updated 5/9/2007 12:34:39 PM ET 2007-05-09T16:34:39

Guests: Joan Walsh, Nico Pitney, John Ridley, Carmen Rasmusen, Jon Voight, Courtney Hazlett, David Caplan

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight: “American Idol,” worst season ever!  Why critics are saying the only interesting thing about this season has been Sanjaya and why the “Idol‘s” final four are being blasted as “the final bore.”

But first: President Bush faces a deadline in Iraq that he cannot ignore because this one comes from his own party.  These days, it is Republican lawmakers who are putting their commander-in-chief on notice:

Win the war or get out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KIT BOND ®, MISSOURI:  We‘ll have a review by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in September.

REP. ROY BLUNT ®, MISSISSIPPI:  Clearly, no one would expect us to pursue a plan that wasn‘t working.  And so that September timeframe is one that‘s important, and we‘ve been talking about it as an important timeframe.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  For certain, by September, when we face the full $500 billion appropriations bill, there‘s a very difficult time ahead unless we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  While Republicans are tightening the president‘s leash,

Democrats are ignoring him, foregoing negotiations in the war spending bill

Mr. Bush vetoed it—instead, drafting a plan that would cut the president‘s $100 billion request.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi struck a tough tone today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  No, no.  I didn‘t commit to any compromise.  I said we had a responsibility to the American people to try to find our common ground.  But if we didn‘t find our common ground, we would stand our ground.  I think (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And while Tony Snow warned Ms. Pelosi and the Washington press corps that winning in Iraq was not going to be as easy as clicking their red heels together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Please avoid the idea that Iraq is like Oz, and one day it‘s going to be black and white and the next day, you‘re going to wake up and it‘s color.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And speaking of Kansas, the governor there continues to blame the war in Iraq for slow rescue efforts following those killer tornadoes that struck this weekend.  The White House says there‘s no connection.

Here now, “Congressional Quarterly” columnist Craig Crawford—he‘s the author of the new book “The Politics of Life”—Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com, and Nico Pitney, associate director for research, Center for American Progress.

Craig, let‘s start with you.  You covered Congress for a long time.  Can you remember, ever remember a president‘s own party starting to abandon him in the way that the Republicans are starting to split from the president?

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

Well, I heard it a little bit when President Clinton was pushing Welfare reform, some of the liberal Democrats were talking abandonment.  But this is a very different thing here.  You know, listening to the Republicans up on Capitol Hill today, Joe, what I found was there‘s a secondary line in what they were saying about this September deadline.  They kept saying that there aren‘t enough troops there.  We don‘t have enough troops there.  And then I see that the Pentagon is signaling a call-up of another 35,000 troops through the end of the year.

I‘m hearing two things, the possibility that this is all rope-a-dope and that come September, there‘ll be all these reasons for more troops sent to Iraq.  It also sets up a long-term argument for Republicans against Democrats about this war, that it failed because Democrats didn‘t let the president send enough troops.  They hamstrung the president.  You know that won‘t ring true, given that the war started and was mostly conducted under Republican Congresses.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, you know, Craig, look at this analysis from the “USA Today.”  I mean, first of all, the headline is brutal.  It talks about Bush‘s poll ratings hitting new lows.  And it says, “Bush entered his eighth month below the 40 percent approval, the longest stretch of such low ratings for any modern president except Harry Truman during the time of the Korean war and Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.”

And Craig, of course, Truman and Nixon took their parties down with them in ‘52 and ‘74 and ‘76 respectively.  Do you think Republicans are starting to fear that this president‘s war will cost them everything when people go to vote next year?

CRAWFORD:  Certainly.  I think hence the September deadline talk because, conveniently, that would be just a little over a year from the 2008 elections, when not only a president‘s elected, but the Congress, as well.  So yes, I think that‘s very much on their minds, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  And you know, Joan, Rahm Emanuel‘s not a Republican, but I thought the comments he made to “The Washington Post” were very telling.  Look at what Rahm Emanuel told “The Post” earlier, when he said, “George W.  Bush is hell-bent on January 20, 2009, when he walks out the door, leaving a box stamped ‘Iraq‘ for the next president.  The Republicans are hell-bent on not going through the next election with Iraq tied to their ankles.  All Boehner said publicly was what Republicans have been saying privately for a month.”

And you know, Joan, I heard Republican congressmen, senators and presidential candidates complaining about George W. Bush and this war for over a year, accusing him behind closed doors of not handling it in a competent way.  Why do you think Republicans are finally speaking out?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Well, I think that‘s exactly right, Joe.  I mean, Andrea Mitchell reported on NBC a couple months ago that this September song is something that they‘ve been singing for a while.  They‘ve really said they were going to try to give the president what he wanted in terms of appropriations, but that he had until September, which is also traditionally—it‘s kind of the start of the political season.  I mean, it‘s ‘07, but in this sped-up climate—I remember in 2003, September is when people really started paying attention to Howard Dean.

So people really start to tune in in September, and that‘s when the Republicans are really desperate.  I mean, Rahm said another interesting thing, too.  He said the Republicans are very concerned about their own members being sent home, not as much about the troops coming home.  And I think this has become a political fight.

I also want to say, though, I think there are some risks here for the Democrats.  I think they are going to compromise.  I think that‘s their job.  I know that some people on the anti-war left are going to be upset with me and upset with Nancy Pelosi, but I think there‘s an interesting opportunity here for some middle ground, to give only the $43 million, not the whole $100 million, to set out some benchmarks, and then call the Republicans‘ bluff on this September deadline.

John Boehner said 60 to 90 days in January.  Does he mean September this time?  We‘ll see.  Susan Collins and Norm Coleman and the rest of them all sounded like they were ready to get tough with the president a couple of months ago, and they did not.  So I think there could be some middle ground here, where they give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt, they compromise on this kind of middle ground language and see what happens in September.  It‘s dangerous, it may be worth a shot.

SCARBOROUGH:  And you know, it‘s interesting that you talk about a couple Republicans who are up in two years because—or next year—because it seems Republicans who have reelection in 2008 are the most concerned, especially moderate Republicans, Senator Norm Coleman, as you said, Senator Susan Collins...

WALSH:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, they have the president on a four-month deadline, and look at what they‘re saying now.  “There‘s a sense that by September, you‘ve got to see real action on the part of Iraqis.”  And then Susan Collins said, “I think everybody knows that.  I really do.  I think a lot of us feel the same way.”

You know, Joan, what‘s so interesting here is I don‘t think they‘re playing the rope-a-dope, I think they are telling the president publicly what they‘ve been telling him privately for a long time, Your time‘s running out.  And now it seems like they‘re saying, You know what?  We‘re leaving you in September.  You‘ve got four months to clean it up.

WALSH:  Yes, I think you‘re right.

NICO PITNEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  I mean, but you know, it‘s important to remember here that there is a war going on.  We‘ve got about 100 U.S. soldiers dying every month, and these conservatives who—again, Joan mentioned, Andrea Mitchell said they didn‘t support the—they didn‘t believe that the surge was going to work when they voted for it.  And now they‘re letting the troops die, waiting for the right—for the politically opportune time to turn on President Bush.  I think this is a real—I mean, it‘s a—it‘s positive that they‘re turning around, but it‘s very cynical politics, I think.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, what would you have them do?

PITNEY:  Well, I think if they believe that the strategy the president is setting out isn‘t going to work and our troops are dying every day, they ought to speak out now.  They ought to have voted...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, why don‘t Democrats defund the war, then?  I mean, they don‘t have to give the president any more money for this war and...

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  Come on, Joe!

PITNEY:  We have to remember how closely divided the Senate is.  They have—I mean, Joan‘s right.  Democrats do have to compromise, and that doesn‘t have to be a bad thing.  They can be creative in their legislature.  But you know, it‘s 51-49 in the Senate, and you can‘t get over that.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  But the Democrats control the House and they write the checks in the House.  And if they wanted to tell the president, You‘ve got $45 million and not a penny more, make it work, Mr. President, that could have—I guess all I‘m saying is, everybody‘s been talking behind closed doors in Washington, D.C., over the past 12 to 18 months that this war is a disaster, that they‘ve lost confidence in the president of the United States to run the war effectively.  If that‘s the case, why are we now talking about four more months?  And after four more months, it‘s going to be another four more months...

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  I mean, as I say, I mean, today the Pentagon announced—sent word to 35,000 more troops that they‘re at risk to go into the theater in the fall.  So the administration seems to be preparing for ramping up...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Is this not insane, though, Craig?  Because just yesterday, I thought we heard out of the Pentagon that the secretary of defense—the secretary of defense! -- has lost faith in the president‘s plan.

CRAWFORD:  Well, doing the same thing...

WALSH:  Well, he‘s not saying that.

CRAWFORD:  Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, is the definition of...

WALSH:  Insanity.

CRAWFORD:  ... insanity by Einstein.

PITNEY:  I mean, you also got to realize that for the past three months, we‘ve been hearing these conservatives say that setting a timeline is surrender.  It‘s defeat for the U.S.  And then you‘ve got John Boehner, the top Republican in the House, and the number two Republican in the Senate come out and say, you know, We‘re going to have a timeline in September.  If things aren‘t going well, then we‘ve got to figure out a way to end this war.

WALSH:  Look, there‘s a lot of cynicism.

PITNEY:  It‘s incredible hypocrisy.

CRAWFORD:  Well...

WALSH:  There‘s a lot of cynicism here.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, there is a lot of cynicism here, but at some point, though, I mean, hasn‘t it gotten to the point, Joan, where Republicans believe they either back away from the president on Iraq or they will be sent back home after the next election?

WALSH:  I think so, Joe.  But I want to turn around the microphone and interview you and have you tell me because I don‘t understand what they‘re doing.  The party seems to be ready to commit political suicide, to this point.

And let me say, look, Nancy Pelosi has the American people on her side, but she does not have a veto-proof majority, so there‘s very little definitively she can do to stop the war.  I saw a poll today that said 54 percent of the American people think President Bush did the wrong thing by vetoing the appropriations bill with timeline.  That doesn‘t seem to be changing his mind.

I‘ve said for a long time, Republicans hold the keys to ending the war.  They simply do until January 20, 2009.  They also hold the keys to their own political suicide, if they don‘t participate.

CRAWFORD:  Joe, we got a preview in that presidential debate with the Republicans, where Republican rhetoric is going.  I, frankly, was surprised.  I thought we‘d hear more praise, not on the war but more praise in general for the party‘s president, George Bush, from these Republicans than we did.  They were putting a lot of distance—they are setting up something of a contradiction, though.  They are adamantly supporting a mismanaged war.  They kept saying...

WALSH:  Right.

CRAWFORD:  ... It‘s mismanaged, but I support it.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, the thing is, though, it seems so obvious to people in middle America and it—you know, a lot of times, I‘ve sat on these panels in the past where John Kerry at the Democratic convention would make a speech that seemed sweaty and rushed, and I would say the obvious and I would get attacked.  You know, then I would attack George Bush after his first debate and say, If he can‘t do any better than that, he should just stay home.  And people would yell at me.  It seems so obvious.

In this case, what seems so obvious to me, Joan Walsh, is that the Republicans are going to lose the Congress.  They‘re going to lose the House.  They‘re going to lose the Senate.  They‘re going to lose the White House in 2008 with a president with approval ratings at 28 percent unless they do something dramatic very quickly.  You can call that cynical, and if you‘re Republican, you can be angry at me.  It‘s just so obvious, Joan.  Do you think the Republican Party may finally be waking up to the fact that they just can‘t continue down this road that cost them the House and the Senate in 2006 and will cost them the House and the Senate and the White House in 2008?

WALSH:  You know, I hope you‘re right, Joe, but I felt that way when we heard John Warner and some of these same, you know, swing—middle of the road or endangered Republicans talking about doing something in January and February, and they didn‘t.  So I think Democrats that Democrats who doubt that September  is a real deadline have reason to doubt it.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, we shall see.  And if, in fact, it‘s not a real deadline, if, in fact, things get worse, if, in fact, we send another 35,000 troops to Iraq, it will be not the president who‘ll be paying at the poll next year, but Republicans in the House and the Senate and whatever Republican makes it through the presidential primary process.

Joan Walsh, Nico Pitney, Craig Crawford, thank you so much.  Greatly appreciate it.

A special note.  Starting tomorrow, I‘m going to be doing double duty

because I don‘t talk enough at night—hosting “MSNBC IN THE MORNING” this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  Now, our show‘s going to be starting at 6:00 AM Eastern, and I‘m going to be joined by panelists John Ridley and Willie Geist.  We‘re also going to have big name guests, including Tom Brokaw—so excited about that—Christopher Hitchens and Mitt Romney.  So make sure you wake up bright and early and get your “MORNING JOE” tomorrow at 6:00 AM, 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM.

And up next here: Does the government think that protecting Pluto, Mickey and Cinderella is more important than nuclear power plants.  We‘re going to show you an investigation into why Disneyland‘s protected by a no-fly zone while nuclear plants aren‘t.

And later: Jon Voight weighs in on his daughter, the paparazzi and the current Congress.  We‘re going to be hearing from the always interesting, always controversial Hollywood legend straight ahead.

And did “American Idol” forget to save its best for last?  Critics are saying it‘s the worst season ever, and not just because of Sanjaya.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” ANCHOR:  A terrorist plot the feds say was home grown in suburbia, six young men accused of a plan to massacre U.S. soldiers.  Tonight, the FBI says their plot is foiled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  A terror scare here at home.  The FBI busts those six men plotting to attack the U.S. Army base in their plan to kill as many U.S. soldiers as possible.  Now, today‘s arrest raises serious questions tonight about how to best protect America‘s homeland.  You would probably expect a special no-fly zone over high terror targets like the White House and the Capitol.  But what about one of America‘s top tourist attractions, Disneyland?  Does Disney really deserve special treatment that nuclear power plants don‘t get?  Well, they got it.  How?  KNBC‘s Chuck Henry uncovered a special protection for Disney, while other terror targets, like nuclear power plants, are left wide open for attack.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHUCK HENRY, KNBC (voice-over):  Disneyland, known as the happiest place on earth, a place where millions come to visit to escape into a world of fantasy and fun.  But there is something going on here, and it‘s something that Disney refuses to talk about.

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA:  As somebody who represents the Disneyland area, I‘ve never had them bring this issue up to me.

HENRY:  Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is talking about the no-fly zone that‘s in effect at Disney theme parks in Anaheim and in Orlando, Florida.  That‘s right, a no-fly zone similar to the one over the White House and the Capitol in Washington, D.C.  Disney is the only commercial operation in the United States with a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week flight ban.  It‘s a ban that keeps all aircraft three miles away and 3,000 feet at least above the park.

But the big question is why?  How did Disney get that special restriction?

SANCHEZ:  It was done, from my understanding, in a bill, in an appropriations bill, tucked in at the last hour by one of the senators.

HENRY:  Congresswoman Sanchez says that senator was Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama.  For his part, Shelby would not comment to Channel 4 News.  But Sanchez says Shelby was instrumental in getting Disney its very own no-fly zone by adding it to a $350 billion spending bill in 2003.

SANCHEZ:  I don‘t understand Shelby‘s big interest in it.

HENRY:  And Sanchez says many in Congress didn‘t know what they were voting on because in the wording of that bill, nowhere did it say Disney.

SANCHEZ:  It hasn‘t had a hearing.  It wasn‘t made public.  It just happened.

HENRY (on camera):  The unique status that has been granted the Disney theme parks is something that even southern California‘s highest potential terrorist targets don‘t have, and that includes LAX.

(voice-over):  We hired a pilot and a small plane and flew over the airport terminals, fuel tanks and even active runways.  Then we headed south to Orange County and flew over another potential terror target, the San Onofre nuclear reactor.  There are no flight restrictions here, either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re working our way up through (INAUDIBLE) pass and over Universal.

HENRY:  And what about other theme parks in southern California, Universal Studios, Knotsberry (ph) Farm and Magic Mountain?  None have flight restrictions in place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a joke.  It doesn‘t protect anybody.

HENRY:  This pilot, who did not want to be identified on camera, accidentally violated the Disney flight ban.  That was the day after it went into effect in 2003.  What happened?  The FAA suspended his pilot‘s license.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If I had been a terrorist that day and wanted to crash that aircraft into Disneyland, there would have been nobody there to stop me from doing that.

HENRY:  This pilot says the flight ban has nothing to do with security and everything to do with competition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They don‘t want people doing sightseeing and towing advertising banners around Disneyland.

SCARBOROUGH:  Disney has refused requests by Channel 4 News for an interview.  However, they did release this statement.  “We believe these overflight restrictions provide an added layer of protection and that they are an appropriate way to further enhance the safety and security of the millions of people who visit our theme parks each year.”

According to FAA documents, this three-mile ban on flights around Disneyland was issued for, quote, “special security reasons.”  However, the legislation that created the ban says nothing about what those concerns are or why it includes times when the theme park is closed.  Is there something about Disneyland that doesn‘t exist at other theme parks, or say, the Las Vegas strip, where there‘s an even greater concentration of people day and night?

SANCHEZ:  It‘s amazing, isn‘t it, the power of the mouse ears.

HENRY (on camera):  For the record, it‘s officially called at TFR, meaning a temporary flight restriction.  But there is nothing temporary about the ban that surrounds the Disney theme parks.  In fact, in one case, Congresswoman Sanchez around Christmastime tried to get the ban lifted even temporarily so that Santa Claus could parachute into a nearby shopping center.  She couldn‘t do it.

Reporting for NBC News here in Los Angeles, I‘m Chuck Henry.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, thanks so much, Chuck Henry from our NBC station in

LA.

And coming up next: Worst “Idol” ever!  Critics slam the show for its dullest season yet and say the final four would be lucky to be successful as Taylor Hicks.  Can 28 million viewers really be wrong?

But first: The queen gets a lesson in down home cooking, and it‘s finger-licking good next in “Must See S.C.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Wake up Grandma, it‘s time for tonight‘s “Must See S.C.,” some video that you just got to see.  First up: The queen was welcomed at the White House yesterday with a healthy dose of American hospitality and American cooking.  Jay Leno shows us what was on the menu.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, “TONIGHT SHOW”:  They showed the queen on the news trying some American food for the first time.  And I think she really enjoyed it.  Take a look.  Here she is eating some American food.  Can we go in close, Ellen?  See, she‘s eating (INAUDIBLE)

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  That was messy!

And finally, President Bush gives us another crash course in public speaking in David Letterman‘s latest “Great Moments in presidential speeches.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!

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

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The Iranian people must understand that if they do—if they don‘t—you know, if they—if they—or...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh!  And coming up next:  “American Idol” is down to the final four.  Do any of these four contestants have a real shot at stardom?  We‘re going to show you why critics are slamming this season‘s finalists as the worst ever and why they‘re losing viewers.

And later: Leave her alone.  Jon Voight says it‘s time for tabloids to (INAUDIBLE) Brangelina and pay attention to important news.  My conversation with the he legend straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up, we‘re talking to Hollywood legend Jon Voight and what‘s it like for a dad to see his daughter‘s personal life plastered all over the tabloid magazines.  We‘re going to be Jolie‘s father, Jon Voight, in a minute about his daughter and also about a lot—more obviously about Jon Voight himself.  He‘s got so many movies coming out this year, a great Hollywood legend, and I‘ll tell you what, just a great guy to talk to.  You‘re going to love that interview.  It‘s coming up straight ahead.

But first, “American Idol,” worst season ever?  Well, last year, the show had record-breaking ratings, but this year not so much.  In the past month, ratings have been on a rollercoaster ride and down double-digit percentages from this time last year.  The “Houston Chronicle” is now saying this season is one of the show‘s worst, calling the final four a “boring quartet who will never make it to stardom” and saying, quote, “as with any great TV show, ‘Idol‘ has relied on strong characters, and this year‘s front-line cast looks and sounds more like extras.” 

So is this the worst season yet for “Idol”?  Can “Idol” bounce back or is this the beginning of the end?  Here now is former “American Idol” contestant Carmen Rasmusen.  Her new single is “Nothing Like the Summer.”  And John Ridley, a screenwriter and commentator.

Let‘s start with you, Carmen.  It seems like “American Idol” has lost its luster.  You just don‘t hear people talking about it that much anymore.  What‘s happening to the show?

CARMEN RASMUSEN, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  You know, I completely agree with you, Joe.  I think it has.  It‘s lost some of its magic.  I think what‘s happened is that the show is now focusing more on the show “American Idol” and not on the contestants.  And that‘s what made the audience fall in love with “American Idol,” because they fell in love with the people.

When we were in the top six, they did a special blurb about each of us.  They did a “getting to know you” show, where there were no judges.  It was just the audience and us interacting.  They read us questions.  They talked about our lives.  They showed clips from us growing, and they didn‘t do that this year.  And I think that people are really wondering, “Who‘s Blake Lewis?  Who is Jordin Sparks?  Who‘s Melinda?  Who‘s LaKisha?”

SCARBOROUGH:  So what they were doing before is they were actually getting viewers to invest in the next “American Idol”? 

RASMUSEN:  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But what they‘re doing now to obviously spice up the show is bringing on established stars.  That‘s just not working, is it? 

RASMUSEN:  It‘s not working, because people are watching the show to find the next “American Idol.”  I think it‘s become more of a TV show now.  It hasn‘t been about showing the next—about introducing America to the next new pop star, the next new pop star.  And I think that‘s what “Idol” is missing.  They want to get to know the people they‘re voting for, and they haven‘t. 

SCARBOROUGH:  John Ridley, this used to be—you know, everybody used to always talk about “American Idol.”  There was always a buzz to it, but this many seasons in, is it just starting to get dull? 

JOHN RIDLEY, SCREENWRITER AND COMMENTATOR:  Well, yes, this is the sixth season, Joe.  And you‘re talking about, in Hollywood‘s terms, the sequel to the sequel to the sequel.  I think we know how it‘s played out.  And this year, the big thing with Sanjaya, here‘s this breakout character that everybody was talking about.  Love him or hate him, but his character arc, it came to an end before the climax of the show.  So you have these other individuals who are talented, to a degree, but they can‘t come out under his shadow of Sanjaya, who really took over the show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And so that‘s what people—they have been losing viewers, but people really tuned in to Sanjaya.  But do you think the season ended for “American Idol” when Sanjaya was voted off? 

RIDLEY:  I think so.  I think, for a degree of people, because he was interesting, because he was different—as Carmen was saying, we didn‘t necessarily get to know him, but we get to follow him because he‘s different. 

Look, I‘m very excited about Melinda and LaKisha and Jordin personally, but where‘s the level of competition?  It‘s not country versus rocker.  It‘s not gospel versus pop.  You have three girls who are talented.  And I understand Blake is in there, as well, but who are sort of an ilk.  I mean, to me, it was like the Republican presidential debates.  It‘s 10 white guys in dark suits doing nuance on evolution.  It‘s dull after a while.

SCARBOROUGH:  Wait, John, you call that dull?  That‘s exciting to me!

LaKisha—I‘ll tell you, LaKisha has an incredible voice, but the question is whether she can entertain us.  Simon Cowell raised some eyebrows recently when he told Ellen DeGeneres he doesn‘t even listen to the contestants anymore. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, “THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW”:  You and Paula and Randy are constantly talking while the contestant is singing.  You‘re always like—what are you all talking about?  These people are singing their hearts out, and you‘re in the middle of—what are you doing?

SIMON COWELL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  I‘m taunting Paula throughout the performance. 

DEGENERES:  Taunting her...

COWELL:  I‘m saying to her, “Try and say something interesting.  Try not to use the”—Seriously.  “Try not to use the words ‘mountains and lakes‘ in your critiques,” because it‘s always, “You‘ll climb mountains, swim lakes,” whatever, and then I make things up about the songs. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Carmen, you know, I don‘t think he‘s joking there. 

RASMUSEN:  He‘s not. 

SCARBOROUGH:  He doesn‘t listen to the contestants, and it seems that it‘s gotten boring, even for the guy who‘s making millions and millions of dollars off of “American Idol.”

RASMUSEN:  Joe, when the lights turn down and the cameras turn on, it‘s show time.  It‘s show time for the judges, as well as the contestants.  They‘re putting on a show.  They‘re trying to get ratings.  We would watch Simon Cowell be poking Paula and tickling her under the table and nudging her, trying to get her to laugh, trying to get her to screw up on her words.  We knew that this stuff went on.  And I think the real time when Simon watched us, he did watch us, was during the rehearsals.  That‘s when they brought their notepads, and their pens, and they wrote down their comments.  And then when it was show time, they put on an act, and that‘s what Simon is famous for.  He isn‘t the same person.

SCARBOROUGH:  So you‘re saying, Carmen, that you could sort of phone it in during the rehearsal, but then, when it was really time to put on your best performance, Simon wasn‘t even paying attention to you? 

RASMUSEN:  No, like I said, it‘s show time.  And there were times like he would be looking down the entire time we were singing, the entire time.  It‘s like, “I‘m trying to perform for you.  I‘m trying to, you know, make you give me good comments.”  But the truth of the matter is, he had already decided what he wanted to say during the rehearsals.  So sometimes, when you watch a performer perform, they don‘t do their best or they do amazing, and Simon doesn‘t give them the best comments, it‘s because maybe during the rehearsal, they didn‘t do as well, but he‘s not paying attention to them during the show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  John, let‘s talk about momentum, this negative momentum.  How important or devastating could it be for “American Idol”?  I mean, this really is the show that has propped up FOX‘s ratings for years. 

RIDLEY:  Well, it‘s like anything else.  Once some people start trashing it, it just gets out into the ether, and everybody starts to get this negative spin on it.  I think the real problem, though, Joe, is when “American Idol” started, it was a dream show.  In the first year, it was Kelly Clarkson and it was Justin. 

And who‘s going to get that million-dollar record contract and change their lives?  I mean, now Bucky Covington has a record deal.  So I don‘t think there‘s that feeling that this is special, that somebody‘s life is going to change.  And for maybe, for a while, a couple of years, or a few years, somebody gets to be star.  It‘s like everything else in America.  Everybody feels like they‘re entitled to a lottery win now.  And when everybody wins, it‘s not so special anymore.

SCARBOROUGH:  But, also, are we seeing that we have somehow gotten to the bottom of the talent pool, the type of contestants that go on “American Idol”? 

RIDLEY:  I think, when you do these mass auditions year after year—

I mean, look, “Idol” has had some of the same individuals on the show and make it to Hollywood in the past, so it‘s not like every year it‘s amazingly new fresh faces. 

I mean, look, even as bad as pop music might be sometimes, there‘s a star quality to it.  And let‘s face it, just because some people can stand in front of a video camera doesn‘t make them a star, doesn‘t mean that they have charisma.  So I think that, when you go through America six times, and you start seeing these same individuals, maybe you have started to scratch the bottom of the barrel. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And maybe that‘s happened, and that‘s exactly what the “Houston Chronicle” is saying.  I mean, they‘re being about as tough on “American Idol” as Simon is on contestants.  This is what they say about why the contestants aren‘t interesting:  “Melinda Doolittle is a backup singer.  Jordin Sparks is only 17.  Blake Lewis beat-boxes.  And LaKisha Jones has a kid.” 

It‘s kind of tough, isn‘t it, Carmen? 

RASMUSEN:  Yes, that‘s ridiculous.  So if you have a kid, you‘re not talented?  That‘s ridiculous.  So what? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, that‘s been my excuse for quite some time. 

RASMUSEN:  Fantasia won “American Idol.”  She was the winner, and she had a child, also.  I don‘t think that has anything to do with talent.  I think Blake, as a beat boxer, is different.  Jordin is only 17, but I think that makes her even better, because she‘s so young.  And Melinda, I think the magic of her is that she was in the background for so long, and this is her dream, and this is first time that she‘s been able to stand out in front of a crowd.  Although I do agree that, although the talent may be there, I think that they‘re lacking personality, and I think part of that fault is “American Idol” not showcasing their personalities, not letting America see who they really are, not taking the time to interview them one-on-one.

SCARBOROUGH:  And I think we all agree, there are just no breakout stars in this season of “Idol,” right? 

RASMUSEN:  Right.  I agree.  I don‘t think that there‘s any one that‘s as big as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Ruben Studdard.  I mean, those people, I think, will always be the biggest and the best. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I would say personally say Carmen Rasmusen as the biggest and the best.  Thank you, Carmen. 

RASMUSEN:  Thanks, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  John Ridley, I will see you tomorrow very early, as we take over the mornings right here on MSNBC. 

But coming up next, actor Jon Voight takes on the tabloids, telling them to leave his daughter alone.  He joins us next to talk about Angelina, politics, and his controversial new film you‘re not going to want to miss.

And later in “Hollyweird,” fans try to keep Paris Hilton out of jail, but the big question tonight:  Paris Hilton has fans? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Actor Jon Voight is no stranger to the spotlight or controversy.  These days, the Hollywood legend is known for his great acting and his being Angelina Jolie‘s father.  But he‘s also unleashing some very non-Hollywood-type views aimed at Congress, just as his controversial new movie about Mormons is set to hit theaters next month. 

I talked to Jon Voight about all the controversial topics in America and his life, and he didn‘t hold back. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JON VOIGHT, ACTOR:  (INAUDIBLE) will be the chosen instruments of death and carrying out this merciful deed (INAUDIBLE) and to our church.  The orders of those in authority are that all the immigrants must die.

In 1857, a Christian wagon train going to California was stopped in Utah.  And 120 men, women and children were murdered by a group of Mormons.  And it happened—the day it happened, it was 1857, 150 years ago on September 11th.  What I saw here was kind of an anatomy of religious fanaticism and how it uses a religion to find acceptance for murder. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And you certainly had to be intrigued by the fact that the event that this movie is about—and, of course, the most famous event over the past 50 years—both occurred on 9/11.  Do you think there are parallels between the religious fanaticism that is in this movie, that the Mormons showed, and the religious fanaticism on September 11th, 2001?

VOIGHT:  Yes, I do.  I think that, if you go to see this picture—and people who have seen it, they‘re shocked by some of the parallels and, of course, just generally the stories is reaching a lot of emotional buttons because of it.  It shows us how the workings, programming of certain ideas and propaganda builds this passion for things and this distorted notion and this madness. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  God has revealed to me that I have the right and the power to call down curses on anyone that tries to invade our lands, therefore, I curse the gentiles. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What‘s it like for you seeing your daughter being a constant source of tabloid stories, churning this garbage day in and day out, regardless of whether you two are getting along famously or not?  That‘s still your daughter.  And my God, it‘s constant.

VOIGHT:  Let me say I‘m crazy about her.  I love my children.  I‘m there for them at a moment‘s notice, as I have been all their lives, and I love them.  I wish we would get less interested in things that are not of substance and are manipulated lies to sell magazines.  Of course, I‘m definitely part of that for all of the media.  I wish we would just take a step up. 

Can I get very serious, Joe, at this time? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I wish you would. 

VOIGHT:  My heart is very heavy, and I‘m really terrified by what is happening to our great nation.  Our country is being divided by extremists who really believe all the propaganda that they are being fed on a daily basis by very cunning professionals. 

I mean, here we have American people in this country, in this city, in D.C., defacing our president, calling him unthinkable names.  And what is the agenda for which they are doing this?  And I find it‘s just to bring their party to power.

And these people that—and I‘m stepping way into something now—but these people who are wanting to rule with this aspect of technique have no real answer as to how they‘re going to do it, as witnessed by Nancy Pelosi‘s trip recently.  And the real sad part is that they don‘t realize that they‘re feeding the enemy all the nutrients that they need to destroy us. 

We‘re engaged with a serious enemy here.  And we seem to have forgotten about 9/11.  I‘m sure the families haven‘t forgotten.  So it‘s a very serious—you know, it‘s a very serious time.  And maybe it‘s this film that‘s brought me into real research about what the enemy really is, the face of the enemy that we‘re facing today, and it‘s stirring many things in me. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about that.  My thanks to Jon Voight.  His new film, “September Dawn,” opens next month.  You‘re going to want to see that.

And still to come here, Paris Hilton tries to start a grassroots movement to save her from the slammer.  But will it work?  Sign on the dotted line in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, tell your publicist, “You‘re fired!”  It‘s time for “Hollyweird.”

First up tonight, fans of Paris Hilton are trying to save the hotel heiress from going to hell.  Here now, “Star” magazine‘s deputy New York bureau chief David Caplan and “OK” magazine senior reporter Courtney Hazlett.

Courtney, are Paris‘ fans going to be able to save Paris Hilton from jail, even as she‘s firing her publicist?

COURTNEY HAZLETT, “OK” MAGAZINE:  She certainly hopes so.  And, actually, she‘s rehired her publicist, Eliot Mintz.  But what Paris is doing now is saying, please, appeal to Governor Schwarzenegger.  Tell him I want, quote, “that Nixon thing.”  She‘s trying...

SCARBOROUGH:  Which, of course, in some parts of Miami, is a sex trick, but we‘ll talk about that off the air. 

HAZLETT:  We‘ll push through that, all right, Joe?

SCARBOROUGH:  The Nixon thing.

HAZLETT:  But she seems to be confusing herself with the former president.  And she also seems to be trying to appeal to Governor Schwarzenegger‘s inner celebrity and try to get out of this whole thing.

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t think it‘s going to work.  And, you know, Paris Hilton posted some comments about the petition on her MySpace page.  She writes, “My friend Joshua started this petition.  Please help and sign it.  I love you all.”  And that “sign,” “s-i-h-n.”

David Caplan, not all of us can go to Columbia School of Journalism like Courtney, but I don‘t think that‘s a proper spelling.

DAVID CAPLAN, “STAR” MAGAZINE:  I think the spelling is wrong.  I

think Courtney will agree with me.  But, you know, spelling is not Paris‘ -

it‘s not one of her fortes.  The funny thing is, this petition has only received 2,000 signatures, which sounds like a lot, but think of all the millions around the world that know Paris.  And out of the entire world, 2,000 people have said she doesn‘t belong in jail.  So I think she is going to go to jail. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, that would be so great.  “Canned Heat, Part Five.”

Lindsay Lohan sends another message to the paparazzi in the June-July issue of “Radar” magazine, which hits news stands May 15th.  A disturbing shot, I understand, Courtney.  What is it? 

HAZLETT:  That‘s right.  We‘re being told that, on the cover of “Radar” magazine, she poses with guns and all types of weaponry.  And not to be all Debbie Downer here or to make light of this subject, but it seems a little early to be doing this sort of trick after the Virginia Tech massacre.  So it‘s sort of a bizarre P.R. decision, especially when you consider that she recently said, “I don‘t know what I‘d do without the paparazzi.  If people weren‘t taking pictures of me, I‘d be devastated.”

SCARBOROUGH:  Courtney, you are being a downer. 

David Caplan—no, you‘re right, Courtney—what about this?  I mean, she feeds off the paparazzi.  She depends on the paparazzi, as Courtney said, and now she‘s threatening them with a gun?

CAPLAN:  Yes, it‘s very interesting, because Lindsay Lohan and the paparazzi, they enjoy a very symbiotic relationship.  But, you know, for “Radar” magazine to choose Lindsay as their cover girl was a perfect choice, because the issue is about sort of control celebrity photographers are.  Lindsay Lohan is the poster child for this genre.  She‘s chased by paparazzi, and there‘s tons of photos of her carrying machine guns, carrying flame throwers.  So Lindsay is letting it out in this issue. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  And, of course, somebody‘s whose letting it out but only for a few minutes at a time, Britney.  Her comeback continued this weekend.  This time, she brought the world‘s shortest concert ever to Sin City. 

Courtney, what‘s going on here? 

HAZLETT:  Right now, if we clock it, her comeback tour is up to a cumulative one hour of stage time.  And not only that, she‘s been chewing gum on stage, and lip-synching, and her back-up dancers seem to be out-dancing her.  So I think calling it a comeback tour might be a little histrionic, practically.  I think this is just a good practice run. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And how long does she sing, David? 

CAPLAN:  This is like a 14-minute concert, so it‘s very, very short. 

It‘s sort of like the foreplay to a big, real concert.  But it‘s great that Britney went to Vegas, and she even went to Pure nightclub while she was there, which is like returning to the scene of the crime, because that‘s where she fainted over New Years.  So this girl never learns.

SCARBOROUGH:  And she‘s chewing gum and she‘s lip-synching?  And I would guess she‘s upsetting her fans, right?

CAPLAN:  Absolutely.  And she‘s not being very discreet.  You can‘t chew gum and claim to be singing at the same time.  Her fans are not that stupid. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Courtney, what‘s next for her? 

HAZLETT:  Hopefully another album, so she thinks.  But, really, she does need to get her “tour” back together and figure out a way to have real stage presence again. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, just like you, Courtney Hazlett, and you, David Caplan.

And a reminder:  starting tomorrow, I‘m going to be doing double duty, hosting MSNBC in the morning, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.  Our broadcast starts at 6:00 a.m.  I‘m going to be joined by John Ridley and Willie Geist.  We‘re also going to have big guests, like Tom Brokaw, Christopher Hitchens, Mitt Romney.  So make sure to wake up bright and early for your morning Joe, starting tomorrow. 

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  See you here 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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