February 25, 2005 | 6:22 p.m. ET

Rebuild the Twin Towers (David Shuster)

Your opinion was clear, resolute, and overwhelming. This week, when we asked which World Trade Center replacement you prefer in NYC, 80 percent of you chose the “New Twin Towers” design pictured below and only 20 percent picked the “Freedom Tower” selected by Governor George Pataki’s Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

Nearly 3,500 of you participated in our online poll. And while online polls are not “scientific,” the results, I believe, are important. Ground Zero is hallowed ground. And the fact is, an overwhelming percentage of you hate the current plans.

Ken Gardner
A new Twin Towers?
Some of you took issue with the Freedom Tower design itself— Brendan called it a “decapitated pyramid with a chicken coop on top.” James noted only 70 stories will be occupied and added, “even if you count the miserable birdcage... the building will soon be eclipsed as the world’s tallest.”  Others mentioned the “awful political cronyism.”

I received numerous requests to keep digging through the financial contributions from Ron Lauder (a friend of Daniel Libeskind) to Governor Pataki.  And a few of you spoke about the “lack of excitement” after a separate architectural firm took over Libeskind’s original design and made some dramatic changes.

Most of you, however, said the issue is that the Twin Towers were an American icon and must be rebuilt:

  • Steve wrote, “The greatest memorial to honor the thousands of lives lost is to rebuild the Twin Towers, stronger and mightier than ever.” 
  • Rick wrote, “Anything less is a memorial to fear.” 
  • Rich wrote, “My friend’s father was an FDNY Lieutenant (Lt. Vincent G. Halloran) who died when the buildings collapsed. He has told me that his father would want the towers rebuilt; that not rebuilding them is a defeat.”
  • Jen wrote, “I lost a dozen people in the Trade Center. Most were friends and former colleagues at Marsh & McLennan that took Tower 1’s direct hit. No one I know wants the Freedom Tower and everyone I know overwhelmingly wants the Towers back.”
  • Jack wrote, “A new Twin Towers is elegant in its simplicity. They knocked it down so let’s rebuild it, taller, stronger, better.”
  • Mike wrote, “This is important, this is our Iwo Jima flag.”
  • Jeff wrote, “We need to show the terrorists that although they might be able to knock us down once, we will only come back bigger and stronger.”

I could go on and on. I’ve received thousands of emails expressing the overwhelming desire that the WTC Twin Towers “rise again.” Many of you asked, “What can we do to make this happen?”  I am a journalist, not an activist or organizer.

But I can report to you something that my friend Joe Trippi has been noticing and writing a lot about lately— Those of you on the Internet are gaining power and influence very quickly. You have the ability to organize, mobilize, inform, and take action in ways that have fundamentally changed American politics. The groups that want to rebuild the Twin Towers are out there ( makenynyagain.com) and the people who support the “Freedom Tower” are organized as well ( renewnyc.com). But, this is a mismatch. And everybody knows it (including, I’m told, a 2008 Presidential candidate).

The question is how much damage does Governor Pataki and the LMDC want to inflict upon themselves before they wake up to reality? Americans, and especially New Yorkers, want their beloved city back.

Questions/Comments:  DShuster@MSNBC.com

February 25, 2005 | 3:59 p.m. ET

Credit is due (Mike Moran)

In my blog Sword and Pen, and many, many others dedicated to the expansion and protection of free speech, press freedoms and the right to dissent, George W. Bush has often played the foil. But his decision to mix it up publicly with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the need for a free media and other democratic rights deserves to be loudly applauded.   

Cynics will see irony in this (when don't they?). Some will note that, even as Bush chides the Kremlin's chief for making it almost impossible to be an independent journalist in today's Russia, his own Justice Department is threatening to put American reporters in jail for refusing to divulge the source of a leak from within his own White House— a leak that blew the cover of a CIA “asset,” and possibly put at risk the lives of dozens of people she met with over the course of a long spying career.

Fair enough, point made. But what Bush did to Putin on Thursday in Slovakia belongs in another category. No one who watched the Russian president forced to defend his crackdowns on freedom and the rule of law could possibly miss the fact that Putin was floored and humiliated. (Take a look at the helpful transcript that The New York Times ran today). The European Union's leaders, who have their own reasonable gripes about Bush, nonetheless could take a lesson from him on handling Russia, which the EU still treats as though it is bravely moving forward with democratic reforms. As Freedom House noted in December, downgrading Russia from “partly free” to “Not Free” in its annual survey of the world, Putin's democratic credentials are in tatters.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Bush had been exceedingly accommodating to Putin, in part because the U.S. needed Russia 's nod to put bases in former Soviet Central Asia, but also because Russia's own intelligence agencies have enormous experience in both the Middle East and Afghanistan. Why he chose this trip to get real is uncertain. But his new attitude is a welcomed one, and even if Putin doesn't view it that way, it's bound to be viewed as such by ordinary Russians, too.

Michael Moran, MSNBC.com’s senior correspondent, is a board member of the Overseas Press Club and writes its press freedom blog, Sword and Pen.  

Comments?  E-mail: bravenewworld@msnbc.com

February 24, 2005 | 4:22 p.m. ET

Gannon/Guckert (David Shuster)

Many of you have been following the intriguing story of man who claimed to be a reporter and who covered the white house using a fake name.  James Guckert, previously known as Jeff Gannon, sat down for an interview with NBC's Campbell Brown .  And for those of you who missed the "Today Show," we are going to repackage some of the clips tonight on Hardball (7pm & 11pm ET).

During the interview, Guckert said his White House access was not a conspiracy but rather the result of a simple request.  "I asked to come— they allowed me to come," said Guckert, "and apparently there isn't a very high threshold as far as somebody's personal life." 

That, of course, is an understatement.  If the White House had done the kind of FBI background check required of regular reporters, the press office would have discovered that Guckert is linked to several pornographic web sites.   uckert confirmed these links in his NBC interview.  But when asked about advertising himself on the web as a $200/hour gay male escort, Guckert said, "I can not go into those specifics." 

As far as using an alias, Guckert said his real name is "difficult to pronounce."  Huh?   I heard him say "Guckert" several times during Campbell's interview and it didn't sound particularly challenging to me.  

Guckert's handling of this story, to use a phrase of his, certainly seems to have been "divorced from reality."  When this scandal first broke, he gave an interview to a cable news anchor and said this was all about politics (as opposed to Guckert's briefing room softballs.)  Then, Guckert  gave another interview to Editor and Publisher magazine and said he would no longer talk to the media. Five days later, when reporters stopped calling him, Guckert complained to the very same magazine about the media silence. Guckert has also said he may to sue liberal interest groups that revealed his Web site activities. But Guckert hasn't denied what's been written about that stuff.

In any case, Guckert said that whenever he went to the White House, he would go to the gate and show his driver's license with his real name "James Guckert."  Presidential Press Secretary Scott McClellan has said he knew Guckert was changing to "Jeff Gannon"  once inside the White House (despite all of the clips of McClellan saying "go ahead, Jeff" instead of "go ahead, James.")  But McClellan has added that "He, like anyone else,showed that he was representing a news organization that published regularly."

The problem is, Talon News (a collection of Web sites run by Texas Republicans) wasn't formed and didn't start publishing until after Guckert had already started attending White House press briefings two years ago.  So, this story is not over yet.  Stay tuned.

Questions/Comments:  DShuster@MSNBC.com

February 24, 2005 | 12:16 p.m. ET

USANext chief executive, on approving the ad and the real stance of the AARP on the issues

Charlie Jarvis, chief executive of USA Next, a lobbying group that supports President Bush‘s Social Security plan and  U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel of New York had a heated discussion on 'Hardball' last night over the controversy on USANext’s Web ad attacking the AARP. Below is a partial transcript. Read the full transcript here .

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Is the White House is using scare tactics to get Americans to support the president‘s Social Security plan. 

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK:  No, These ads are scurrilous, and the American people are intelligent enough to know that there‘s no connection between what they‘re talking about the president trying to derail and dismantle the Social Security system.  It‘s ads like this and people that put them out that really give politicians a bad name. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me to go Charlie Jarvis. Do you believe, as the leader of the group that paid for that ad, do you believe that AARP, the American Association of Retired People, Retired Persons, is for gay marriage, is against the troops, as the Web site suggests? 

CHARLIE JARVIS, CHAIRMAN & CEO, USA NEXT:  Well, Chris, the AARP is the planet‘s largest left liberal lobbying organization. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you say that when they were backing the president on prescription drugs? 

JARVIS:  We dragged them kicking and screaming into that decision. 

MATTHEWS:  Why are they left-wing when so many people are members of them?  I didn‘t know they had a point of view politically. 

JARVIS:  They‘ve had a point of view for the last four decades, as a matter of fact, on almost every different issue you can imagine—they‘re the ones that created the tax on Social Security benefits.  And we found in our surveys that most of their members don‘t know what they‘ve stood for over the years. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the gay marriage issue?  How does that relate to retired people? 

JARVIS:  Well, because they‘re the planet‘s largest left liberal organization, which is literally worshipped, adored and glorified by politicians like Charlie Rangel, who, by the way, he stands up clearly for what he believes in.  He is a self-avowed liberal. 

AARP needs to say that straightforwardly, that they are, too.  Let their members know.]

***** 

MATTHEWS:  Charles Rangel, Mr. ranking member, what do you make of AARP?  Is it a left-wing group? 

RANGEL:  Actually, I can see why some people would hate it, because they do support entitlements.  They do support Medicare.  They do support Social Security.  And since they‘re out there ostensibly to protect the older people, I can see the connection.  But it is really a stretch if they‘re going to connect this up with homosexuality and hating the troops.  But having seen work that they‘ve done on Kerry, I guess there‘s just no bottom as to what they would do. 

But, you know, the president, if you lay down with dogs, you have got to pick up fleas. 

MATTHEWS:  Who are the dogs, Mr. Rangel? 

RANGEL:  Anybody...

JARVIS:  And who are the fleas?

RANGEL:  Well, listen, anybody that is concerned about Social Security wants to hear the facts.  If people start talking about same-sex marriages and being against the military and all of these things, anyone would know that they have no substance. 

And I think the president really does himself a disservice, because issues like Social Security and changing the tax system screams for a bipartisan‘s approach.  If they intend to beat up on people by calling them “liberals” and “left-wing” and supporting homosexuals, then what they‘re saying is that the president will never be able to get a live Democrat to work with him.  All they‘ve got now, they think, is Pat Moynihan, and he disagreed with them. 

*****

MATTHEWS:  We asked, by the way, AARP to come on this show.  We hope they will come on. 

Do you want this fight to be hot? 

JARVIS:  Yes.  We think that the most important thing you can do—and Charlie Rangel should know this on the House side—is, have an open, honest, dynamic, energetic debate.  We want AARP to tell where they stand on issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do you bring in gay marriage in and attacking the troops, if you‘re caring about the issues of seniors? 

JARVIS:  That was a tiny little ad on one Web site. 

MATTHEWS:  Who approved it?  Did you? 

JARVIS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did you approve it?

JARVIS:  Because I wanted to test to see how long it would take for the liberal blogs in this country to go berserk over a single image. 

MATTHEWS:  To what effect?

JARVIS:  To the effect that, last night, by 5:00, the blogs were telling people to call TV stations and telling them to remove the ad that didn‘t exist on TV. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is O‘Neill Marketing? 

JARVIS:  O‘Neill Marketing is a list company, a list rental company.

MATTHEWS:  And where are they located? 

JARVIS:  They‘re located in Fairfax. 

MATTHEWS:  Where are you located?

JARVIS:  In the building where we are, yes.

MATTHEWS:  How close is their office to your office? 

JARVIS:  Three floors. 

MATTHEWS:  Three floors?

JARVIS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And what is your connection? 

JARVIS:  No connection at all.  When I first came in, 2001, USA, then known as United Seniors Association, did own...

MATTHEWS:  And what is O‘Neill known for, advertising firm? 

JARVIS:  Basically just direct mail list rentals.  That‘s it.  They‘re not an advertising firm. 

RANGEL:  I don‘t know what liberals ever have done to Charles.  But, you know, we got to take the heat out of this.  Social Security is a very important issue.  And to frighten people, to say that the system is going bankrupt is like saying the United States is going bankrupt. 

February 23, 2005 | 4:00 p.m. ET

Doug Wead: Relationships more important than history

In a note to MSNBC “Hardball” anchor Chris Matthews, Doug Wead, who exposed secret recordings with President Bush , says he wants to get the tapes "back to the president to whom they belong." The former aide says he “has come to realize that personal relationships are more important than history.” Click here to read more of what Doug Wead wrote Chris.

February 22, 2005 | 6:52 p.m. ET

Freedom Tower versus new Twin Towers (David Shuster)

This week, New York City is rolling out its bid for the 2012 Olympic games.  The bid includes proposed sporting venues, hotels, housing complexes, and office space in midtown Manhattan, New Jersey, and many of the city's boroughs.  But lower Manhattan, the part of the city most recognizable around the world (until terrorists brought down the Twin Towers on 9/11) is totally and completely ignored.  The proposed replacement known as the Freedom Tower is not mentioned or shown anywhere in the city's Olympic materials. 

Talk about a lack of pride. 88 nations lost citizens in the WTC attacks on 9/11.  Can you imagine an Olympic games 11 years after 9/11, where America's message to the world is, "Our most sacred piece of property is not even worth a mention or visit?" 

If New York's Olympic bid committee is ashamed of the proposed Freedom Tower, the committee is not alone.  One year ago, Donald Trump called the proposed tower "a 50 story building that looks like it's 120 stories."  "It's a skeleton," Trump said, "and that's the last thing we need in New York is a skeleton representing the World Trade Center." 

One of the workers from the WTC restaurant "Windows on the World" said that in memory of his colleagues and friends who were trapped and died on the 102nd floor...  there is "no way" he will ever run a "Windows on the World" that sits on any building's 68th floor. (The "occupied space" of the Freedom Tower will be at least 30 stories shorter than the WTC towers.) 

And just to remind you, Rudy Giuliani (who has been notably absent from every Freedom Tower event) has privately told friends he is "embarassed" by the design.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg is said to have privately described the freedom tower a "disappointment."  And members of the NYPD and the NYFD have openly declared the proposal to be an "embarassment."

So, why is the Freedom Tower moving forward?  In going back through the selection process pushed forward by New York Governor George Pataki, I've been struck by a number of irregularities.  All six of the final proposed WTC replacement designs were widely described by media articles two years ago as a "disappointment."  Polls suggested the least disappointing of the final six was a scaffolding type rendition of the Twin Towers by an architect named Rafael Vignoli.  But after secret meetings involving the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, Vignoli's design still came in as the "runner up" in the final selection.  How did the Freedom Tower beat Vignoli's design?  One of my reporting colleagues tells a chilling story about having set up an interview with Vignoli, who at first seemed eager to talk about his "view" of the selection process. The next day, just before the interview was supposed to take place, the architect's secretary called and said something along the lines of, "Mr. Vignoli is satisifed to have made it this far and has decided he will not be doing any interviews."  Click.  What changed? Mr. Vignoli and his associates are still not talking to reporters.

But never mind all of that for the moment... last week's blog generated an avalanche of e-mails.   A few of you suggested I was too hard on Libeskind's Freedom Tower design, given that he offers the latest architectural and artistic principles and that "every building" faces some engineering challenges.  Maybe so.  However, most of you said the real issue is that the Twin Towers should be rebuilt.  Anything less, you suggested, would be a victory for Al-Qaeda and a permanent shame.   

Peter Walukiewicz wrote that he lost friends in the WTC on 9/11 and that "rebuilding the Twin Towers is the ultimate tribute to our fallen heroes... I can't think of a more powerfrul affirmation of our strength and resolve." 

Tracy DiNardo, who lost a friend in the NYFD on 9/11, said "the towers should be built again as they were before with all necessary updates." 

And one Hardblogger reader suggested, "Imagine the pride that would sweep across this nation as a modern, stronger, and taller version of the Twin Towers started rising again in the sky over Manhattan..."   

The image of a new Twin Towers, slightly off-set from where the old ones stood, has already been embraced by several architects and designers.  My question is, what do you think?  Take a look at the photos for a "Twin Tower" design and compare it to the design planned for the "Freedom Tower."

"Twin Tower" design

Ken Gardner

Click here for the design planned for the "Freedom Tower."

Which building design would you prefer to see in NYC?  You can vote here on this blog page.  And I'll update you on the results... 

In the meantime, there is a lot we've been uncovering about the politics behind the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation— the group in charge of Ground Zero. I'll have more on that aspect of this story later in the week.  Stay tuned.

Questions/Comments:  DShuster@MSNBC.com

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