updated 4/5/2007 11:09:00 AM ET 2007-04-05T15:09:00

Guests: Joan Walsh, Ryan Lizza, Nico Pitney, Michael Isikoff, Carmen Rasmusen, Tom O‘Neil, Tina Fey, Jane Krakowski, Dawn Yanek

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight: We‘re going to be talking to a former “American Idol” and ask if that hit show is rigging the results and the vote  We‘re going to tell you why big “Idol” is watching you when you vote.  That story‘s coming up.

But first, big news out of Washington tonight.  ABC News is reporting that political neophyte Barack Obama has outraised New York senator Hillary Clinton, raking in over $23 million in primary cash, compared to Senator Clinton‘s $20 million.  The Hillary campaign tells NBC News tonight that the ABC story isn‘t true, insisting it is still too early to tell.

But either way, the Obama numbers are staggering -- $25 million raised in the past three months, over $23 million raised for the primary, over 100,000 donors, almost $7 million raised on the Internet alone, and 90 percent of his contributors giving $100 or less.  The results are, in a word, staggering, the impact seismic.  A political earthquake has shaken Washington tonight, and right now, the Clinton campaign tells NBC News they are furiously counting checks.

Could it be the most powerful Democratic machine in a generation will be playing catch-up to Mr. Obama. a political newcomer who‘s been in Washington for little more than two years?  Can $25 million worth of Obama support be wrong?  Is Hillary Clinton facing tough days ahead?  And does this mean that America is ready for a black president?

Here now to talk about all the results today, Ryan Lizza, senior editor for “The New Republic”—he wrote last month‘s cover story on Barack Obama.  Also, Nico Pitney from the Center for American Progress, and Joan Walsh.  She‘s editor-in-chief for Salon.com.

Ryan, no candidate in the history of American politics has ever raised this type of primary money in a quarter, not Bill Clinton, not Ronald Reagan, not John Kennedy, nobody.  The political world just shook.  What happened?

RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  I agree with you.  I think you can‘t exaggerate what a big deal this is in this—on the Democratic side of the presidential race.  I mean, look, this is the first family of Democratic politics, the Clintons, who‘ve been raising money hand over fist for, you know, decades now, if you go back to Bill‘s Arkansas days.  They had Terry McAuliffe, the greatest fund-raiser in the Democratic Party, as the chairman of their campaign.  And a guy who was in the state Senate of Illinois just raised more money than them, at least for the primary.

SCARBOROUGH:  Ryan, I—you brought up Terry McAuliffe, again, the most prolific fundraiser in American history for Democrats, right now is counting checks tonight, praying to God, praying to the money Gods that they will not be outraised in primary cash by this guy, who two years ago was a state senator.  Again, what happened?

LIZZA:  Well, I don‘t know.  Maybe the—maybe the issue is this—look, McAuliffe—and he‘s not the only person.  They have other fund-raising people, obviously.  But he—the Clintons—their formative years in the White House were during the fat days of soft money, when you hit up a lot of big donors, and maybe the Hillary machine isn‘t quite as adept at playing in the new small-donor world.  And the biggest evidence of that is that Barack Obama outraised her on line.  She‘s not...

SCARBOROUGH:  And let‘s talk about that for a second.  Again, we can talk about the $25 million total.  We can talk about $23 million for the primary.  But almost $7 million on the Internet...

LIZZA:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan, that Internet number alone is almost as much as the top Democrat raised by this time four years ago.  Why are Democrats going bonkers for Barack Obama?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Well, Joe, I think it has to do with something we‘ve talked about over and over, which is the disaffection of the Democratic base with Hillary Clinton‘s vote on the Iraq war.  Barack Obama has the advantage of really and truly having opposed it from the beginning.  He didn‘t have to flip-flop, he didn‘t have to apologize, like John Edwards, and he‘s really rising on that...

SCARBOROUGH:  But—but let me ask you...

WALSH:  ... not that alone, but on that...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... this, Joan...

WALSH:  ... quite a bit.  Yes?

SCARBOROUGH:  Can you name one vote since Barack Obama has been in the United States Senate on the war that‘s different from Hillary Clinton?

WALSH:  I‘m not—I—no, not off the top of my head, Joe.  I‘ll go back and research that and see.

SCARBOROUGH:  There‘s not one.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA:  ... the important votes, Joe.  You know that.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Wait.  Hold on a second.  Votes on funding the war are not important votes?

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  OK.  Well, then, let me ask you this question.  Can any of you tell me a single piece of legislation that Barack Obama has put on the Senate floor in two years that would suggest that he differs from Hillary Clinton legislatively on this war?

NICO PITNEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Well, the one vote—the one significant vote that they differed on was on the confirmation of Casey.  Hillary Clinton, I believe, voted...

SCARBOROUGH:  You just put me to sleep.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I mean, come on.  If that‘s the best you can—well, let‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s go back, Joan...

WALSH:  Come on, Joe.  Give him credit for that one.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  The bigger point is, Joan, that there doesn‘t seem over the past two years to be a big difference legislatively.  And yet in the Democratic base, it‘s like Barack Obama is the newly anointed king and Hillary Clinton is a traitor to the cause.

WALSH:  Well, it‘s nice to hear you defending Hillary Clinton, and I‘m sure she‘s enjoying the show tonight to have you come to her defense.  But listen, it‘s not just about legislation.  It‘s also about her very persistent, some would say stubborn, refusal to use the word “mistake.”  Every chance she gets, she has tried to distinguish herself a little bit from the rest of the pack on this and stay a little bit more hawkish.  She made some controversial statements about keeping more troops there than others would keep.  So there continues to be some suspicion about her, despite the fact that she—that she has turned against the war...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold it a second.  I want to ask Joan this question.  Would the Democratic Party rather lose by putting an African-American liberal who makes them feel good in the general election up against a Republican, or put Hillary Clinton in, who understands, like Bill Clinton, that you get elected to the White House by getting the same people who voted for Ronald Reagan twice, Bill Clinton twice and George W. Bush twice?  I mean, how far left does Hillary have to go?

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  You know, I don‘t really think that‘s the issue.

LIZZA:  ... false assumptions there, Joe.

PITNEY:  Yes.

WALSH:  I agree.  That‘s a false assumption.  I don‘t think this is going to come down just...

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  Can I please finish?

PITNEY:  Yes, go ahead.

WALSH:  He asked me the question.  I don‘t think this is just going to come down to left versus right.  And I don‘t—look, I‘m not—I‘m not jumping on the Obama bandwagon, but I am saying I think you see enormous disaffection not only with her stance on the war, but with what many people see as a kind of overly practiced—I think that you‘re going to see a lot of strength in Hillary Clinton as this campaign goes on.  I‘m not here to write her off, by any means.  I think Obama is untested.  I think she‘s been tested.  She could turn out to be the stronger candidate.  But right now, there‘s Clinton fatigue and there‘s Iraq war fatigue.  And you‘re seeing that in the numbers.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me just say this, though—hold on a second, guys.  Hold on a second.  Let me just say, though, Ryan, if I ever run for president of the United States, I hope in my first quarter I will be considered a loser because I raised $36 million—a staggering number, $36 million raised.  That‘s what Hillary Clinton has raised, even if only $20 million of it—again, only $20 million of it—can be used in the primary.  How does one raise $36 million and still be considered a loser?

PITNEY:  That‘s—that‘s the point...

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA:  It‘s all about expectations.  I mean, first of all, she transferred $10 million from her Senate account, so you got to get rid of that.  And then $6 million or about $6 million...

SCARBOROUGH:  She can still spend it, though!

LIZZA:  That‘s true.  That‘s true.  But we‘re talking about bringing new donors into the system and how much you can raise in the span of this three-month period.  If you just look at that number, how much are you going to raise in the span of this three-month period and spent on the primaries, because it‘s all about winning the primaries.  Doesn‘t matter how much you raise for the general election is you don‘t make it to the general election.  So that‘s the—that‘s the yardstick.  And on that yardstick, she got beat by Barack Obama.

And let me just say...

SCARBOROUGH:  And Nico, is it really about expectations, the fact that Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that she was able to report $36 million, which is, again, a staggering historic number—the fact that Barack Obama is very close to her, and perhaps, if you believe ABC News, has beaten her in raising primary money—well, the fact that a neophyte has beaten the most powerful Democratic machine in the past generation just makes Barack look great and makes Hillary, unfortunately...

PITNEY:  I don‘t—I don‘t think...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... for Hillary Clinton fans, look weaker than many expected.

PITNEY:  I don‘t think either one of these people should be concerned.  I think the story here is the amount of money that both of them have raised this early.  I think it suggests—and you know, on the Republican side also, it suggests the yearning to move past President Bush is extremely strong.  And I think the general trend there is very positive for both of them, whichever comes out...

SCARBOROUGH:  So Nico...

PITNEY:  ... or whoever comes out—yes?

SCARBOROUGH:  I went to a Southern state school, so I‘m not very good in math.   I‘m sure you‘d agree with me, elitist that you are.  But $36 million—you‘re not an elitist, Nico.  just kidding you.

PITNEY:  No.  No, I‘m not.

SCARBOROUGH:  But $36 million for Hillary Clinton, $25 million for Barack Obama, my addition from the University of Alabama shows me that‘s $51 million raised by two Democratic presidents.  I thought the Democrats were supposed to be the party of campaign finance reform, and that Mr.  Feingold‘s reform plan was going to drive big money out of politics.  I‘ve never seen numbers like this.

PITNEY:  Well, I mean, I—lookit, you said yourself, 90 percent of Obama‘s donations were $100 and less.

WALSH:  Right.

PITNEY:  The technology, the Internet now is allowing for grass roots citizens who support a politician to get out there and—and give them a small amount, and it adds up.  I mean, this was Howard Dean‘s calculus, and both candidates now are taking advantage of it.  And look, they have the widespread public support because on so many key issues, they‘re very similar.  They both want a reasonable exit from Iraq.  They both support universal health care and—and are strong on energy issues.  And I think that‘s why they‘re getting the support they are.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Joan, I want you to look at these poll numbers.  And it shows that Hillary Clinton‘s lead is shrinking in the polls.  Right now, she is—well, she‘s got a 31 percent to 24 percent lead.  In January, it was 40 percent to 21 percent.

But Joan, let‘s talk about a state like California, where Hillary Clinton has a wide lead.  We‘re talking about, again, Barack Obama having $23.5 million.  But my gosh, the California governor‘s race alone will chew up that much money.  This is a lot of money, but at the same time, if you‘re going to put all of those elections, all of those primaries into early February, Barack still may not have enough money to catch up with Hillary Clinton, right?

WALSH:  Well, exactly, Joe.  I mean, she does have enormous advantages, not just in institutional fund-raising but also in her head start in certain key states.  The front-loading of the primaries makes this a very different kind of campaign.

And so you know, I came on here prepared to say I would not count her out.  I would not call this a big bad news day for Hillary.  I think she‘ll fight stronger if she‘s perceived as some kind of underdog, which she really is not.

And you know, we brought up the name of Howard Dean, and you‘ve got to talk about Howard Dean.  Howard Dean turned a lot of heads in the media.  He turned a lot of heads on line.  And he didn‘t really make it.  He didn‘t have the campaign, he didn‘t have the positions to really make use of that money.  And so money cannot buy this nomination.

(CROSSTALK)

PITNEY:  ... it was Edwards who raised the most amount of money in...

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  Yes, in the very first—right.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Joan—let‘s talk about, Joan, though, Hillary Clinton and all she‘s been through as first lady of Arkansas and first lady of the United States, all of the battering and the abuse that she has taken.  Whether you love her or hate her, you‘ve got to admit few public figures have been through—maybe Richard Nixon had been through more than Hillary Clinton over a—you know, over...

WALSH:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... a 25-year time period.  This is really just a blip on the radar screen.  Do you think that, like Howard Dean, Obama may not be tested and somebody like Hillary Clinton, who‘s been through all these political wars before, just kind of shrugs this off and says, OK, let‘s start raising tomorrow?

WALSH:  I hope she does shrug it off.  I don‘t say that as a partisan of Hillary‘s.  I‘m not.  But you know, I think you‘re right, Joe.  I think one of her strengths is that, boy, has she been tested.  She‘s been through, you know, one of the worst sets of situations, from impeachment to the personal humiliation, and she‘s survived.

Obama—you know, I have a lot of respect for him.  I think he‘s a great candidate.  He has not survived that.  He‘s—and he‘s shown, quite honestly—occasionally, he‘s shown a little bit of a thin skin.  You know, his first gaffe out of the gate was making too much of having his picture taken in his bathing suit in Hawaii.  You know, he has this tendency sometimes to go off on the media and to kind of act like, Oh, I‘m above this kind of...

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  He will be sorry if he—you know, if we see more of that.

SCARBOROUGH:  And let me just say, Joan, for the record—I haven‘t said this to you before, but I‘ve got to say to you I‘m very offended when Salon comes to my home and takes pictures of me coming out of my swimming pool.  I mean, I think you‘re doing it...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A lot of us are offended!

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  ... haven‘t been able to get one yet.

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s very offensive.  And also, stop making fun of my big ears and big nose.  I think you‘re right.  I think he‘s thin-skinned.  And again, I think that just shows he‘s a political neophyte.  It‘s a mistake Hillary Clinton would never make.

Ryan, Nico, Joan, thank you so much.  Greatly appreciate you being with us to talk about these staggering events.  I‘ve got to say, I still think Hillary Clinton has the upper hand in every single way.  But still, Barack Obama proved today that he has a fund-raising operation like no other operation in American politics.  And Tip O‘Neill was right, money is the mother‘s milk of politics.

Coming up: George Bush accuses Iran of being hostage takers, while Tony Blair talks to the Iranians.  Was it a case of George Bush getting it wrong again or an international game of “Good cop bad cop”?

And then, is “Idol” rigged?  Producers say Sanjaya won‘t win, and they‘ll check up on voters.  But how far are they willing to go to stop the shaggy star from being the next “American Idol”?

And later: The girlie (ph) show takes on “Gray‘s Anatomy” and “CSI” and lives to tell about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  An end to a crisis without a shot being fired.  The White House says negotiations and gift baskets are not the way to confront the world‘s tyrants, but Tony Blair stuck with his own brand of diplomacy today and won the release of those 15 sailors and marines held by Iran.  The announcement came after the release of—after—came hours after Nancy Pelosi defied the White House and met with the president of Syria, trying to show the Bush administration that talks with Syria could bring benefits to the region.

Like never before, President Bush is struggling for control of his own foreign policy.  Here now to talk about it, Michael Isikoff.  He‘s an investigative journalist for “Newsweek” and the author of “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the War in Iraq.”  Michael, thanks so much for being with us.  Will Democrats say that this is yet another defeat for George W. Bush, who has stubbornly refused to talk to Iran and Syria for years?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, I don‘t know about a defeat, but it‘s certainly a textbook case for the arguments advanced by the Baker-Hamilton report just last—just last year, when they said part of any solution in Iraq is an engagement with Syria and Iran.  They didn‘t argue that those regimes ought to be embraced.  They didn‘t argue that we ought to somehow cut back on our own ideals or our own positions, but they said engagement is the answer.

They argued that that was certainly one route that ought to be tried here, and I think that if you look at what happened with Iran and the release of the sailors, it does seem like that approach, coupled with the pressure that was coming on the regime from the United Nations as part of a broad multi-national coalition, actually made a difference.

SCARBOROUGH:  What about Nancy Pelosi in Syria?  There are going to be some suggestions that she was somehow able to talk to the Syrian president, who was able to relay that to the Iranians.  Any suggestion that her speaking with Syria had anything to do with Iran backing down?

ISIKOFF:  Well, I don‘t think there‘s any evidence of that, but it is worth nothing that with all the furor over Nancy Pelosi‘s trip, she‘s hardly the only member of Congress who‘s been to Iran (SIC) to meet with Assad.  Senator Nelson, you remember, did it a number of months ago.  And just last weekend, there was a Republican delegation.  Frank Wolf from Virginia and a couple of other of your former colleagues from the Republican side of the aisle were in Damascus, as well.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I tried to suggest that last night to Pat Buchanan, who laughed and said nobody knows who the hell Frank Wolf is.  What about, though, the “Good cop bad cop” routine?  Tony Blair—just for argument‘s sake, you could say that Tony Blair could, you know, again, provide the carrot because he had George Bush standing behind him with a stick.  Is there evidence—you talked about the United Nations...

ISIKOFF:  Well, look, I mean...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... is there any evidence that sanctions plus the threat of George Bush may have helped Tony Blair?

ISIKOFF:  Look, I don‘t think we have any good, hard intelligence on what‘s going on within the Iranian regime.  If we did, we‘d be in a lot better position to know what stands to take, particularly in relation to Iraq.  But I think the bad cop or the stick here was much more likely to have been the sanctions voted by the United Nations.  Again, when it‘s part of a broad multi-national coalition, when we‘re acting in concert with allies, with the rest of the world, it‘s a much tougher stand that we‘re taking, and the Iranian regime is feeling it much more severely than if it‘s just the United States.

The United States is so isolated in the world right now, the president‘s standing is so low, particularly in the Middle East, that just threats from George W. Bush probably doesn‘t have much effect.  If anything, it probably emboldens the Iranian regime.  But when they see the Russians, the Europeans, the Germans, the French and others behind sanctions because of their nuclear program, I think that gets their attention much more.

SCARBOROUGH:  I certainly think it does, too.  And certainly, when

those sanctions hurt the Iranian people, who were already less than pleased

the overwhelming majority less than pleased to be run by—having their lives run by mullahs since 1979, that also certainly pushes them to make some important decisions that ended up being very positive for Tony Blair and the British people today.

Michael Isikoff, thank you so much for being with us.

ISIKOFF:  Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH:  I greatly appreciate your insights.

And coming up next: How far is “American Idol” willing to go to make sure that Sanjaya doesn‘t win?  Should fans be scared that their votes won‘t be counted, or more importantly, that Big Brother will be watching when they vote for the guy with funny hair and white suits?  We‘ll talk to an “Idol” insider ahead.

But first, it‘s “Must See S.C.,” as Floridians celebrate the big “March Madness” win.  Go Gators!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, it‘s time for tonight‘s “Must See S.C.,” some video that you just got to see.  First up: When al Franken announced that he‘s running for the Senate, his critics questioned his ability to run a serious campaign, but here Franken answers them loud and clear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  After much consideration, Al Franken has decided to run for Senate in Minnesota.  And while his opponents question whether a comedian has any place in politics, we‘d like to point out that Americans have always valued a sense of humor in their leaders, from the wry self-deprecation of Abraham Lincoln to the affable one-liners of Ronald Reagan to the hilarious slapstick of George W. Bush.  Al Franken, good in the neighborhood.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And finally, for Florida Gator fans, the Monday night championship win was a cause for celebration.  And “Late Night‘s” Conan O‘Brien shows us who partied the hardest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O‘BRIEN, HOST, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O‘BRIEN:  Last night, “March madness” came to an end when the University of Florida became the first team in 15 years to win back-to-back NCAA championships.  Very exciting.  Yes.  And once again, they are really going crazy down in Florida.  Take a look.  This is huge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, wait a second now!  What an insult!  Don‘t insult my state!

Up next: If you‘re just turning from “American Idol,” you‘re going to want to stick around.  Fox producers say Sanjaya won‘t be the next “American Idol,” but will they tamper with the vote to make sure he doesn‘t win?  And how far are they willing to go to trace your votes?

And later: “Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars” may be the hottest shows on TV (INAUDIBLE) still an audience for a smart show like “30 Rock”?  The stars of that NBC comedy join us with the answer coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you, Alex. 

Coming up, got a lot more on “30 Rock” and “Hollyweird.”

But first, last night‘s “American Idol” brought us the good, the bad, and Sanjaya.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANJAYA MALAKAR, “AMERICAN IDOL” (singing):  I‘m in heaven.  I‘m in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Let‘s try a different tactic this week.  Incredible!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, it‘s funny that his heaven is my hell. 

So did Simon‘s reverse psychology work?  Well, we‘re not going to spoil tonight‘s result for our West Coast viewers, because it turns out it might not even be the real outcome.  “Idol” producers are claiming that movements like Vote for the Worst and Howard Stern don‘t stand a chance in the voting process, saying, “There is very little hype anyone can do to affect the vast numbers of votes we get.” 

He also said, “There are mechanisms in place to stop or identify electronic voting, and the show has the ability to trace each of the 40 million calls that are logged in each week.”

They also say, after weeks of standing by their man, they don‘t expect Sanjaya to be there in the end.  Now, I don‘t know how “Idol” ended tonight, but I suspect they‘re wrong.  I think this guy is going to be around for a long time.

So are “American Idol‘s” producers prepared to take drastic steps to make sure he‘s not the next “American Idol”?  And is the voting process rigged?  And how can this guy get away with wearing that white suit? 

Here‘s Carmen Rasmusen.  She‘s a former “American Idol” contestant. 

And Tom O‘Neil. 

Let me start with you, Tom.  It sounds like FOX is not going to allow this guy to win in the end.  They‘re talking about tracing phone calls.  They‘re talking about doing all they can to make sure that the voting is straight down the line.  How far do you think FOX is going to go to deep-six this guy? 

TOM O‘NEIL, “INTOUCH WEEKLY”:  Well, let‘s go back to the year of Clay versus Ruben.  And there was substantial evidence to suspect that the voting was rigged on the other end, that they were jamming the phone lines. 

First of all, remember, Ruben‘s mom was able to vote for him eight times.  Clay‘s mom couldn‘t get through.  All the Clay fans I know couldn‘t get through. 

Here‘s what was most suspicious.  That year, 240,000 votes spilled over from the main telemarketing firm to a telemarketing firm in Indiana, theoretically at the same statistical rate at which they came in on the other side.  In those results, Clay beat Ruben two to one, which seems to line up with the results of a Gallup poll published that day in “USA Today.”  In other words, you have an outside standard here.

People think—many people think that they jammed Clay‘s lines that year because they suspected he was gay.  And just previously, in the year or two before that, there was a big scandal in “Pop Idol” in Britain.  They feared that.  The bottom line is, Simon told “Newsweek” that year, “We must stop Clay at all costs.”  The question is, did they stop him?  And will they try it again? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I just cannot believe they can allow this guy in that white suit to win.  I mean, good lord.  I don‘t know if he‘s gay or straight or what he is; whatever he is, let‘s hope, Carmen, he‘s not the next “American Idol.” 

Let‘s take a look at the best or should I say the worst of Sanjaya‘s performances, Carmen, and get you to respond. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALAKAR:  (singing)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Carmen...

RASMUSEN:  Yowzahs.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... they can‘t let him win, can they?  I mean, they will jam all the lines, won‘t they?  FOX will do whatever they can do to stop that guy from being the next “American Idol,” right? 

RASMUSEN:  Yes, I don‘t think they‘re going to let him win.  But, however, if he does, which he‘s not going to, but if, you know, hell freezes over and he wins, FOX is going to promote him as an entertainer, you know, kind of on the same lines as William Hung, although he is a lot better than William Hung, but kind of along those same lines, as an entertainer.

And all the other contestants, people like Melinda Doolittle, Jordin Sparks, Blake, they‘re going to do well.  As Tom was saying, in the situation with Ruben and Clay, Clay I think also was going to be the winner of “American Idol.”  He didn‘t win, but he actually did better than Ruben Studdard did.  So at this point, I don‘t think it matters, but I think that America...

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s talk, though, about the vote-rigging, if you want to call it that. 

RASMUSEN:  The vote manipulating. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Talk about the phone lines that are being jammed, because when your parents tried to call to vote for you, they couldn‘t get through, either, could they?

RASMUSEN:  No, they couldn‘t.  My dad said, on average, per night, he could get in 250 votes from the cell phone and the home phone.  And the night I was voted off, he only got eight votes in.  I mean, hardly any at all, because the phone lines were busy, and Julie...

(CROSSTALK) 

SCARBOROUGH:  Do you think they‘re still jamming phone lines like that? 

RASMUSEN:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know what their jamming—I don‘t know what the deal is, but I definitely know that the producers have a way of manipulating the show to get the outcome that they want. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Wow.

And, Tom O‘Neil, you know, this Sanjaya story has gotten so big that even “NBC Nightly News” is covering him.  Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How does Sanjaya avoid getting voted off the show? 

There are some weird theories about that. 

First, because Sanjaya is Indian American, the Internet is buzzing with rumors, totally unproven, that some call center in India is phoning in millions of votes for him. 

Second, radio shock jock Howard Stern is plugging a Web site called VotefortheWorst.com, hyping Sanjaya as a way of discrediting “American Idol.”

Theory number three, Sanjaya‘s cult preteen female followers are madly calling in votes for him. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Tom O‘Neil, we‘ve got wars all across the globe, but “NBC Nightly News,” “The New York Times,” “The Washington Post,” everybody is covering Sanjaya.  Why? 

O‘NEIL:  Because he is the greatest challenge to the biggest TV show in America.  What is happening here is we‘re seeing viewers in a state of revolt.  This is a big screw-you to a show that is so arrogant, so pompous that it deserves it. 

And, look, it‘s happening all around.  It‘s not Sanjaya.  Who just won the Oscar?  Jennifer Hudson, an “American Idol” loser.  Who‘s got the biggest video right now on MTV and VH-1?  Chris Daughtry, who lost last year to Taylor Hicks, who has sold about five CDs all year.

Look, what they‘re saying, on all fronts, is we don‘t buy this show.  We don‘t buy the winners that you pick.  This guy is hilarious.  He is a legit entertainer.  So you know what?  We‘re going to stick it to “Idol.” 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think that‘s exactly what they‘re doing.  And, Carmen, I want you to check “The Soup‘s” take on the many hairstyles of Sanjaya. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Come to Sanjaya, a unique hair salon for men. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Rid yourself of those boring hair styles.  Come to House of Sanjaya and stand out in the crowd.  Why settle for this when you can be reborn with this? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sanjaya!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Men, let your hair sing in ways your voice never could.  At House of Sanjaya, operators are standing by 24 hours a day, except on Tuesdays.  That‘s when they vote for...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sanjaya!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Located at the cross-town shopping center where the 15 meets the 45. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sanjaya!

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Carmen, it‘s like we‘re looking at the “Macarena” of 2007.  I mean, people are going to remember this guy for a long time, aren‘t they? 

RASMUSEN:  Oh, you bet.  That is one of the funniest commercials I‘ve seen.  You bet they are. 

And I have to disagree with Tom on this, that although the “American Idol” contestants Chris and Kelly and all those people, they didn‘t win, they were on “American Idol.”  So I don‘t think necessarily think this is a screw-you to “American Idol.”  I think it‘s just giving “American Idol” tons more publicity.  “American Idol” thrives on controversy.  You know, we‘re talking about it.  Every network‘s talking about it.  So I think that “American Idol” doesn‘t really care.  I think they‘re saying, “Hey, thanks a lot for the publicity.”

SCARBOROUGH:  So you think they‘re high-fiving each other after this guy gets voted into the next round and the next round? 

RASMUSEN:  Absolutely.

SCARBOROUGH:  They love it until he wins, right? 

RASMUSEN:  Well, I mean, think about the publicity it‘s getting. 

Every single week, people are talking about the show and talking about Sanjaya.  It‘s the big thing.  When is this guy going to get voted off?  And as long as he‘s on there, they‘re going to get a lot of ratings, and a lot of people are going to be tuned in to find out when he‘s going to go home.

SCARBOROUGH:  So, you know, we heard at the beginning, Tom O‘Neil, that we had some boring “American Idols,” that this crop wasn‘t as good as usual.  Could it actually be rigged in the other direction, where they‘re trying to keep this guy on the show, so they‘ll actually have somebody interesting to talk about? 

O‘NEIL:  Oh, I love that theory, Joe.  Wouldn‘t that be great?  Because remember what the stakes are here.  Simon Cowell has said that, if Sanjaya wins, he‘s going to quit.  He‘s paid $36 million a year.  He‘s going to say goodbye to that?  Well, you know what?  I think a lot of people are doing this because they want to see if Simon will really leave that money behind and go if this guy wins. 

RASMUSEN:  Oh, he won‘t.  There is no way.

SCARBOROUGH:  Carmen, you really don‘t think he will?

RASMUSEN:  No, there is no show without Simon Cowell.  So if he leaves, that‘s when I really think there won‘t be any “American Idol,” not if Sanjaya leaves.  It‘s if Simon Cowell leaves.  But he‘s not going anywhere.  He‘s contractually bound to the show for several more years. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Well, very good.  Thank you so much as always, Carmen. 

RASMUSEN:  Thanks, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Greatly appreciate you being here to show your—to tell us your insights.  And, Tom O‘Neil, greatly appreciate you being here, too. 

And coming up next, a show that‘s intentionally funny, not like Sanjaya.  The stars of “30 Rock” tell us what it‘s like to compete against hits like “American Idol,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “CSI,” “Grey‘s Anatomy,” and live to tell about it. 

And later, can the “CSI” crew figure out what‘s wrong with Britney Spears?  It‘s ripped from the headlines, “Hollyweird” style.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, NBC got it right today, and I knew they would, renewing “30 Rock” for another season.  It‘s a comedy with an all-star cast that‘s written by a former star of “Saturday Night Live,” who‘s created the funniest show since “Cheers.” 

The show that survived, despite the fact it goes up against such TV giants such as “American Idol,” “Grey‘s Anatomy,” and “CSI,” and, my god, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  And I talked to two of the show‘s stars about the success as well as the high-stakes negotiations that went into securing the deal for season two. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEC BALDWIN, “30 ROCK”:  God, I wish there was somebody I could negotiate with right now.

SCOTT ADSIT, “30 ROCK”:  Hey, Jack.  Just a reminder, I need a couple minutes to go over a breakage today.  How‘s noon? 

BALDWIN:  Can‘t do that.  Make it 4:00 a.m.

ADSIT:  Well, that‘s no good.  What about after rehearsal, 10:00? 

BALDWIN:  Stop insulting me, 3:00 a.m.

ADSIT:  Midnight.  You bring the coffee.

BALDWIN:  2:30, you bring the coffee.  That‘s my final.

ADSIT:  Done.

SCARBOROUGH:  It is unbelievably funny.  Are you pleased with how your first season has ended? 

TINA FEY, “30 ROCK”  Absolutely.  I feel like we really did the show that we wanted to do, and I think the shows were really funny and got increasingly funny as we went along.  You know, everyone at NBC has been very, very supportive of us. 

And I actually, in spite of the fact we go up against “Grey‘s Anatomy” and “CSI” every week, I love the idea that—I think it‘s so smart that NBC has declared that Thursday night is comedy night again, because there‘s no safe spot on the television schedule anymore, because I like—I‘m pretty sure “American Idol” is on nine nights a week.  And then there‘s “Dancing with the Stars.”  I mean, there‘s just no safe place to be, so I think they were really smart to say, like, “Here‘s us.  This is where we‘ll be.  And here if you want us.  We‘re over here on Thursday.”

SCARBOROUGH:  It really does seem to work very well.  Why do you think that is? 

FEY:  Well, I think we have a really, really amazing cast of people.  We have Alec Baldwin, we have Jane, we have Jack McBrayer, Judah Friedlander.  We have all these—we‘ve been lucky enough to have all these amazing guest stars, Paul Reubens and Isabella Rosellini and LL Cool J and just this crazy array of people on.  So I think, for the writers, it‘s really fun for us to write the show with all these great people you can write for anybody. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m laughing.  I‘m horny.  Let‘s do this.  Put the chicken near your mouth. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Talk about what it‘s like always being the butt of the joke? 

JANE KRAKOWSKI, “30 ROCK”:  I‘m so proud to be a part of this program, because I think that all the characters are so hilarious and so smartly written.  I mean, even though Jenna sort of has her intellectual fallbacks, she is so smartly written and so funny. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You guys are connecting with rednecks like myself in double-wide trailers.  Talk about that challenge, making sure that you hit everybody.

KRAKOWSKI:  There‘s all kinds of styles of comedy in our show.  I think, in some ways, we have the most racially diverse cast on television, in a lot of ways, certainly in comedy.  And, you know, you have Alec Baldwin‘s point of view as Jack Donaghy and you have Tracy Morgan‘s worldview.  You have Liz Lemon‘s worldview.

There‘s really something for everyone.  And there‘s all levels of silliness.  It‘s not just a bunch of stuck-up New Yorkers walking around and talking. 

BALDWIN:  Oh, so degrading.  (INAUDIBLE)

FEY:  Now say five reasons I‘m better than you!

LONNY ROSS, “30 ROCK”:  Smarter than me. 

FEY:  One.

ROSS:  You can beat me in arm wrestling. 

FEY:  Two.

ROSS:  You read the paper. 

FEY:  Yes, suck it.  I do read the paper!

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you so much, Tina, thank you, Jane, good luck.

FEY:  Thanks for having us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  And coming up, it‘s the battle of the teenyboppers, as Paris Hilton takes on MTV.  Why the heiress is threatening to sue the music network, next in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, buddy, tell your plastic surgeon there‘s no such thing as too much collagen.  Right here, please, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here.  Time for “Hollyweird.”

First up, Britney Spears.  E! reports that “CSI” is going to take on the pop princess‘s breakdown in a new episode featuring a celebrity shaving her head.  Here to tell us all about it to dish the dirt, editor-at-large for “Life and Style Weekly,” Dawn Yanek.  And still with us, Tom O‘Neil.

Tom, ripped from the headlines, “CSI:  Britney.”  Why, man?  Why?

O‘NEIL:  This is a whole new thing, Joe.  This is a lot of fun.  We saw this on “Law and Order,” where they ripped off the Mel Gibson drunken anti-Semitic thing in a storyline with Chevy Chase.  So now when stars do stupid stuff, they can not only end up in the tabloids, they can end up in a crime drama, which means, Joe, that if you‘re ever caught drunk, running naked through the streets of Florida, you can wind up on “CSI:  Miami.”

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s fantastic, and I don‘t have to even shave my head.  I wish Paris Hilton would shave her head.  She‘s threatening to sue MTV.  Dawn, tell us what‘s going on here.

DAWN YANEK, “LIFE AND STYLE”:  OK, well, Paris is reportedly threatening to sue MTV because she participated in a new show that her friend, Nick Cannon, was producing, but it‘s a sketch comedy show.  And so she participated in this one segment, called “What Would Paris Do,” and she (INAUDIBLE) about all the things that she would do to get out of situations.

Now, it was followed by another segment in which a blonde was pulled over by a cop after drunk driving and she kind of gave this sexy striptease to a police officer.  So her lawyers were very concerned about her image and about parodying this whole drunk driving incident. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Wait a second.  Paris Hilton‘s lawyers are just now becoming concerned about her image?

YANEK:  Yes.  And let me tell you, it worked, because they pulled the sketch from the show, which is debuting tomorrow night. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Wow.  That‘s some powerful attorneys, I guess.

Hey, Tom O‘Neil, Justin Timberlake is telling “Details” magazine that he hates the tabloids because they turn lives into soap operas.  I guess the guy‘s not a fan of “Hollyweird,” but why would Justin Timberlake be concerned?  Nobody‘s watching a soap opera with him.  And I mean, this guy is a dork, isn‘t he? 

O‘NEIL:  Yes, cry me a river, Justin.  Boo-hoo-hoo.  These same magazines that made him a mega-billionaire or whatever he is as a result of his celebrity, they now trouble him, and he‘s slamming these right and left.  He‘s, also, by the way, attacking the paparazzi.  Remember, he recently was ordered by a judge to pay up to a paparazzi for grabbing the camera.  One-time Cameron Diaz‘s girlfriend had to hold him back because he was attacking some other paparazzi.  He just better cool it and start, you know, appreciating the press that‘s making him a superstar.

YANEK:  Yes, because if the public is not interested in your love life, generally speaking they‘re not interested in you.  And don‘t forget, it‘s not just about the music, it‘s not just about the talent, as people like Paris Hilton and Sanjaya, your favorite, Joe, teach us on a daily basis. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, no doubt about it.  No about it.  And you know what?  One guy that never complained about the tabloids taking pictures of him, a guy who‘s a real class act, Keith Richards.  Now, his publicist claims that the Rolling Stones‘ guitarist recent comments that he snorted his father‘s ashes were just a joke.  I mean, some joke.  What‘s the deal here, Dawn? 

YANEK:  You know, it sounds like this has a P.R. spin and panicked publicist all over it.  Either that or Keith Richards just does not know how to tell a joke and there‘s a reason that he‘s not a stand-up comedian.  His delivery must just be awful. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, must be.  I mean, Tom O‘Neil, so what‘s the next spin, that he didn‘t actually snort the ashes, that he just spread it on a graham cracker and ate it? 

O‘NEIL:  I know.  I know.  What is he really on, this guy?  He claimed, by the way, he snorted those ashes with cocaine, but now he‘s just kidding.  This is the last defense of all stars who stay stupid things.  Remember when Johnny Depp, who lives in France, was bashing America?  “Oh, oops, oops, that wasn‘t cool?  I was just kidding.” 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, no doubt about it.  Hey, finally, you two can jump in Hoff‘s car.  KITT from “Knight Rider” is on the auction block.  Hey, that‘s pretty exciting, isn‘t it, Dawn?

YANEK:  That‘s right.  And, you know, Joe, I was talking to one of your producers earlier, and we really think that you should put in a bid for KITT, because, of course, we know how you love the Hoff.  And it is the 25th anniversary of the first episode back in 1982.  So, hey, what do you say?

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, I‘m all about Hoff and “Knight Rider” and KITT.  Hey, thanks so much, Dawn Yanek.  Thank you, Tom O‘Neil, as always.  And thank you for being with us tonight in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  We‘ll see you tomorrow.

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.

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