updated 3/15/2004 12:25:03 PM ET 2004-03-15T17:25:03

Guests: James Hirsen, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Bill Donahue, Peter King, Carl Bernstein, Peter King, Christine Iverson, Michael Meehan

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, deadly terror attacks in Spain are going to dominate next week‘s elections over there, but how is it going to affect the battle for the White House? 

You‘re entering SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  No passport required, not P.C.  police allowed.

It looks like al Qaeda is rearing its ugly head again, putting into sharp question facing American voters this fall:  Should George Bush or John Kerry lead America in its war on terror?

And then NBC uncovers explosive details in the Michael Jackson case that reveal very different stories from the family of Jackson‘s accusers.  And it could destroy the state‘s case against him.  We‘ve got the very latest on that. 

And “Vanity Fair”‘s Christopher Hitchens attacked Mel Gibson last night, calling him a fascist, a sadomasochist, and an ignorant peasant.  Why do some say “The Passion” is a propaganda film, but others say it changed their lives? 

But first, Americans have a target on their backs.  It‘s time for the “Real Deal.” 

The bloodbath our allies in Spain endured this week proves what I‘ve been saying all along.  We‘re a nation and a civilization at war.  Since the blasts blew up 200 people in Spain, the U.S. government has been working around the clock trying to convince anyone who will listen that this was not the work of al Qaeda or their allies.  The only problem with that is the fact that al Qaeda‘s allies are claiming credit for this barbaric execution of babies, mothers, old people and others, while the group that your government wants to pin this terror attack on is denying all responsibility. 

Get this.  The attacks were launched 2 ½ years to the day after 9/11 and they were also 911 days after the attacks on America and came the same week that our CIA director went on Capitol Hill and warned that al Qaeda and their allies were coming after the U.S. with a spectacular attack.

Now, for their part, the terror group claiming responsibility said they killed innocent people in Spain because they were America‘s allies—quote—“This is part of settling old accounts with Spain, the crusader and America‘s ally in its war against Islam.”  The Islamic terror group also promised to launch—quote—“the black winds of death” against America, saying their plans for a spectacular attack on the United States were now 90 percent complete. 

That‘s chilling news for Americans.  That‘s chilling news for the Olympics coming up next year, and it‘s chilling news for civilized people across the world.  Tracking down these thugs is not a police action.  It is world war.  And the sooner we realize that simple, but depressing fact, the safer we all will be. 

And that‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal.” 

Now, terror experts say it‘s not a matter of if we‘ll suffer a massive terror attack, but when.  So who do Americans trust to be in the White House to deal with that threat? 

Republican National Committee Press Secretary Christine Iverson is here.  We also have John Kerry senior adviser Michael Meehan, also.

Michael, let me begin with you.

John Kerry has been very critical of the president‘s war on terror. 

How could John Kerry do a better job? 

MICHAEL MEEHAN, SENIOR ADVISER, JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN:  Well, I guess you‘ve got to go to the start of it all.

He wouldn‘t have gone to a war in this way, in a preemptive way that wouldn‘t have brought others with us.  But now that we‘re there, he wants to make sure that the troops in the field have the tools that they need to do to come home peacefully and with their mission accomplished. 


SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m sorry.  Explain to me how the war on terror was a preemptive strike?  I thought that they attacked us on September 11.

MEEHAN:  Yes, they did.  And then we went and we responded and we attacked in Afghanistan.  And John Kerry supported that.  And then this president said that there were terror links as part of the reason to Iraq.  And so, therefore, we went to Iraq as well.  And now that we‘re there, we‘ve got to make sure that our troops have the kind of support that they need.

For instance, this administration isn‘t funding enough the flak jackets for all the Guardsmen that have been sent over there for the next year and a half.  That‘s outrageous.


SCARBOROUGH:  Again, but didn‘t John Kerry vote against the funding those flak jackets? 

MEEHAN:  No, John Kerry supports the funding for those flak jackets.  He had to put in a separate bill because the Pentagon—the Pentagon could do this today without any votes, actually.


MEEHAN:  They could pay for them right now.

SCARBOROUGH:  Michael, I‘ve been critical of this administration not funding the Kevlar vests over in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But the fact of matter is, also, John Kerry voted against the funding of those flak jackets, didn‘t he? 

MEEHAN:  Because—well, no, there‘s a giant bill, as you know, $87 billion.  They didn‘t have a plan to win the peace.  It had no plan whatsoever, and that‘s why Kerry voted against it. 

He‘s for the troops in the field getting the tools that they need to defend themselves and to fight their mission, absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, in January, John Kerry said that the Bush administration doesn‘t understand the war on terrorism.  This is what he said. 


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This administration doesn‘t understand that the war on terror, while it will involve the military now and then, is primarily an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement operation.  It‘s a great big manhunt. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Christine Iverson, respond to that. 

CHRISTINE IVERSON, PRESS SECRETARY, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  It is shocking to me that John Kerry can say that 9/11 is a law enforcement operation, that the war on terror is a law enforcement operation.  There are fundamental differences between the president‘s position on keeping our nation and our world a safer place and John Kerry‘s position. 

John Kerry introduced a bill to slash $1.5 billion—with a B—in funding for intelligence programs two years after the first World Trade Center bombing, slashing across-the-board intelligence programs.  It‘s very hard to understand how that somehow helps us win the war on terror or make our nation and our world a safer place.


IVERSON:  In addition, John Kerry voted against...

MEEHAN:  You‘ve got your facts wrong.

IVERSON:  John Kerry voted against body armor for our troops.  There was body armor for our troops in the $87 supplemental that John Kerry voted against. 

MEEHAN:  You‘ve got your facts wrong there, too.

IVERSON:  He voted to send our troops to war and he voted against the funding for them. 


IVERSON:  Again, John Kerry needs to explain why he says he supports these things on the campaign trail and worked against them as a member of the United States Senate. 


SCARBOROUGH:  A lot of people, though, Christine, would say George Bush needs to explain why he hasn‘t funded homeland security to the degree on, for instance, port security and other issues like that.  Do you think George Bush hasn‘t spent enough money on homeland security like many are charging? 

IVERSON:  You know, the biggest increases in the budgets we have seen under this president have been for defense spending and homeland security spending. 

And I think it‘s very difficult to argue that we have not put the resources that we need to put in place to take care of protecting our homeland and making our world and our nation a safer place.  Those have been huge budget increases.  We created the Department of Homeland Security under this president specifically to address these problems.  We didn‘t have a Department of Homeland Security before.

And John Kerry needs to explain why it is that he introduced a bill to slash $1.5 billion in funding for our intelligence programs.  He needs to explain it.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, let‘s give Michael 15 seconds to explain that. 

Michael, we‘ve got to go, but explain that for us.

MEEHAN:  Well, we‘ve got the Republicans asking for bigger governments and bigger budgets and bigger deficits.  That‘s a great place to be. 

In 1995, there was $300 million in a slush fund that was set up in the intelligence agencies. And Kerry said, you‘re not spending it.  We‘re taking it back because we‘re trying to restore the deficit.  And then his concept passed unanimously when Arlen Specter, the intelligence chairman, passed an identical bill unanimously and took the money back.  It was in today‘s “Washington Post.” 

They just have their facts wrong.  They want bigger government, bigger spending, bigger deficits.  We are opposed to that.  We want to save the taxpayers money. 


SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thank you so much, Michael Meehan, as always. 

Also, thank you, Christine Iverson.  We appreciate both of you being with us tonight. 

Now, Congressman Peter King of New York is here, and so is Carl Bernstein of “Vanity Fair.” 

Let me begin with you, Carl.

It seems that John Kerry was making it sound like this war on terror is more like a police action.  Do you think John Kerry is up to task of running the war on terror nationwide and across the world? 

CARL BERNSTEIN, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST:  I think that this whole campaign and discussions like we‘ve just heard have get beyond sound bites. 

And I‘m happy to be on with Peter King, because I know he‘s somebody

who really stands for a kind of dialogue.  And I think that what we‘re

hearing here is just nonsense about Kevlar vests


SCARBOROUGH:  So go beyond that. 

BERNSTEIN:  OK, go beyond that. 

I think that we‘re talking about a complicated situation with terrorism that requires nuance and discrimination in how we fight it.  And the question is which candidate has the ability, the record, and knows a nuanced view of the world and has a plan to carry out a war on terrorism that is nuanced. 

And one other thing it seems to me that we‘ve got to look at is the overall kind of record of both these men.  And there‘s a mythology developing about I think left-wing Kerry or something.  He‘s a traditional Democratic centrist.  George Bush is the most radical president we‘ve had in 100 years in this country.  He‘s a genuine radical.

Now, that might be a fine thing, but I think we need to look in a nuanced way at both these men‘s records and how they would fight terrorism, and they have very different approaches.  And votes on Kevlar vests are not the answer. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Peter King, is George Bush a radical when it comes to foreign policy? 

REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK:  Actually, he might be. 

And I think it‘s time to have a radical transformation of our foreign policy.  Let me say, I agree with everything Carl Bernstein said about the trivialization of this debate.  Listen, obviously, George Bush doesn‘t want soldiers being killed in Iraq.  And John Kerry does want to defend our country.  So we should really get all those issues off the table.

But there is really a large issue as to how we address foreign policy. 

What President Bush is saying obviously there‘s intelligence aspects.  There‘s policing aspects.  And we‘re working very closely—this is one issue where we do work closely with the French, the Germans, Spanish.  We can go through the whole list of them. 

But President Bush would be more willing to take preemptive military action, as he did in Iraq—and we could have a side debate on whether or not Iraq was correct.  I believe it was.  But it shows that he is more willing to use the military in a preemptive way, because he believes that‘s essential to this war on terrorism.  And it‘s going to be a war that goes on for five, 10 or 15 years.


KING:  And we can‘t just afford to sit back and wait.

And it‘s a question really of whether or not President Bush has shown the leadership.  I think he has.  It‘s a question of whether or not Senator Kerry would really be willing to take what I believe are the necessarily military actions.  And that‘s what this debate should be about, not questioning motives. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Peter King, CIA Director George Tenet, as you know, told Congress that future attacks are inevitable. 

Take a listen.


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. 


SCARBOROUGH:  It sounds like he‘s saying the attacks are inevitable. 

Let me start with you, Peter King.

Can John Kerry protect America from those attacks? 

KING:  Well, I‘m on the Homeland Security Committee.  There‘s no doubt attacks are being planned.  They are inevitable.  Whether or not we stop them is the issue.

I think President Bush would do a better job.  I think you have to wage this war many ways.  And one thing is to keep al Qaeda off base, to keep them off stride, off balance.  And you do that by the mixture of military intelligence and policing.  I think President Bush would do it in a more aggressive way than John Kerry.  And that will make more effective in the war against terrorism.   


I‘m sorry.  Carl Bernstein, respond. 

BERNSTEIN:  I would respond that the key to Bush‘s approach is what we saw in Iraq.

And it really is worth debating whether that was the way to attack terrorism.  His response immediately after September 11, I think there‘s agreement on both sides of the political aisle that his immediate response was really very, very smart and able.  And I think that there are a lot of people that believe it disintegrated soon after that and that he‘s been saying things that are not quite in line with the facts.

And particularly the question that needs to be debated is, was Saddam Hussein and his country a terrorist threat?  I‘ve been to Baghdad.  I spent a month there.  It was a Stalinist state.  It was not a terrorist state.  Was it a terrible place?  Was this an awful man?  Is there a doctrine of preemption that we ought to be debating?  Yes. 

But let‘s have the debate that I think both Peter and I are talking about here and get off this very simplistic train.  Let‘s look at the question of economic security.  We need economic security as part of national security.  And right now, we have an economic debacle on our hands as a result of the tax cuts that are causing states to raise their taxes.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thanks a lot, Carl Bernstein.

And, as always, Congressman Peter King, we appreciate you also coming to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

And coming up, last year, the family of Michael Jackson‘s accuser called him a blessing.  But now they say he got their 12-year-old drunk and molested him.  What caused them to change their tune?

And then:


CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, “VANITY FAIR”:  His sadomasochistic, Leni Riefenstahl-style of directing reminds me very much of fascist propaganda.


SCARBOROUGH:  And if you thought “The Passion” was bloody, wait until you see the beating Christopher Hitchens gave Mel Gibson last night. 

Stick around, because we‘re going to show you more of that inflammatory interview and see what SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY viewers think about that verbal assault.  That‘s coming up.


SCARBOROUGH:  Up next, an NBC exclusive.  The family of Michael Jackson‘s accusers tell two different versions of events.  Which one is true?  And could this kill the prosecution‘s case against Jackson?

Stick around.  That‘s next.


SCARBOROUGH:  Boy, explosive new details in the Michael Jackson case. 

As you know, the Michael Jackson bombshell rocked the entertainment world with allegations that Jackson molested a 12-year-old cancer patient.  But is the alleged victim‘s family having a tough time keeping their stories straight? 

NBC News correspondent Mike Taibbi has explosive details in this exclusive report. 


MIKE TAIBBI, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  When the controversial British documentary Living with Michael Jackson aired in the U. S on February 6 last year, Beverly Hills psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman was among a handful of child advocates who quickly fired off an outraged complaint. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I felt enough is enough.  I mean I just couldn‘t believe that the world was standing by and letting these children be potentially harmed. 

TAIBBI:  On the day of the broadcast, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon said what appeared on screen was no substitute for credible, cooperative victims, but later would dismiss as unimportant.  An earlier investigation by Los Angeles County that said allegations that Jackson abused his eventual accuser were unfounded. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  To call that an investigation is a misnomer.  It was an interview, plain and simple, and that‘s all it was. 

TAIBBI (on camera):  But you are about to hear why those charges were called unfounded and NBC News can now report exclusively that just two weeks after that documentary aired, Santa Barbara County Sheriff‘s Department began its own official investigation of possible abuse by Michael Jackson of the alleged victim and that Dr. Lieberman‘s letter of complain was the key reason the probe was started. 

(voice-over):  It was February 18 last year, the investigation of suspected child abuse was given a case number and a daily report number.  Producer Matt Carluccio and I spent hours transcribing portions of the documents and can reveal their contents for the very first time.  One early entry from last March 10, an account of an interview by three Los Angeles social workers of the accuser and his the brother, sister and mother at the apartment of the mother‘s boyfriend. 

From the accuser, then a 12-year-old cancer patient, Michael is like a father to me.  He‘s never done anything to me sexually.  And the boy never slept in bed with Michael.  His mother always aware of what goes on in Neverland.  From his mother, Michael is like a father to my children.  He loves them and I trust my children with him.  She said Michael is kind and misunderstood and an important part of her son‘s recovery from cancer.  Sometimes, the mother said her kids would be on Michael‘s bed watching TV and eating s‘mores.  But as for the allegations that they share a bed, it is no.  Her children were never solely alone with Jackson; there is always someone around. 

She said Michael has never been anything but wonderful.  My children have never felt uncomfortable in his presence.  Michael has been a blessing.  The accuser‘s older sister, teary-eyed, according to the report, adds Michael is so kind and loving.  And the father interviewed separately says there is no reason to suspect any wrongdoing by Jackson, adding that he too attributed his son‘s recovery to Jackson. 

On April 16, the Santa Barbara Sheriff‘s Department reached a conclusion.  Based on the interviews with the children and their father, it was determined that the elements of criminal activity were not met.  Therefore, this investigation was classified as a suspected sexual abuse incident report with no further action required.  Case closed.  Case closed after a two-month investigation that took place during much of the period when Jackson is said to have molested his accuser seven times. 

(on camera):  But the case wasn‘t closed.  We learned that on June 13 last year it was dramatically resumed when Santa Barbara‘s investigators heard as NBC News is reporting for the first time, version number 2 of the story told by the accuser and his family in their own words. 

(voice-over):  The family told this version of the story to psychologist Dr. Stan Katz.  In the documents we reviewed, Katz told Santa Barbara‘s investigator the details.  The records quoting Katz as saying the accuser claimed he drank alcohol every night and got buzzed, whiskey, vodka, and Bacardi.  And that when his head hurt from the drinking, Michael said keep drinking.  It will make it feel better. 

He said Michael showed him pictures of naked women on the computer and that he once saw Michael just standing there naked for a moment and that Michael told him he, Michael, had to masturbate or he‘d go crazy.  According to the documents, Katz said the accuser‘s brother told him that on a flight back from Miami, he saw Michael licking the accuser‘s head as the boy slept against Michael‘s chest.  That Michael provided wine, vodka, and tequila on numerous occasions.  That one of Jackson‘s security guards told us he‘d kill us and our parents if we told about the alcohol. 

And that Michael talked a lot about sex.  He said he and his brother constantly sleep in Michael‘s room with Michael and his brother in Michael‘s bed.  He gave graphic details NBC News will not repeat about at least two incidents of inappropriate sexual touching initiated on the accuser by Michael.  The documents quote Katz as saying the accuser‘s sister told him Michael gave her some wine and that she saw Michael kissing him on the cheek, hugging him, always rubbing him. 

According to the report, Katz said the family claimed about their earlier interviews they made them say Michael is a father figure.  He‘s great.  He‘d never do anything bad.  Katz said he believed the family was telling him the truth.  I don‘t get the feeling the mom is lying about anything.  Though she may distort, I really felt the kids were credible. 

(on camera):  Credible enough that molestation charges have been brought against Michael Jackson.  But we now know the details of the two totally opposite stories told by the family for the record.  And thus the question remains, which story to believe? 

(voice-over):  The one about Michael as a loving father figure, a save haven, a blessing or the one that describes a predator who plied his vulnerable young victim with alcohol and his own sexual obsessions.  Both stories and any explanations would surely be tested at a trial which NBC News has been told won‘t begin until well into 2005 next year. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks, Mike.  What a report. 

Hey, the host of “THE ABRAMS REPORT” is with us.  And it‘s Dan Abrams. 

Dan, that‘s a remarkable report. 


SCARBOROUGH:  What does that do to this case?  What does it do for the defense? 

ABRAMS:  Look, I think it‘s a big deal. 

I think in particular the fact that the Santa Barbara authorities did their own investigation.  Even if they didn‘t specifically interview the family and the kids, even if they were using the interviews from child services, the fact that they did their own interview and they came to their own conclusion that they were going to close this case, you know, that‘s very different than what the district attorney, Tom Sneddon, has said publicly, when he sort of dismissed the L.A. Child Services interview and investigation, saying, well, you know, that‘s a department that‘s had a lot of problems.  That‘s a department that, in essence, you just can‘t rely on.

Then we find out his own department did an investigation and determined, in effect, that there was nothing to substantiate the claims.  I think this is very helpful to the defense camp. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Dan, as you know, the family is going to be on trial here when this case finally does end up in a courtroom.  Do you think that just absolutely destroys the mother and the family‘s credibility, changing their story as dramatically as they did over a few months time after they went and talked to a civil authority about possibly suing Jackson? 

ABRAMS:  You know, what‘s weird, Joe, is that the whole family is changing their stories.  That‘s what I find particularly odd, is, we‘re not just talking about one person changing a story.  We‘re not just talking about just mom or just the accuser.  We‘re talking about everyone in the family, sister, brother, boy, mother.

Everyone tells one story at one time and then everyone tells a different story later?  Kind of weird. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Kind of weird, indeed. 


ABRAMS:  I don‘t know what else to say, honestly.  It‘s a disturbing -

·         and I think there‘s no question that this helps the defense. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I agree with you 100 percent.  Well, Dan Abrams, thanks a lot for being with us tonight. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We greatly appreciate it.

And, hey, just a reminder, you can catch “THE ABRAMS REPORT” Monday through Friday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.  you‘re not going to want to miss that any night.  Yes, I‘m telling you, it‘s must-see TV. 

And, still to come, “Vanity Fair”‘s Christopher Hitchens calls the man behind “The Passion” a fascist and a queer basher, sending shockwaves through SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  We‘re going to get your take on that explosive interview.

And then, the South Korean Parliament votes to oust their leader and then fights over who gets to physically do it.  Stick around for that.

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


SCARBOROUGH:  Last night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, the gloves came off when Christopher Hitchens tried to bloody Mel Gibson and went after his movie “The Passion.” 

Here‘s some of what Mr. Hitchens said last night. 


HITCHENS:  His sadomasochistic, Leni Riefenstahl-style of directing reminds me very much of fascist propaganda.

Yes, he‘s a fascist and he‘s an ignorant peasant and a superstition monger.


SCARBOROUGH:  Bill Donahue from the Catholic League, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has spoken extensively with Christopher Hitchens on his radio talk show host show, and the author of “Tales From the Left Coast,” James Hirsen, who has spent a lot of time with Mel Gibson and the rest of the since “The Passion”‘s release, are all with us tonight.

Let me begin with you, though, Bill Donahue.  And let‘s start with what I believe to the most serious charge here that seems to catching a lot of following out there, that he‘s a fascist, that this movie shows that Mel Gibson is a fascist. 

WILLIAM DONAHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE:  Well, first, they said it was anti-Semitic.  That didn‘t work.  Then they said it was too violent.  That didn‘t work.  Then they said it was S&M.  That didn‘t work.  Then they said it was pornography.  That didn‘t work.

Now they‘re saying it‘s fascistic queer bashing.  That kind of language would ordinarily get somebody taken away in a straitjacket and put you in the asylum.  I don‘t know what about they queer bashing is all about.  I‘m pretty good about picking out who queers are and I didn‘t see any in the movie.  I‘m usually pretty good at that.

SCARBOROUGH:  Rabbi, let me bring you in here and ask you, do you agree with the comments of Christopher Hitchens, that Mel Gibson‘s a fascist, that he is trying to get people to go after Jews, that he‘s anti-Semitic, that his film is anti-Semitic, that this is very dangerous?

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH, FORMER JACKSON SPIRITUAL ADVISER:  I certainly agree that Mel Gibson is an irresponsible bigot.  And I‘m amazed that the Christian population of this country, both Protestants and Catholics, who are so God-fearing and patriotic, would lend their support to a man who is so violent that he told “The New Yorker” magazine seen that he‘d take Frank Rich from “The New York Times” and cut out his intestines and kill his dog, a man who lied in the name of the pope to say that pope said, “This is as it was,” and then the pope‘s spokesman denied that he ever said that, a man who said that all Protestants are going to hell, including his own wife, a man whose movie is very homophobic, because—I‘m amazed that Bill Donahue said he didn‘t see this.

Herod Antipas is portrayed as a very strange homosexual with a homosexual entourage in the movie.

DONAHUE:  He‘s queer?

BOTEACH:  Now, if you look in the Bible, it doesn‘t tell us anywhere that Herod Antipas was anything but straight. 

It‘s a bizarre scene.  It has no origin in the Bible.  But so much of this film is just pure invention.  Of course, when you ask me if it‘s anti-Semitic, Joe, what do you do with a scene that has no origin in the Bible, again, where Mary Magdalene goes a Roman centurion and says that Jews are trying to try Jesus the prophet and kill him, and the Roman centurion, who is now portrayed as just such a humanitarian police officer protecting the public order, rather than the occupying menace which the Romans really were, if this doesn‘t trouble everyone, I wonder what does. 


SCARBOROUGH:  So does that make him a bigot? 

BOTEACH:  When you say that all Protestants are going to hell because

they‘re not Catholic, that makes you a bigot.  When you have a father that

say that pope is a Koran kisser, and yet your father never told you a lie

and you don‘t object to it


DONAHUE:  That‘s right.  Get the father.  Make sure you get the father.


BOTEACH:  Well, Bill, do you have a problem with his father saying that your pope is a Koran kisser?


BOTEACH:  I think that John Paul II is a great man.  I would defend him.  You‘re the head of the Catholic League.


SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead, Bill.

Let Bill respond.

DONAHUE:  Yes, let me tell you somewhere. 

Joaquin Navarro-Valls is the official spokesman for the Vatican.  And I got news for you, Rabbi.  In the last 24 hours, he came out and said it was not anti-Semitic, that in fact the movie tracks the Bible very well. 

Your problem and the problem of a lot of people in this country is with the New Testament.  It‘s not with Mel Gibson, all right?  And leave his father—he‘s 85-year-old—out of it.  There‘s a real problem in this country with the elites.  They have lost this battle.  Now, you tried very hard.  It‘s true.

This is a monumental collapse on the part of elites.  The rank-and-file Christians in this country, who are not anti-Semitic, are really looking at this and they‘re saying, every place I go, what is wrong with the critics?  Have they lost it?  Are they drunk?  Are they on Ecstasy?  How come they can‘t think straight. 


BOTEACH:  The critics have panned the movie.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hitchens says that he thinks that there‘s a sexual element to this movie.  Let‘s take a listen to what he said.


HITCHENS:  ... homoeroticism in the idea that it‘s real fun to watch a 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. 


SCARBOROUGH:  James Hirsen, he said there‘s a certain element of homoeroticism to this.  Respond. 

JAMES HIRSEN, AUTHOR, “TALES FROM THE LEFT COAST”:  Well, my dear Congressman, it seems to me that, as this film has become more and more successful—Frank Rich predicted it would be a bomb.  The Hollywood trades predicted it would be a bomb last year, even before it was done—they have become more shrill and more hysterical. 

It reminds me of somebody having a tantrum.  It says more really about the detractors.  It says more about Christopher Hitchens than it does about the film.  If he can find that in that film, it seems to me that we could take a survey among the—now it‘s going to be approaching millions of people that go out and see this film and see if they see that in the film, I dare say we would see a tiny, minuscule percentage of people that would see that kind of sick, kinky, twisted, perverted interpretation of the film. 

So, no, it‘s ludicrous.

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, you‘ve, of course, spent a lot of time with Mel Gibson, a lot of time with the cast.  When you hear these charges that Mel Gibson is anti-Semitic, that he‘s a fascist, that he‘s basically trying to whip up hatred among Christians and Jews in the world, what‘s your response? 

HIRSEN:  Oh, my response is, ask any person who has worked with Mel.  You talk to people in Hollywood, you talk to the big stars, you talk to the cast of this film, and you observe Mel Gibson, you spend time with him, what you find, he‘s the antithesis of any of these descriptions.  There‘s not a bigoted cell in his body. 

I‘ve been in his office.  I‘ve watched the way he treats people.  He treats the guy who sweeps the floor the same as he treats the star of his film.  He‘s the most un-Hollywood individual out there.  And the notion that he‘s bigoted flies against his faith.  And that‘s what being disrespected here.  This is anti-Christian bigotry. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Another thing Hitchens said last night was that, well, he believes that Christians are way off base.  Take a listen. 


HITCHENS:  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. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Rabbi, let‘s talk about Christians for a second here. 

A lot of people are saying this is an anti-Semitic film.  A lot of

people, especially on the left—I‘m certainly not putting you on the left

·         but a lot of people politically on the left are saying that, again, he‘s just trying to whip up a frenzy against Jews.  If that‘s the case, what does that say about the millions of Christians that have gone to see this movie and say that it‘s a life-changing experience?  Are they fascist?  Are they brownshirts?  Are they Jew haters? 

BOTEACH:  First of all, I‘m politically on the right and also I revere Christianity as a religion that has taught more people about God than any other in history.

But the reason why Christians are getting behind so foul a film is out of sheer desperation.  They‘re so sickened of the sewer coming out of Hollywood that they‘re so thankful that something religious that has elevated the public discourse—and, that, I do credit Mel Gibson for.  I‘d much rather talk about “The Passion of the Christ” than talk about Britney Spears getting drunk and getting married.

But they‘re doing this because they‘re simply desperate.  They want to see Christianity in the mainstream.  I have no problem with that.  I just don‘t want to see it as a violent, World Wrestling Federation-type movie about a guy being savagely beaten for two hours without any wider context. 

Now, Bill Donahue is saying that I have a problem with the New Testament.  Mel Gibson has a problem with the New Testament.  The New Testament says the rabbi saved Jesus‘ life, Luke Chapter 13, Verse 31, when Herod wanted to kill him.  Do you get any impression of that in the movie?  The New Testament says that Jesus said that Pontius Pilate was a complete sadist and a monster, Luke Chapter 13, Verse 1, who massacred a whole group of Galileans inside the temple, and was so sadistic that he mixed their blood with the blood of the animal sacrifices.

Those are Jesus‘ direct words.  Do you see that in the movie?  Of course not.  This is all sacrilege.  It goes against Jesus‘ teachings.  Mel Gibson is nothing but, sadly, an irresponsible bigot.  And how sad that Catholicism especially has gotten behind some who denies Vatican 2, denies the pope.  He‘s a fundamentalist Catholic.  He does not like the Catholic Church.  I don‘t know what Bill Donahue is doing something defending him.


SCARBOROUGH:  You‘ve given Bill Donahue awful lot to respond to. 

Let‘s let Bill respond.

Go ahead. 

DONAHUE:  Mel Gibson is a wonderful man.  He‘s a good Catholic.  He‘s not bigoted.

Clearly, from speaking to Mel—and I have met him on several occasions now—I can tell you that he is more faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church than a number of priests and a number of nuns I know, including a number of theologians.  You‘ve had people like Father Andrew Greeley call it pornographic.  Father John Pawlikowski of the Catholic Theological Union is up in arms over the movie.  So it‘s not just some Jews who are against this thing.

Look, what this movie represents is crystallization of the culture wars.  Christians have had it, and a lot of Jews, I know, like the rabbi here, who are on the same side of the culture war.  We‘ve had it with the filth coming out of Hollywood.  I do think the rabbi is sadly mistaken if he thinks that the appetite for this movie, which is so strong in Christian circles, is simply because of the Hollywood bashing that we‘ve seen for the last 25 years.

This speaks to us in a spiritual exercise.  And I think the time has come that, if I were a critic of this movie, I‘d realize that I had lost this battle.  Stop with the hyperbole.  Stop with the invective.  Start reaching out to people and find out why Christians do love this movie.  And, by the way, it‘s been out for over two weeks.  You know what the body count is?  Zero.  Of course, I could have told you that a long time ago. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Bill Donahue, we‘re going to have to keep it there for right now.  But stick around.  We‘re going to have a lot more on this coming up. 

The good folks at SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY also had a few words for Christopher Hitchens.  It‘s your turn to talk back.

And then, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY regular Peggy Noonan tells us why she thinks the controversy surrounding “The Passion” is a very good thing. 

Stick around for that.  We‘ll be back in minute.

ANNOUNCER:  SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY challenge.  Producer/director Mel Gibson appears in which scene of “The Passion of the Christ”?  Is it, A, the last supper, B, the scourging of Christ, or, C, the crucifixion?

The answer coming up.


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

Producer/director Mel Gibson appears in which scene of “The Passion of the Christ”?  The answer is C, the crucifixion.  Gibson‘s hand is seen nailing Christ to the cross.

Now here‘s Joe.

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

And, James Hirsen, I want to go to you first. 

It‘s amazing.  This film has been out for two weeks.  It‘s sold over $200 million.  Everybody is going to see it.  It seems the reviews are becoming more and more harsh every day.  Last night, we have Hitchens on.  He made some statements that I know offended a lot of Christians, a lot of Catholics.  I know tonight‘s conversation will offend a lot of people.  It may offend some gays out there.

Tell me, what is it about “The Passion” that divides people so much? 

HIRSEN:  I think it represents the cultural divide. 

It just reveals, really, where people stand when it comes to this fundamental point of view about Christianity.  It‘s very interesting that both Chris Hitchens and Rabbi Shmuley have difficulty with the central core focus of the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

The first begins—the very thing that the audience sees after the opening credits is text.  And the text is the Bible.  And it says that the wounding and the bruising that you‘re about to see is for iniquity and for transgressions.  And his says these words that really are a condensation of Mel Gibson‘s testimony: “By his stripes, we are healed.”  That‘s the central focus that I think people that are secularists and, unfortunately, some people on the left find offensive.  But that is something that hundreds of millions of people find religiously significant and that they believe in.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Hitchens swears he‘s not anti-Catholic, but that‘s only part of his story. 

Take a listen to this, Bill Donahue.


HITCHENS:  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.


SCARBOROUGH:  Bill, Christopher Hitchens said a lot of things on the air last night that a lot of people on the left are afraid to say on national TV.  Do you think that‘s what this all comes down to, sort of a war between people of faith and atheists or secular leftists? 

DONAHUE:  Well, I think that‘s a part of it.  But then you have to explain why there are some Catholic theologians who are upset because Mel Gibson didn‘t vet the script by then.  So I think that‘s one piece of it.

Christopher has spoken with nothing with derision against Mother Teresa.  I‘ve debated him on that.  Look, he‘s a great guy.  He‘s a good guy.  But when he gets onto the subject of religious, he goes off the deep end.

I want to address one second this whole question of fascism; 20 New York City police detectives were authorized to go into the theaters to monitor the movie.  If you want to talk about fascism, what were they doing there on my dollar checking out a movie that, what, might lead to a hate crime?  The ACLU in New York City wasn‘t upset about it at all.  They said, Well, maybe there‘s a reason.  If people want to worry about fascism in this movie, they should worry about why the police in New York City were authorized to go into the theaters to keep a check on the movie.

If they were monitoring “Schindler‘s List,” boy, I‘ll tell you, the Jews would be upset and I‘d be with them. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s get to one of the hundreds of viewers e-mails we got about Christopher Hitchens‘s interview last night. 

Rhonda wrote in and said: “Christopher Hitchens and others like him are the ones causing a wedge between Christians and Jews, not Mel Gibson.”

Rabbi, I think one of the great ironies of this is, over the past year, we‘ve seen Christians, especially evangelical, conservative Christians, side with Israel and side with Jews more than ever before in this war on terror and, quite frankly, the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan.  Do you really think that this is going to cause a division between Christians and Jews? 

BOTEACH:  Oh, we‘re deeply indebted to Christian evangelical support and love for Israel.  Christian evangelicals are some of the finest people in our country.  They have raised beautiful families.

But, I‘m sorry, there‘s no quid pro quo.  Their support for Israel is not going to keep me silent about a movie that depicts my people killing God.  Forget it.  That‘s what we have been slaughtered for, for 2,000 years. 

Now, we can say all we want that this is not going to lead to violence.  And perhaps that‘s true.  But the fact is that, even on your show, Joe, I debated Franklin Graham, whose father, one of the greatest Americans, Billy, was tape-recorded by Richard Nixon calling Jews devils—this was back in the 1970s—because he read the account as well that the Jews killed Christ. 

Now, if someone as educated as Billy Graham can think that I‘m the devil, that I am possessed by some malevolent spirit because of my complicity in the death of Christ, I believe we have to educate people.  The Jews did not do this.  This goes against all teachings of the Catholic Church.  Mel Gibson has not made a religious film. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thank you so much, Rabbi, as always.

BOTEACH:  Thank you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We appreciate you coming in to tell your side of the story, another side of the story.

Thank you also, Bill Donahue.

And James Hirsen, as always, we appreciate you being in SCARBOROUGH


Now it‘s time for Noonan@Night, MSNBC political expert and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan‘s weekly commentary. 

This week, it‘s Peggy on “The Passion.”  And you might be surprised on what she thinks about it. 


PEGGY NOONAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  This weekend, “The Passion of the Christ” is going to pass the quarter-billion dollar mark at the box office. 

And “Variety,” the show business bible, says it‘s not all old people who are going to see it.  The young are going to see it, too, including young men, apparently because of all the violence they‘ve heard about, at least some of them. 

Well, that debate continues.  I happen to think the scourging was pretty tough in the movie, but I think I get Mel Gibson‘s point.  We don‘t do a lot of religious movies in America.  And, sometimes, when you‘re talking to the hard of hearing, you have to yell. 

Anyway, “The Passion” is one of the few movies I‘ve ever seen with serious and quite brilliant critics and serious and brilliant supporters.  The movie‘s foes have lost the battle, apparently, to keep people from seeing it.  And now they‘re trying to stigmatize it.  Sure, you‘re going to, but don‘t you feel bad about it?  You‘re helping something so controversial, so very wicked. 

But that apparently hasn‘t stopped anyone.  In fact, if you want to see the culture wars with your own eyes, literally see the great divide in our country, just go tomorrow night to the theater locally where “The Passion” is playing and watch the crowds come out.  They look serious, thoughtful, sometimes stricken, as if the movie has hit something inside them that they didn‘t even know existed. 

Then walk down the street to the newspaper stand and see the magazines and newspapers that are still reviewing the movie and denouncing it in the bitterest terms.  They really hate this film.

So it‘s a big argument.  And is this so terrible?  No.  Everyone gets a say.  Democracy is one big argument, and should be.  You can go to the movie or not, read a critic denouncing it or not.  It‘s your call.  And maybe the best thing to come out of the argument over “The Passion” is that it‘s gotten people talking about what they believe. 

The biggest thing I‘ve realized since the movie came out is that so many non-Christians who can talk about the finest points of public policy and literature seem to have a limited idea of what Christians really believe.  The movie has opened that conversation up.  And Christians who know the story of the crucifixion are learning more about the inner assumptions and the understandable historical fears of some non-Christians.  That‘s not a bad thing.

So, sure, it‘s an argument.  But the idea that we‘re all learning more, the idea that a discussion of the Bible is part of the national conversation, the idea that the most riveting thing in America right now is a film about faith, this is all good.  In fact, I think it‘s beyond good.  It‘s like a miracle—Joe. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you, Peggy.  We‘ll be right back. 


SCARBOROUGH:  You know the schoolyard game of king of the hill?  Somebody defends their position while schoolmates try to tackle him and remove him and become king of the hill. 

Well, that describes the scene perfectly in South Korea‘s Parliament, where legislators tried to pass a bill to impeach their president.  Now, by law, the bill had to be introduced from the podium.  And these legislators were fighting to get up there.  And the opposition fought them off successfully in a 20-minute scuffle.

It kind of looked like the impeachment proceedings when I was in Washington a few years ago. 

Hey, we‘ll see you next week in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  Have a great weekend.


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