updated 6/20/2008 11:05:37 AM ET 2008-06-20T15:05:37

Guests: Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Jonathan Alter, Brad Blakeman, Lars Larson, Carolyn Kirk, Patrick Anderson, Laura Berman

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Hi, everyone.

Tonight: We have uncovered comments from John McCain on camera that could undermine the steady right-wing attacks against Michelle Obama.  For weeks, Mrs. Obama has been blasted by the right for her comments in February that, quote, “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.”

This morning, Cindy McCain said she‘s always been proud of her country.  Well, are Mrs. Obama‘s words really that different from this comment we found from John McCain on FOX earlier this year?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESUMPTIVE PRES. NOMINEE:  I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived of her company.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  “I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived of her company.”  And our research shows McCain has repeatedly made similar comments through the years.  In fact, it appears it was a running theme in his campaign in 1999.

First, here is the full context of the comment McCain made in March on FOX News.  Sean Hannity asked him about his time as a POW, asking quote, “What does that do to a person to spend that much time in solitary confinement?”  John McCain said, “I think it makes you a better person.  Obviously, it makes you love America.  I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived of her company.  But probably the most important thing about it, Sean, is that I was privileged to have the opportunity to serve in the company of heroes.”

In 1999, Mr. McCain launched his campaign for president saying this -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I was born into America‘s service.  It wasn‘t until I was deprived of her company that I fell in love with America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And then again in December of 1999, McCain said, quote, “I was not in love with America until I was deprived of her company.”

Look, I think McCain‘s comment is eloquent, it‘s even inspiring.  No one should pass judgment on his time as a heroic POW.  But is that statement that McCain has repeated so often about only coming to love America really that different from Michelle Obama‘s comment that the right and now even Cindy McCain are using, to question her patriotism?

Mrs. Obama has repeatedly tried to clarify it, that hasn‘t made a dent in the right-wing assaults.  Her comment was in the context of her pride in the political process, her desire for change.  So, won‘t these McCain comments that we‘ve uncovered, blunt the attacks on Michelle Obama?

Joining us now: The editor of “The Nation,” Katrina Vanden Heuvel;

“Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter; Republican strategist, Brad Blakeman; and, right-wing talk show host Lars Larson.

All right.  Thanks to all of you for coming on.  Appreciate it.

All right.  Brad, this seems to me to be a pretty big development among those people who‘ve been trying to smear Michelle Obama.

BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  It‘s not a development at all.  John McCain was a POW for five years.  I‘ve traveled abroad to many third world countries and never appreciated America more than when I came back to America.  It‘s the little things that you miss and I‘m sure John McCain felt the same way when he was a prisoner of war.

ABRAMS:  But, Lars, what Brad is doing is providing context to John McCain‘s comment.  And as I said, I had no problem with John McCain‘s comment but people like you, Lars, had been on the air smearing Michelle Obama on this sort of notion that she doesn‘t love America, et cetera.  John McCain said, “I didn‘t really love America until I was deprived of her company.”

You can take that comment out of context the same way you‘ve been taking Michelle Obama‘s comment out of context for weeks now.  You tell me how that‘s any different.

LARS LARSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I‘ll tell you how it‘s different.  I think there is a different context.  Michelle Obama is an amazingly, fortunate individual.  She‘s well-educated, she‘s well-compensated.  She‘s married to a presidential candidate.  That‘s about as high as you get in America and, yet, here‘s a woman who stands up and gives speeches on behalf of her husband and goes beyond talking about being proud.

She says America is a place, as a country, that‘s just downright mean, that average people can‘t make it, that the country does horrible things.  She and her husband are friends with what—a terrorist, Mr. Ayers, a criminal, Mr. Rezko.  I mean, you know, put it in that context.

ABRAMS:  But this is when you start in the nonsense, all right?  This is when you start with the nonsense.

LARSON:  Why is it nonsense?  Dan, why is that nonsense?

ABRAMS:  Because, look, the notion—Jonathan, it‘s like champing at the bit here.  I let you respond to it if you want.

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK:  Yes, you‘re say he‘s just talking trash and nonsense and it‘s a slur.  And you know, it‘s really, it‘s actually, frankly, it‘s kind of appalling that you and -

LARSON:  Jonathan, why is it trash and nonsense to quote somebody?

ALTER:  Because it‘s not true, you don‘t know Michelle Obama, you

haven‘t spoken to her as I have.  To many of her friends, black, white,

many different people -

(CROSSTALK)

ALTER:  Let me just quickly try to dispenser this.  You‘re taking it out of context intentionally to try to twist her words for your own political purposes.

LARSON:  I‘m not.  I‘m not taking her out of context.

ALTER:  It‘s below, and it‘s borderline racist.  I‘m not saying you‘re a racist but the comments are borderline racist.

ABRAMS:  All right.  But here‘s what I want to ask, Katrina, right?  I want to—coming back to this comment from John McCain because here‘s—

Lars Larson and I wanted to go to him early just to make sure you understood what the right and the far right have been doing with regard to Michelle Obama.  They take these comments, they take them out of context.  OK, look, they want to do that, more power to them, it‘s a free country.

My problem is, that when you hear what John McCain said, that‘s why I was so stunned by these words from John McCain, saying, “I didn‘t really love America until I was deprived of her company.”  You can take that just as out of context as you can Michelle Obama‘s comment.

Hang on one second and I‘ll let you respond.  Lars, hang on one second.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, THE NATION:  Absolutely.  And I think that those comments of John McCain should blunt the right-wing attempt to demonize and smear an honorable woman who has a great family, who is inspiring, and there is a reason that Barack Obama campaign has set up a smear unit to defuse what we‘ve just heard.

It is a scandal that we have politics like this when there are great issues roiling this country.  Someone out there that one of the right-wing nuts just said, “Average people can‘t make it,” and said that that was a slur on our country.

Breaking the news to you—there are thousands of people today who lost their jobs, there are thousands who can‘t drive to a job because they can‘t pay gas prices, or who lost their health care insurance.  We can do better in this country, we can.

ABRAMS:  But, Lars, I challenge you, if Michelle Obama had used the

words -

LARSON:  Dan, I‘ll tell you what -

ABRAMS:  Wait, if Michelle Obama had used the words, “I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived of her company,” and let‘s say it was in the context of something totally different.  You would be out there taking it out of context and saying, “Michelle Obama doesn‘t love her country,” you‘d be on the radio every day.  “Michelle Obama doesn‘t love her country, et cetera.”  And John McCain used those words.

LARSON:  You know what, Dan, unfortunately, you couldn‘t qualify as

one of my producers.  Let me tell you a couple of things—first of all,

America is the land of opportunity.  Millions of people around this planet

recognize this and apparently, your lefty guests don‘t recognize -

ABRAMS:  Yes, thank you.  Thank goodness we have Lars Larson here to inform us about that, OK.

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON:  Listen, there are people—listen.

ABRAMS:  Let him finish.  Go ahead, Lars.

LARSON:  Dan, do I get to respond or not?

ABRAMS:  Yes, you do.  Go ahead.

LARSON:  Do I get to respond or not?  Listen, this country is a land of opportunities.  When Michelle Obama says average people can‘t make it, yes, people lose their jobs.  But for the most part, America is a land of wonderful opportunities which, apparently, Michelle Obama, even with all her education, doesn‘t see.  And the smear that you put on people like me is, the minute I mention, the minute I quote her words -

ABRAMS:  But see, but you‘re not answering my question, Lars.  Lars, you‘re not answering and I‘m going to ask it to Brad.

I‘ll ask you the same question, Brad.  If Michelle Obama had used the words we‘ve uncovered from John McCain, “I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived of her company.”

LARSON:  But she didn‘t.

ABRAMS:  But you‘re missing the point, Lars.  Lars, John McCain said it.  John McCain said it.  That‘s the point.  I want to get Brad in here for a second.

BLAKEMAN:  But, Dan, not only didn‘t she say it, not only didn‘t she say it, but she certainly would have never said it in the context that John McCain said it.

ABRAMS:  The context matters now.

BLAKEMAN:  It‘s two totally different things, two totally different things.

ALTER:  Yes, right.

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I disagree with almost every policy of John McCain‘s, but anyone who runs for president and you can disagree with where they want to take this country, loves this country.  Why would they run to lead a country they hate?

The right-wing wants to make Barack Obama and his wife that to be like the Manchurian candidate.  They love this country, they have benefited from the opportunities of this country, they want to lead it in a new direction after the damage done—seven years of plundering and looting this country.  Now, we‘re going to give it all to the oil companies in Iraq?

ABRAMS:  Here‘s Cindy McCain this morning, OK, and part of the reason we‘re really talking about this tonight and why this is so important.  This is how we uncovered this in the context of our research, was listening to Cindy McCain answer a question on “Good Morning America” about Michelle Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CINDY MCCAIN, SEN. MCCAIN‘S WIFE:  Everyone has their own experience.  I don‘t know why she said what she said.  All I know is that I‘ve always been proud of my country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean, the problem here, Jonathan, again, is these taking out of context.  This has become a gotcha election.  Look, everyone has to accept that.  You may hate it and rightfully so.  But the bottom line is, guys like Lars Larson are out there, everyday, taking Michelle‘s comment and either fairly -

LARSON:  Hold on a second.  Dan -

ABRAMS:  I‘m not saying you inaccurately stated it.  I‘d just said you‘re - let me finish the sentence.

LARSON:  No, but hold on a second.  I quoted her accurately -

ABRAMS:  Lars, you‘re going to wait.  Lars, you‘re going to wait.  And I said people like Lars Larson take comments from Michelle Obama, and they then go on the air, and they, you know, they‘ll make an entire segment, two segments with a sentence that Michelle Obama said.  He‘ll say she said it more than once, et cetera.  And he‘ll even say that it‘s a theme.  But again, looking at these comments from John McCain -

LARSON:  It is.

ABRAMS:  Listening from these comments from John McCain, the 1999 campaign, he said it, he said it again on FOX News this year, and I don‘t begrudge him for it, but what I do is I use it to say—this is insanity what‘s going on here.

ALTER:  Well, look -

LARSON:  Dan, can I add something -

ABRAMS:  Let me let Jonathan.  Go ahead.

ALTER:  Look, I have great respect for the McCains, affection.  In

fact, I‘m attacked sometimes from the left because I like both John and

Cindy McCain very, very much.  But I think that Laura Bush had the right

approach on this.  She wrote, she wrote Michelle Obama a note after these

comments were taken out of context and she recognized that -

ABRAMS:  Let me play that sound.  I think I have the sound of Laura Bush talking about it.  Let me play that sound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”/ABC/JUNE 9)

LAURA BUSH, AMERICA‘S FIRST LADY:  I think she probably meant “I‘m more proud,” you know, is what she really meant.  You have to be really careful in what you say.  Everything you say is looked at and in many cases, misconstrued.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean, you‘ve got to give Laura Bush credit.

ALTER:  Absolutely.  She‘s a classy lady, Laura Bush.  And the idea, you know, that these folks, you know, want to just pull our politics lower and lower and lower -

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Yes, into the mud.

ALTER:  It‘s not even mud, it‘s stupidity is what it really is.

LARSON:  Hey, Dan, Dan, the ad hominem attacks deserve a response.

ALTER:  Come on, look.  Let me ask you this, Lars—have you ever actually met Michelle Obama?  Have you ever spoken to her?  Have you ever spoken to anybody who knows her?

LARSON:  No.  I‘ve taken her in her quoted words.

ALTER:  Do you think that‘s the totality of Michelle Obama?  Do you believe that‘s the way to assess what she believes about the world?

LARSON:  No, I don‘t.  Hey, listen -

ALTER:  Do you think that‘s the way to assess what kind of human she is and what she thinks about America to snip a couple of quotes (INAUDIBLE) out of context?

LARSON:  Dan, I‘m not going to get a chance to respond, am I?

ALTER:  Let me finish my point, Lars, you don‘t know Michelle Obama, you have no right to judge her in this passion.

LARSON:  I don‘t claim to.

ALTER:  And it‘s contemptible that you do.

ABRAMS:  Go ahead, Lars.

LARSON:  I think this is wrong.  Trent Lott was judged based on one sentence he said at an old man‘s birthday party and the left didn‘t apologize for that.  The fact is that this woman went out and gave this speech four different times, she knew a reporter was following her, she was speaking on behalf of her husband.  I‘m not taking her out of context and the minute I quote her words in context, the first thing you bring up is her skin color.

Now, I think as that‘s contemptible because what you‘re trying to say is, if I quote her actual words and context, the fact that she has black skin, that‘s her immunity from being quoted.  That‘s racism on your part.

ALTER:  You‘re trying to turn her into a stereotype of an angry black woman.  We know exactly what you‘re trying to say.

LARSON:  No, I‘m not.  I‘m quoting her words.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on one second.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I don‘t know your name, but this country -

LARSON:  I don‘t care what color she is.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  This country was founded in sin and, also, in greatness.  And it‘s that fusion, which I do think, if we don‘t talk about, is dishonest to where we might

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on a second.  Brad, I‘m going to give you the final word on this, but, again, John McCain‘s words, “I really didn‘t love America until I was deprived to her company,” people are going to take it out of context and I can assure you that if Michelle Obama has said those words in any context, Lars Larson and people like him would be all over it.

Brad, final word on it.

BLAKEMAN:  OK.  Let me put this into context.  The reason why Michelle Obama was not given the benefit of the doubt is because it became upon the heels of outrageous statements by her pastor and by others close to them who spoke for them.  And people like Reverend Wright and Father Pfleger and others, gave more power to Michelle Obama‘s words that maybe should have been given credence to but that‘s the way it was.

ABRAMS:  It seems to me, on the one hand, you say it‘s important to put it into context, and on the other hand, it‘s important to take it out of context.

But anyway, all right.  We‘re going to continue, thanks to our great panel.  Everyone is sticking around.

Coming up: Barack Obama launches his first general election TV ad called, “Country I love.”  He even has a lapel pin on.  See it there on the right.   Is that a win or lose for him?

And: President Bush and John McCain tour flood-damaged Iowa but the McCain camp make sure that everyone knows, we weren‘t within 30 miles of the president.  Who won the day on the campaign trail—McCain or Obama?

Plus: A Republican congressman allegedly tells his interns to give certain lobbyists special treatment.  Another Why America Hates Washington in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington: New

Capitol Hill interns being schooled on what‘s most important in Washington

make sure fat cat lobbyists have the bat phone.  Taxpayers for Common Sense posted this intern survival guide reportedly handed out to interns working in the office of Republican Congressman Don Young.  The guide lists nine lobbyists calling them “The A Team,” who should get special treatment when they call the office, quote, “These people can talk to whomever they want.”

Young‘s office says the guide is outdated and was put together by former interns and not staff, but they don‘t actually deny anything in the memo.  A congressional office making sure the next generation in Washington know who comes first in D.C.—the lobbyists: Another reason Why America Hates Washington.

We‘re back with more of Win, Lose or Draw with the first campaign ad of the general election from Barack Obama, in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.

It‘s time for a Win, Lose or Draw edition of On Their Trail.  As always, we‘re making a call of who won and lose today on the campaign trail.

First up, Obama unveils his first TV ad of the general election campaign and it‘s entitled “Country I love.”  The ad is clearly an effort to blunt attacks on his patriotism.  It starts in 18 states tomorrow.  Notice Obama is prominently supporting an American flag lapel pin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

OBAMA:  I‘m Barack Obama.  America is a country of strong families and strong values.  My life‘s been blessed by both.  I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents.  We didn‘t have much money, but they taught me values straight from the Kansas heartland where they grew up - accountability and self-reliance, love of country, working hard without making excuses, treating your neighbor as you‘d like to be treated.

If I have the honor of taking the oath of office as president, it will be with a deep and abiding faith in the country I love.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And this is going to be seen in a lot of red states.  It sets to air in 15 that went for George Bush in 2004.

So, Jonathan, can this type of ad really sway people, you think?  Do you think it‘s a good ad?

ALTER:  I think it‘s a good ad except for one part that you didn‘t show right there, where he brags about having given up the possibility of a big Wall Street job in order to go work in the community.  And he should have other people making that point, not himself.  It looked a little bit righteous.

But, I think, in general, forcing the McCain campaign to have to defend red states, spend money in places they didn‘t expect it have to spend money, when they don‘t have that much money is a smart strategy.

ABRAMS:  Brad?

BLAKEMAN:  Well, look, he got probably more earned media than the buys itself in some of these red states.  It was really a gauntlet down to the McCain campaign that we‘re going to be competitive in places you never thought we were.  It‘s more of a gimmick than anything else.  I think that those who are not taking to Obama, are not going to be taking to this “Uncle Sam-type” of patriotic Barack Obama.  I just don‘t think it‘s going to sell very well.

ABRAMS:  What about, I mean, Obama had made an issue of saying that he didn‘t want to wear a lapel pin because he felt it was symbolic, et cetera.  Then, he started wearing one when a vet gave him one.  But now, he‘s wearing one in an ad, I mean, is it going too far?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Well, you know, the way we deal with patriotism in

this country, there a lot of people who wear flag lapel pins on their lapel

and they talk the talk but they don‘t walk the walk.  I mean, this is a

man, Barack Obama, who does support vets and who supports -

ABRAMS:  So, you like the ad?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I think the ad is in our political landscape of preemptive strike against someone you just had on your show, who goes, who would like to define Barack Obama as the other, as unpatriotic.  And there‘s a lot of coded language going on, xenophobia and racism, and he‘s challenging that in this very values-laden ad.

ABRAMS:  I think everyone is going to kind of agree with me, this is a draw on this ad.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  It‘s a draw because he has to go out there and work hard.

ALTER:  He leads with welfare reform and middle class tax.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

ALTER:  Two traditionally Republican issue.

ABRAMS:  Look, I think it‘s a good ad, but I‘m little, but I‘m bothered by the fact that Obama is now wearing that flag lapel pin after saying that he wouldn‘t wear it.  I think that that‘s raising an issue he doesn‘t need.  But we shall see.

Next up: John McCain rolls out yet another former Republican rival to attack Obama as weak on terror.  Yesterday, the McCain camp put out Rudy Giuliani as their terror attack dog.  Today, it‘s former presidential candidate, Fred Thompson.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

FRED THOMPSON, ® FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think that Senator Obama would do well to stop apologizing to the rest of the world for America‘s attempts to protect itself during time of war.  I think that it‘s a basic lack of recognition, the fact that we are at war, and lack of appreciation of that fact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The DNC jumped all over Thompson before he can got on the call, pointing to this stance he took on bin Laden last year, quote, “Bin Laden is more symbolism than anything else,” Thompson said.  “He ought to be caught and killed.  We‘ve got due process to go through.”

The question is: Will the Thompson ad backfire or is the continuing assault working, Katrina?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I think it‘s going to backfire.  And listen, John McCain said during the primaries that Rudy Giuliani, for example, had no national security credentials and of course, then trying to bring Bernie Kerik into - but, I do think what‘s a problem here is that we‘re still locked into this war.  Terrorism‘s a tactic.  You need intelligence, you need policing, you need tough diplomacy, not reckless military force and unending war is going to undermine -

ABRAMS:  But I want to talk politics.

VANDEN HEUVEL:                But, yes—but Obama is coming back, firing back, very effectively and I think he‘s doing, I think it‘s a win for Obama, and it‘s a lose for McCain.

ABRAMS:  Jonathan, go ahead.

ALTER:  I think it‘s a draw, at best, for Obama.  When he‘s talking about these issues, Obama is losing.  He wants to be talking about the economy, not playing defense on these national security issues.  Look, Fred Thompson or Arthur Branch from “Law & Order,” is about as important as, you know, Mike Gravel, you know, taking part in the campaign at this point.  It isn‘t exactly a big hit on the campaign, but it works for them politically.

ABRAMS:  Brad?

BLAKEMAN:  Having Giuliani out there is a much better surrogate.  The American people believe that Rudy Giuliani is law and order.  He‘s also tough on terrorists.  They know him from 9/11; certainly, a much better surrogate than Fred Thompson.  That‘s the guy I would use because the American people have taken to Rudy for what he is.

ABRAMS:  I agree.  I think this is a lose for John McCain.  I get why the McCain camp is doing this.  Fred Thompson, I like Fred Thompson, but I‘m not certain why they put Fred Thompson front and center on this particular issue.

Everyone is going to stay with us.

Coming up: President Bush heads to flood-ravaged Iowa, as does John McCain.  “Don‘t worry,” the McCain camp assures us, “he won‘t be within 30 miles of Bush.”

We continue with Win, Lose, or Draw.

Plus: I‘ve always wondered who watches Lou Dobbs CNN show.  We have some answers coming up in Beat the Press.

Your VERDICT: E-mail us at: verdict@msnbc.com. Your e-mails are on the P.O.‘ed. Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.

We‘re back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press.

First up: I‘ve always wondered who watches Lou Dobbs on CNN.  But after seeing his viewer poll last night, I think I have a better idea—conspiracy theorists.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LOU DOBBS TONIGHT”/CNN/WEDNESDAY)

LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST:  Our poll results tonight: 95 percent of you say, the FDA, in your opinion, already knows or suspects the source of the salmonella outbreak in tomatoes but is purposely keeping it from the public.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The FDA knows the source of salmonella in tomatoes which is killing people that is purposely keeping it from the public.  Oh, yes.  They are doing it to help boost the sale of avocados in sandwiches, instead.

Next up: News networks, all of us, get caught up in this exclusive nonsense everyday with this new exclusive with Barack Obama.  But this one from ABC‘s “Good Morning America” today was particularly striking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”/ABC)

DIANE SAWYER, TV HOST:  ABC‘s Kate Snow is the only network correspondent traveling with Cindy McCain in Asia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Really?  What was this about?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “AMERICAN MORNING”/CNN)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Our John King traveled all the way to Vietnam to sit down with Cindy McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Is ABC going to say CNN is not a network and that John King isn‘t actually traveling with her?  I‘m guessing most of you don‘t buy into these silly distinctions.  I‘m just getting a little tired of it.

Finally: I try to make sure we never get personal on Beat the Press.  So, I guess it‘s a good thing CNN‘s Anderson Cooper doesn‘t do this type of segment because here‘s Anderson and Erica Hill talking about Joan Rivers last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “ANDERSON COOPER 360”/CNN/WEDNESDAY)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST:  You can bounce a quarter off that face

though, by the way.  I mean, that‘s -

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  It is impressive.  Do you think when she looks in the mirror she recognizes anything?

COOPER:  I don‘t know.  I think the ears meet in the back.  I mean, it‘s tight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right, but, come on.  It‘s supposed to be a news network, right?

Up next: McCain and Bush are both surveying the flooding in Iowa today, but the McCain camp ensuring everyone knows they are nowhere near each other.  Win, Lose, or Draw, Obama v. McCain continues in a moment.

And later: 17 teens at the same Massachusetts high school get pregnant around the same time, administrators now fear that they may have had a pact to get pregnant.

Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  We‘re continuing with our “Win, Lose or Draw” edition of our “On Trail,” assessing who won and lost on the campaign trail, Obama versus McCain. 

Right now, on my score card, I have one lose for McCain and one draw.  Still with us is “Newsweek” columnist Jonathan Alter; Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of “The Nation”; and Republican strategist Brad Blakeman. 

Next up, McCain and Bush both descended on Iowa today, touring the devastation done by weeks of Midwest floods.  But the McCain camp was sure to make clear that A, Bush and McCain wouldn‘t be touring the state together and B, the two wouldn‘t even be anywhere near each other.  I mean, McCain senior adviser telling reporters, quote, “We‘re not going within 30 miles of the city he‘s in,” then adding they weren‘t trying to step on Mr.  Bush‘s trip. 

Brad Blakeman, this is going to the extreme, isn‘t it, to make sure that McCain is not linked with Bush? 

BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Perhaps a poor choice of words, but the bottom line is, look, McCain has to stand on his own feet.  There‘s nothing more that the Democrats would want than to have McCain on Air Force One coming down the plank with the president in Iowa.  It‘s the third coming of George Bush again.  It‘s feeding exactly into their game plan.  So, unfortunate choice of words on McCain.  McCain did the right thing by making his own trip to Iowa and visiting those flood victims and distancing himself from the president for good reason, because he isn‘t apparent to a Bush administration.  

ABRAMS:  They are scared - daylights out of them the George - Katrina

Bush will be seen next to John McCain. 

BLAKEMAN:  This is the albatross around John McCain, and how he separates himself from Bush is his big challenge between now and November.  He made his situation worse now.  You can already see the blogs.  Every day that McCain goes out, they‘re going to measure.  “McCain and Bush - they were 300 miles apart today.  They were two miles apart yesterday.”  And then what‘s going to happen is then they‘ll say, “How close are they really?”  And they‘ll have them kissing.  Remember that kiss between (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?  One inch - that‘s the distance.

ABRAMS:  But the fact that the McCain camp has to put out a statement saying, “We‘re at least 30 miles away.”

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL:  They‘re totally skittish.  And listen, you‘ve got flood waters.  Flood waters remind people of New Orleans and the criminal incompetence of this administration.  So of course, he wants to distance himself from the criminal incompetence of a Republican administration which has gutted FEMA and other things.  But what is interesting is the key, which is McCain, who is treated as a maverick by too much of the media, voted 100 percent with Bush, 95 percent ... 

BLAKEMAN:  What you guys got to get over is there isn‘t a third coming of George Bush.  Get over it.  Get over it once and for all. 

(CROSS TALK)

ABRAMS:  This goes down as a lose -

               

VANDEN HEUVEL:  It‘s a lose. 

BLAKEMAN:  And John McCain is going to run on his own record.  

VANDEN HEUVEL:  It‘s a lose.

ABRAMS:  This goes down as a lose for John McCain.  I think they are clearly terrified of the McBush accusations, and the fact that they have to state how many miles away John McCain is from George Bush tells you everything.  

Next up, after days of hammering McCain for flip-flopping, Obama flip-flopped today.  He sent a video to supporters this morning, announcing that he‘s officially opting out of public financing for his campaign, meaning he can now raise as much money as he wants.  Months ago, he signed a pledge saying he would not do that. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESUMPTIVE DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE:  The public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken and we face opponents who become masters at gaming this broken system.  John McCain‘s campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest pacts.  We‘ve already seen that he‘s not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies, running so-called 5-27 groups.  So join me and declare your independence from this broken system and let‘s build the first general election campaign that‘s truly funded by the American people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well, maybe not so much.  McCain hammered Obama on it today in Iowa. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, PRESUMPTIVE DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE:  I‘m especially disturbed by this decision of Sen. Obama‘s because he signed his name on a piece of paper.  You know, this election is about a lot of things.  But it‘s also about trust and it‘s also whether you can take people‘s word.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Brad, you want the softball?  I‘m pitching, you‘re hitting. 

Go ahead.  

BLAKEMAN:  Yes.  This is great, thank you very much.  This is beyond flip-flop.  Flip-flop doesn‘t even come close.  This is an abomination and every time Obama goes back on a pledge or flip-flops, we‘ll call it an abomination, because that‘s what it is.  It‘s beyond the pale.  There is no excuse for this other than greed. 

He knew that 5-27s existed the last time.  As a matter of fact, Republicans were outspent, 15 to one.  But the only group you remember are the swift votes.  Why?  Because they were successful in their message.  $15 million compared to hundreds of millions of dollars spent by unions and special interest groups by the Democrats. 

ABRAMS:  It is a flip-flop.  It‘s a risk.  

VANDEN HEUVEL:  It‘s a disappointment. 

BLAKEMAN:  It‘s an abomination.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  The public financing system is broken.  Barack Obama has revolutionized fundraising 1.5 million small donors.  McCain has gained the system.  He was in, he was out and he has refused to rein in the Republican National Committee or political advocacy groups 52-7. 

BLAKEMAN:  That‘s baloney.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But the key - the key is the commitment to what Barack Obama and the nation and people I work with, we‘ve got to hold them accountable.  When he is elected to pass a full, comprehensive public financing plan, that is the key and he has a commitment to that. 

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK COLUMNIST”:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  I mean I agree with that... 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  You‘ve got to get money out of our politics. 

ALTER:  ... this disappointing.  And to call it an abomination after what we‘ve been talking about with Michelle is kind of crazy.  But here‘s the thing.  The goal - forget the details for a second.  The goal is not to take money out of politics.  That‘s impossible.  The goal is to take big money out of politics, and these 1.5 million donors are helping to do that.  So, even though this is regrettable and it‘s a flip-flop on all the rest, Clintonian, is the way Chris Matthews best put it, but it‘s not that serious of a thing.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  It‘s a small donation.

ABRAMS:  Look, here‘s why I think it‘s a draw.  All right.  There is no question that it is a smart political move for Obama.  Whether he wants to admit it or not, it‘s a smart, political move for him.  There‘s also no question it‘s a major flip-flop.  So I think it goes both ways on that.  

All right, next up, it‘s usually a negative when you don‘t get a major political endorsement, maybe not in this case.  During an interview with “The Hill” newspaper, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld artfully made clear he‘s not endorsing John McCain, quote, “Rumsfeld told ‘The Hill‘ that he has not followed the presidential elections, but instead has been focused on work for his private foundation.  Asked whether that meant he wasn‘t going to support McCain, Rumsfeld answered, ‘I have not been involved at all.‘” 

I already hear Brad laughing.  Rumsfeld‘s snub may have something to do with this.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst Secretaries of Defense in history.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So I mean, Brad, I guess it‘s not really that surprising that Rumsfeld isn‘t endorsing McCain.  But I don‘t even that - I don‘t think McCain wants the endorsement, and correct me if you think I‘m wrong, of any of the closest people to George Bush, put aside maybe Condoleezza Rice and Powell.  But the majority of the close-knit Bush team, McCain may not even want them. 

BLAKEMAN:  Well, look, this takes another quiver out of the arrows and ammunition of the Democrats.  They would like nothing better than for Rumsfeld to hail McCain, and that hasn‘t happened.  This is a win for McCain.  The fact that the biggest demon of the Democrats has not endorsed McCain is a very big win for John McCain.  It takes the ammunition away from the Democrats.

ALTER:  I think brad is totally right.  Anything that puts any distance between McCain and Bush is a good day for John McCain.  

VANDEN HEUVEL:  On the other hand, Rumsfeld, McCain, they‘re all complicit in this disastrous war.  But it is a win for McCain ... 

BLAKEMAN:  Oh, come on.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... because you don‘t want a war criminal endorsing you unless he wants to have a whole new platform. 

ALTER:  Oh, come on.  That‘s outrageous.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) war criminals for John McCain. 

ABRAMS:  This has to go as a win for John McCain.  Everyone agrees no matter how you get there.  It‘s seems everyone gets there in a different way.  We‘re going to call this a win for John McCain because his final score of one win, two losses, at least on my scorecard, for McCain and two draws.

BLAKEMAN:  Not on mine.  

ABRAMS:  All right.  I want to go around the horn quick in terms of who won the day.  A lot of things happened today.  Who won the day on the campaign trail, Jonathan Alter?

ALTER:  You know, I really think it‘s a draw.  If it hadn‘t been for this huge flip-flop, I‘d give the day to Obama.  But this is the day they were kind of dreading.  They‘ve been hinting at it for months and it‘s pretty embarrassing for them. 

ABRAMS:  Brad?  

ALTER:  It‘s a win for John McCain today because the abomination of Obama going back against his word on public financing, this will come back to haunt him big time.  

ABRAMS:  Katrina? 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  You know, I am on your show.  Thank you, Dan.  I‘m DNA

incompatible with your show, because on a day in America when thousands

more lose their jobs or thousands more homes are foreclosed, there is no

win in America.  We‘re all losing, and until we change and repair the

damage done, I can‘t -

ABRAMS:  So every day is lose in - Good thing I‘m not running for president.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I think -

(CROSS TALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Listen, I think people lives ... 

(CROSS TALK)

You can‘t ignore reality and it‘s a no-win loss.

ALTER:  The idea of haunting Obama is ridiculous.  It‘s a two-day story, at best. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  I think it‘s a draw.  I think that most of the big issues today - I thought Obama‘s ad, his first campaign ad was OK.  I think that, as we talked about some of the issues today, go both ways.  So I‘m going to call it a draw.  Katrina, despite the fact it‘s not in your DNA, it‘s still good to have you here. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Keep hopes alive.

ABRAMS:  Jonathan Alter and Brad Blakeman, thanks to you as well. 

Appreciate it. 

Up next, 17 teenage girls turn up pregnant at one Massachusetts high school.  The school finds out that many of them reportedly made a pact to get pregnant. 

And Boston chops.  Kids ride sheep at a rodeo.  Reality bites is coming up in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Now to “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, at a Nebraska rodeo, you don‘t have to ride a bull to bite the dust and you don‘t have to be this tall to ride either.  These so-called mutton busters played by just a couple of rules.  Wear a helmet and weigh in at less than 60 pounds and then hang on for dear life. 

The rough competition the organizers insist each rider has an adult rodeo clown on hand to bail them out if they need it.  Be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back with a story about what could be a disturbing trend in a Massachusetts town.  Seventeen students, 16 years or younger, Gloucester High School are pregnant.  And now news that at least some of those students may have made a pact to get pregnant together, actually celebrating positive pregnancy tests with high fives and agreeing to raise their babies together.  Here‘s Linda Ergess(ph) from NBC affiliate WHTH in Boston. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LINDA ERGESS(ph), WHTH REPORTER:  Gloucester High School making the headlines again when it comes to pregnancy.  School officials saying they‘ve got a group of girls who intended to get pregnant and succeeded. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They‘re all 17 girls.  Originally took notice of this when there were 10.  They are young, white women.  We understand that some of them were together talking about becoming pregnant and that being a positive thing for them.  

ERGESS:   School authorities saying the girls are not older than 16 and they fessed up to school health officials, saying they made the pact to get pregnant so they could bring up their children together.  

JASON GROW, GLOUCESTER CITY COUNCILOR:  They‘re not making rational decisions.  

ERGESS:  Gloucester City Councilor Jason Grow says the district sex education program needs revamping and contraceptives should be available. 

GROW:  We have a health clinic and I‘m glad that we do that provides pregnancy testing and testing for STDs.  That stuff is after the fact.  

ERGESS:  And that is why the high school has been in the spotlight before.  Reportedly this year, about 150 pregnancy tests were administered at the school‘s clinic.  And in May, the top two health care providers at the clinic resigned.  Authorities saying they did it in protest after the clinic supporting hospital showed resistance to the clinic‘s plans to create a comprehensive, confidential, contraceptive program. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They all need an identity.  They need a group. 

They need friends.  

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They‘re all going to end up on welfare.  It‘s just - it breaks my heart. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk joins us along with “Gloucester Daily Times” reporter Patrick Anderson, and sex therapist Dr. Laura Berman.  Thanks to all of you for coming on.  Appreciate it. 

All right.  Mayor Kirk, let me start with you.  I would assume that there is concern on the part of the community about some of the reports that are coming out of the school.  True? 

CAROLYN KIRK, GLOUCESTER CITY MAYOR:  True.  Yes.  We are - the city is concerned.  And it‘s not just a school issue, but it‘s also a city issue.  The Department of Public Health looks at the public health factors associated with teenage pregnancy.  It‘s a fast-track to poverty.  Child neglect becomes a concern.  Risky behaviors associated with teenage pregnancy is a concern.  So, we‘re looking at it from the city point of view and the school point of view of the policies that the school would put in place to help address the problem. 

ABRAMS:  Patrick, there is a quote here from “Time” magazine from the principal who said, “Some girls seemed more upset when they weren‘t pregnant than when they were.”  That is unbelievable.  What is your reporting turning up on that? 

PATRICK ANDERSON, REPORTER, “GLOUCESTER DAILY TIMES”:  That‘s what we‘ve heard from several people at the high school, that it started possibly as early as in 2007, maybe even the summer that some people at the health clinic were noticing an unusually large numbers of girls coming in for pregnancy tests.  And when they got those test physical they were positive, they were overjoyed and if they didn‘t, they were very disappointed.  

ABRAMS:  That‘s unbelievable.  I mean, as a quote here, again from “Time,” “Some of the girls who made the pregnancy pact according to the principal, Joseph Sullivan, reacted to the news that they were expecting with high fives and plans for baby showers.” 

Mayor, is there something that has been encouraging in the community, in the school, that has been encouraging these girls either not to use birth control or to get pregnant? 

KIRK:  Well, it‘s a complex issue, Dan.  It really is.  There has always been teenage pregnancy ...

ABRAMS:  But not like this.  I mean, come on.

KIRK:  ... and this is an unusual number.  

ABRAMS:  Yes, I mean this is -

KIRK:  No, this is a very - This is a spike.  I don‘t have all the facts on the pact.  I haven‘t spoken to any of the girls myself.  That would explain this spike, though, if there was such a pact. 

ABRAMS:  And, before I go to Dr. Berman, Patrick, we‘ve got one report here that one of the fathers of one of the girls was a 24-year-old homeless man. 

ANDERSON:  We‘ve been told that by the principal of the high school.  Yes, there has been some focus on trying it find out who the - I guess, the fathers or the impregnators of these students are, and that has been difficult to find.  I think one of the reasons is that - what school officials have told us is that a lot of them are not from the high school. 

This, apparently, is one person who they found.  I don‘t know about this

particular -

ABRAMS:  Of course, there could be statutory rape charges if that‘s

the case as well.  All right, Dr. Berman -

ANDERSON:  We haven‘t heard anything from the police, nothing from the police on that.  

ABRAMS:  Yes, but - well, they‘re going to need to investigate and I‘ll assure you in a case this high profile they will consider statutory rape charges on the girls who are under 16 and some 24-year-old guy who is part of this.  But we shall see.

Dr. Berman, have you ever heard of anything like this? 

DR. LAURA BERMAN, SEX THERAPIST:  You know, not to this degree, but it‘s highlighting a really important point and that is the intense power of peer pressure and the importance of taking that into account when you‘re looking at public health programs.  They mention safer sex.  They mention birth control. 

These girls, if they were intentionally getting pregnant, birth control isn‘t the issue.  It‘s a much larger conversation about what‘s going on.  You‘re absolutely right, these are girls 16 and younger.  

ABRAMS:  And 150 pregnancies tests between September and May ...

BERMAN:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... for a school with 1,200 students.  That is an unbelievable number. 

BERMAN:  It‘s an unbelievable number.  It really highlights -

KIRK:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ABRAMS:  Go ahead. 

BERMAN:  Go ahead.

ABRAMS:  Let me let Dr. Berman finish and then I‘ll let you in there. 

Go ahead.

KIRK:  I‘m sorry.  

BERMAN:  And it really highlights the fact that teenagers really do pay attention to each other, and that‘s the reason effective sex education programs are those that incorporate peer education, as well.  These are girls that were not looking at the possibility, not to mention pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, as well. 

ABRAMS:  Mayor, did you want to get in on that, on the idea of 150 pregnancy tests, 1,200 students?

KIRK:  Yes.  I think the doctor is absolutely right.  It‘s a public health issue, especially when we‘re talking about men or adults who are not even associated with our school. 

The other thing that I see in terms of the numbers is we‘ve just recently completed a survey that shows high levels of risky behavior amongst our teenagers in terms of alcohol use and other risky behaviors.  And I would think that there‘s a correlation there, so it‘s really a community issue.  

BERMAN:  Absolutely.

ABRAMS:  There may be, but that wouldn‘t explain them giving each other high fives when they find out that their pregnancy tests are positive.  We‘re stay on this, Mayor, and we invite you to come back when we learn more about this.  Patrick Anderson, thank you.  And Dr. Berman, as always, appreciate it.

Up next, tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” of the day and your E-mails are in the “P.O.‘d Box,” coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers.”  Our first loser - music producer and murder defendant, Phil Spector.  Not only is he facing a second trial in the murder of actress Lana Clarkson at his home in 2003, but now, he‘s being sued by a Los Angeles hotel for failing to pay more than $100,000 for rooms his legal team allegedly used during his first trial that ended in a hung jury last year. 

Our big loser - Australia.  Now, we love the good folks down under.  But according to a new Baker-Heart Institute study, the U.S. is no longer the fattest country in the world.  That honor goes to the Aussies.  According to the report, 70 percent of men and 60 percent of women, ages 45 to 65, are considered overweight in the country. 

Our big winner of the day - Poison front man, Bret Michaels.  No, not because he has ladies ling up for his affection on the TV dating show “Rock of Love,” but according to “People” magazine he is somehow one of the hottest bachelors of 2008. 

What makes him so hot, quote, “I‘m a wild child.  I‘ll take you on a Harley ride and make passionate love to you.”  They will let anybody on that list.  And I‘m not just talking about me in 2001.  Look at the guy above me, the sheep farmer. 

Time for the “P.O.‘d Box.”  First up, G. Trankina goes after me for saying that while I agree with Obama on the Gitmo rulings from the Supreme Court, I think it‘s a tough political issue for him.  “Do you really think we have to be lawyers to understand the Supreme Court rulings?  Stop it.  I realize fear mongering worked for a while, but a lot of us never fell for it and no one is falling for it anymore.” 

Really?

Jeff Stepper from Lynwood, Washington, “I agree with your assessment of how tricky it is going to be for Obama to phrase the habeas corpus argument.  I‘ve been on several blog sites.  What you worry about is already going on out there.  I can‘t tell you how many times I had to tell others that habeas does not mean that they will be tried in American courts.” 

Thanks, Jeff.  That was exactly my point. 

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  You can E-mail me about

the show at verdict@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you are

writing from.  Tomorrow morning on the “Today” show, we‘ll start something

try something out.  We‘re going to do the “Winners and Losers” of the week.  Be on at 9:35 trying that.  Thanks for watching.  See you tomorrow night. 

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

END   

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