updated 2/28/2007 2:43:13 PM ET 2007-02-28T19:43:13

Guests: Michael Crowley, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Katrina Szish, Carmen Rasmusen, Larry Birkhead, David Caplan

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight, something that’s not a hoax, Wall Street melts down.  Is Main Street next?  “Mad Money’s” Jim Cramer is here.

But first, targeted by the Taliban.  A suicide bomber attacked a U.S.  military base in Afghanistan holding Vice President Dick Cheney.  The Taliban says Cheney was a target, a charge America denies.  But the attack comes amid reports of 10,000 Taliban fighters preparing for a spring offensive against American troops already stretched thin.

At home, bleak news from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who tells Congress in a classified report that the U.S. military is at a breaking point, with troops bogged down in Iraq and losing ground in Afghanistan.  Is it time for the president to do what I suggested months ago and worry about America first, save on military strength, and stop the bleeding in Iraq now?

Here now to talk about it, Michael Crowley—he’s a senior editor for “The New Republic”—Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of “The Nation,” and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Pat, I begin with you.  Who tipped off the Taliban regarding Dick Cheney?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it could well have been the folks in Pakistan.  Their intelligence agents in there are very sympathetic to the Taliban.  They obviously—if they did target Cheney, I don’t think it was a coincidence.  They knew he was at Bagram.  And it was a secret that he was going into Pakistan.  So I think someone in the intelligence area of one of the two countries did.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Katrina, I mean, it raises a question.  Are we incapable of keeping terrorists away from the military base where a vice president supposedly is being held in secret?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, “THE NATION”:  Joe, it raises a much larger question than that.  It raises the question of—here we have a man who was a cheerleader, who took this country into a war that has undermined its security, and what happened today blows up the myth that we are any more secure and blows up the myth that Afghanistan, as this vice president and president have tried to say, is, quote, “mission accomplished.”  We have a resurgent Taliban.  It’s a narco state, corrupt reconstruction, a dysfunctional central government and suicide bombings.  It’s beginning to look like a mini Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I mean, look at Pakistan, also, obviously, a country that at least Pat Buchanan and I have stated on this show over the past couple weeks may be the most dangerous threat down the road.  These people are supposed to be our allies, and Pat’s saying tonight it certainly seems like Pakistan could have tipped off the Taliban to where our vice president was.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Well, I mean, the fact that major newspapers, media, withheld the fact that Cheney was visiting Pakistan until after he left the country, at the White House’s request, exposes the myth that this White House has put out that Pakistan is, one, a stable country, that it’s on the road to democracy, and that it’s a close ally.

But the main problem, Joe, just briefly, is we need to exit from Iraq and we need to exit from this war on terror.  Terrorism is a threat on to our national and regional and international security, but to have hyper-militarized it and made it into an unending permanent war is going to consign this country, as Pat has written eloquently about, to being an empire, not the great nation and republican democracy it should be.

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael Crowley, the biggest problem today, the most frightening news, as far as I’m concerned, is news that has got me moving away from our involvement in Iraq over the past three to six months, and that’s the fact that you’re hearing generals talk about America becoming a hollow military force.  Is the U.S. military now at the breaking point, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs said?  And we’ve had generals also testifying over the past month or two that one out of three units are not battle-ready.  And now we have the Joint Chiefs chairman painting this bleak picture.  The big question is, how did this happen under a Republican president, under a Republican Congress, under a group of people who are supposed to be pro-military?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  Well, Joe, I mean, it’s the bizarre irony of the last few years.  You know, I’m not the first to remind people that when Bush campaigned in 2000, he pummeled the Clinton administration for letting our military readiness wane, for letting the military be overstretched.  At the time, remember, the big—the big crisis was that we were overstretched in the Balkans and we had too many troops in Bosnia.  I mean, how—how nostalgic we are for...

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Michael...

CROWLEY:  ... that headache...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... though, the thing is that we complained about it on the Armed Services Committee from 1995 to 2001, and I really felt like we were overstretched then and it was a readiness crisis.  But my gosh, like you said, I’m nostalgic for those days.

CROWLEY:  And now, I mean, the problem is that we’re overstretched.  We’re trying to do two big things at once, Iraq and Afghanistan, and we don’t have enough troops in either place.  So you know, I don’t say this glibly, but we are in danger of losing two wars simultaneously, and it’s a terrifying thought.  And the commanders in Afghanistan have said for a long time, much as the commanders in Iraq have, that they need more guys there to secure the country.

And people should be reminded that Afghanistan is not sort of a thing we do on the side because it’s nice and it’s—I mean, there are nuclear weapons in Pakistan.  9/11 originated from Afghanistan.  It is a terrifying region of the world, and I think it’s quite possibly a greater threat to us...

SCARBOROUGH:  It is.  It is.

CROWLEY:  ... than Iraq.

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt.  I think if we took a vote right now, everybody on this show and most of your military experts would tell you that Pakistan is the long-term threat, a lot more of a threat than Iraq.

Pat Buchanan, you know, we don’t have enough troops right now to win the war in Iraq and win the war in Afghanistan, and yet that leaves two other countries that compose great military danger still on the table, Pakistan and Iran.  We are so overstretched, we can’t even begin to stamp out all of the military crises that are going out there!  And it looks like everybody’s going to own a nuclear bomb, and they’re all going to be pointed at us in about 10 years.

BUCHANAN:  Look, here’s the situation, Joe.  Iran is a country of 70 million people.  Pakistan is 170 million.  If you add the American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is about one half the troops we had in the Korean war, which we fought for three years.  We have an army now of armed forces and about 1.4 million on active duty, about 10 percent of what we had at the end of World War II.

Joe, the American people and the government of the United States have got to wake up.  You cannot run a global empire with an army and Marine Corps of fewer than 700,000 people!

SCARBOROUGH:  And that’s exactly what we’re—we’re trying to do a lot more with a lot less, aren’t we, Pat Buchanan.

BUCHANAN:  We are, Joe.  And what we’ve got to do is instead of talking about rebuilding the Army, first let’s look at what is vital to defend for the United States of America and what we need to defend it.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, hang on a second, though.  My question is this.  Why don’t we have political leaders out there that are talking about protecting America’s interests first and being more concerned about rebuilding our U.S. military and getting them in a position where they can strike where there are real threats, instead of being worried about building up Iraq’s military, when Iraq doesn’t even seem interested in their own military being built up?

BUCHANAN:  You want to know why, Joe?

SCARBOROUGH:  Why?

BUCHANAN:  At the end of the cold war, some of us argued, the Red Army goes home, we go home.  Let Europe defend itself now.  We’ve done it for—

I mean, Eisenhower said go home in 1960, bring our troops home.  You’ve got a military-industrial complex which is there.  You’ve got neocons who want to run the world.  You got people who think we got to democratize the whole world.  This is all nonsense!

VANDEN HEUVEL:  We need...

BUCHANAN:  We are incapable of doing it!

VANDEN HEUVEL:  You know what?  Pat is right.  We need—Americans want a foreign policy, a national security policy, that will make them feel secure, not this messianic crusade we have lived with for the last six years to remake the world.  We to best by setting an example at home to the world, instead of hectoring and lecturing and invading and occupying.  The question about militarism is fundamental to the nature what kind of country we are going to be.  Are we going to be a global cop or a global leader...

SCARBOROUGH:  But Katrina...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... working with other countries in...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  The problem is—and the reason why you’re agreeing tonight—the reason why you agree with Pat Buchanan and I agree with you, and Pat Buchanan and probably Michael Crowley, is because right now, we’ve got leaders in Washington, D.C.—tell me if I’m wrong—on both sides of the aisle that are saying, You know what?  We want to be globocop, but we want to do it on the cheap.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  If there is...

SCARBOROUGH:  So the fact that we’re being globocop offends you.  The fact we’re trying to do it on the cheap offends people like Pat Buchanan and me.  It seems like there aren’t any real leaders stepping up saying, You know what?  You want to invade five different countries at the same time, you better get two million, three million troops on the ground.  We don’t have...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Joe, Joe, Joe...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... real leaders making real...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  There are a few leaders.  There are some leaders speaking to the fact that instead of trying to occupy and invade countries, we should lead through alliances, through disarmament, through real commitment to human rights and to an understanding, Joe—and this is where we disagree—that we can cut our defense budget and still be safe and use that money for unmet needs at home.  We have skewed priorities.  How is a battalion going to occupy a melting glacier, if climate change and global warming is a major challenge of the 21st century?

CROWLEY:  But Joe, it’s worth pointing out that Democrats actually now are talking about substantially expanding the military, so...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  It’s a problem.

CROWLEY:  ... there’s a real gun-shy attitude in Washington.  I think the threshold for foreign interventions is going to be much higher.  But actually, the momentum, at least in the Democratic Party right now, is expand the military, actually be better prepared to do this sort of thing.  It’s kind of a mixed message because you -- - on the one hand, you hear Democrats saying this was crazy and Bush was trying to go and—you know, the sort of rhetoric you hear from Pat about empire and so forth.  On the other hand, they’re saying, We need a bigger military.  We...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael, it is not a mixed message.  That sounds an awful lot like TR, Teddy Roosevelt, who said “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

CROWLEY:  Well, that may be what it’s about.  That may be what it’s about.

BUCHANAN:  Joe, you know, we—look, it’s not 1989.  We won the cold war.  What the United States needs is what Dulles talked about, an agonizing reappraisal of all these commitments to fight for countries all over the world.  One example.  What are we doing with an army in Korea?  South Korea’s twice as populous as the North, 40 times as rich.  It can buy the best weapons in the world.  Why do American troops sit on the Demilitarized Zone 54 after the Korean war is over?  Why?

CROWLEY:  You know, and Joe, you know what we need?  We need a fundamental reappraisal six years after this administration used the tragedy of 9/11 to create not just a war that has undermined our security, but this preemptive war doctrine.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, I...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... this idea that taking on...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  No, you have—we have to rethink...

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second, though, Katrina.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... the fundamental architecture!

SCARBOROUGH:  The thing is, though, we cannot be afraid to use our military when we’re on the side of right.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Joe!  Joe, this administration...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on one second!  There are times when we need to be...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I’m not saying that.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... able to use our military...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I’m not—I’m not saying that!

SCARBOROUGH:  ... and you and I—hold on.  I know.  I’m just—let me make a point very quickly, then I’ll let you continue.  But the problem seems to me—seems to be that we decided we had to go into Iraq, invade the country, and then occupy the country.  What has been forgotten across the globe—and this is about carrying that big stick—is the fact that we did reach Baghdad in record time.  Our military moved with precision.

But the problem, Katrina, came, did it not, when we decided we were going to occupy the country and do what Republicans attacked Bill Clinton for trying to do in Bosnia, and that is basically reconstruct an entire country.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Joe, there are two problems.  One is I do not believe that America has the legitimacy or the right or the wisdom to invade a country which was posing no imminent threat to us.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, of course not.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  But hold on a second.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  This administration rolled back...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Let me finish, Joe...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  This administration rolled back...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... agree with you, but you can’t say that...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... five decades...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... there aren’t some people that had a reason to believe in 2003 that Iraq posed an imminent threat.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  There—thee was—let me put it—but we had no or wisdom to go into a country that posed no imminent threat, and our military is...

SCARBOROUGH:  The CIA director...

CROWLEY:  Joe...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY:  Remember that nobody wanted to occupy Iraq for years and years.  I mean, even the—you know, the people—the war architects who people want to demonize the most, they didn’t want this.  I mean, this was sort of this freak thing that—they thought—the problem was that they were deluded and they thought we could do this on the cheap.  So we’ve actually blundered into this empire situation quite accidentally, and it’s not what anyone wanted.  So I don’t think there’s any danger...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, so Pat Buchanan...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... when do we have the guts to get out, to say we screwed up, we made a mistake, we tried to occupy this country, we’re not going to continue making that mistake over the next decade because we’re ashamed to admit that we screwed up at the beginning?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  We should start now!

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think—I think we are going to...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I believe we’re going to come out...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... start now.  You’re right.

BUCHANAN:  I think we ought to come out of Iraq, and I think we’re going to after this surge.  But Joe, let me say this.  What are we doing extending NATO right onto the doorstep of Russia, into Ukraine and into Georgia, the birthplace of Stalin? Are we nuts?  We’re not going to fight the Russians...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Pat, we’re starting a new cold war, which you just said ended in 1989...

BUCHANAN:  I know it.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... but it didn’t because the triumphalism of this country ignored the new thinking and the far-reaching...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... thinking of Gorbachev, who brought us the possibility of a new world, a new world order, which we have squandered!

BUCHANAN:  Joe, what we need to do, really, is find out what is vital to American security, freedom of the seas and things like that, relationship with Japan and England, and make a commitment to defend those.  Let the Europeans defend themselves and deal with the Balkans themselves!

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I’ll tell you what.  We’ve got to go, but I think

do we all agree on this one thing, everybody—Michael, Katrina and Pat

that it’s time for our leaders in Washington, D.C., and people in think tanks in Manhattan and Georgetown to get their heads together and fundamentally reassess U.S. foreign policy, where we are now and where we need to go in the future?  Because what we’re doing right now is leading us down a trail where our military is going to be unable to answer any threat.  Everybody agree with that?

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY:  They’re trying now.

BUCHANAN:  Tell AEI!

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, baby.  All right.  Thanks so much, Michael Crowley, Katrina vanden Heuvel and Pat Buchanan.  Greatly appreciate it.

Coming up next: Stocks take their biggest one-day drop in nearly four years.  Is it a scary fluke or a major wake-up call?  And will the bleeding on Wall Street lead to Main Street?  We’re going to ask “Mad Money’s” Jim Cramer next.

Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY BIRKHEAD, ANNA NICOLE SMITH’S FORMER BOYFRIEND:  I said—I said, Good night, my sweet Anna, baby.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  An explosive interview with Anna Nicole’s ex-boyfriend, Larry Birkhead, as he opens up about his emotional good-bye to the model and his fight to gain control of 5-month-old Dannielynn.

And later: An “Idol” contestant is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.   Will racy photos help or hurt the show’s family-friendly reputation?  We get the inside scoop from our “Idol” insiders coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Stock market crash!  This was the scene early this morning when the stock market opened, but those smiles disappeared very quickly, with angry traders flinging (ph) out after watching the Dow-Jones plummet more than 400 points.  It was the biggest one-day loss in more than five years, and in a matter of seconds, Wall Street was brought to its knees, with even the experts saying something just ain’t right.

So I brought on our expert to sort it all out, CNBC’s Jim Cramer, the host of “Mad Money,” and I asked him what the hell happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM CRAMER, HOST, CNBC “MAD MONEY”:  I have to tell you that I was watching my screen, eyes peeled to it, as I have for 25 years.  We were down 289, and then I looked and we were down 414 . And then I looked and we were down 512.  That’s how long it took me.  I was just blinking.  I thought for sure that my machine had gone haywire.  I had to go check other machines.  It turned out they were right.

But someone’s machine in the systems broke down, and that’s what caused those additional 200 points.

We had a combination of some actual fundamental news that was bad, the Chinese market down.  Of course, when they catch a cold, we get pneumonia, so to speak.  But our systems failed us.  We actually had a breakdown of computers that caused an additional 200 points that should never have happened, to the down side.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, let me ask you this.  Should Americans be more concerned about that, or should they be more concerned about the fact, as you say, that China sneezes and our economy catches a cold?

CRAMER:  I am concerned that China—remember, I—hey, maybe you and I get this.  Most people don’t.  You know, they’re communists.  I mean, I don’t mean to be facetious about it.  They are communists, and they control their market.  They let their market get too overheated.  It sucked in a lot of money.  That is worrisome.  Was it 546 points worrisome, as we had at the bottom?  No.  We shouldn’t have been down any more than the Germans or the French.  But some glitch in the system, an actual mistake made by a computer tacked on 246 points.

SCARBOROUGH:  How does that happen?

CRAMER:  Well, a lot of times, you get a keypuncher or someone who goes to sell 100 million and they end up selling 100 billion.  I’ve actually seen 10...

(LAUGHTER)

CRAMER:  I’ve seen $4 million orders be transferred into $40 million orders.  I have actually made mistakes myself, certainly not of that magnitude or I wouldn’t be having my own show.  But I have seen a lot of crazy things happen.  We’ll get some people fired in the next couple days.  They’ll probably not make it real public, but they will be fired.

SCARBOROUGH:  I guess what concerned me also when I saw the big dip is the fact that Alan Greenspan, I guess it was just yesterday, was talking about how the U.S. economy was probably headed towards a recession.  You think some people are getting jittery over the former Fed chairman’s suggestion that we may be facing a real downturn?

CRAMER:  Well, he’s sainted, but if he weren’t sainted, I would say, Hey, thanks a lot, pal.  I mean, you know, that kind of thing was not necessary.  Again, there’s certain people—actually, no, he’s probably the only person who could get away with doing that and not have his scalp taken off.

But I want to tell you something.  The economy is slowing.  And I do hope the Federal Reserve—I hope Ben Bernanke sees that.  It’s become very difficult for poor people to get a loan in this country because there have been so many mortgage companies that have blown up.  I think the Federal Reserve will cut not once but twice.  No one thinks that besides me, but I will be right.

SCARBOROUGH:  Why should Americans, why should people in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY tonight care about a 500-point loss?

CRAMER:  They shouldn’t, except for to be able to say, Wow, some stocks that I like—an AT&T, an Altria (ph) -- now yield 4 percent.  They’ve come down a lot.  Maybe I ought to finally, with the crazies in New York going nuts, take advantage of them and beat them at their own game and start buying stuff at a discount.  That’s what Main Street should do.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  So what’s going to happen tomorrow?  If somebody’s in the market, should they be biting their fingernails through the night, or do you think things are going to stabilize?

CRAMER:  Oh, look, it’s a deflationary situation.  We actually had gold go down.  We had oil go down.  These are positives.  I hope that the Federal Reserve starts thinking about lowering interest rates.  That’s a positive.  You don’t run to—you don’t run out of a market that’s got a lot of positives coming, you run to it.  So I would tell people start buying.  Please be diversified.  Please buy stocks that have good dividends.  That will protect you, even when the machines go awry.

SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks so much, Jim Cramer.  Greatly appreciate it.

CRAMER:  Mr. Scarborough, thank you.

SCARBOROUGH:  And coming up next, Conan O’Brien gives us a sneak peek at a movie based on the Academy Awards.  “Must See S.C.” is next.  And later: Will X-rated photos of one “Idol” contestant hurt the show’s squeaky-clean reputation and tank the ratings?  We’re going to look at how Fox is handling the season’s first big scandal straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, it’s time for tonight’s “Must See S.C.,” some video you got to see.  First up: Dick Cheney’s no stranger to political attacks, but as Jay Leno shows us, the vice president has his own methods for shooting down critics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, “TONIGHT” SHOW:  An ABC news reporter interviewed Vice President Dick Cheney, and he asked him what he thought about Senator John McCain calling Donald Rumsfeld one of the worst secretaries of defense in history.  And of course, Cheney answered in that typical fashion.  Take a look.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  John said some nasty things about me the other day, and then next time he saw me, ran over to me and apologized.  Maybe he’ll apologize (INAUDIBLE) .

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  That’ll do it.

And finally, it’s Hollywood on Hollywood.  Already, there are talks about a movie based on Sunday’s Oscars, but who will be playing your favorite celebrity?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O’BRIEN, HOST, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O’BRIEN”:  Ten-year-old Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin will be played by Bob Costas.  Clint Eastwood will be played by an Egyptian baboon.  The Kodak Theatre, which had over 3,000 celebrities in it at one time, will be played by Paris Hilton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh!  And coming up next: “Idol” contestants have been accused of overexposure, but never like this.  Will racy on-line photos derail the chances of one “Idol,” or could it help her win?  What’s it going to do to the show’s ratings?  It’s scandal straight ahead.

And later, an exclusive interview with Larry Birkhead as he talks about saying good-bye to Anna Nicole Smith and fights to prove that he’s the father of her baby.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up, how does Larry Birkhead really feel about Howard K. Stern?  He opens up about that and the whole Anna Nicole Smith saga straight ahead, in an exclusive interview.  That story and a lot more, straight ahead.

But first, “American Idol” contestant Antonella Barba is an Internet sensation, and it’s got nothing—and I mean nothing—to do with her voice. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONELLA BARBA, SINGER:  I can spend my life in this sweet surrender. 

I can stay lost in this moment forever. 

RANDY JACKSON, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  It just really wasn’t good. 

It wasn’t great. 

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Well, the good news is you’re attractive. 

JACKSON:  Well, we know that, yes. 

COWELL:  The bad news is, it didn’t work.  I think this has seriously, seriously damaged your chances of remaining here another week.  Sorry. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, the judges may not like her singing, but there are some photos that have America talking about the 20-year-old from New Jersey.  And Antonella isn’t the only “Idol” contestant with a past on the interview.  “Entertainment Weekly” reports that some wannabe idols have taken down their MySpace pages.  And FOX told the magazine the moves about fairness and its contestants should be judged by their appearance on the show. 

But with the Internet, can “Idol” producers really control all we know about these contestants?  Here now, former “American Idol” contestant Carmen Rasmusen, and “Us Weekly’s” editor-at-large, Katrina Szish. 

Katrina, it’s getting ugly out there for a contestant or two. 

KATRINA SZISH, “US WEEKLY”:  It’s getting ugly.

SCARBOROUGH:  But it’s kind of like running for president.  When you run for president of the United States, these politicians don’t ever understand how their whole life history is going to be turned.  And here you have a 20-year-old that had photos taken of her.  I mean, everything comes out when you’re on “Idol,” right?

SZISH:  Everything is fair game.  And I think what we’re seeing with these young kids who really want to be celebrities is that they have to show that they can withstand the celebrity lifestyle.  Look at what Britney Spears is going through right now.

I mean, once you hit that spotlight that you so desperately crave, you are going to be under it every minute.  Whatever you’ve done in the past and whatever you do in the future will constantly be scrutinized. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, “Idol” keeps getting bigger and bigger every year.  Some people have said there have been some rating dips, but it is still the juggernaut on television.  Does this help or hurt “American Idol”? 

SZISH:  Oh, it has to help. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Of course.  Yes, scandal sells, right?

SZISH:  And, again, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, sure, absolutely.  And, again, we’re not talking about someone who committed some sort of heinous crime here.  We’re talking about sexy pictures of a young, hot “American Idol” contestant.  She hasn’t hurt anybody.  She really hasn’t done anything wrong.  They’re just eye candy.

SCARBOROUGH:  Have you seen all the pictures? 

SZISH:  Yes.  But many of those are reportedly not her, that someone has superimposed her—even her best friend said those aren’t her, because she would never wear nail tips like that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.  There you go.

SZISH:  And the best friend would know that.

SCARBOROUGH:  That’s right.  And that’s the fashion defense.  Always go back to the fashion defense.

So, Carmen, what do you think about this scandal?  Does it tarnish “American Idol”? 

CARMEN RASMUSEN, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  I kind of agree with you and Katrina.  I don’t think it will hurt the “American Idol,” but because it is family show, I think there will be a lot of parents who certainly won’t want their kids to vote for Antonella if she continues to stay on the show.  “American Idol” has been known for dismissing people who have records like this.

Of course, Frenchie from season—I believe she was season three—got kicked off the show because she essentially had the same thing.  She had pornographic pictures on the Internet.  And she has an amazing voice.  But because of the image she was portraying, “American Idol” dismissed her from the show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So is “American Idol” going to dismiss this woman or not? 

RASMUSEN:  You know, I’m not sure.  It’ll be interesting to find out.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, the funny thing, Carmen, is, if this had never come up, she would have been dismissed anyway.  The judges obviously don’t like her singing, but now a lot of people may vote for her just because of the scandal, right?

RASMUSEN:  Some people may vote for her.  I simply won’t be one of them.  That was kind of discouraging for me.  I was a huge fan before I found that out.  And like I said, I have a lot of nieces and nephews, little brothers and sisters who watch the show that I wouldn’t want supporting her. 

However, we don’t know when this was—when she did this.  It could have been a long time ago, something that she regrets.  Like Katrina said, once you get in the public eye, you really don’t understand—your whole past, like you said, running for president, it’s like running for president.  It will be exposed. 

So you really have to—especially now she’s in the public eye.  Watch what parties she goes to, watch what people she hangs out with.  And who knows who put the pictures on the Internet?  You know, maybe it was a friend who wanted to blackmail her, who wanted to see her get kicked off the show, someone jealous, so... 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, and it could have been.  And speaking of pasts, you know, a couple of “Idol” contestants have semi-professional experience, including backup signing.   Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAULA ABDUL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  You’re used to doing background runs all over the place.  You’re a lead vocalist now, and you are great. 

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  You’ve been a backup singer all of your life.  You’ve got to come out onto that stage, and you’ve got to make an impact.  And it’s very difficult to do it with that kind of song.  

ABDUL:  No more background singing.  You are a frontrunner.  You are a frontrunner.  And you’re a firecracker, too, unbelievable, big, big performance. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, when people watch “American Idol,” they want to believe that these kids were sitting at home and saying, “You know what?  I bet I can go on ‘American Idol’ and be a star.”  The reason why FOX is making all these people take down their resumes or their MySpace pages is because it shows that’s a lie.  You’ve got a lot of people that have been professionals before “American Idol,” and it seems to keep getting worse, right? 

SZISH:  It sure does.  There are more and more semi-professional contestants or contestants who have had past experience.  Taylor Hicks, who won, of course, last season, was one of them.

But, then again, just because you have professional experience doesn’t mean that you’re going to win the show.  There’s still Kelly Clarkson.  There’s still Carrie Underwood.  Those people are the honest-to-goodness “American Idol” story.  And I think, if people have had professional experience and they still want to be big stars, and this is the avenue for them to do it, I think more power to them. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Carmen, any problem with that? 

RASMUSEN:  No.  I completely agree with that.  “American Idol” doesn’t ever say anything about not ever being a background singer, not having any experience.  In fact, it’s the people that have had some experience performing in front of people that do get very far. 

So I agree with Katrina.  I think that, if they’ve had professional experience, it will only help them.  Obviously, these people couldn’t have had record contracts before. But if they’ve had experience performing on stage or performing with big performers, it will help them. 

I don’t see why there would be any problem with that, although I do understand why the American public likes the Cinderella story more.  They like the rags-to-riches story better, just because...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, did they investigate you, Carmen? 

RASMUSEN:  No, they didn’t. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So there still might be pictures out there?

RASMUSEN:  Not much to investigate. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, whatever. 

RASMUSEN:  The days of innocence of “American Idol.”

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, that’s what Gary Hart said in 1988.  So does “American Idol” keep getting bigger and bigger or do you think...

SZISH:  Of course it is.  And I think it’s amazing that it keeps going and as the bubble hasn’t burst yet. 

SCARBOROUGH:  When’s it going to burst? 

SZISH:  Right now, I can’t see when it might, because the people they have getting involved on the show, some of the celebrity guests and mentors they have coming on, I mean, Gwen Stefani, for example, their lineup is incredible, and it’s just getting bigger. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, that’s because it really has become, as the record industry gets weaker and weaker, this force for creating music stars just keeps getting more powerful.

RASMUSEN:  Exactly.

SZISH:  It’s creating new stars, and it’s enhancing existing stars’ careers. 

RASMUSEN:  Yes, they’ve created a way to get people to get into the music industry faster, to skip all those steps.  It’s instant fame in six weeks, so... 

SCARBOROUGH:  And yet so many people, like, of course, a certain person that’s got an Academy Award, leave, and they seem embittered, Carmen.

RASMUSEN:  What was that? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I said a lot of people that leave the show leave embittered, like a certain person that has the Academy Award tonight. 

RASMUSEN:  I know.  I will never understand that.  I mean, Jennifer Hudson—I said her name—would not be where she was if it wasn’t for “American Idol.”  Even though Simon dissed her on the show, that was her exposure, that was her stepping-stone.  So however big I get, however far I get, I will always be grateful for them, because, honestly and truly, they are the stepping-stone that get all of us where we are.  That’s why we’re all known.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and, of course, Carmen, that’s why you, my friend, are in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  You get no bigger than that, baby. 

RASMUSEN:  I know.  I know. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Carmen, thank you so much.

RASMUSEN:  Thanks, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Katrina, stay with us. 

SZISH:  I will, thanks.

SCARBOROUGH:  We will be back. 

Coming up next, though, an exclusive interview with Anna Nicole’s former boyfriend, Larry Birkhead, from his emotional goodbye to Anna, to his fight to prove he’s the father of her baby.  That revealing interview is next.

And later in “Hollyweird,” why the Army is recruiting Jack Bauer to teach torture. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, the battle for Anna Nicole Smith’s baby isn’t over yet.  Larry Birkhead, the celebrity photographer who claims to be the father of the baby, was in court again yesterday, where he fought with Anna Nicole’s companion Howard K. Stern and her mother, Virgie Arthur, for custody.  “Access Hollywood’s” Tony Potts sat down with Birkhead for an emotional interview to talk about his relationship with Anna Nicole and for his hopes for Dannielynn. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LARRY BIRKHEAD, CLAIMS TO BE FATHER OF DANNIELYNN:  Every moment that we got together was kind of like—that’s what everything was about to me.  It wasn’t about the money.  That was like gold to me, you know?

TONY POTTS, CORRESPONDENT, “ACCESS HOLLYWOOD” (voice-over):  It was in those private moments where photographer Larry Birkhead says he first fell in love with the photogenic Anna Nicole Smith. 

BIRKHEAD:  I enjoyed just sitting back and watching her success and watching the fact that she loved being in front of the cameras.  And it wasn’t important for me to jump and say, “Hey, I’m her boyfriend.”

POTTS:  But it was important for Birkhead to say he was the father of Anna Nicole’s baby, a pregnancy they shared from the very beginning. 

(on screen):  Tell me about the moment you guys found out you were, indeed, pregnant. 

BIRKHEAD:  She just had this different look about her.  It was really weird, because her skin—everything looked different.  Everything was weird.  And as soon as she went to sleep, I tipped my hand, and I went—you know, kind of felt over, and I just laid my hand there, because I knew at that moment she was pregnant. 

POTTS:  By putting your hand on her belly?

BIRKHEAD:  I just knew.  I just knew.  And I said, “What if something were to happen to you?  I know you know.  You better tell me.”  And she said, “Yes, we’re having a baby.” 

POTTS (voice-over):  But Birkhead’s joy was short-lived.  Anna Nicole, along with her longtime lawyer and companion Howard K. Stern, decided to move to the Bahamas.  It was there where Anna Nicole would give birth to a girl she named Dannielynn, in memory of her son, Daniel, who died just three days after little Dannielynn was born.

And to Birkhead’s surprise, it was Stern, not him, who was listed as the baby’s father on the birth certificate. 

(on screen): When was the first time you saw on picture of Dannielynn? 

BIRKHEAD:  They were kind of low-res pictures that they sent out to different outlets to see if they were interested.  And they were so small, I couldn’t see, but even in that small form, I knew when I looked at her, she was mine.  You know, I said, “That’s my baby.  She looks like me.  She is mine.”  And there was not a doubt. 

POTTS (voice-over):  Birkhead says he was forced to rely on the tabloids to see pictures of his daughter, as he filed a paternity suit, a process that was under way when news about Anna Nicole’s collapse first broke. 

(on screen):  Where were you when you found out that either she had collapsed or that she had passed? 

BIRKHEAD:  I was sitting in the dentist chair with half of my mouth numb.  And at the dentists, they have televisions in front of you.  And the headline said, “Anna Nicole collapses.”  And my phone was in my pocket and just was going crazy, and I knew something was going wrong.

And I got to a friend of mine, and he said, “We don’t want you to hear about this on”—he said, “We don’t want you to hear about this television, but it doesn’t look good.”  And I just kept saying, “No.”  I said, “No, save her, somebody save her.”  And I just stopped for a second.  I was in my car, and I said, “I’ll go save her.  If they cannot, I will.”

POTTS (voice-over):  But he couldn’t, and they didn’t.  And last week, as the court hearing raged over who would get her remains, Birkhead got to say his final goodbye, when he was allowed to see Anna Nicole’s body.

BIRKHEAD:  There was something she made me say every night before she went to sleep. 

POTTS (on screen):  Is that what you said?  What was it?

BIRKHEAD:  I said, “Good night, my sweet, Anna baby,” because she wanted me to say to her every time before she went to sleep. 

POTTS (voice-over):  And how does Birkhead feel today about Stern, the man he says is keeping him away from his own daughter? 

BIRKHEAD:  I think he is doing what he thinks is best, and I’m doing what I think is best. 

POTTS (on screen):  Do you think that Howard K. Stern knows in his heart that he’s not the father? 

BIRKHEAD:  Yes. 

POTTS:  Why?  For me, as a father, I mean, what kind of a man knows it’s not his daughter, and keeps it from another man, who’s the rightful father? 

BIRKHEAD:  I think somebody else has to answer that, you know.  I can’t answer that.  I mean, I have my own thoughts and opinions, but I—again, it doesn’t help the healing process. 

POTTS:  And your call is to have Dannielynn by her side, what will you tell her?  She’ll never get to know her mother.

BIRKHEAD:  I just want her to know about the good stuff, because in this whole thing that comes out—of course, they call it a fight, but I call it instinct, because I’m, you know, trying for my daughter.  But, you know, things come out that maybe shouldn’t come out, and things come out in court that you really wish weren’t said.  But I want her to know that she was a great person and that she was a loving person and she loved kids. 

POTTS:  How do you see this all ending? 

BIRKHEAD:  I see just me and my daughter, me taking her to school, and just playing.  And every time I get a weak point, I just take out one of those magazines that I had to pay for, and I look at, and I’ll say, “This is what it’s about.  My daughter has become my life.  That’s what I’m fighting for.”  What kind of a person, what kind of dad would I be if I didn’t fight for my daughter? 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up next, breaking Beyonce news in “Hollyweird.” 

It’s sick.  We’ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, tell your limo driver to step on it.  It’s time for a special edition of “Hollyweird,” live from Los Angeles. 

First up, breaking news.  Did Beyonce get hepatitis at the “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issue party?  Here now, “Star” magazine’s deputy New York bureau chief David Caplan.  And still with us, “Us Weekly’s” Katrina Szish.

David, out here in “Hollyweird,” KNBC leads with a story.  I mean, this is big.  What’s going on with this party? 

DAVID CAPLAN, “STAR” MAGAZINE:  That’s right, Hollywood is under a big health scare tonight.  We’ve learned today that Los Angeles health officials said that, at a party, “Sports Illustrated” party held on February 14th, that was attended by Beyonce, Leonardo DiCaprio, that a health worker, employed by Wolfgang Puck, had Hepatitis A, and the health department is urging all the celebrities and everyone at the party that they need to get a shot to prevent the disease by tomorrow. 

Because, interestingly, the shot that you need has to be administered within 14 days of becoming in contact.  That party was February 14th.  February 28th is very soon. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Boy, that’s serious stuff, Katrina, right?

SZISH:  It really is.  It almost sounds like it’s a Hollywood plot, that somebody was out there, very angry at all these celebrities, and decided to go and do something.  But I’m also thinking Wolfgang Puck is probably not very happy about this.

SCARBOROUGH:  Probably not happy that somebody associated with him walked into a party with hepatitis. 

SZISH:  One of the world’s foremost chefs, and then he works for him. 

Not a good thing.

SCARBOROUGH:  Not good at all.  Hey, also, British newspapers are claiming the former Spice Girl is getting a dose of reality TV.  And Britain’s “Daily Mail” reports there may be trouble with best friend, Katie Holmes.  Tell us about Posh.

SZISH:  Well, Posh supposedly has inked a deal with NBC, a multimillion-dollar deal, to do her own sort of tongue-in-cheek reality show.  Reportedly, she’s working with Simon Fuller, and he says she’s hilarious, and this is a great way to get her fans to know her better. 

And I think it’s interesting, because a lot of people in the states don’t know about Posh yet, and maybe she doesn’t have enough of a following to have such a show.  But, also, Katie Holmes, her BFF in Hollywood, has reportedly been avoiding her, reportedly based on the fact that Posh said some things against Scientology. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, egad.

SZISH:  That she won’t put her money in them.

SCARBOROUGH:  Egad, so it gets...

(CROSSTALK)

SZISH:  I guess that’s why Katie and I aren’t friends.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, exactly.  Exactly.

Well, so, David, what’s going on here? 

CAPLAN:  I mean, this is very interesting.  You know, the problem is, Victoria Beckham has been dissing Scientology, which you don’t do if you’re talking to Katie Holmes.  Katie Holmes is married to Tom Cruise, the world’s largest and most vocal Scientology spokesperson.  Bad move if you want to be friends with Katie.  I wouldn’t talk bad about her religion. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So do you think, also, this reality TV show may have been another reason why David Beckham left Madrid and came to Los Angeles to play soccer for big bucks?

CAPLAN:  Absolutely.  They have so much more longevity in the United States as celebrities than they do in Europe.  Everybody knows them in Europe.  They’re a familiar name, familiar faces.  You know, the opportunities here in the states are endless.  And this is going to be a huge show.  It’s slated to be on NBC.  And, you know, not a bad price.  We’re hearing that Victoria Beckham is going to get about $20 million for this. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Wow.  Wow.  NBC is going to be—that’s about how much they pay me.

And, finally, Heather Mills’ decision to go “Dancing with the Stars” isn’t sitting well with a group representing other disabled people in Britain.  Again, Heather Mills, “Dancing with the Stars,” one leg.  Talk about that.

SZISH:  Yes, well, Heather Mills is a very active person.  She’s been skiing.  She rides bikes.  She clearly does not have trouble with her mobility.  And so...

SCARBOROUGH:  Upward mobility, also. 

SZISH:  Any kind of mobility.  Heather Mills is all over it.

SCARBOROUGH:  I ain’t saying she’s a gold digger.  Go ahead.

SZISH:  No, you’re not.  I know where you’re going.  But, reportedly, groups in Britain who support groups, are advocates for the disabled say that it’s not fair that she’s doing all these things, specifically the “Dancing with the Stars,” and still using the blue, disabled badge in her four-wheel-drive Mercedes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Come on.

SZISH:  If you’re that mobile, they’re saying it’s unfair to other people who are not.

SCARBOROUGH:  Very good.  I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.  Katrina, thank you.  David Caplan, thank you so much.  Thanks for being with us in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Watch Scarborough Country each weeknight at 9 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,