  Anybody that has watched this show for four years knows I was one of the biggest supporters of the war.  And I was a big supporter for the war because it came about a year after the 9/11 attacks.  We had our CIA director, everybody else, said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  They were all wrong.  I wanted to go into Iraq because I believed at the time it was in America‘s best interests.

That‘s all I cared about.  I didn‘t care about world peace.  I didn‘t care about spreading democracy across the globe.  I wanted to protect America.  At some point, you‘ve got to say what‘s in America‘s best interests, after we found out that Saddam Hussein didn‘t have nukes, and now that there‘s no Saddam Hussein—at some point, you have to start asking, When is your neighbor going to step up to the plate?  When are they going to take care of the mess in their own yard, in their own back yard?

How many more young Americans from California, from Kansas, from Georgia, from Maine, have to die because Iraqis, as Pat Buchanan said, who were willing to have 500,000 of their own people slaughtered in a war against Iran, or the Afghanistan people, who stood up to the Soviet Union for almost a decade—how much longer do Americans put everything they have, give up their young, give up billions of dollars, soon to be trillions of dollars, for countries that just don‘t seem to want democracy and freedom enough to actually fight for them themselves?

That‘s a question that most Americans are finding themselves asking.  And at some point, we‘ve got to say, Enough is enough.  I agree with Arianna Huffington.  You know, if you look at the number of Americans who died after the Tet offensive in 1968, it‘s just—at some point, it becomes immoral continuing in a war that you know your country can‘t win.

Arianna, thank you so much.  I greatly appreciate it.  Pat Buchanan, as always, thank you for being here.

And coming up next...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE LARRY SEIDLIN, FLORIDA DISTRICT COURT:  This court‘s going to have jurisdiction over the body of Miss Smith.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Just when you thought the Anna Nicole Smith case couldn‘t get any more bizarre, a Florida judge turns over the body—well, they don‘t know yet.  It remains a three-ring circus.  A live update on the latest twists in the crazy battle.

Plus, “Idol” reveals its top 24, but critics many of the best singers didn‘t make it.  We‘ll expose how “Idol” picks the winners and why talent isn‘t usually enough.

But first: Hundreds of passengers, including yours truly, stuck in airplanes for hours and unable to get off that plane.  I‘m going to share my travel nightmare and ask, How did the airlines get it so wrong?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hundreds of people remain stranded in airports tonight, still waiting to get where they were headed yesterday.  While being stranded in an airport is no way to spend Valentine‘s Day, it‘s better than being stuck on a plane for nine hours, which is what happened to me yesterday at New York‘s LaGuardia airport.  And for those keeping score, I‘m still not home.

NBC‘s Tom Costello is at Reagan National Airport with the latest on passengers who were stuck on several Jetblue airlines.

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Joe, good evening from Washington here.  And I understand you had a terrible day yesterday.  Imagine the folks on that Jetblue plane.  In fact, it wasn‘t just one plane, multiple planes.  They were sitting on the tarmac in some cases up to 11 hours.  They could see the terminal.  They couldn‘t get there.  Many said they felt like they were being held hostage.  And now the airline admits it screwed up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  For nearly nine hours they waited.  Jetblue flight 751 boarded at 8:10 AM for Cancun, but as the hours slowly ticked by, the conditions grew worse—miserably hot and stuffy, with only chips to eat.  On board, passenger Lou Martins and his family.

LOU MARTINS, JETBLUE PASSENGER:  We could see the terminal.  We could see the gate.  But we couldn‘t get off the plane.

COSTELLO:  Jetblue had 10 arriving or departing planes sitting on the tarmac for six hours or longer yesterday.  The worst, flight 177 to Phoenix, 9-and-a-half hours, and flight 755 to Aruba, nearly 11 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It went out about 1,00 feet and stopped.  And that‘s where it ended, right there.

COSTELLO:  Today CEO David Neeleman said the airline simply waited too long, hoping an ice storm would pass.  By mid-afternoon, some planes had actually frozen in place.

DAVID NEELEMAN, JETBLUE CEO:  This ice storm coated everything and made it very difficult for us.  That‘s no excuse.  We never should have let it happen, and we‘re committed to make sure it doesn‘t happen again.

COSTELLO:  But why are the airlines so reluctant to simply return a plane to the terminal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In the airline‘s eyes, you‘re not solving the problem by bringing the people back into the airport.

COSTELLO:  Because very often, there are no gates available.  If a pilot returns to the gate, the plane loses its place in line.  Reimbursing or rebooking passengers is expensive.  And with planes so full, it may be days before another seat is available.

KATE HANNI, STRANDED PASSENGER:  We are here to push this passenger bill of rights, and we are not going to back off until it is legislated.

COSTELLO:  Already, some frustrated passengers are pushing Congress to require planes to return to the terminal after three hours on a runway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When enough consumers complain long enough and hard enough about this problem, there will be a policy that will take care of this.

COSTELLO:  Until then, the advice is to pack your patience.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Jetblue is offering a full refund to all those passengers, also offering free round-trip tickets to those passengers who were significantly inconvenienced.  But tonight the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee says it may be time for hearings and it may be time for that passenger bill of rights.  Joe, back to you.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, thanks so much, Tom.  Greatly appreciate it.  NBC‘s Tom Costello.

And you know what?  I can relate after spending almost nine hours in seat 41E.  Yes, that‘s a center seat, where I was stuck between a man, a woman and a dog.  For nine hours, I sat in very close proximity to that dog and some very agitated dog owners.  Our pilot did a great job of keeping everybody calm and kept telling us we were lucky to be on the plane since this would be the only flight out of LaGuardia that day.

We actually believed him for the first four hours.  After the fifth hour, we were told there was a break in the weather.  Scattered applause was followed with 30 minutes of de-icing, which was followed by another announcement saying the temperature had dropped so low that we were going to be stuck for another few hours.

We got the go ahead after hour seven—again, seven hours straight on that plane—only to be told in hour eight that an engine valve was frozen and we‘d be towed back to the gate.  And 4:30 PM, nine hours after most of us had boarded and most of us stayed on that plane, the plane we‘d stayed on all that time—well, it got canceled.  We filed off.

My producers called Delta and got this response.  “Delta‘s commitment is to maintain safety as our number one priority, keep customers informed about conditions impacting their travel and make every effort to keep them comfortable.  We certainly regret the inconvenience to our customers caused by yesterday‘s delays.”

Hey, listen, stuff happens, and I try to be very Zen about the whole episode.  But I‘ve yet to get an apology from Delta, and instead, I‘m getting spin from a company that‘s refusing to take responsibility for one bad decision after another, decisions that left men, women, and yes, dogs stuck on a plane for nine hours.  I‘m waiting for that apology and my own free round-trip tickets, or I may just find me another airline.

Coming up next: A predator sex sting turns deadly as cops hunt down an assistant DA suspected of preying on little kids.  NBC‘s Chris Hansen joins us with that story and the investigation straight ahead.

But first: The “Idol” competition heats up—literally.  Jay Leno shows us one contestant who didn‘t make the top 24.  That‘s next in “Must See S.C.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Must See S.C.,” some video you just got to see.  First up: “American Idol” is down to 24 finalists, and as Jay Leno shows us, the competition‘s really heating up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Your name, sir, is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m Brian.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  And why have you entered this competition, Brian?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So what are you going to sing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, I love that song.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Get ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING):  I fell into a burning ring of fire, and I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s harsh!  And finally: There‘s so many ways to show how you care on Valentine‘s Day, but while some prefer to send flowers, others go for a more direct approach.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi, honey.  I just realized I forgot Valentine‘s Day again.  I know this is the third year in a row, and I know you‘re going to be a raving (DELETED) about it, but at least I‘m trying.  So why don‘t you just climb off my (DELETED)!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up next, how to succeed at “Idol” without really trying.  We‘re going to expose how Randy, Simon and Paula pick the finalists and why the most talented singers don‘t make it.

And later: “Dateline‘s” latest undercover sting targeting predators in Texas.  Chris Hansen joins us with a new round of suspects and a violent twist, a deadly twist in this series.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Boy, I‘ll tell you what, it looks pretty rough in Pennsylvania.  Better to have a horse to get through there. 

Well, it‘s been one week since Anna Nicole Smith died suddenly in Hollywood, Florida, and still questions remain about what will happen to her baby and her body.  Today, a Florida judge weighed in, who seemed to enjoy the cameras almost as much as some of the people connected to Anna Nicole, and as much as Anna Nicole did. 

MSNBC‘s Rita Cosby is live in the Bahamas tonight, where Howard K.  Stern, Anna‘s lawyer-turned-lover, is holed up.  Rita, what‘s the very latest on this bizarre story? 

RITA COSBY, HOST:  Yes, and it certainly does get more and more bizarre.  Joe, you know, the hearing in Florida today, first of all, it was certainly one of the craziest court hearings I have ever seen.  You know, you have this judge at point talking about his morning swim and also about his tuna sandwich, which seemed, you know, not tied at all to this case.  It was such a bizarre twist.

And then, on the other hand, you had the attorneys for all the sides laughing at one point, and then at the other point just utterly nasty at each other.  At one point, one side was calling the other “sick,” and that was talking about Virgie Arthur, who is the mother of Anna Nicole.  Of course, she was not happy to hear that comment at all.

It seemed at one point that the judge was basically auditioning for a TV show.  Take a listen to the judge. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY SEIDLIN, BROWARD COUNTY JUDGE:  The body belongs to me now.  It‘s cold, but it won‘t decompose so fast.  That baby is on a cold, cold storage room.  It‘s not decaying so fast.  I can go over there now and look at it.  And I can go back in a month and still look on the at it. 

So there‘s no rush.  We‘re not rushing.  I am not rushing.  We‘re crossing every t and dotting every i.  We‘re going to spend a lot of time together.  It‘s a nice group. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  And it certainly will be a lively time, based on those comments from the judge. 

The judge did take some serious issues at hand, though.  He did appoint a guardian ad litem who will independently oversee the interests of the child and will basically present his case before the hearing next week.

In the meantime, all the sides will lay out all their issues.  And in addition to that, also he ordered that another DNA swab be taken, in case there‘s some issues on paternity that will certainly arise down the road.  And that issue may be handed over.  Maybe the DNA sample will be required. 

At this point, he is taking it just to be safe. 

And both sides are really fighting where she will be buried and when.  We‘ll keep you posted, because the hearing is going to continue tomorrow, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, my God, another hearing.  You know, Rita, I try to be differential with judges, respect men and women in black robes, but I guess the most diplomatic thing I can say about that judge and his performance today is he‘s a total idiot. 

Anyway, Rita, thanks, so much. 

COSBY:  That‘s diplomatic. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That is about as diplomatic as I can be.  Rita is, of course, in the Bahamas.  She‘s going to be there at 10:00 p.m. Eastern for a special MSNBC report on Anna Nicole Smith, the legal trauma.  And Rita gets the gets.  I mean, man, the interview she had last night with the mother, really explosive. 

Now to the only story that could push Anna Nicole to the side at the bottom of the hour, and that is, of course, “Idol.”  Enough of those never-ending auditions.  “American Idol” is now getting down to business.  After two nights, the judges have narrowed down the field, and the real competition is about to begin. 

But as the “Today” show‘s Maria Menounos tells us, not everybody‘s happy with the judge‘s decisions. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA MENOUNOS, “TODAY” SHOW CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  More than 170 “Idol” hopefuls showed up in Hollywood with their dreams and golden tickets in hand.  It‘s now down to the final 24. 

Some have stood out. 

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  And you‘re through to the next round.  This was unanimous. 

MENOUNOS:  While others just barely squeaked by. 

RANDY JACKSON, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  You know, we thought about this a lot, long and hard. 

MENOUNOS:  But over the next few months, a few of these unknown faces will become the most famous names in the country. 

MICHAEL SLEZAK, ENTERTAINMENTWEEKLY.COM:  This is no longer just reality TV.  This is the serious business of making a music superstar. 

MENOUNOS:  But the real fascination is trying to figure out who‘s going to go to the distance. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If we could pinpoint what the “American Idol” judges were looking for, then I would sell it to you.

COWELL:  Girls, you‘re all going home.

MENOUNOS:  After this week‘s drastic cuts, some fans have been asking, “What happened to all of our favorites?”

Like Sean Michel, the bearded surprise from Memphis.  And Henry Baharono (ph), whatever happened to him? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s not a lot of time, you know, to forgive faults or forgive things like forgetting your lyrics. 

MENOUNOS:  The rejects had plenty of company.  Even the girl who performed live with Justin Timberlake at last Sunday‘s Grammy Awards got booted off early. 

PAULA ABDUL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Jason, you‘re going through. 

Girls, I‘m sorry, you‘re going home. 

MENOUNOS:  Was that another Jennifer Hudson-like mistake by the “Idol” judges?  Are we looking at a future Oscar contender here?  The one thing we know for sure, from this crop of semi-finalists, fans will soon pick their new favorites, and an instant superstar or two will be made.

Maria Menounos, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you so much, Maria Menounos.  And, by the way, Maria, next time you toss it to me, mispronounce Scarborough.  Everybody else does.

So did the right contestants make it through to the top 24?  And what exactly are the judges looking for?

Here now, somebody who knows, who‘s been there, former “American Idol” contestant Carmen Rasmusen and also “Star” magazine‘s editor-at-large Jill Dobson.

Carmen, this is the round that you got eliminated in.  Talk about how tough it is to get into that top 24. 

CARMEN RASMUSEN, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  Oh, it‘s extremely tough.  This was probably the hardest day, when they did the groups of three, for me, at least.

On the one hand, you want to be in a group that you stand out in.  You don‘t want to have the other two upstage you.  On the other hand, you need to be in a group that‘s talented; otherwise, you can kind of be pushed aside as the OK group, the group that...

(CROSSTALK) 

SCARBOROUGH:  But you talk about talent, though, but, you know, some of the most talented people—yourself, of course, a great example...

RASMUSEN:  Thank you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... some of the most talented people just don‘t make it through there.  Why? 

RASMUSEN:  Right.  You know what?  That‘s a great mystery.  In fact, I think that‘s why they have the wild card.  Clay Aiken, Chernice (ph), those are people that weren‘t voted through or that didn‘t make the top 32 on my season. 

I think it‘s definitely based on personality, looks.  If it was strictly on voice, Joe, it would be a radio show.  This would be done over the air, not on TV.

SCARBOROUGH:  But it‘s not just voice, though.  It‘s also people that have, you know, a certain kind of story that has a little bit of edge to them. 

RASMUSEN:  Absolutely.  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So it‘s not even about looks.  I mean, it‘s just whether there‘s going to be TV drama.  I mean, sometimes we forget, this isn‘t really a talent show.  It‘s a reality contest, right?

RASMUSEN:  Exactly.  It‘s a reality show first and foremost, a TV show, a reality show first.  It‘s a talent competition second.  They are definitely looking for good stories, as you said, for personalities, people that are different, people that are going to make great TV.  That‘s what they‘re looking for, first and foremost.

SCARBOROUGH:  And there‘s also great TV for contestants that just can‘t believe that they didn‘t make it through.  Take a look at this clip. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  That was the best we heard today.

JACKSON:  Antonella, you are through.  Marisa, this is the end of the line. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You know you were so good. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) I don‘t care. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I wasn‘t expecting her to go.  And nobody was.  Everybody in there said, if they thought one person would get through, they thought it was going to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Jill, that‘s usually how I am after every one of my shows.  I break down and cry, and somebody has to comfort me.  But, Jill, talk about how—I mean, this isn‘t a talent show.  This is a TV show.  This is a reality contest, and sometimes it‘s just a sham.  The most talented people don‘t get through.  Why? 

JILL DOBSON, “STAR” MAGAZINE:  Right.  And I wouldn‘t go so far as to call it a sham, but that‘s certainly part of it.  But it‘s supposed to be good TV.  So if you‘re someone who‘s a great singer, but you have no personality, you bring no drama, and you don‘t have a look that really pops on TV, then you probably won‘t make the cut.  They‘re looking for one really great singer, so they have one awesome “Idol.”  But other than, they‘re also looking for a cast, and crew, and different people that will fill out the show and make it interesting. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But, also, Jill, they‘re looking for different types of winners every year.  It seems like they rig it every year.  I mean, last year, I could tell you the guy that was going to win was the guy that didn‘t look, act, talk or walk like any of the other winners. 

DOBSON:  That‘s true.  You always wonder about that.  And with different...

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t wonder.  I know, Jill.  It‘s rigged. 

DOBSON:  Well, wow, OK.  Again, I wouldn‘t go so far as to call it rigged or call it a sham, but I think that they are looking for different winners different years, and it‘s OK to look for some diversity.  But you certainly want to let the best person win, and it sounds like you‘re a little skeptical as to whether they‘re doing that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m a little skeptical.

Carmen, I‘ll give you the last word.  Beat me up.

RASMUSEN:  Well, obviously, as Jill was saying, they are definitely looking for a certain amount of people, a certain genre of people.  Typically, if you have three great brunettes, they‘re not going to put all three through.  If you have a brunette, a blonde head, and a redhead, and you‘re all fabulous, they‘ll probably put them all through, because they‘re all different, and they all bring something different to the table.  So I don‘t think it‘s rigged; I don‘t think it‘s a sham.  But I do think they know what they‘re looking for.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, they know what they‘re looking for.  And you‘re exactly right.  They‘ve got quotas.  They want different types of people up there. 

RASMUSEN:  Absolutely.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks a lot, Carmen.  Thank you so much, Jill.  And, Jill, stick around. 

But coming up next, a teacher and assistant D.A. are caught up in “Dateline‘s” predator sting as the series takes a deadly turn in Texas.  NBC‘s Chris Hansen reveals what happens behind the scenes in one of the most surprising investigations so far.

And later, are Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston more than just friends?  The lesbian lock lip, coming up in “Hollyweird.”  I am shocked, stunned and deeply saddened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ve got more of “Dateline‘s” hidden camera sex stings.  Now, this time “Dateline” went to Texas, where even the undercover predator operations are big and, as it turns out, deadly.  I talked to Chris Hansen from “Dateline NBC” about these recent busts. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS HANSEN, CORRESPONDENT, “DATELINE NBC”:  How far did you drive tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  From downtown Dallas. 

HANSEN:  From downtown Dallas.  And you‘re a teacher.  What do you teach? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘d rather not say. 

HANSEN:  I‘m going to find out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I teach math. 

HANSEN:  And what grade do you teach?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. 

HANSEN:  Sixth, seventh, and eighth grade.  So you teach kids who are about the same age as the boy you thought you were going to visit tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

HANSEN:  That raises an obvious question.  If you‘re willing to have a conversation like this and come visit a 13-year-old boy, what have you been doing with students? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Definitely not this.

HANSEN:  Then help me to understand, Stan, why you did this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I honestly didn‘t think he was 13.  And I thought about driving away when I saw him at the door. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Chris, tell us about this predator-in-waiting.

HANSEN:  Well, I continued to ask him questions, Joe.  And right after the scene you just saw, he invokes the Bible, and he says, “Well, honestly, I think I was going to come over here, and part of me that‘s Christian was just going to talk him out of it.”  And said, “So you‘re a religious guy, are you?”  And he said, “Well, yes.”  And then I read back to him several more lines of his explicit chat, and it just doesn‘t wash with his excuse about trying to come here and teach the boy about religion. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s take a look at another clip of you in your Texas investigation, a man who says he just came by to take some pictures of a young girl. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, like I said before, I‘ve chatted with some girls and they give me so many numbers. 

HANSEN:  Right. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And in actuality, when you‘re online, you don‘t realize that some can be 13, some of them can be 18, some of them could be 21, some of them could be 20.  You really don‘t know when you‘re saying that...

HANSEN:  So you were just going to come over and hang out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, she said she wanted to take photographs.  I like to photograph all kinds of people.  My intentions were never to touch, even if I said it online.  I would have never touched an 18-year-old.  We‘re talking about an 18-year-old, and that‘s what I thought originally this person was, 18 years old. 

HANSEN:  So you didn‘t think she was 13?  You thought she was 18?

SCARBOROUGH:  Chris, give us the background on this guy.  And also, did he write anything inappropriately to suggest that he wanted to do more than just snap pictures? 

HANSEN:  There was a very sexually explicit conversation.  This guy sent a number of pictures of himself, you know, high-quality pictures, advertising himself as a photographer.  I believe he also said that he was involved in real estate. 

But this was another example of a guy, who, in spite of the words, right there in black and white, that I used to confront him, was going to stick to his story that he really wasn‘t going to do anything inappropriate with this girl.  He was just going to come over, take some photographs, and he says he‘d be on his way.  But when you look at the chat log, you have to believe differently. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘ve talked about religious leaders.  We‘ve talked about schoolteachers.  But almost as chillingly, you say an assistant district attorney from a neighboring county actually got caught up in the sting, and there were actually deadly consequences to that.  Tell us that story. 

HANSEN:  Well, the Perverted Justice decoys were chatting with somebody online for a lengthy period of time.  And at one point during the conversation, the guy actually sends some, you know, pornographic pictures. 

He was pretending to be a much younger man.  But in the course of the discussion, the P.J. contributors and the police figure out that this man is really a 56-year-old assistant district attorney from a neighboring county, whose name is Bill Conrad, Jr. 

They know this because there‘s a telephone conversation between Conrad and the decoy, so they trace the number.  They had that information.  And when the decoy put him on the buddy list, the name would come up, you know, Lewis W. Conrad, Jr., which is this guy‘s name.

Police investigated it further.  Now, this guy never showed up at the house, but, again, in Texas, you don‘t need to, to be charged with a felony.  Police conducted a further investigation.  They ultimately got a search warrant and an arrest warrant, went to Conrad‘s home, knocked on the door, no answer.  Telephone call, no answer. 

Tech team from the local police department went in and opened the back door, and there was Conrad, according to police, with a handgun.  And he says, “I‘m not going to hurt you guys,” but then takes the gun, points it to himself, and pulls the trigger.  He died, you know, within hours at a hospital after being rushed there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  “Dateline‘s” Chris Hansen, thank you so much.  And you can make sure you catch two of “Dateline‘s” Texas stings.  It‘s going to be Tuesday night on NBC. 

We‘re going to be right back with “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, tell your private chef to get the souffle right next time or hit the road, baby.  It‘s time for “Hollyweird.”

First up, Brangelina.  “Life and Style” reports Brad and Angie are now talking to their exes.  Could there be trouble ahead?  Here to answer that tough question and so many more, editor-at-large for “Life and Style Weekly,” Dawn Yanek.  And still with us, “Star” magazine‘s Jill Dobson. 

Dawn, what‘s the story on Brad and Angelina? 

DAWN YANEK, “LIFE AND STYLE”:  Well, we heard at “Life and Style Weekly” that Brad was actually Googling Jen to see what her new nose looked like, and Angie snuck up on him, caught him in the act, and she was none too happy about it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Ouch.  Ouch.

YANEK:  Yes, and he also revealed that he had left Jen two messages, since he wants to put this whole messy divorce behind him, and Angie reportedly burst into tears.  They‘ve been having some problems lately, not just with this, of course, since the death of her mother, especially.  And now the big question is, will they attend the Oscars together?  Angie doesn‘t want to go.  Of course, Brad wants to go, because he‘s involved in a few of the movies nominated. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think the bigger question is, what happens when she walks up on behind him checking the breast enhancement surgery? 

And Courteney Cox is spilling at the dirty details with her big kiss with Jennifer Aniston on the season finale of “Dirt.”  Jill, tell us all about it.  Men are waiting to hear.

DOBSON:  Well, I think this is another image Brad Pitt might be Googling. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I bet.

YANEK:  And everyone else.

(CROSSTALK)

DOBSON:  ... Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox share a kiss on the season finale of “Dirt,” which, of course, is Courteney Cox‘s show that she produces and stars in on FX.  And it‘s getting a lot of attention.  Courteney says, OK, everybody, settle down.  It‘s just a little peck.  It‘s just a little goodbye kiss.  But it‘s getting a lot of attention.  I‘m sure they‘ll have great ratings.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I‘m sure they will, too.  Dawn, what do you hear about the kiss?  Much ado about nothing?

YANEK:  It seems like much ado about nothing, but, let me tell you, a definite shameless ploy to get people to watch, because people want to see Jen and, you know, the two of them kissing and seeing what happens.  I‘m sure the exes will be very, very curious to tune in.  Everybody will be Googling it the next day. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, no doubt about it.  Yes, Courtney‘s now saying, “Don‘t think anything of it,” but, of course, they‘ve been hyping it for some time to get a lot of people watching, and I think it will work. 

Paris Hilton is in Austria for the Opera Ball, but she seems to have forgotten her passport.  But don‘t worry, the Austrian ambassador vouched for her.  Dawn, tell us about it.

YANEK:  Absolutely.  She got to Munich, and she realized that her passport was expired.  So the U.S. ambassador to Austria actually had to vouch for her to let her in the company, to go to this big Vienna Opera Ball, where she‘s the guest of a rich, 74-year-old construction magnate.  So my question is that she traveled all over the world.  She has to have it all the time.  How on Earth do you not know that your passport has expired?  I guess the rules do not apply to Paris.

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.  Jill, wouldn‘t it be better for American-Austrian relations if they had actually kept her out of the country? 

DOBSON:  I‘m just wondering if maybe her current passport was in one of those storage bins that she has that people keep getting into and auctioning off. 

(CROSSTALK)

YANEK:  Very good point.

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly, exactly.  Well, thank you so much, Jill Dobson and Dawn Yanek.  We will check that out tonight and ask you about it when you come back later on.  Greatly appreciate you being here tonight, spilling the beans on “Hollyweird.”

Well, that‘s all the time we have for tonight.  Thanks so much for being with us.  I am in Washington, D.C., tonight, hopefully.  My son‘s coming down from New York tonight, going to join me.  We‘re going to try to figure out a way to get back home to Florida. 

Make sure you don‘t go anywhere.  It was beyond a bizarre day in the Anna Nicole Smith case.  We‘ve got the idiots, coming up next, along with that idiot judge in south Florida.  They always come from Florida, don‘t they?  And an MSNBC special, “Anna Nicole Smith.”  See you later.

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

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