updated 3/12/2004 2:04:25 PM ET 2004-03-12T19:04:25

Guests: Jennifer Giroux, Ben Stein, Michael Tomasky, Terry Holt, Michael Meehan, Christopher Hitchens

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight, it is getting bloody in the battle for the White House, as Bush and Kerry go for the jugular. 

You are about to enter SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  No passport required, no smear campaigns allowed. 

John Kerry is not backing down after being caught on tape slamming the president and his team as liars and crooks.  But the president hit back today with ads bashing Kerry‘s record.  Both face off in a SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY showdown. 

Then, the worst terror attack in Spain‘s history.  Is there an al Qaeda connection and what does it mean to America and its war on terror? 

And one of Mel Gibson‘s fiercest critics calls “The Passion” creator a coward and queer basher and fascist.  “Vanity Fair”‘s Christopher Hitchens enters SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY to defend his explosive charges. 

But, first, get out the bleach and your rubber gloves.  This presidential campaign is about to get very dirty.  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

Now, even the most cynical political observers in Washington were shocked yesterday when Democratic nominee John Kerry called the president of the United States and his team liars and crooks.  Never before in modern political history has a national political figure resorted to such gutter personal attacks so early in a campaign.  Now, John Kerry has obviously decided to pursue the path of anger and hatred that fueled Howard Dean‘s campaign before it blew apart earlier this year. 

And you can bet George Bush is going to punch back.  And with both sides having more money to run negative ads than any candidates in American history, you can expect the foul stench of negative campaign ads to fill airwaves over the next eight months. 

And the real losers, my friends, will be you and me, the voters.  And don‘t be surprised if the unprecedented level of negative attacks leads to the lowest voter turnout in American history, which is the last thing we need for the first presidential election following the tragic events of September 11. 

You know what?  John Kerry needs to watch his mouth and clean up his act.  And the president and his campaign leaders would do very well to practice what they are preaching.  And that‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

It is going to be a long eight-month road to the White House.  The Bush campaign rolled out new ads today, while John Kerry continues his searing criticism of the president.  This is what Senator Kerry said yesterday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘re just beginning to fight here.  These guys are—these guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I‘ve ever seen.  It‘s scary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And he is not backing down from those controversial comments.  This is what he said about them today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  I have no intention whatsoever of apologizing for my remarks.  I think the Republicans need to start talking about the real issues before the country.  George Bush doesn‘t have a record to run on.  He has a record to run away from. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Tonight, the campaigns are squaring off in SCARBOROUGH

COUNTRY. 

We have Michael Meehan.  He‘s a senior campaign adviser to Senator Kerry.  We also have Terry Holt, who is a national spokesman for the Bush campaign. 

Well, Terry, let me start with you. 

Do you work for a bunch of liars and crooks? 

TERRY HOLT, BUSH CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN:  I feel like I was on my 4-year-old son‘s playground yesterday. 

This is the kind of thing you don‘t expect to hear from a guy who is running for the highest office in the land.  Frankly, I think it‘s out of bounds.  But we are big boys.  We can take it.  It seems like we ought to be talking about the record and facts about the tax increases that Kerry has.  He will get over it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Should John Kerry apologize for calling the president and people that work with him liars and crooks? 

HOLT:  Well, he certainly should, and he probably ought to grow up a little bit.  And politics is tough, but we are going to stick to the facts. 

We are going to make sure that the American people know the records of the two candidates for office.  I know that Michael will agree that‘s what we need to stick to, and this is frankly distraction for most people. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael Meehan, Bill Clinton had a very different approach than the one that Senator Kerry seemed to show yesterday.  I want to play you a clip of what he had to say back in 1996.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1996)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The question is no longer who is to blame, but what to do.  I believe that Bob Dole and Jack Kemp and Ross Perot love our country and they have worked hard to serve it.  I will not attack.  I will not attack them personally or permit others to do it in this party if I can prevent it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Boy, wouldn‘t you think that would be the all way campaigns should be run?  Do you think John Kerry, your candidate, when he said the president and his people were liars and crooks? 

(CROSSTALK)

MICHAEL MEEHAN, SENIOR ADVISER, JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN:  Can you rerun that quote? 

He said that they‘re crooked and liars.  And just today, in the can, the Bush campaign has an attack ad 35 weeks out of the election that says John Kerry wants to raise taxes by $200 billion.  That is a lie.  They are paying money to put a lie on television. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So you are calling them liars now. 

MEEHAN:  The facts of that ad are a lie.  John Kerry has never called to raise taxes $900 billion.  And that‘s what‘s in their ad.  That‘s a lie. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s play the ad first, because you have just called the president‘s campaign liars again two times. 

MEEHAN:  That fact is a lie, absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, well, fine, so you agree with Senator Kerry. 

This is exactly what ad that Mark is talking about right now, where the president is trying to define Senator Kerry.  And this is what the ad looks like. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR:  A president sets his agenda for America in the first 100 days.  John Kerry‘s plan: to pay for new government spending, raise taxes by at least $900 billion, on the war on terror, weaken the Patriot Act used to arrest terrorists and protect America, and he wanted to delay defending America until the United Nations approved.  John Kerry, wrong on taxes, wrong on defense. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Michael, you have called the president and his campaign liars tonight for running that ad.  What are they lying about that? 

MEEHAN:  OK, simple sentence for you.  John Kerry does not have a plan to raise anybody‘s taxes by $900 billion.  That‘s not a fact.  That‘s a lie.  No evidence. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Terry Holt, is George Bush a liar?  Is he lying about Senator Kerry wanting to raise taxes? 

HOLT:  Certainly not.  Let‘s do a little simple math. 

Senator Kerry has called for an $895 billion health care plan.  And the Brookings Institution, a respected Democratic liberal institution that does these things, the economic experts over there said, the way he can pay for it was with a $400 billion increase in the personal exemption, $150 billion increase in the death tax, and $350 billion increase in capital gains and dividends taxes. 

Now, if you want an economy killer, if you want to derail this economy, do that.  And that‘s just being conservative, because the ad says that he will do this by at least $900 billion.  He has called for $1.5 trillion in new spending and hasn‘t said a word about how he would spend it, at the same time that he has also said he is not going to increase the deficit.  You figure it out.  That‘s how it works. 

(CROSSTALK)

MEEHAN:  Joe, you used to work in the Congress.  You know how this Washington gobbledygook goes. 

George Bush is sitting on a record deficit when he started out with a record surplus.  That‘s pretty fast.  This campaign of George Bush has promised to run a positive, forward-looking plan for the future.  They have got six television ads.  Not one of them says something about looking forward for the future, half-a-dozen ads, 35 weeks ago.  George Bush‘s father didn‘t even mention his opponent‘s name in public until July. 

This President Bush is in an ad starting tomorrow attacking John Kerry that he wants to raise taxes, not true, just not true. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Michael, we are out of time.  I got to ask you, though, in 15 seconds or less, you have told us how the president lied. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  What has the president done to be a crook?  Who is a crook?  Is the president a crook?  Is the vice president a crook?  When John Kerry says he is running against crooks, who are the crooks? 

MEEHAN:  There are a bunch of people on the Internet that have attacked John Kerry‘s record in the military.  They are lying about that.  There‘s a lot of characters who have made a lot of accusations.  And that‘s what Senator Kerry was referring to.

There are crooks.  There are people who are making these charges.  And we are going to fight them back, you bet. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Michael Meehan, thank you so much.  Terry Holt, as always, we appreciate it both of you being with us tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And with me now is Pat Buchanan.  He‘s a former presidential candidate and MSNBC analyst. 

I‘ll tell you, Pat, I got to tell you the truth.  Now, we have been accused of actually being John Kerry‘s cheering section during Democratic debates, but it looks like amateur hour.  This guy is calling the president of the United States a liar.  He‘s calling him a crook.  And then you have Ted Kennedy standing behind him every time he speaks.  Where are the grownups on that campaign saying, hey, buddy, it‘s time to run a general election campaign; it‘s time to grow up?

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You know, I think, Joe, Kerry‘s

·         this was a stupid thing to say. 

It reflected a real bitterness, and he did call the White House crooks and liars, and now all his agents are out there saying, you know, he referred to some guy in South Carolina four years ago.  Why doesn‘t Kerry explain what he meant?  But you and I saw that debate, Joe, all those debates.  I saw Al Sharpton get up there, and he said the president is a liar.  If he doesn‘t know it, he is stupid.  And they were all laughing about this. 

What‘s happened is, Kerry got himself into this mode, and he still is in there.  And I think he is hurting himself very badly by it.  But I disagree with you on this.  I think the president‘s ads are not only perfectly legitimate.  I have been waiting for them.  It is time to define John Kerry, because 40 percent of the country doesn‘t know who he is. 

And I the think the fact he is going to raise taxes—he said so—he would have gone to the United Nations on that issue, and he does want to change the Patriot Act, this is legitimate issues. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael Tomasky, you are the editor of “The American Prospect” and you‘re the author of “Hillary‘s Turn.”

Are you struck by the negative tone of John Kerry‘s campaign and Howard Dean‘s campaign before that?  And you compare that to what Bill Clinton said in 1996, when people were comparing him of murder—I mean, they were accusing Bill Clinton of everything, but Bill Clinton was smart enough to take the high road.  Do you think it‘s time for some of the Kerry camp to cool down? 

MICHAEL TOMASKY, AUTHOR, “HILLARY‘S TURN”:  Yes, Bill Clinton was also the incumbent president who was 20 points ahead in the polls of somebody who everybody knew wasn‘t going to beat him in 1996.  Honorable man, yes, Bob Dole, but he wasn‘t going to win.  Bill Clinton could take the high road. 

George Bush is on the low road with these ads that he has already started running, started running last week.  And so it‘s OK.  Kerry is going to have to get down to the low road, but he is not the guy who started down there.  And we are 12 minutes into this show, 11 minutes into this show, and nobody has made the obvious comment that has to be made about that comment of Kerry‘s yesterday.  He said it off-camera. 

He didn‘t say it in front of a podium, in front of an audience, intending it for it to go for public consumption.  It was a private comment.  It happened to get caught.  No, I don‘t think you apologize for something like that once it gets caught.  You can‘t apologize for it, because then you seem weak.  A similar thing happened.  The exact same thing happened to George Bush in the 2000 campaign, incidentally, when he used a dirty word to talk about a reporter. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, sure, but he was talking about Adam Clymer at “The New York Times.” 

(CROSSTALK)

TOMASKY:  Here‘s what similar.  It was off-camera comment.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re talking about calling the president of the United States—yes, but we are talking about the difference between saying that about a reporter vs. saying that about a guy who is president of the United States.  I cannot even imagine what the uproar would have been if Bob Dole had made that statement about Bill Clinton. 

BUCHANAN:  I think Bob Dole would have apologized if he had made that statement about Bill Clinton. 

But look, the problem with Mr. Kerry right here is not only this stuff.  You know, his ads, what he ought to come out—it is not low road if Kerry came out and said, George Bush went up there and told us they had weapons of mass destruction.  His vice president said they are constructing nuclear weapons.  They are talking about mushroom clouds, and they aren‘t there.  Now, where are they?  Did you guys mislead us?

That‘s tough attack, but it‘s legitimate politics.  To call people crooks and liars, unless you can back it up, is not.  And what Kerry indicated is what is in his heart. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We are going to have a lot more.  And we‘re also going to be brining in Ben Stein right after this.

But coming up, shocking new charges against Mel Gibson, as famous “Vanity Fair” writer Christopher Hitchens calls the man behind “The Passion” a fascist and a queer basher. 

Plus, it looks like al Qaeda may be on the march in Europe.  MSNBC‘s terror expert Steve Emerson is here with the very latest on the deadly strikes in Spain and what it may mean to you and your family.

That‘s coming up, so don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Stick around for more on the battle for the White House getting bloody.  My all-star panel is still with me, including Comedy Central‘s Ben Stein.  We‘ll also be talking about “The Passion” and whether Mel Gibson is a fascist. 

Don‘t go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, we‘re back with our panel.

Let me go now to Ben Stein. 

Ben, you have heard about the negative campaigning and John Kerry‘s statements about George Bush, and now the George Bush ads.  We all know negative campaigning drives down voter turnout.  Who is that going to hurt in the end? 

BEN STEIN, FORMER NIXON SPEECHWRITER:  Well, it will hurt the Democrats more than the Republicans. 

But I think that—I was having a delicious reverie while I was waiting to come on of the 1968 campaign.  Once Mr. Nixon was close to being the nominee, he created a whole bunch of task forces of serious scholars and public policy experts to draw up serious papers on fiscal policy, monetary policy, defense, foreign policy, environment, civil rights, to create serious platform planks, not sound bites, not calling people crooks and liars, but serious explanations of how he was going to change the country. 

I think it‘s incumbent on Kerry to do that.  He has relied upon negative stereotype and jeering long enough.  It‘s time for him to draw on all those Massachusetts brain trust people and tell us how he‘s going to balance the budget, how he‘s going to bring back the outsourced jobs.  If he is a serious candidate, he has got to have serious issue-addressing now, not just name-calling. 

Well, let‘s look at the George Bush campaign ad, and I want to get your response to it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR:  A president sets his agenda for America in the first 100 days.  John Kerry‘s plan: to pay for new government spending, raise taxes by at least $900 billion, on the war on terror, weaken the Patriot Act used to arrest terrorists and protect America, and he wanted to delay defending America until the United Nations approved.  John Kerry, wrong on taxes, wrong on defense. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Ben Stein, is that dirty politics or a fair issue campaign ad? 

STEIN:  It‘s not the slightest bit dirty.  In fact, I think it‘s fairly clean as these things go in the 21st century.

But it does not really address, it seems two me, the main things that should be addressed, which is why did we go into Iraq, why do we have such big deficits.  And I‘d like to see Mr. Bush explain that we have these big deficits because they were used to fight the recession inherited from Mr.  Clinton.  I would love to see some serious discussion of issues on both sides, including on my side, which is the Republican side.  It doesn‘t look like we are getting much of it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, are we not going to get much of that serious debate?  Are we just going to get name-calling and vicious campaign ads for the next eight months? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I agree with Ben.  I don‘t think this was vicious.  I have seen some vicious ads, but certainly the Bush one isn‘t. 

But let me say this.  I agree with Ben.  I don‘t think either party knows how to stop the outsourcing of jobs or the loss of manufacturing jobs.  But, Joe, this thing is going to be decided between the 47 yard lines.  And when you get it that close, to be very honest, the last votes you get aren‘t voting for you.  They are voting against the other guy, and I think we are going to see a plethora of attack ads or negative or hardball ads, because I think they work. 

I don‘t think dirtball works, and I am afraid that‘s where Kerry went, crossed the line, but I think this is going to be a hardball campaign, and that‘s what we can expect, because it works. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, we got to go.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  But, Michael, I will give you the last 15 seconds.  Go ahead. 

TOMASKY:  Well, Bush needs to make this a referendum on Kerry, because this election is likely to be a referendum on the incumbent Bush.  Bush is trying to make it about Kerry.  That‘s why he is coming out of the box, doing the kind of ads he is doing.  I agree it wasn‘t necessarily vicious, this ad, but it was full of distortions, which I could tick off for you if I had more than 15 seconds. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Thank you so much, Michael.  We appreciate it.  Ben Stein, I appreciate it.  And, Pat Buchanan, as always, thank you so much for being with us. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, from the battle of the White House to the war on Terror.  Exactly 2 ½ years after September 11, one of America‘s strongest allies in that war is a target of a bloody bombing, three trains, 10 bombs, nearly 200 dead and more than 1,200 injured.  Does the deadliest terror attack in the history of Spain put the United States on notice? 

Steve Emerson, you are MSNBC‘s terror expert.  What do you make of the bloody bombing in Spain? 

STEVE EMERSON, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Well, Joe, it‘s still an open question as to who carried it out. 

There‘s probably more of a belief now by Spanish and U.S. officials that the ETA, the Basque separatists, were responsible, but still no definitive conclusion has been made.  Clearly, this is an unprecedented degree of sophistication, of reconnaissance sophistication, obviously resulting in an unparalleled number of deaths in Spain.  The question is, who carried it out?

Clearly, the ETA has not shown a capability up until now, but it doesn‘t mean they couldn‘t have acquired one.  Al Qaeda has claimed credit through an Internet e-mail, but no one really knows whether it‘s authentic.  My suspicious is that it probably was the Basque separatists, but we will probably know in the next few days when investigators, Joe, examine the detonators that were picked up in the van outside of Madrid the , compare it with the detonators that were used in the bombings themselves. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, could it be possible that al Qaeda is on the march in Europe and they‘re going—maybe this is the first attack leading up to Olympics later this year in Greece? 

EMERSON:  Well, clearly, if it was al Qaeda, Joe, it would show that they have incredibly resurrected and reconstituted their networks really well below the radar screen of U.S. and law enforcement of Europe, and especially the Spanish, who definitely have good intelligence.  They have been afflicted with terrorism, so they are better than other European countries.

So, again, if it was al Qaeda, it would really put the Olympics in Greece in open question as to whether they are safe.  But we don‘t know that at this point.  It‘s still too premature to say.  And, again, a few hours ago, when I spoke to officials in the administration, in the intelligence branch of a certain division, they were tentatively concluding that it probably was the ETA. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, earlier this week, the director of the CIA delivered this very ominous warning to us. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR:  For the growing number of jihadists interested in attacking the United States, a spectacular attack on the U.S.  homeland remains the brass ring that many strive for with or without encouragement by al Qaeda central leadership. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Steve, are we next?  Even if Osama bin Laden is captured, could America be next for that spectacular attack that the director of the CIA was just talking about? 

EMERSON:  Unfortunately, it‘s not a question of if.  It‘s a question of when.  And that obviously we don‘t know.  But he is 100 percent right. 

The fact is that al Qaeda and all of its offshoots and those that have been enfranchised around the world that don‘t have any linear command, but are basically operating on their own, like those in Moscow that bombed the Russian subway just weeks ago, would definitely like to carry out a spectacular attack.  These types of attacks we saw today, even if they were not al Qaeda, set a floor, and they also give new types of ideas to al Qaeda types. 

They see how a country is brought to its knees.  It‘s not very difficult to put bombs on trains.  And you know what would happen in this country if that were done, or even shopping centers. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

Hey, Steve, one final question.  There‘s a lot of buzz, as you know, going around Washington, D.C. and in the intelligence community about trying to capture Osama bin Laden.  What is the latest that you have heard?  Are we closing in on him? 

EMERSON:  Well, I wish I was privy to everything going on.  I know there‘s a lot of buzz, a lot of circular type of reporting. 

I am not aware of anything.  I asked somebody senior tonight about this, and he said he had not seen anything cross his desk in the last 24 hours.  So I think it‘s more buzz than it is actual fact. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thank you so much, Steve Emerson.  As always, we appreciate you being with us to sort through all these disturbing reports that we are hearing from across the globe. 

Now, coming up, “Vanity Fair”‘s Christopher Hitchens calls Mel Gibson an anti-Semite and says his film is like Hitler‘s Nazi propaganda movies.  And we are going to have an all-star panel to respond to Hitchens and tell us why “The Passion” has been so popular with young people. 

But, first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk. 

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  “Vanity Fair”‘s Christopher Hitchens doesn‘t think that Mel Gibson and the movie “The Passion” are worthy of the praise it‘s been receiving lately.

In a recent review, Hitchens wrote—quote—“If Gibson denies the Holocaust one day and makes a film accusing Jews of Christ-killing the next day, I have to say, if he‘s not anti-Jewish, then he‘s certainly getting there.”

And Christopher Hitchens joins me now. 

Mr. Hitchens, thank you for being with us. 

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, “VANITY FAIR”:  Pleasure.

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ll tell you what.  This review you wrote on Mel Gibson just comes out and says a lot of things that people have been dancing around for a while.  You start out by saying “The Passion” is anti-Semitic in intention and its director is anti-Semitic by nature.  Explain that. 

HITCHENS:  Well, that‘s the intention. 

It‘s a good thing a lot of people don‘t seem to notice this.  But if

you have devil figures weaving in and among crowds of Jews during the pre-

crucifixion scenes—these figures, by the way, never appear in the Bible

·         if you have Jewish children practically metamorphosing into devils as they pursue Judas, or as they hang around Judas, you are resorting to the most primitive medieval anti-Jewish theology.

And you might think that was coincidence.  But I know it‘s not, because Gibson has given interviews in which he says his sources are supposedly mystical nuns and others from past centuries whose names are very well known for those of us who study this kind of thing, as people who have paranoid anti-Semitic views, people who believe that Jews use Christian blood for their Passover blood and so forth. 

And that‘s openly admitted by him.  You have probably heard already that the idea the Roman governor of Judea was a mere tool in the hands of the Jewish empire is false, is false historically.  It‘s even false to the four discrepant, contrasting Gospels.  And I suppose one could add—and this will be very important when it‘s shown in the Middle East, as it will be—every Jew in the film looks like a caricature, Jew, swarthy, hook-nosed, conspiratorial, the old stereotype. 

Jesus, who was one of them, of course, looks as if he is from Finland or Iceland or Minnesota.  This is too boring to have to point out.  Once again, one has to say, these are anti-Jewish caricatures, very vulgarly presented. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, what does that say, then?  If you believe this is anti-Semitic and Gibson is anti-Semitic and this film is so crudely anti-Semitic that anybody watching it would draw those same conclusions, what does it say, then, about America that this has been a runaway hit, one of the biggest openings for the time it was released, over $200 million?  And people just keep flocking to the theaters.  Does that mean America is—its theaters are packed by brownshirts and fascists? 

HITCHENS:  No, no, to the contrary.  That‘s why I opened in the way I did. 

I said people may not notice this.  And it‘s in a way very heartening that they don‘t or that they don‘t draw those kinds of conclusions.  This is a very pluralist society.  We are immunized in many, many ways against bigotry.  I think it‘s the great thing about this country, that that is the fact. 

I repeat, though, when shown in the Middle East, where we have already seen many extremist Muslims showing interest in the movie, because, as they keep saying openly—and you can look this up—let‘s get together with our Christian brothers, because we must let them know we have a common enemy, the Jew.  This is very plainly stated.  I am not so sure if that will be that healthy, to put it mildly. 

SCARBOROUGH:  To put it mildly. 

HITCHENS:  To put it very mildly. 

Look, the fact that Americans are decent and tolerant and have been in many ways educated, immunized out of bigotry does not forgive Gibson for making a film that is anti-Jewish and bigoted and superstitious and fanatical in its intention. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, you also said this about Gibson and his movie—quote—“a coward, a bully, a big mouth, and a queer basher.”

HITCHENS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  “Yes, we‘ve been here before.  The word is fascism, in case you were wondering.  And we don‘t have to sit through that movie again.”

When you say you don‘t have to sit through that movie again, it seems obvious reading it that you are actually comparing Mel Gibson to Adolf Hitler. 

HITCHENS:  Well, I think that Mel Gibson‘s crazy Catholic sect, which is in rebellion against the Roman Church and which a leading figure is his father, who he describes as a great truth-telling man, the same father who says that not only did the Nazi massacre of the Jewish people not occur, but there was a Jewish population explosion at the time and who goes on to say that the Jews and others probably conspired to blow up the World Trade Center, is not just flirting with fascism.  He is right out there. 

His sadomasochistic, Leni Riefenstahl-style of directing reminds me very much of fascist propaganda, not least of its extreme homoeroticism in the idea that it‘s real fun to watch fairly good-looking young man really get the treatment over a long period of time, with a lot of leering Jews appearing to take even more pleasure in it.

This is not complicated, my dear Congressman. 

(LAUGHTER)

HITCHENS:  It‘s as blunt as it could be.  It‘s not artistry.  It‘s not even direction.  It‘s horror movie style allied to the politics of someone who—oh, and did I add that someone who hates homosexuals as much as Gibson and goes on about it in the obscene terms he uses, which I cannot quote on your family-oriented family-values show, but which anyone can check, see the graphic terms in which Gibson describes homosexual activity, is usually in some kind of trouble.

And that was also the case with a lot of the charming young man who like to swagger around in black and brown shirts.  Yes, he‘s a fascist and he‘s an ignorant peasant and a superstition monger.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, it‘s very interesting.  A week or two, when we were talking about this movie, we had Carl Bernstein come on.  And he said he didn‘t think it was about anti-Semitism or Christians vs. Jews.  He thought it was about the right vs. the left.  And hearing you speak tonight, it certainly sounds like you have a great deal of hostility towards Mel Gibson. 

Do you think politics plays into this or do you think...

HITCHENS:  Yes, it does, of course, well, in that I feel I can tell the fascist aesthetic style when it‘s absolutely forced upon me, sure.  Who can‘t?

As I say, good thing if some people don‘t respond to this.  Nonetheless, it‘s there.  I could complain, as someone partly of Jewish ancestry, also as someone of English ancestry.  And Gibson has made a series of films, “Braveheart,” “Patriot,” “Gallipoli,” very vulgar, very violent, very crude films, all of them making English people seem like sadists and morons, which, understand, not all of us are. 

I think his hatred for England is clear.  It‘s the special country of the Reformation, the Protestant revolution.  He hates Britain because he is an extreme Catholic fundamentalist.  But that‘s a cultural curio.  As to the fact that he is right-wing, that‘s self-evident.  You can tell that from all his cultural—all his cultural enterprises are reactionary, shall we say. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Before we leave, I have got to ask you this question, because I know that, in the coming weeks, we are going to have people coming on this show just enraged by what you have said.  And they are going to say you hate Catholics, just like a lot of people say Mel Gibson hates Jews. 

HITCHENS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Of course, you haven‘t been shy about your criticism of Catholic leaders in the past.  You wrote a column that many of your fans still talk about called “Mommy Dearest.” 

HITCHENS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  About it was Mother Teresa, where you called her a fanatic and a fundamentalist and a fraud. 

HITCHENS:  And a fraud, yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  And you also offered the book, “The Missionary Position:

Mother Teresa in Theory and in Practice.”

HITCHENS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  For those who we know are going to come on after you saying that you are writing this about Gibson because you hate Mel Gibson, because you hate Mother Teresa, because you hate conservative Catholics. 

HITCHENS:  Consumed with hate, yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  Consumed with hatred for conservative Catholics.

HITCHENS:  I can just hear them say it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, they are going to say it.  So what‘s your response? 

HITCHENS:  No, no, they can have my opinion for free. 

I am atheist.  I‘m not anti-Catholic.  I am not anti-Protestant. I‘m not anti-Greek Orthodox or anti-Judaism or anti-Islamic.  I just think that all religious belief is sinister and infantile and belongs to the backward childhood of the race and that the great thing about the United States is that it‘s a secular country with a godless Constitution.

And it‘s the only place in the world because of its secularism where religious pluralism is allowed.  Thus, I think it‘s culturally very unhealthy that Christians are flocking to a movie that Muslim extremists are proposing to benefit by down the road.  And people should examine themselves on that basis. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right. 

HITCHENS:  Look, I suppose I will add, if you will give me—I have a second.  Do I? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead. 

HITCHENS:  Obviously, it‘s ridiculous and ahistorical and it‘s been denounced even by the Catholic Church, to blame the Jewish people as a whole for their responsibility for the crucifixion.  I would say it‘s absurd to blame anybody. 

Christians say we all nailed Jesus to the cross, not just the Jews.  I say no such thing.  We can‘t make ourselves complicit in a crime we didn‘t commit that took place as a human sacrifice in the 1st century. 

If you can believe that, you can believe anything.  Christianity further invites you to say, if you will plead guilty to something you didn‘t do, we will forgive you for all the sins you did commit.  I think you will agree, as a conservative, that that dissolves personal responsibility and morality altogether.  That‘s my view. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Of course

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  And people like myself don‘t get much time on TV to say why religion is not all that it‘s cracked up to be. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, hopefully, you feel like you just did. 

HITCHENS:  Perhaps so. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And you‘ve certainly given a lot of people that are going to follow after you a lot of to talk about. 

We appreciate you being with us, Christopher.  And we would like to invite you back in the next week or so to respond to I am sure all the people that are going to be e-mailing and writing and calling us and coming on this show. 

HITCHENS:  Oh, any time.  Any time.

SCARBOROUGH:  I will tell you what, we have got a great panel coming up to talk about Hitchens‘ explosive charges and to explain why young people are coming in droves to see “The Passion.”  Are they fascist, too? 

We‘ll talk about when we come right back.

ANNOUNCER:  Tonight‘s SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY challenge:  Citing religious beliefs, “Passion” star Jim Caviezel refused to film a love scene with which actress?  Was it, A, Monica Bellucci, B, Jennifer Lopez or, C, Ashley Judd?

The answer after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER:  In tonight‘s SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY challenge, we asked: 

Citing religious beliefs, “Passion” star Jim Caviezel refused to film a love scene with which actress?  The answer is C, Ashley Judd.

Now back to Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Ashley.  He has got strong religious beliefs, I can tell you that. 

Jennifer Giroux is with us right now.  She‘s founder of SeeThePassion.com. 

Jennifer, I don‘t know where to begin.  I was writing notes down.  Mel Gibson is a fascist, this according to Christopher Hitchens.  He‘s an ignorant peasant.  He‘s into homoeroticism.  I will just let you go.  What is your response to Christopher Hitchens calling Mel Gibson a fascist? 

JENNIFER GIROUX, SEETHEPASSION.COM:  Well, Joe, let me start out as gently as I can. 

Christopher Hitchens is a pompous, gutter-mouth, low-life journalist who basically is a liar.  And this is a man with a diseased mind.  And I will tell you, he has enraged millions of Americans now for saying the most vial things about Jesus, our faith, Mel Gibson, who brought us this beautiful movie.

And a little background on him.  In 1999, “The Washington Post” profiled him as saying he is hostile to religion.  So let‘s go after a few of the things that he said here.  Mel Gibson loves his faith.  Those that are hostile to this movie have tried again and again to attack any angle they can because they are hostile to the Gospels.  Just today, the spokesman for the pope said, this movie is not anti-Semitic.  And if you find it anti-Semitic, then you find all the Gospels anti-Semitic.

But they continue to offend.  And in this preoccupation that this man has with homosexuality is disgusting.  I am sorry to tell you this, Christopher, but the majority of Americans find sodomy obnoxious, disgusting, and immoral, and that is why we oppose same-sex unions.  Don‘t blame that on Mel Gibson.  The bottom line here is, Joe, millions have decided for ourselves with our own eyes that this movie is beautiful, it‘s about love and forgiveness.

And we stand with Mel Gibson, without any excuse, on his beautiful efforts to preserve for all time this major, top, No. 1 event in all history. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, let‘s bring in Raymond Arroyo of the Eternal Word Television Network, who was one of the first to interview Mel Gibson about this movie. 

Raymond, you have talked to Mel Gibson, obviously, one on one about this. 

RAYMOND ARROYO, ETERNAL WORD TELEVISION NETWORK:  I have. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Respond.  This was called a horror movie by Mr.  Hitchens.  He called Mel Gibson an ignorant peasant, a fascist, a sadomasochist.  He threw some kerosene on an already pretty high bonfire.  Respond. 

ARROYO:  Well, Joe, I want to know, did Chris write this before or after happy hour?  That‘s my first question. 

After that, as a journalist, I interviewed not only Mel Gibson.  I interviewed Mother Teresa as well.  And I have got to tell you, after seeing “The Passion,” I don‘t know about the millions of people who have seen it, but homoeroticism was not the first thing that leapt to my mind after watching this movie.  Kinky sex play was not quite what I had running through the old gray matter after this thing.

And I doubt if many Americans had that reaction.  But bringing the Mother Teresa thing to bear, I think the interesting—and I don‘t want to assign any motives to Chris.  Again, I am covering this story, like he is.  But I think we have to be awfully careful.  I have always thought the critic reveals more in his criticism about himself and a projection of what is inside than he does about the art sometimes he is talking about. 

In this case, Mother Teresa, remember, let‘s go back a little bit.  He said Mother Teresa was necrophiliac obsessed by death.  She liked to watch people die and was turned on by it.  Now he‘s saying Mel Gibson is turned on by the homoerotic flogging of a young man.  Assigning these strange psychosexual motives to people who say they are motivated by faith is questionable for me. 

Honestly, Joe, I don‘t even know why we are talking about this.  It‘s the No. 1 movie in the country, headed toward $300 million box office.  I don‘t know where the controversy lies in this anymore. 

SCARBOROUGH:  MSNBC entertainment reporter Dana Kennedy, let me bring you in there and ask you that question. 

Christopher Hitchens, who is writer that millions of people read and follow and dissect what he says, when he comes out and blasts a movie like this, it actually probably ends up making Mel Gibson‘s supporters even more angry and gets them out to the movie theaters even more, doesn‘t it? 

DANA KENNEDY, NBC ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR:  Oh, no question.

This is all part of Mel Gibson‘s plaster plan to incite as much controversy as he can.  It‘s certainly worked well so far.  The movie has made about $225 million.

But I have to say, I found the interview with Christopher Hitchens, No. 1, very entertaining.  No. 2, everybody knows that Christopher Hitchens is a professional contrarian.  I think he‘s a good writer and he‘s very intelligent, but he‘s definitely found a niche in attacking sacred cows, like Mother Teresa, like this movie about the passion. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Also, taking it away from religion, he also attacked Winston Churchill right after 9/11, when all of the world was looking to Winston Churchill as a hero.  It was an incredible “Atlantic Monthly” article which also made me angry when I read it.  That‘s what Christopher Hitchens does for a living. 

But, Dana, I want you to dissect something else for me right now.  It seems that the demographic of 18-to-30-year-old males are the people that are going to this movie the most in droves, and the word of mouth is driving this film up to $300 million.  Why are young men going to see this movie?  It ain‘t grannies that are making this one of the biggest hits of all time. 

KENNEDY:  No, because it‘s a movie that‘s very violent.

And that very demographic, No. 1, is the one that Hollywood covets

more than anything else, and that very demographic goes to movies that are

violent.  This is almost like a religious action adventure.  I think word

got out very quickly.  Not only was there this great controversy over

whether it was anti-Semitic or not.  There was this great controversy over

was it too violent?  And that is music to many young men‘s ears.  They want

to go out and

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Jennifer Giroux, I want to play you a clip of what Jon Voight said on our show, also claiming that Mel Gibson used Nazi-like propaganda in his film.  He said it here on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY on Tuesday.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON VOIGHT, ACTOR:  that reminded me of the way Hitler, in his films on the Jews, created this uproar against the Jews.  Hitler would use rats come into a neighborhood.  Then he would intercut that with Jewish stereotypes.  And he built the Holocaust on that stuff, turning the whole nation against the Jews.  So I‘m saying that this film has ingredients.  And then you have to question why he did it and is there an agenda here?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Jennifer Giroux, it seems, the bigger this movie gets, the more heated the attacks are against Mel Gibson. 

GIROUX:  It‘s amazing, Joe.

And if Mel Gibson is a fascist, I am a fascist, the pope is a fascist, James Dobson is a fascist, Billy Graham is a fascist.  Let‘s take a wider-lens look here, OK?  The man who was on before me here, in 1992, defined a cultural war for the soul of America.  A lot of people weren‘t sure what was going on when he defined that.  They get it now, brother, because we as parents have been dragged into the middle of the battlefield. 

And we are not backing down.  We are standing with Mel Gibson to say, it‘s OK to tell the truth.  They fly around this accusation of anti-Semitism and fascism whenever they start losing the argument.  It‘s absolutely comical. 

And if I could address what Dana said about men and being drawn to violence, you know what I think.  I think American men are being drawn to holiness.  And I think that there is a craving out there from teenage all the way up to men well into their ‘80s that are looking for the good.  And they understand redemptive suffering.  And that is the issue that most people do not want to talk about.  They want to use these words like pornographic, sadomasochism.  What they don‘t understand is the gravity of sin. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Jennifer, I am going to have to cut of off, but we will be back to finish this discussion right after this very short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Tomorrow night on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, we‘re going to be talking about the corporate crooks and the closing arguments coming up in the case against former Tyco chief Dennis Kozlowski.  Are they going to finally get their pay, just like Martha?  That‘s tomorrow night.

But more on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY and our all-star panel straight ahead. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We are back with our panel. 

Raymond Arroyo, let me bring you back in here to talk more about Christopher Hitchens.  Is he a fascist? 

Go ahead. 

ARROYO:  Yes, well, I would just say, earlier in the week, Carl Bernstein was your guest on the show.  He said this was a conflict between right and left. 

I would refine that critique a bit.  I think this is a conflict between seculars and religious-minded folks.  And it‘s a cultural shift we are witnessing, Joe.  And the other point I wanted to make, Dana made the comment that this was part of Mel Gibson‘s grand marketing scheme.  I was with them.  I covered this story in February of 2003 in Rome, when the salvos coming in and the controversy started.  Believe me, he had no intention of this happening. 

He didn‘t know what was happening.  And I think he was very thrown off his game by it.  And he was sick and had the flu and whole bit while they were shooting the thing.  So, you know, the papal spokesman said today it‘s not anti-Semitic.  To call it anti-Semitic is to call the Gospels anti-Semitic.  So people have to make up their own mind. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Dana, let me give you the final word.  Go ahead.

KENNEDY:  Mel Gibson has been a powerhouse in Hollywood for 20 years. 

He‘s very rarely off his game. 

But I will say, for Raymond and Jennifer, I think the good news is

that Hollywood will be paying a lot more attention to those Christian

conservative audiences, who clearly do want to go see movies like this and

have made their preference very clear with those millions this movie has

racked up.  We‘ll see a lot more movies

(CROSSTALK)

GIROUX:  Oscars, Joe.  It‘s got to get those Oscars. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  We‘ve got to go.  I‘m sorry.  We‘ll see you tomorrow night. 

ARROYO:  Thank you, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Dana, thank you.  Jennifer, thank you.  And, Raymond, thank you. 

We‘ll see you tomorrow night on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.                                                       

END   

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