updated 3/20/2007 12:58:13 PM ET 2007-03-20T16:58:13

Guests: Arianna Huffington, Michael Crowley, Paul Rieckhoff, Joan Walsh, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Matthew Felling, Chelsea Handler

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight, Dan Rather calls the media spineless, saying that comedians have replaced the lapdog press in holding this president accountable.

That debate coming up.

But first, four years ago tonight, the war we are still fighting began.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”:  Three hours after the deadline, attack tonight, cruise missiles, conventional bombs, stealth, close-in fighter-bombers...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  From a record-setting race across the desert to Baghdad, to four bloody years, over 3,000 deaths, hundreds of billions of dollars spent and over 50,000 civilian deaths, this war has ripped apart Iraq and the Middle East, while dividing Americans along stark political lines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We will win, and we will take our country back!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  On the fourth anniversary of the war he launched, George Bush preached patience for a war that‘s lasted longer than both previous world wars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Four years after this war began, the fight is difficult, but it can be won.  It will be won if we have the courage and resolve to see it through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  But Democratic leaders let the commander-in-chief know that their days of deference have come to an end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If we in Congress do not ended the war before January 2009, as president, I will!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think we‘ve been patient enough.

REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  The American people have wearied of administration claims that are divorced from reality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  But in the middle of the bad news, reports that the surge may be working, and new polls suggesting that Iraqis remain confident that democracy will take root in their terrorized land.  We‘ll have all that information straight ahead.

But first, Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of “The Nightly News,” is with me from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS:  Joe, the last time you and I spoke, I think I was standing right in the middle of Camp Victory, having come in from a patrol that day.  And I think what I said is something that, on reflection, having coming back to the United States, is something that really does still sum up our time there, that if you want to come with me and go over there with me and find three reasons to prove why the so-called surge is working, I can take you to at least three places and show you nothing but advances and good news.  And at the same time, if you‘re looking for three reasons to just call it a disaster and say that the U.S. is wasting its time in this war, I can take you to three places and show you three incidents a day that prove that thesis.

It‘s the most confusing picture.  There is no overarching way to look at it.  And should the president someone—summon anyone on the carpet in the Oval Office who is just back from there to give him a report—How‘s this thing going?  Where do we stand? -- I‘m not sure how they could answer.

SCARBOROUGH:  What do the men and women on the ground tell you, the U.S. troops?

WILLIAMS:  I have to say at the outset that I wouldn‘t be alive and able to sit here and talk to you today were it not for members of the U.S.  Army.  They kept us alive.  They encircled us and guaranteed our safety while we were dismounted outside the armor and walking around in that country this visit and several previous visits.

SCARBOROUGH:  Brian, thank you so much, and thank you for risking your life and leaving your wife and children.  Tell you what, it certainly did us all a great service.  Thanks so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  And here now, Arianna Huffington—she‘s the founder of the Huffingtonpost.com—Michael Crowley—he‘s the senior editor of “The New Republic”—and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Arianna, let me play you what the president had to say today about following the Democratic—the Democratic plan to leave Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  That terrorists could emerge from the chaos with a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they had in Afghanistan, which they used to plan the attacks of September the 11th, 2001.  For the safety of the American people, we cannot allow this to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  The president‘s suggesting a retreat from Iraq will lead to another 9/11.  What‘s your response to that?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  You know, I‘m really sick of that fear-mongering.  It‘s been going on and on.  It was fear-mongering that helped lull the Democratic opposition and the American people into going along with the invasion of Iraq, and it‘s now fear-mongering that‘s stopping a more vociferous opposition to the current disastrous plan.

With greatest respect to Brian Williams, I disagree that the situation is confusing.  Obviously, there is less violence in a certain area of Baghdad where there are so many more American troops.  But unless the American troops are going to stay in that precise area of Baghdad indefinitely, you know perfectly well that the minute they leave, as they are supposed to leave at some point, the violence that is erupting all over the country is going to erupt in that area again.

It is unequivocal that there‘s a different time now.  There‘s no time for patience anymore, no time for perseverance along the wrong road.  It‘s time to put on the brakes, reverse direction and bring troops home.

SCARBOROUGH:  Arianna, listen to what the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, had to say about those who aren‘t supporting the president‘s plan in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  If the United States demonstrates focus and resolve and determination, we can win, as the president said.  And that‘s why it‘s important.  It also—you have to send the message to the terrorists that you‘re focused, determined and resolved and you‘re determined to win.  The failure to finish, the failure to provide resources for reinforcements and also the mission is the sort of thing that is going to allow terrorists to sit back and wait.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And Arianna, off the camera, he said that the Democratic plan was a recipe for retreat and disaster and would play into our enemy‘s hands.  Respond to that.

ARIANNA:  Well, it‘s what they‘ve been saying for five years, Joe.  It‘s the same tune, except now it‘s as though they‘ve opened up a thesaurus and are using every good word, every American value—courage, perseverance, patience, resolve—in pursuit of the wrong cause.  It‘s as though we are heading towards disaster, heading over the cliff, and we‘re being told to be patient and to persevere.  It‘s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing again and again, expecting different results.

And one other thing.  If you do one more thing before you go to bed tonight—you and everybody watching—read Gary Hart on the Huffingtonpost because it‘s an absolutely brilliant piece not just about the lessons from Iraq but about the new realities of 21st century terrorism.  He talks really very convincingly about how we need to stop talking about jihadists as though they are conventional warriors.  I mean, this is a different reality.  He suggests we should be treating them more like you treat organized crime, rather than conventional warfare.

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael Crowley, I want you to respond to what Tony Snow had to say.  Are Democrats who are pushing to get America out of Iraq helping America‘s enemies, as the White House is suggesting today, because after all, obviously, America‘s enemies want us out of Iraq as quickly as possible.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  Well, you know, that‘s not even necessarily the case.  You know, there are lot of people who love the fact that we‘re bogged down there.  And you know, I think there‘s reason to think that Iraq has been one of the great recruiting tools for the terrorists who want to come get us.

It‘s very frustrating listening to this White House, which, you know, I feel like has kind of squandered its credibility to make these arguments.  I mean, the war itself has been one of the great things for our enemies. 

It‘s diverted our resources, our treasure.  It‘s stretched our military. 

It struck a huge blow to the sort of confidence of our political system.

So to hear this White House sort of attack Democrats, saying that they, you know, are the ones who want to retreat, who are the party of weakness, when they‘ve put America in one of the weakest positions it‘s been in in generations—it‘s just—it‘s just a little appalling.  And at some point, it‘s sort of hard to believe they can continue to repeat these same sound bites with a straight face that they‘ve been using for months and months and months, when what they‘re doing never succeeds and things never get any better.  I hope it gets better, and maybe there‘s some chance the surge will work, but right now, I think that that rhetoric is just—you know, it is a little preposterous.

SCARBOROUGH:  But you know, Pat Buchanan, amid the torrent of all the bad news we‘ve been receiving, we‘ve been talking to people today on MSNBC throughout most of the day, and it‘s hard to find people coming on saying that the surge is not working.  There‘s evidence that this surge, that I was opposed to and most Americans were opposed to, is working.  The Shi‘ite death squads have put down their weapons.  Al Sadr‘s been run out of town.  Did George Bush know something that the rest of the world did not when he started pushing for this surge?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, Joe, a lot of folks predicted that if you‘re going to send the 82nd Airborne over there and some of our finest troops, and they‘re looking to take on Moqtada al Sadr, he and his Mahdi Army are probably, if they‘ve got any sense, not going to stand up and fight them man-to-man.  And it looks like al Sadr has basically sent his people to earth and opened up Sadr City for the Americans and let us go through, and that way, the Americans can focus on the present attackers, who are the Sunni terror bombings who have the car bombs and are massacring Shia and others.  And that‘s what we‘re doing and that‘s why the surge appears to be working.

The surge won‘t reach full strength until June, I think.  I mean, we‘re trickling them in.  And then they‘ll stay until September, and then we‘ll find out, A, if it‘s working, and B, as Arianna says, when we pull these troops out, do they go back to the same thing?  Do the Shia take up the battle against the Sunnis, punishing their civilians for what‘s being done to the Shia civilians?  So we don‘t know...

SCARBOROUGH:  And basically...

BUCHANAN:  ... until then.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, basically, the Shia are getting out of the way,

allowing us to go after the Sunnis, their enemy.  But when we leave, they -

you‘re saying they may come back and it‘ll all start again.

But Pat, I want to ask you about some poll results that I found stunning that came out this weekend.  By a two to one margin, Iraqis believe that things are getting better in Iraq now than they were under Saddam Hussein.  And get this.  Most Iraqis believe their country will not be a dictatorship or a religious state in five years, they believe it will be a democracy.  Pat, explain that.

BUCHANAN:  All right.  You‘ve got 20 percent of the population is Kurd, and they almost have an independent state.  They‘re far better off in the north, and there are very, very few attacks except around Kirkuk right now.  And then 60-plus percent are Shia.  They are certainly far better off with Saddam Hussein thrown out.  They believe they‘re going to inherit the earth.

My guess is, Joe, if you stay in the Baghdad area generally and move out to the west in Anbar province, you‘re not going to find very many people at all who believe things are getting better or going to get better because, frankly, they were in command and control under Saddam, and they are going to be fully dispossessed.

SCARBOROUGH:  So you‘re basically saying...

ARIANNA:  Joe...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... that 20 percent that was in control under Saddam Hussein are going to continue fighting until they do have their civil war with the Shia, right?

BUCHANAN:  I believe, in the long run—and I was talking to General Trainor today.  This is what‘s going to happen, Joe, I think.  The Shia are never again going under Sunni domination.  I don‘t think the Sunnis in the west will accept Shia domination.  I think the Shia and the Kurds have clearly interests in working together.  The Kurds are almost independent.  And the real battle for the future is who controls Baghdad.  And in the long run, my guess is it more than likely will be the Shia.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Arianna, let me show you...

ARIANNA:  But you know, Joe...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... one more poll that came out...

ARIANNA:  Yes, exactly.  I...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on.  Hold on.  Hold on.  Hold on.  Let me—let me

show you this poll because here‘s another poll that surprises me and goes

against what I‘ve been saying for the past several months.  Well, there‘s -

is—this is “The Times” of London.  “Is Iraq in a state of civil war?” 

Twenty-seven percent of Iraqis say yes.  Sixty-one percent of Iraqis say no, they are not in a civil war.  What do they know, Arianna, that we don‘t?

ARIANNA:  OK, Joe, both these results that you mention are from the same poll.  It‘s a poll by a private company in England, quartered in the London “Sunday Times,” directly contradicted by an ABC/”USA Today”/BBC poll that was released today.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Arianna...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second, Arianna.  You can‘t shoot the

messenger because this is the most established firm in Great Britain.   And

let me show you another—I think we just put up something about whether -

and it is from the “USA Today” poll—let‘s put it up—on whether Iraqis want us to leave or not.  If we have that, guys, we can put it up.  Something like 35, 36 percent of the Iraqi people want us to leave, and I think over 60 percent of Iraqis—there it is, 35 percent want us to leave, 63 percent want us to remain.  That‘s that “USA Today”/ABC/BBC poll, which obviously is not the one that we were talking about earlier.

These are some interesting numbers, Arianna.  What do they mean?

ARIANNA:  You know, Joe, honestly, there is another poll by the University of Maryland that showed 71 percent of Iraqis want us to leave.  I don‘t really know what these polls mean.  All I know is that the despair is rising.  All I know is that if you read the specific questions in the polls about how many kids go to school, they‘re down to one third of what they used to be under Saddam.  If you look at electricity levels, at the quality of life, how many people have lost loved ones, at the level of fear, at the level of despair—if you just read the answers to those questions in any poll, you see that it is ridiculous to think that the Iraqi people are feeling better about their democracy when there‘s that kind of violence and that kind of lack of a quality of life.

SCARBOROUGH:  We—you know, we—unfortunately, we‘ve got to go.  I

this is such an important conversation, I want us to continue this tomorrow night because, again, these numbers do reflect a division, certainly a split in Iraq, and maybe having 60 percent believing they‘re better off today than they were under Saddam Hussein is really irrelevant because if you have 25, 30 percent that are willing to kill everybody else, you‘re still going to have a civil war.

Arianna, Michael and Pat Buchanan, thanks so much.  Michael Crowley, sorry we didn‘t have more time with you.

Coming up: As we continue our look at Iraq four years in, is the war making America‘s military weaker?  A new report says we‘re spread too thin to deal with other threats like Iran, North Korea, and of course, al Qaeda.  Is it true?  And what can be done?

And later:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN RATHER, FORMER “CBS EVENING NEWS” ANCHOR:  What‘s happened with journalists—again, I don‘t except myself from criticism—in some ways, we‘ve lost our guts.  We need a spine transplant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Dan Rather goes after the, quote, “spineless media” on Bill Maher.  So who‘s really fair and balanced these days?  Comedians?  The debate coming up.

And you‘ve heard of Big Brother.  Big Sister—Big Sister Hillary gets the YouTube treatment.  How candidates are trying to use the Web.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Is the Iraq war making America weaker?  That‘s the charge in today‘s “Washington Post.”  It claims the military‘s now short on training, personnel and equipment outside of Iraq and that it‘ll take years to recover.  One senior Army officer says, quote, “It‘s like a hurricane, drawing everything into the center of the eye.”  So what can be done, and what happens if we have to strike Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea or Pakistan?

Here‘s Joan Walsh.  She‘s the editor-in-chief of Salon.com, a must-read for me every morning, where her latest blog is up tonight.  And Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq war veteran and the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  He‘s also the author of the book “Chasing Ghosts.”

Now, Joan, I hope you heard the first segment of our debate.  I was

talking about all these polls that suggested that Iraqis want us to stay

there longer, that things may not be as bleak.  But basically, even if

that‘s the case, it seems that we are stretched so thin by Iraq that if

we‘re hit by Iran or North Korea—I mean, if they put a nuke in the

middle of Manhattan, or, you know, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan

we‘re stretched so thin, we can‘t do anything about it anyway, can we.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  I think that‘s right, Joe, we can‘t.  I mean, I think the real proof of this problem is in the fact that General Petraeus knows that they need more than 21,000 or 25,000 soldiers in this troop surge, and they couldn‘t summon them up.  The troop surge is already weakening us elsewhere.

I though the really interesting things in the “Post” piece were, first of all, someone off the record called it a “death spiral,” so that stayed with me.  But also, more than half of the Army units that are not deployed are currently listed as not ready.  Eighty-eight percent of the Army National Guard who are not deployed are not ready, can‘t go.  And there‘s not one single Army brigade that could, you know, on a moment‘s notice, go off and deploy to a hot spot.  So we‘ve really left ourselves without any resources either to win this war, if that‘s possible, to decisively put enough troops in, or, God forbid, to go somewhere else where we‘re really in trouble.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.  You know, Paul, when I started getting really concerned about this war that I supported from the beginning was when it started to occur to me that you had Army generals going to Capitol Hill, saying that readiness was really being jeopardized, that we‘re being stretched thin, and if we wanted to engage Iran or North Korea or go more aggressively into Afghanistan, or God forbid, something happened in Pakistan, we‘re basically helpless.  We weren‘t even able to carry through on our missions in Iraq completely.  I mean, how stretched thin are we because of this war in Iraq?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA:  Extremely.  And I think that‘s the biggest concern I hear out of people from inside Iraq and people at all levels of the military.  Everybody‘s very concerned that we‘ve put all our eggs in one basket in Iraq and that this foreign policy centered around Iraq has become a major resource-suck on the entire military.

Before General Shinseki left office, he warned Congress beware the 12-division foreign policy with a 10-division Army.  That‘s really what we‘ve got here is too much demand and too little resources on the back end.

And if you want to look at an example of how this played out, look at Katrina.  Katrina was an example of when we had to deploy stateside.  National Guard and reserve units from the South, from Louisiana, from Mississippi and their equipment, resources, aviation, et cetera, were deployed inside Iraq, and the active-duty unit that responded was the ready brigade from the 82nd Airborne, famously called “America‘s 911.”  They‘re sitting on a tarmac ready to go if something pops up in a hot spot around the world.  Those are the first people we deployed to Katrina, and I think that‘s a further illustration of how overextended we are.

SCARBOROUGH:  And of course, the problem is not just being overextended now, it‘s what if we have to go into Iran two years from now?  Under current Army and Marine Corps, plans, it‘s going to take two to three years after the Iraq war ends and about $17 billion to restore equipment levels, and it‘s going to take five years at least and $75 billion to replenish soldiers in the active duty ranks.

And of course, Joan, that doesn‘t even talk about the human cost, where you have these young men and women going 13, 14 months, coming home maybe for a month or two or three to see their young children, and then going back out again for two, three, four tours of duty.  We‘re just exhausting our most important resource, our men and women in uniform.

So again, how do we—how did we get to a point where we have put all of our military eggs in one basket and are now unable to respond to all the other threats that are sure to face us across the globe in the coming few years?

WALSH:  Well, it‘s a really good question, Joe.  I went back and I was reading some of our old coverage when the war began, and I wrote a piece about four years ago saying that in the early days of the war, even Nancy Pelosi was praising the way the president was running the war.  Democrats were silent.

The only people who at that point were talking, when it still looked like it could be a cakewalk, were generals and retired generals who were saying that Donald Rumsfeld was trying to do it on the cheap.  And doing it on the cheap has come home to roost in a different way in that they never accounted for the kinds of casualties that they wound up having, and therefore you see the scandal that we exposed and “The Washington Post” also wrote about at Walter Reed.

And we have broken faith with our military people at every level, from the promise that we‘ll train them, to the promise that we‘ll let him rest, that there‘s only so many tours that they‘ll have to take in a given period of time, to the promise that we‘ll take care of them if anything happens to them.  All those promises have been broken, and that makes it harder to recruit.  I don‘t know who is anxiously looking to sign up and go to Iraq right now or...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, it does make...

WALSH:  ... go to Iran or anywhere else.

SCARBOROUGH:  It does make it harder to recruit because if you lie to a young man or a young woman, you know, the brother sees that, the sister sees that.

WALSH:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Paul Rieckhoff, it makes it—it makes it so much more difficult to get the type of recruitment levels that you need.  And as Joan said, you had people like Barry McCaffrey, retired general, saying from the very beginning we were not giving our troops all they needed to win this war.  And of course, the administration blasted him and other retired generals that were sounding the alarm that were—these Cassandras ended up being right all along, didn‘t they.

RIECKHOFF:  Yes.  General McCaffrey‘s a great example.  He‘s been right at just about every step along the way.  And this entire war plan in Iraq has really been based on a flawed understanding of military planning.  You‘re supposed to plan for the most dangerous course of action, whether it‘s in Iraq or globally, not the best course of action or what you hope will happen in the end.

And that‘s why we‘ve seen problems on the ground early stage, with body armor and vehicle armor, now with Walter Reed and the problems on the back end of health care.  And down the line, our military is going to start to show these signs of wear, and personnel issues are going to be the first sign.  Divorce rates are up.  Reenlistment rates are holding steady, but that‘s in large part because we‘re giving them huge reenlistment bonuses that are tax-free if you sign up in theater.  So you‘ve got to look through the fine print here and find out how they‘ve been able to bolster up these numbers in a very precarious situation.

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it.  Paul Rieckhoff, thank you, as always.  Joan Walsh, greatly appreciate you being here, talking about such an important issue.

And coming up next: Is the mainstream media spineless?  And is the only hope for the news comedians like Jon Stewart and Bill Maher?  That‘s what Dan Rather told Bill Maher.  That debate coming up.

But first, “Must See S.C.”  Is the media spineless?  Not when they have to deal with angry cats.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, it‘s time for tonight‘s “Must See SC,” some video you‘ve just got to see.  First up, who says being a reporter is easy?  Jimmy Kimmel shows us how one reporter caught cat scratch fever. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Jail is not enough for the judge who sentenced this pair on animal abuse charges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  FOX 8 News reporter Kathleen Cochrane live in Russell Township with details.

KATHLEEN COCHRANE, FOX 8 REPORTER:  Hi, Bill and Stacy.  Well, the couple is accused of throwing two cats like this one here out of their car and killing them.  Now, as part of the—this little guy is having fun—but now as part of their sentence, the couple is going to have to...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And finally, President Bush continues his war on words, in the latest edition of great moments in presidential speeches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The

only thing we have to fear is fear itself. 

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yes, ma‘am.  You‘re not a ma‘am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And coming up next, Dan Rather caused the media spineless.  Are comedians like Jon Stewart really doing a better job than news anchors?

And later, Hillary gets hammered, as candidates try to use the web to get votes.  Generation Y is getting the last laugh.  We‘ll show you why this hugely popular video is making its way across the web, as well as some other moments candidates would rather you not check out. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Comic relief.  Have the media‘s failures over the past four years forced comedians to be the ones asking the tough questions?  Well, that‘s a claim made tonight by a former icon of the news industry, Dan Rather.  He says journalists have lost their guts and it‘s now late-night comics who have been holding Washington‘s feet to the fire.

So are late-night punch lines really more effective these days than TV news headlines?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH (voice-over):  Politicians have always been easy targets for late-night comics. 

JOHNNY CARSON, FORMER HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  Did you see the picture in the magazine of Reagan riding his horse on a ranch, with George Bush riding behind with a pooper-scooper?

SCARBOROUGH:  But these days, their jokes pack a powerful political punch.

BILL MAHER, HOST, “REAL TIME”:  This administration has read your phone records, credit card statements, mail, Internet logs.  I can‘t tell if they‘re fighting a war on terror or producing the next season of “Cheaters.”  I mail myself a copy of the Constitution every morning just on the hope they‘ll open it and see what it says.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  But when the final history is written on Iran—Iraq, it will look like just a comma.

JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  Or no, wait, not a comma.  What‘s that punctuation market that denotes a huge and bloody fiasco?  Oh, a catastro(bleep). 

SCARBOROUGH:  That kind of social commentary has led some to suggest that comedians are filling a void left by a weak-kneed press corps. 

DAN RATHER, HOST, “DAN RATHER REPORTS”:  Good journalism at its best frequently speaks truth to power.  What‘s happened with journalists—again, I don‘t except myself from criticism—in some ways, they‘ve lost their guts.  They need a spine transplant.  And what‘s happened is comedians, in their own way, speak truth to power and fill that vacuum that we in journalism have too often left. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Gone are the days when media titans like Murrow, Cronkite and Brokaw could impact political discourse with a 30-minute newscast.  

WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER NEWS ANCHOR:  President Kennedy tonight at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time.

SCARBOROUGH:  Now it‘s the late-night comics who are making politicos sweat.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Tonight‘s subject: 

throwing kids in a wood chipper.  I‘m against it.  I think it‘s wrong. 

John, tear me a new one.

REP. JOHN YARMUTH (D), KENTUCKY:  Well, you know, there are times when you have to find a way to dispose of kittens. 

MAHER:  When the world turned hostile to America, the smartest message we can send to those beyond our shores is:  We‘re not with stupid.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Here now, political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell and also Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs. 

Matthew, has the media dropped the ball over the past four years, so much so that comedians now have to step in and fill the void?

MATTHEW FELLING, THE CENTER FOR MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS:  Yes.  And, personally, I think that is the case somewhat.  I think that Dan Rather is the correct guy to be raising this point, because way back in the ‘70s, he was in a press conference with President Nixon, and he filibustered, and he was a little bit full of himself, and then Nixon says to him, “Well, excuse me, sir, are you running for something?”  And rather shoots back immediately, “No, sir, are you?”

And that sort of testy exchange between a reporter and a president was hallowed back then.  But now, in this hyperpolitical environment of 2004, 2006, 2008, wartime, we as a media entity, in the entire journalism community are so scared of being labeled as, “Oh, you‘re picking on a Democrat.  You must be conservative.”  Or “You‘re picking on a conservative, you must be a Democrat,” that we sometimes take a step back and try to be way too objective when it comes to stories.

And the news has been so watered down that a 2004 study from Annenberg at the University of Pennsylvania said people had better information and people scored better on aptitude tests who got their news from “The Daily Show” than the three major networks‘ nightly news. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Lawrence O‘Donnell, is the media spineless and forcing a lot of Americans who want some bite in their news to go to late-night comics.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Joe, I can‘t believe that I‘m sitting here on MSNBC‘s air, on the network that David Bloom used to report on, and we‘re asking the question, is the media spineless? 

Tell that to David Bloom‘s widow.  Tell that to David Bloom‘s children.  Tell that to Bob Woodruff‘s family.  Tell it to Michael Weisskopf, “Time” magazine, who got his hand blown off in Iraq by throwing a grenade away to save American soldiers. 

I think Dan Rather is completely out of it.  I think, when you have a media watchdog, as we just did, say he‘s worried that the media might be too objective, what does too objective mean?  Are we at the point where nobody actually wants to have fair and balanced news?  And all we really want to have is news that confirms what we think and confirms our prejudices?  Is that what we really want?

FELLING:  Lawrence O‘Donnell, we‘re looking for journalists who can actually cut through, and maybe sometimes, with the extreme spin that we have in the 21st century, we need a little bit of bite, we need a little bit of edge.  And sometimes Journalism 101 can‘t get us there.

O‘DONNELL:  Tell me what bite is.  Tell me what bite is.

FELLING:  OK.

O‘DONNELL:  Tell me what you would do, tell me, if you‘re at a presidential news conference, and the president of the United States says something that you cannot prove is true or false, what is your reaction?  Do you say to him, “You‘re a liar”?  Is that what you want to say?

FELLING:  Well, a, I would not be there and say—if I had no grounds for being able to object to what the president was saying, I would not object publicly.  But there are...

O‘DONNELL:  Give me an example.  Give me an example of a White House reporter who has done something in a presidential news conference that you think is spineless.  Give me one example, one name. 

FELLING:  OK, first of all, I find it very rich that Lawrence O‘Donnell...

O‘DONNELL:  One name.  A name.

FELLING:  ... who fills in for Al Franken, who‘s a great humorist and who actually cuts to the chase, you‘re telling me that this is out of bounds?  Secondly...

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m saying it‘s a meaningless conversation unless you supply a name.  If you want to say the media is spineless, you have to tell me who.

FELLING:  Terry Moran, ABC News White House reporter, Terry Moran, the week before we went to war, the week before shock and awe, said he was disappointed because his compatriots were looking like zombies.  And the very same press conference afterwards, Elizabeth Bumiller of the “New York Times” said, you know what?  I did not want to object to what the president was saying because we were all being very deferential at that time, despite the fact that I knew I wasn‘t 100 percent confident in what he was saying.  That is exactly what I‘m telling you...

(CROSSTALK)  

O‘DONNELL:  Of course.  No one was 100 percent confident.  We in the audience were not 100 percent confident.  We didn‘t know whether there were weapons of mass destruction there or not.  We saw some evidence that there was.  We saw evidence presented by Colin Powell.  And in the same week in the “New York Times,” we saw evidence presented that maybe what Colin Powell was talking about were not weapons of mass destruction.  The mainstream media, in fact, did a great job in analyzing exactly what the White House was giving us.

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Matthew Felling, also, the second part of this is Dan Rather says the media is not doing their job, but actually comedians are.  Let‘s take a look at a clip from “The Daily Show,” where Jon Stewart is talking about how the war in Iraq is going, and then we‘ll get yours and Lawrence‘s response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about Iraq.  We‘ve heard what President Bush has to say.  He says things are going well.  Condi Rice says things are going well, as well.  Dick Cheney says things are going, “Rah.”  So it‘s hard to believe in the credibility—I wish there was someone left in the White House with some credibility, maybe someone who had no access to the intelligence, who isn‘t in any of the meetings, maybe somebody who only hears about Iraq after uttering the phrase, “Hey, how was your day, honey?”  There you go, it‘s Laura.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Matthew Felling, why does Dan Rather believe that Americans are getting news with a bite from Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and late-night comedians? 

FELLING:  Well, here‘s an example of what I was saying.  We have, with Jon Stewart, we have him running a clip from that day‘s news, and then he‘ll actually go back in time to the week before to where a very different, a very—the two wouldn‘t just jibe from President Bush or from Cheney.  And he lays them up against each other.

But if you do that as a news person, if you do that as a, quote, unquote, “journalist,” it does come across as mean-spirited.  It does come across like you have an agenda.  And that‘s what I meant.  I did not say that being too objective was a sin.  I just said, sometimes, we need a little bit more to cut through the spin. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, of course...

O‘DONNELL:  Jon Stewart had Pervez Musharraf—go ahead, Joe.  Go ahead.

SCARBOROUGH:  No, I was just going to say, you had people like Tom Brokaw and Ted Koppel and others who, for the past couple years, at least since 2004, have basically been saying just what Matthew is saying, that the future of news might be in these late-night comics. 

O‘DONNELL:  I don‘t think so, because I think Jon Stewart and Bill Maher are great comedians, they‘re great entertainers.  The reason to watch the show is that it‘s going to be really funny.  That‘s the reason to watch.

If you watch when Jon Stewart has, of all people, Pervez Musharraf on his show, the leader of Pakistan is on the show touting a book, he‘s doing a book tour, does Jon Stewart ask him what it was like to seize power in a coup?  Does Jon Stewart ask him, is there ever going to be an election again in Pakistan?  Does Jon Stewart ask him a single difficult question?  No, not one. 

But it was fascinating to watch, because you watched the leader of Pakistan able to joke around with Jon Stewart, and that was worth price of admission, and it showed how Westernized he‘d become in this very short period of time.  But there was not a single difficult or meaningful question asked.  Not one.

SCARBOROUGH:  But it wasn‘t news.  All right, hey, Lawrence, thank you so much.  Matthew, thank you.  Greatly appreciate it.

And coming up next here, the moments candidates don‘t want you to see caught on tape and put on the web.  Why YouTube is the new reality for 2008 candidates, and we‘re going to show you an attack ad against Hillary Clinton from Obama supporters. 

And later, is the honeymoon really over for Tom and Katie?  We‘ll break it down with Chelsea Handler in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s getting ugly on YouTube, as Barack Obama supporters launched a nasty attack ad against Hillary Clinton. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  One month ago, I began a conversation with all of you, and so far we haven‘t stopped talking, and that‘s really good.  I intend to keep telling you exactly where I stand on all of the issues.  I‘m looking at how to help you and other people who are hard-working like you, and I‘ve really been impressed by how serious people are, because we all need to be part of the discussion if we‘re all going to be part of the solution. 

I don‘t want people who already agree with me.  I want honest, experienced, hard-working, patriotic people who want to be part of a team, the American team.  I hope you‘ve learned a little bit more about what I believe in and trying to do and really helped this conversation about our country get started. 

I hope to keep this conversation going all the way to November 2008. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And, of course, that was supposed to be a symbol for Barack Obama and told people, “Go to BarackObama.com.”  I‘m sure the Clinton camp is not pleased with Barack Obama supporters launching that type of ad.  And that popped up on YouTube, though, without the Obama camp taking responsibility.  Obviously, that has to make candidates nervous.

You know, all the major candidates are using YouTube to release their own videos this year, but the message isn‘t always getting out into cyberspace.  Take, for example, Senator John Edwards.  Now, none of his campaign sponsored-videos have had much traffic as this one of the candidate combing his hair set to music. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, coming up next, Naomi Campbell—that‘s not great for the supporters to see—Naomi Campbell has to mop floors in front of her community service.  Meanwhile, Chelsea Handler has to join us as part of hers.  She‘s coming up in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, make sure to TiVo your “E! True Hollywood Story,” because, baby, it‘s time for “Hollyweird.”  First up, Naomi Campbell.  The supermodel began serving community service today, mopping floors of the New York City Sanitation Department.

Here now to talk about it, the host of “The Chelsea Handler Show” on E!, Chelsea Handler.  She‘s also, of course, the author of “My Horizontal Life.” 

Chelsea, Naomi in trash.  What‘s going on here? 

CHELSEA HANDLER, “THE CHELSEA HANDLER SHOW”:  Well, first of all, I think her mopping and sweeping floors for three days is a joke.  What they should do is put her in a batting cage and allow all the Mexican and Puerto Rican cleaning ladies throughout the country to throw cell phones at her head, like she did to her assistants.  And, of course, she should be allowed to dodge them, but she should under no circumstances wear a helmet, Joe.  Either that or she should be forced to go to a nudist colony for three days with Dick Cheney or Scooter Libby. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, you‘re making me hot.  Speaking of hot, “Star” magazine‘s reporting there may be trouble ahead for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.  Now, Chelsea, I‘m almost afraid to ask you this question, but what in the world could be wrong with this all-American couple? 

HANDLER:  Well, they‘re saying now that Katie Holmes is getting her own, you know, source of sense back—source of self back, excuse me, and she really wants to go out on a limb and go shoot her own movie.  And Tom Cruise doesn‘t want her traveling by herself, which is very confusing to me, because I would think, as a Scientologist, he has access to time travel or shape shifting and could easily just go back to when they contracted their marriage and add a clause in that says she‘s not allowed to travel by herself or with the baby‘s father, whoever that may be. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Wait, I‘m confused.  Why wouldn‘t it be Tom Cruise‘s son or daughter?  I mean, what‘s going on here?  What do you know that we don‘t? 

HANDLER:  Joe, you and I both know exactly what‘s going on here, and you have some sort of allegiance to the Scientologists of the universe.  I do not have that allegiance, so I‘m allowed to say what everyone else is thinking. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I won‘t ask you, so don‘t say it.  And, also, let‘s talk about—tell us what you‘re thinking about an “American Pie” star.  She‘s known for “American Pie” and drinking, so maybe it‘s only natural that Tara Reid is opening a restaurant.  I would guess, Chelsea, that you‘ll be right in the front of that line when she opens it up. 

HANDLER:  Yes, me and Tara Reid are...

SCARBOROUGH:  You all are tight, right? 

HANDLER:  Yes, Tara Reid and I are like two peas in a pod.  The greatest thing is that she‘s going to be supervising the actual input and output of food in the restaurant, and she‘ll be supervising the kitchen, and, you know, how the chefs are preparing the meals, which is about as reassuring as having Rosie O‘Donnell show me how to put makeup on. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, exactly.  And what about Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie?  They‘re heading to a fat camp.  Why‘s that? 

HANDLER:  Because they‘re going to coach—this is the best—they‘re going to coach little girls on how they can lose weight.  For the first episode, they‘re going to take them to a fat camp.  The second episode, they‘re going to show them how to make pornographic tapes and then stream them through the Internet and make millions of dollars.  And then the third, fourth and fifth week are going to be dedicated to driving the wrong way on the freeway in the carpool lane without a buddy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, that‘s awesome.  Hey, I hear that if you do coke and heroin, you lose weight.  So maybe that‘s part of the, like, five-step process or something. 

Hey, Chelsea, as always, it‘s great to see you.  I‘m such a huge fan. 

HANDLER:  And likewise, Joe, huge fan. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Huge.  And say hi to Ted for me.  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  We‘ll see you back tomorrow night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  But don‘t go anywhere.  The Doc Block‘s coming up.

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

END   

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

transcript

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

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,