updated 5/3/2004 10:52:40 AM ET 2004-05-03T14:52:40

Guests: Christopher Hitchens, David Dreier, pat Buchanan, Margie Omero, Bob Zelnick, Bob Kohn, Eric Alterman

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight‘s top headline, images of U.S. troops abusing Iraqi prisoners spark outrage across the Arab world.  The real deal, these thugs must be dealt with swiftly and severely. 

Welcome to Sunday night and SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, where no passport is required and only common sense is allowed. 

Horrifying images of prisoners being tortured in an Iraqi prison, but this time it‘s American soldiers that stand accused.  As these photos hit the Middle East, it is opening another difficult chapter in our already troubled Iraq policy. 

Plus, ABC‘s “Nightline” used their show Friday night to read the names of every U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.  Critics say this tribute was a ratings stunt.  We are going to have the debate. 

And despite the worst month in Iraq in more than a year, John Kerry hasn‘t benefited in the polls, while President Bush‘s approval ratings are still holding steady.  We are going to ask our experts why.

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress.  Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, welcome to our show.  You know, there‘s been so much bad news coming out of the Middle East and Iraq, it was great today to actually get some good news.  American hostage Thomas Hamill escaped from his captors and flagged down U.S. troops, who took him to safety.  Despite a gunshot wound in his arm, Hamill is in good health, and we have some exclusive video of his wife getting the first phone call from her husband. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLIE HAMILL, THOMAS HAMILL‘S WIFE:  It over, baby.  We‘re—mama‘s fine.  The kids are OK. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Kellie Hamill told her husband that their home town of Macon, Mississippi was going to hold a parade for him that will never end.  I‘ve actually had to go to some of those parades when I was in Congress. 

Well, let me introduce tonight‘s panel.  The parades that never end, you know about that.  With me is “Vanity Fair‘s” Christopher Hitchens, Congressman David Dreier of California, former presidential candidate and MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan, and Margie Omero, Democratic strategist and pollster.

Let me begin with you.

REP. DAVID DREIER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Joe, let me just say, you will go to no end to ensure that Wolf Blitzer does not have the last word on Sunday talk, I have noticed. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.  Either me or the people running MSNBC.  Let me go to Christopher Hitchens.  You have supported this liberation effort in Iraq from the very beginning.  I know that Americans that you have spoken with over the past couple of days, like those that we have talked to, have been sickened by these images that have been coming out of Iraq.  What‘s the long-term impact going to be on our efforts in Iraq, of these beatings and these images of torture that American troops put on Iraqis? 

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, VANITY FAIR:  I have actually been in Abu Ghraib prison last summer, and I saw what it was like when it was used for its former purposes.  You were tortured there because they thought you might be a suicide bomber, they were tortured there for your opinions or for anything at all, just for recreation. 

The disgusting thing about these photographs, among other things, is obviously the recreational element.  I mean, there‘s clearly something sick and frivolous about it.  No one can persuade you, even that the bad case for torture would be correct, that we were trying to stop someone with a ticking bomb.  I mean, this not that.  It‘s.

SCARBOROUGH:  What is the long term impact? 

HITCHENS:  It also means something very serious.  Either that is being allowed by people higher up, somewhere, or it is not.  If it is, you need to find out who they are, because they are somewhere in the middle and giving their own orders.  If it isn‘t, it is the equivalent of mutiny or insubordination or treason in the field.

So actually what it tests in my case is not my opposition to torture, which is what it is, but my opposition to capital punishment.  I see no reason why these guys aren‘t being shot by their commanders, actually.  What they‘ve done to the United States.

SCARBOROUGH:  What do you think the long term impact is?

HITCHENS:  . is absolutely horrifying.  Think what they have done to any American who‘s taken prisoner from now on.  Imagine that, first of all.  But one, really—one good thing, I will just say one extra thing if I may.  It‘s good that everyone in any position to do so in the American coalition side has said what needs to be said about it.  It would be very good if there was a statement every now and then from a mullah or an imam saying that it is forbidden, it‘s haram (ph), to take hostages or to maltreat them.  Not just to mutilate their corpses, but to kill them or .

SCARBOROUGH:  But you know what?

HITCHENS:  . (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the first place.  That would be nice. 

SCARBOROUGH:  The silence is deafening, isn‘t it?

HITCHENS:  That doesn‘t matter.  We have to do it anyway.

SCARBOROUGH:  David Dreier, hold on a second, I want to read to you what “The New Yorker” posted online.  And they got more information on this.  They got a hold of a confidential Army report investigating the alleged torture, and they documented this.  “Sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses.  Including pouring cold water on naked detainees, beating detainees with a broom handle, threatening male detainees with rape, sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light, and perhaps a broom stick.”

How should the president, you and your peers in Congress, the United States military, respond to this outrage? 

DREIER:  Well, it‘s just as Christopher said and what I would add, I mean, we all need to demonstrate the outrage which we feel.  The president, the moment that he was asked this, when this first came up at the end of the week, made it clear that this was horrible.  It is sickening to see this kind of treatment of another human being, and I.

SCARBOROUGH:  What is the long-term impact, though, on the Iraq policy?

DREIER:  The best way to ensure that the long-term impact is not a negative one is, as Christopher said, to have mullahs come forward and see that those who are detained are not treated poorly, but also for us to see swift justice.  For us to not only speak out against this with great passion and enthusiasm and anger, but it is for us to ensure that these people are brought to justice, and that they can be held up so that those in the Arab world are able to see that we do not tolerate this kind of treatment of prisoners. 

HITCHENS:  I want to know—I want to know who authorized taking pictures for fun and sharing them around.  I mean, this is so sick that it defies description. 

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER:  All these people need to be brought to justice.  All those who were in any way involved in this.  And I think it needs to be done in a way which we can send this message to the rest of the entire world. 

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, if you want to talk about the long term impact, it‘s really going to worsen our standing abroad, even more so than we already have, by being in this conflict to begin with. 

HITCHENS:  Well, of course, if you don‘t want to fight against Saddam Hussein or the supporters of Wahhabist or Khomeinist (ph) terrorism, then your life is incredibly simple.  You can just leave them to their own devices and let them take over Iraq, but I can‘t believe you meant to sound as if you meant to say that. 

OMERO:  Well, in a way.

HITCHENS:  Did you?  Did you?

OMERO:  . the path to war, the path to war did not endear us to the international community, and this incident—these incidents are being covered much more frequently in the international press than they are here, which is a shame.  I mean, I agree with what everyone else has said that this is an outrage. 

HITCHENS:  I understand that you want to be liked.  I think I can get that.  The path to war is not being discussed here at this moment.  We are talking about human rights abuse, which is one of the reasons, as you must have noticed, for the war in the first place.  The whole of Iraq was an Abu Ghraib prison.  Until recently, people were being randomly tortured, mutilated in public, having their tongues torn and cut out in front of their families.  Their families made to applaud.  We still haven‘t dug up all of the mass graves.  That is nothing to you that makes us unpopular if we confront it?  Are you serious is what I‘m asking? 

OMERO:  Well, I was serious in what I said.  I was serious that this was going to be.

HITCHENS:  Well, it is (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

OMERO:  . this is going to be, make us—it‘s going to hurt our reputation abroad.  I mean, it‘s.

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER:  If we don‘t bring these people to justice, if we don‘t try to address this.

HITCHENS:  You make it sound like a matter of image.  We‘re talking about a matter of conviction, a matter of principle.  You (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

OMERO:  We certainly all agree that these are atrocities.  We are all on the same page.

HITCHENS:  I should hope so.

OMERO:  . that these—I don‘t think anyone here and certainly I did not say that these were not atrocities.  And we have to wait and see if these were condoned or encouraged.  I mean, one of the folks who was interviewed in that “60 Minutes” episode said that he was rewarded and told that he did a good job with the prisoners, you know, and obviously there is more information... 

DREIER:  And that‘s why every single person who is in any way tied to this needs to be brought to justice. 

OMERO:  I agree.  I agree.

DREIER:  We are all—we‘re on the same page with that. 

OMERO:  And I think Bush has addressed it.

DREIER:  What is our commitment to bring about a successful resolution in Iraq? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, I want to bring you in, Pat, and I want to move on from this and talk about something else that happened that‘s disturbing an awful lot of people.  After weeks of U.S. generals threatening insurgents and terrorists in Fallujah, we in effect backed off this past week and turned it over to one of Saddam Hussein‘s former generals.  What is your take on that and what type of message does that send to terrorists in Iraq and across the Middle East? 

PAT BUCHANAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, it‘s worse than that, because the president of the United States last weekend, Joe, took this decision up to Camp David, and we were told and the world was told he was deciding on what to do about Fallujah.  And he had said, you know, these thugs, these terrorists, they are going to get what they deserve, and everyone anticipated a Marine assault to finish off the 1,500 insurgents in Fallujah.  Instead, we got a Marine withdrawal. 

Now, the U.S. Marines weren‘t defeated, but it is being portrayed across the Arab world, in Iraq, all over, as the Fallujah has stood up against the Americans, defeated the Americans.  It can be done.  It is going to strengthen the morale of anti-American forces all over the Middle East and in Iraq.  I don‘t understand it from the standpoint of the president‘s policy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Pat Buchanan, you said that it‘s going to send a message across the Arab world that they won.  It was actually on the front page of “The Washington Post” today—“We Won” was the banner headline on page A-1. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  Now you have got a sanctuary, a privileged sanctuary for insurgents in Fallujah and in Najaf, and to a degree in Karbala, and what you‘ve got is a morale booster for the enemy in this war that the president says we are going to win.  And what is being sent is a message of confusion.  Are the Americans pulling out and they‘re allowing the enemy to hold certain areas and we hold on (UNINTELLIGIBLE), or are we in there to win this war and impose our kind of democratic government on this country, which you can‘t do if you cede territory to the enemy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  David Dreier. 

DREIER:  It is very clear to me that the United States of America is in this to win.  We are focused on this June 30 date.  The date at which time we have agreed to have this handover to Iraqi forces.  And we are very, very committed to that date as has been set forward.  But today the pictures that we saw were Fallujans returning home.  And to me, that was not an indication of defeat. 

Obviously, it‘s important for us to continue to monitor this general, who was tied, one of the leaders of the elite Republican Guard of Saddam Hussein.  But we are turning this over to Iraqis.  That‘s going to happen.  Clearly, some who are Baathists, will be involved in that.  And I think we need to vet them as well as possible. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, we got a lot more straight ahead.  We are going to continue this conversation.  I am going to ask Christopher Hitchens to respond to some comments by Robert Kagan and others who are attacking the president.  Again, these are people that have been the president‘s supporters for some time.

But also straight ahead, ABC‘s “Nightline” airs the names of all of the servicemen and women killed in Iraq.  Were they honoring the fallen, or making a political statement?  That‘s coming up next.

And then, American support for President Bush is still on the rise, but what do Iraqis think about the president‘s handling of the war?  We‘ll tell you that in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  A TV station owner says ABC‘s special edition of “Nightline,” dedicated to naming every soldier killed in Iraq, was politically motivated.  Is that true?  Well, my all-star panel will be debating that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Some of Bush‘s most loyal supporters are starting to doubt the administration.  Robert Kagan wrote in today‘s “Washington Post,” quote: “Naming one of Saddam Hussein‘s Republican Guard generals to lead the pacification of the city is the kind of bizarre idea that only desperate people can conjure.  The Bush administration is evidently in a panic, and this panic is being conveyed to the American people.”

And Andrew Sullivan wrote on his blog, quote: “What does this sign of our retreat say to the rest of the people?  It makes me worry if the Bush administration has begun to abandon Iraq to internal chaos.”

Christopher Hitchens, do you believe the fog of war is finally descending on the Bush White House? 

HITCHENS:  Look, if the United States was the country that people think it is, or sometimes say they think it is, it could do to Fallujah what some sick fools have been allowed to do in Abu Ghraib prison.  And (UNINTELLIGIBLE), they could level it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, just level it. 

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  They could do to Fallujah what Assad of Syria did in Hamma (ph). 

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  So the decision not to do that can always be interpreted as weakness, but imagine what the other decision would have been called. 

Now, I don‘t want to quarrel with this business of insurgent.  In Najaf, for example, we know there are people within the city who are shooting at Muqtada al-Sadr‘s forces and denouncing them by leaflet.  Are they counterinsurgents?  Are they anti-insurgents?  Or are they Iraqi democrats who want a chance to breathe and don‘t want to be handed over to some “Clockwork Orange” mullah? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I guess that‘s the problem here.

HITCHENS:  These are all very—there is a limit to my armchair generalship, but actually if I were a general not in an armchair, what I would do was, with both cities, I‘d give it a chance, the Iraqis to find out what it would be like not to stay with the transition program of hand over the sovereignty, investing of $87 billion in Iraq‘s infrastructure, and an election.  That‘s what‘s being organized so far.  Hasn‘t been done brilliantly, but that is the program.  Those who are fighting against it would be fighting against it if it had been done better.  Don‘t doubt it.

Give them a chance to see what it‘s like living for a few days with the saboteurs.  I would.  It is tremendously risky and it could look weak, but the Republican Guard general doesn‘t bother me so much, because it‘s a matter of not who he is ordering but who he‘s taking orders from. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And you know, David, I‘ll tell you what I‘m hearing from a lot of people that watch this show, and I know you‘re hearing it from your constituents.  A lot of people are watching what‘s going on over there and basically saying, the hell with the Iraqis.  If they are going to allow these thugs to take over their cities and not fight back, why should our young men die there? 

HITCHENS:  But they are fighting back.

DREIER:  But the fact of the matter is.

HITCHENS:  There are Iraqis willing to fight, and there have actually been very brave Iraqis fighting in both Fallujah and in Najaf. 

DREIER:  That exactly right.  I mean, and we saw today, I mean, of those Republican Guard, there are Iraqis who are coming forward.  You know, we have had—we have lots of civilians on the ground with our courageous military, and we are obviously happy that Thomas Hamill has come back, we hope that Mr. Maupin will be back soon.  And you know, we have really suffered greatly.  But there are a lot of very positive things that have come, and I believe that as we look towards the goal of self-determination, which we hope by January of next year we will see that take place.  And so this anger over the fact that the United States today, literally weeks before the June 30 turnover, is in the process of trying to make changes that are going to be essential if we do comply with that June 30 date, is really ridiculous.  We need to take the steps we are taking right now to successfully do what the American people want us to do and what the Iraqi people want us to do. 

HITCHENS:  The coordination with inside Fallujah, with inside, I‘m sorry, inside Fallujah, excuse me, is clearly orchestrated by former members of the Republican Guard, or people who probably consider themselves still to be members.  Well, if you want to flush them out, an ex-member might be a way to do that.  It‘s not—I don‘t like the softness on de-Baathification, I have to say, but this is not obviously—this is not obviously—it‘s not obviously a crazy or weak decision.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, stay with me, General, because right now I want to talk about ABC “Nightline‘s” decision to dedicate Friday night‘s entire show to the reading of the names of the 700 American soldiers and Marines who were called in the Iraq war.  Like the fight over the coffin pictures a few weeks back, some saw ABC‘s decision as an anti-war ploy and a clumsy attempt to grab ratings during sweeps week. 

But others say it was a worthy tribute, and a reminder of the war‘s cost in human life.  With me now is Bob Zelnick.  He‘s formerly a reporter for ABC News, who was forced to leave the network after writing a book that was critical of Al Gore.  Thanks for being with us tonight, Bob.  Obviously, a lot of conservatives are very angry about the show that was aired this past week.  I want to ask you what your take is on it? 

BOB ZELNICK, FORMER ABC NEWS REPORTER:  First of all, I have known Ted Koppel for 25 years.  He‘s a friend.  I have great respect for him as a journalist, and when he says that he didn‘t intend the debate over his reading of the names of those killed in action to eclipse the honor he was trying to bestow on them, I think he‘s telling the truth.  But I think he is profoundly wrong, and I think it is something he should have foreseen and that ABC News should have foreseen, that many would regard it as an anti-war stunt.  Many others would regard it as a stunt to boost ratings, as you say, during the sweeps period, and since the journalistic contribution of the effort was so utterly marginal, I think it would have been the better part of wisdom and valor for Ted Koppel not to have undertaken this project. 

DREIER:  Joe, let me just say one thing.  Pat Tillman‘s picture was not up there, and I think that‘s a very important message to send here, and that is why the simple focus on Iraq and not on Afghanistan and the courageous Americans who lost their lives there as well?  It seems to me that there‘s—and these are courageous people.  These are courageous people who were killed there, and who continue to lose their lives on behalf of the cause of freedom in Iraq.  But it has happened in Afghanistan as well.  It is all part and parcel of the global war on terror. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Bob, I want to read to you what “Nightline‘s” executive producer said and explained why they read the names of the war dead.  Saying it was a way to, quote, “remind our viewers, whether they agree with the war or not, that beyond the casualty numbers, these men and women are serving in Iraq in our names, and that those who have been killed have faces and names.”  You know.

(CROSSTALK)

ZELNICK:  I don‘t think we needed Tom Vitag (ph) or Ted Koppel to tell us that.  These people were killed in action, they are brought home in coffins bearing the American flag.  They have full military honors.  The president has reached out to many of the families.  Other members of the administration, other members of the military have reached out.  There has been—I know, I live in Boston—there‘s been extensive local television and newspaper coverage of those killed in action from this part of the country, and others who were wounded and trying to rehabilitate and get back and have some kind of quality of life. 

So, I think that the contribution—let‘s start out with the journalism of this.  The journalism part of it was absolutely negligible.  It was laughable.  We didn‘t need it.  It contributed very little to the national understanding. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I want to read to you what one major TV station owner said.  He didn‘t air “Nightline” Friday on his 62 stations, saying, quote: “‘Nightline‘ appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.”

Now, we, Bob, have shown from time to time pictures of Americans that have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the reason we have done it is, I always say to our viewers, you need to look into the eyes of these young men and these young women and understand the significance of this loss.  What is the difference between something when we do that and when “Nightline” does it or when ABC does it?  Why does that make.

ZELNICK:  I think if it‘s done in the context of reporting on the war

·         if you report—you have to report on some of the suffering.  Suffering is an integral part of military action.  And you can‘t report on it without highlighting that sort of thing from time to time.  But just to get on and put an anchorman in a studio and have him read 721 names I think is not journalism as I was taught it.  It contributes nothing to anyone‘s understanding. 

Again, if there was some effort to conceal the casualties, if these poor people killed in action were not—did not have honor bestowed on them when they returned and when they were laid to rest in the final places where they will be, that‘s another story.  But just to sit in a chair and read 721 names to me accomplishes none of the purposes, although I take Ted at his word that that was his intention. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, Bob, thanks for being with us.  I want to ask you, Christopher, very quickly, what is your take on this?  John McCain thought it was wrong for Sinclair to stop. 

HITCHENS:  I went last week to an event for my friend and colleague Michael Kelly, a great journalist and reporter, who was killed much further up the road than I was at that point, way ahead of me, on the outskirts of the Baghdad Airport about a year ago.  And I must say that Ted Koppel wrote a wonderful introduction to Mike Kelly‘s book, and that‘s a book that witnesses for the life of soldier and the life of the American Army during regime change; he was very strongly in favor of both. 

I don‘t suspect Koppel on this point at all.  I suspect our whole culture of being saturated with sentimentality.  Why is it that someone who happens to be related to someone who was killed in the World Trade Center has a special say?  Answer me that.  What is this?  Why can‘t we see any longer the pictures of what happened that day, unless they offend someone who was an aunt of someone who was there?  We are in danger completely of becoming moist and crying before we are hurt, and if we don‘t know by now that you are no safer in America than you are in Iraq in the fight against jihad, and it has nothing to do with who is over there or over here, and it has nothing do with random connections, then—then we really have to worry.  And I‘m afraid the president panders to this in part.  He‘s sentimental about it too.  Most of our—all of our religious leaders are totally useless on the point. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We will debate religion.

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  Are we in a fight, a real tough fight.

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER:  There will be some people responding to this.  Chris Wallace next Sunday on his Fox morning show is going to focus on the positive accomplishments in Iraq as a response to what Ted Koppel did the other night. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I‘m sure all of us at MSNBC.

DREIER:  We‘ll be watching.

SCARBOROUGH:  . will be watching that... 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly, bated breath.

All right, Christopher Hitchens, thanks for being with us.  Bob Zelnick, and Congressman Dreier, thank you so much for being with us tonight. 

Pat and Margie, stick around, because we‘ll be back, and still to come, President Bush is still leading John Kerry in the polls.  But why?  Could it be that jobs are on the rise or the economy is getting better?  Pollster extraordinaire Frank Luntz is here to break down the numbers after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  New polls abroad are showing Iraqis are overwhelmingly happy that Saddam is gone.  And at home, support for the president still strong.  We‘re going to discuss those numbers with our panel coming up, but first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC news desk.

(NEWSBREAK)

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress.  Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t know if I‘ve seen it all.  But I‘ve seen quite a bit.

You know, it‘s been a tough month for President Bush with the 9/11 hearings and the slew of critical books about his administration, as well as having the bloodiest month in Iraq since the end of major combat operations.  But some of the numbers out there in polling may surprise you.

With me now to discuss the latest polling is pollster extraordinaire Frank Luntz.  He‘s a pollster, of course, and MSNBC contributor.  And before we get into the specific number, want to ask you about media bias and “Nightline.”  A lot of—personally, I got no problem with “Nightline” showing the pictures.  I think it is a tribute to the guys, but—and the women that died there, but what do Americans think about it?  Do they care? 

FRANK LUNTZ, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  The average conservative thinks the media is biased towards the liberals; the average liberal thinks the media is biased towards the conservatives.  Look, the fact is that more people watch MSNBC News one night in their main broadcast than will watch all of cable news during the week.  This “Nightline” thing was much to do about nothing.  It wasn‘t a big deal.  The average American was not debating about it.  In fact, they would say that it was a good thing and a positive thing to pay respect to those people who gave their lives. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Show the faces of the guys.  Now, I want to show you some numbers from out of Iraq.  And when asked whether or not getting rid of Saddam Hussein was worth it, 61 percent of Iraqis said yes while 29 percent said no.  But then when Iraqis were asked if they wanted coalition troops to get out of Iraq immediately or within the next few months, 57 percent said yes with only 36 percent wanting coalition forces to stay there for more than a few months.  So basically, what we have from these polls, Frank, we have Iraqis saying, yeah, we are glad you got Saddam Hussein out, now we want you out.  Talk about it.

LUNTZ:  There shouldn‘t be anything surprising about that, because nobody wants to be occupied by anybody else.  But I would say one thing about the polls—and I went there, I was there on day 19.  In fact, I reported for your show there.  Iraqis aren‘t used to pollsters or polling.  They don‘t know who these people are.  The American public who‘s watching now probably wonders, how are these polls taken?  Individuals who they‘d never met before came to their homes, sat in their living rooms and asked them questions.  You don‘t know who these people are, you don‘t know who they report to.  So I wonder if they got the full truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from the Iraqi people.

That being said, it is not surprising that there‘s this discomfort, because it is becoming very violent.  Not only Americans dying, but a whole lot of Iraqis are dying.  And they obviously want it to come to an end.

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, you know, despite the 9/11 hearings and the bloody month in Iraq, Bush‘s job approval rating actually jumped 5 points in April, from 43 percent  to 48 percent now.  Why?  Why?  John Kerry‘s saying why?

LUNTZ:  Well, John Kerry‘s has got great television ads, but he‘s got a very bad campaign.  The Bush campaign ads are not that great, but he was so effective in his press conference performance.  Now, some people say he didn‘t answer every question; I‘ll tell you something, he was determined, he was focused, and most importantly he was passionate.  And what the American people are looking for in a president is what they wanted—what the British wanted with Winston Churchill in the 1940s.  They want someone who was not for turning, they want someone who is committed to moving forward, someone who‘s not questioning and second-guessing everything.  This president‘s passion and his directness and his approach, that press conference is why his job approval went up. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, what is your response?  I mean, I saw that press conference.  I‘ll be honest with you, there were a couple of times I closed my eyes and winced.

BUCHANAN:  Look, I thought his opening remarks were strong, but I thought he could not handle the questions.  But I do agree with Frank to this extent.  The president did show he was resolute and determined.  He is inarticulate.  I think middle America knows that.  But I‘ll tell you this, Joe, on the facts we have been talking about earlier—look, these horrible pictures, this abusive humiliation of these prisoners, you get this Fallujah climbdown here, you got the casualties over there.  I think on the ground, the president has got a hellacious problem between now and November.  But I do agree with Frank, that when the American people see him up there, they don‘t like the press anyhow and the press baits him.  They root for the president.

SCARBOROUGH:  Margie, you know, support for keeping forces in Iraq until a stable government comes along rose from 50 percent to 53 percent, with those wanting a quick withdrawal dropping from 44 percent to 40 percent.  Again, the news has been horrendous out of Iraq over the past month, and yet Americans still seem to be wanting to stay there, wanting to see this through.  What‘s your read of those numbers?

OMERO:  Well, my read of those numbers is that it‘s a difference within the margin of error.  And some other numbers that are also interesting to note is that a majority of Americans feel that President Bush misled or exaggerated evidence in order to go to war.  A majority also feel that America is bogged down in Iraq, and a majority feel that he doesn‘t have an exit strategy.  So those are going to be very hurtful, and.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you say they are going to be hurtful.  Let me show you this match-up and have you respond, because in a Bush-Kerry-Nader match-up, President Bush is still in the lead with 43 percent; John Kerry‘s 2 points behind at 41 percent.  And Ralph Nader is coming in at 5 percent.

Margie, I would be very concerned if I were John Kerry‘s camp and Bush has had this horrible month, and yet he‘s still ahead.

OMERO:  No, I think you have the Bush administration basically boasting that some of the time some polls show me ahead.  I mean, that is a margin of error difference there, and.

SCARBOROUGH:  I know, but gosh, shouldn‘t he do.

(CROSSTALK)

OMERO:  . and it all stays within the margin the error.  He‘s the president of the United States.  We are talking about issues, even if there have been some bad days for him or what we may think of as bad days, he is controlling the national message and .

SCARBOROUGH:  Shouldn‘t he be down?

OMERO:  . he has a $60 million—he had a $60 million ad buy that John Kerry has not been able to match in battleground states, and he should be doing even better.  I would be embarrassed if I were in the Bush camp.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, John Kerry was ahead a few months back, ahead by what, 5, 10 points?  Why is he not ahead right now?  I don‘t understand it.

LUNTZ:  The most anyone had him up was 9, but what‘s important, and I give her—she‘s got a point, but only up to a point.  In the end, let‘s jump this to the last week of October and the very first days of November, the public is going to have to decide who do you trust in a crisis, who has been tested.  And the problem with John Kerry right now is that he seems to be on so many different sides of so many issues that in a sense is giving Bush a little bit of a ride.  John Kerry has always been effective at attacking George Bush, but he‘s never been effective at giving people a reason to vote for him.  And that is why you see even among Democrats—

“The Village Voice,” which is no Republican newspaper in New York, they actually said we need a new Democratic nominee, because this guy can‘t hack it.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Frank Luntz, Frank Luntz, thanks for coming.  Margie, thanks for being with us.  Pat Buchanan, stay with us, because I want to ask you one question at the top of the next segment.

Coming up, the numbers show that the economy is getting better every day.  Then why is it that you are not hearing that from the big newspapers?  Could it be because the media is burying it in the back of their papers? 

We‘ll tell you why coming up.

Also, some women in a Florida prison say watching “The Passion” changed their lives.  That moving story coming up next. 

ANNOUNCER:  Who was the last Republican presidential candidate that “The New York Times” endorsed?  Was it, A, Ronald Reagan; B, Richard Nixon; or C, Dwight Eisenhower?  The answer coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER:  In tonight‘s SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY Challenge, we asked, who was the last Republican presidential candidate that “The New York Times” endorsed?  The answer is C, Dwight Eisenhower.  Now back to Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  I guess that says it all.  Pat Buchanan, going back to the polls.  If you are John Kerry, what in the world do you do? 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t know what he does.  His problem is, he‘s not a good candidate, Joe.  He‘s got no message, he‘s got no real charisma.  He is not a tremendously likeable guy.  I think the Frenchman‘s got real problems. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So do you think George Bush wins this going away, despite what happens in Iraq? 

BUCHANAN:  I think George Bush wins it—I think George Bush wins it going away, unless this thing really unravels in Iraq and the country says, they got us into a mess, we got to get rid of him.  I think if things turn out well in Iraq, or partly well, Bush is home. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thanks so much, Pat Buchanan. 

BUCHANAN:  Thank you, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right. 

You know, we talk a lot about media bias here in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, and it usually involves what supporters of George Bush believe is a left-leaning slant in the elite media.  But what newspapers and newscasts don‘t show can also put that perceived bias on display.

Now, I am going to show you how four of the biggest newspapers in the country reported surprisingly good economic numbers for the president on Friday.  The “USA Today,” of course, prominently shows this story above the fold, and you don‘t have to be a former newspaper publisher to know that you put your most important story of the day in the upper right-hand corner of the front page.  That is what the “USA Today” did.

Now, the newspaper of record, “The New York Times”, who has been reporting on very bad economic news past two or three years for the president, instead puts this story below the fold.  But actually, it‘s not even a story.  All they do is a tease or a jump, telling you if you want to read about these good economic numbers, you are going to have to turn to section C to read about it.  Again, doesn‘t seem to be very fair when you consider all the negative economic numbers that “The New York Times” has been pushing over the past couple of years. 

Bush supporters also will not be happy with “The Washington Post,” who on Friday decided not to put it on the front page in story form, but instead told you, if you want to read this good economic news, you are going to have to go to section E. 

And finally, “The L.A. Times.”  Yes, that newspaper that was attacked by conservatives for left-leaning, liberal bias during the Schwarzenegger campaign—where did they put it?  Certainly not on the front page.  But they did talk about bad economic numbers.  That is the price of milk in Los Angeles. 

And with me now to talk about this is Bob Kohn.  He‘s the author of “Journalistic Fraud: How ‘The New York Times‘ Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted,” and Eric Alterman, whose book is “What Liberal Media?  The Truth About Bias and News.”

Eric, let me begin with you.  Obviously, you saw the setup.  You know a lot of conservatives are going to say, gee, “The New York Times,” “The Los Angeles Times” and “The Washington Post” didn‘t put this great economic news on their front pages after bashing Bush for the past couple of years on the Bush economy.  What is your response to those conservatives? 

ERIC ALTERMAN, AUTHOR, “WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA?”  Well, I think that—I quote Rich Bond, former chairman of the Republican Party, in the book, they are working the refs.  They don‘t even take this stuff seriously themselves.  If they do, they‘re silly.  I mean, what else was on the front page of “The New York Times” that day?  Maybe there was some news from Iraq.  Maybe these numbers, one month of economic numbers, are not that significant compared to the decades of deficits that this administration is causing.  I mean, you can always find something that doesn‘t suit your taste in the news. 

You are showing me one day of stories from one month of economic news.  I said, Joe, you can do better than that.  And by the way, as for your question about “The New York Times” and the last president—Republican president they endorsed, who was the last Republican gubernatorial candidate they endorsed?  I‘ll tell you who it was, it was George Pataki, the current governor of New York, a Republican, and a terrible one at that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Eric, let‘s stick with this information, Eric.  Now, you talked about the last month‘s numbers, but we are talking about the quarter, and of course if you take the first quarter, which actually “The New York Times” reported on the front page, which was I think was like 8.2 percent growth, and then you take the second quarter, George Bush—that is George Bush‘s economic scorecard, that he has been judged by harshly by all the media fronts.  He‘s only going to have one more quarter to be judged by before this election.  If you are the editor of “The New York Times” or “The Los Angeles Times” and you have great second quarter numbers, do you not think that‘s a front page story? 

ALTERMAN:  Well, no, because you can buy great second quarter numbers easily if you are willing to blow the deficit into the sky.  If you read Paul Krugman every week in “The New York Times,” he shows you that the numbers that the Bush administration is putting out are purposely cooked to show this kind of growth right before the election, when in fact we will be paying for this for decades.  My daughter, my daughter, who is only 6 years old, will be paying for this and a lot of conservatives.

SCARBOROUGH:  Eric, I have actually called it—Eric, I, myself as a conservative, has actually called it Keynesian economics on crack.  Bob Kohn, I want to ask you, do you think “The New York Times” proved your point by not putting this information on the front page, that here we have a very robust economy going into the third quarter of 2004?

BOB KOHN, AUTHOR, “JOURNALISTIC FRAUD”:  Absolutely.  They have been systematic in muting the favorable economic news.  You know, we are at a 30-year high in manufacturing.  That was not on the front page.  “The New York Times,” whenever there is good news, they relegate it to like the third page of the business section, in a story written by one of the wire services.  Very rarely is there any good economic news on the front page, and it has to be—I mean, even take a look at the news that they are muting about the medals controversy of John Kerry.  I mean, “The New York Times” put on its front page a story about he‘s attacking Bush for Bush not attending the National Guard.  I mean.

SCARBOROUGH:  But, Bob, let me challenge you, though, and I want to ask you to justify what you just said.  In the first quarter, at the end of the first quarter, when we had 8.2 growth, “The New York Times” actually put that as a banner headline.  Why do you think they didn‘t even put it on the front page in the second quarter?  I don‘t understand the inconsistency there. 

KOHN:  How could they not put an 8.2 percent, an incredible amount of growth, on the front page?  How could they possibly have avoided that? 

They did it at a time when John Kerry was riding high.  They didn‘t have to

worry about their candidate at the time.  Now you have got 4.2, which are -

·         they are all saying is a vigorous growth rate, after 4 points, 4.2, 8 percent, 4 percent; 300,000 jobs generated in February.  You know, 100,000 more than expected.  How can you say—how can you say it hasn‘t been a systematic.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Bob, we are short on time.  Eric, talk quickly.  We got 15 seconds to a hard break.

ALTERMAN:  Well, I just think this is nonsense.  The two Bushes together, George Sr. and George Jr. have not created a single job between them. 

KOHN:  Unemployment.

ALTERMAN:  That seems rather more significant than the last quarter. 

KOHN:  Unemployment now is lower than the average rate during the 1990s, when Clinton was president.  You can‘t make that comparison.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there.  Eric Alterman, Bob Kohn, thanks so much for being with us tonight.  And hey, if you see examples of media bias on either side, in the national press or in your home town paper, just shoot me an email at joe@msnbc.com, and we‘ll follow up on it for you and have our guests back to discuss it.  That‘s joe@msnbc.com

And still to come, we‘re going to bring you the inside story on the first prison to show the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” and you will be surprised to hear the moving reactions that some of the inmates had.  That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up tomorrow night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, they are back at it, big spending on Capitol Hill.  We are going to be bringing back our “Capitol Offense.”  That‘s tomorrow night.  But stick around, we have more when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, whatever you think of Mel Gibson‘s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” this next story is a tribute to what good can come from it.  When the Florida Prison Fellowship took the movie to all the women at Broward County‘s correctional facility, some remarkable things happened. 

These people didn‘t come to this prison to visit family members incarcerated there.  They are not here to take a tour of the facility, or reporting for work.  They are taking time out of their lives to bring one of the most controversial movies ever made to the inmates of the Broward County Correctional Institution. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And Father, we just thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this awesome event.  Lord God, Father dear, open the doors and be able to allow us to come in to preview this movie, so that the hearts of these inmates will be touched and changed by the powerful impact of this movie. 

SCARBOROUGH (voice-over):  Two hundred and fifty inmates in this women‘s prison have been selected to watch “The Passion of the Christ.”  It is the only prison in the country to play this movie for inmates.  The women are here for everything, from violating probation to first degree murder. 

KIMBERLY MORTON, INMATE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that it‘s just a really, really, really awesome movie.  I feel very blessed to be able to see this movie. 

PATRICIA AUGUST, INMATE:  I have heard it was a very controversial film, and that it was—it has a lot of scenes of violence in it.  But it was worth seeing. 

SCARBOROUGH:  The reactions of the women during the screening are nothing out of the ordinary.  Many breaking down in tears watching the violence that Jesus endured.  But when you consider that these are prison inmates, many are here for committing acts of violence themselves.  What kind of lasting effect will “The Passion” have on them? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Like I knew it‘s like this movie, I‘m giving myself to God now. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The most difficult part was when they freed a murderer to crucify Jesus, an innocent man. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  When he looked up to heaven and asked God to please forgive him for what they‘d done, and that was very emotional for me because I have a lot of time here and it is like it really brought that belief into me real strong now, that I had my doubt in God, but I know where my faith is based on now. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Could this movie change these criminals‘ lives for the better?  Prison officials are hopeful. 

STERLING IVEY, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS SPOKESMAN:  The

inmates will return to our communities, and we hope that they‘re returning

·         and they‘re returning with a better character, a better sense of heart, and not wanting to return to the things that brought them to prison in the first place. 

DENISE WHITE, BROWARD CORRECTIONS INSTITUTION WARDEN:  Even if it‘s a light that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) while they are incarcerated and (UNINTELLIGIBLE), then it‘s a wonderful thing.  If it‘s one that is getting out and changes their life on the outside, then we all benefit. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Considering all of the negative press this movie has garnered since before it was even released in theaters, I‘m glad to see that it may be changing the lives of people who need it the most. 

And that is good news for everybody. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Boy, that‘s a remarkable story. 

That‘s it for SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY this Sunday night.  We are going to be back tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.  We‘ll see you then.

But I‘ll tell you what, If you want more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, go to our Web site, joe.scarborough.MSNBC, and order our newsletters.  You‘ll love it.  We‘ll see you tomorrow. 

END   

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