updated 5/6/2005 11:57:31 AM ET 2005-05-06T15:57:31

Guest: Michael Johnson, Michael Gross, Arthur Aidala, Lisa Bloom, Carmen Rasmusen, Kennedy, Tanika Ray, Ann Coulter

ALEX WITT, GUEST HOST:  Tonight‘s top headline, “American Idol” off its pedestal, but was the big expose a scoop or a hatchet job? 

Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, no passport required, only common sense allowed. 

Secret trysts, breathless voice mails, but was the ABC News investigation an effort to find the truth or bring down “American Idol”? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. TOM SMILEY, FAMILY PASTOR: “My running away had nothing to do with cold feet.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  The runaway bride sends out her minister to apologize and explain, but will America buy her explanation? 

“TIME” magazine calls her a conservative flamethrower, and then they put her on this controversial cover.  Ann Coulter is on the front lines of the conservative culture war, and she is joining us live in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

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

WITT:  Hey, there, everybody.  I‘m Alex Witt.  I‘m in tonight for Joe. 

And, in case you haven‘t heard, last night, ABC News aired a heavily promoted prime-time special called “Fallen Idol.”  The program focused on the alleged relationship between former contestant Corey Clark, and judge Paula Abdul.  Now, Clark claims that Abdul gave him advice to help him win the competition, and that they had an intimate relationship, all while he was still a contestant. 

Is this a real scandal that could bring down one of the most popular shows on TV or a dirty trick by ABC to knock off the competition? 

Joining me now is Tanika Ray, a correspondent for “Extra” who interviewed Corey Clark today. 

Tanika, good evening to you.  Thanks for joining us here on

SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

TANIKA RAY, “EXTRA”:  Absolutely.  Good evening to you, Alex.

WITT:  So, what‘s the deal?  Do you think he is telling the truth? 

RAY:  You know what?  It‘s such a tricky situation.  It‘s so interesting. 

I went into this interview.  This morning, I interviewed him at Bonn 45 (ph) Restaurant, and I went into it going, wow, this is really sleazy, Corey.  What‘s the real deal?  But when I sat down with him, he was so comfortable with himself, and he made a very good point.  He said, “American Idol” is a $900 million industry.  If I am lying, I am screwed.  I can‘t pay $900 million.  And it made me sort of see him in a different light. 

Now, he broke it down, the timeline and everything.  And what it comes down so is, he was in love with her.  And then I asked him, are you a jilted lover, because it sounds suspicious?  And he said, no, I am really just trying to clear my name. 

My problem is, nobody was talking about it, so what do you mean, clear your name?  He insists that he had a record deal with Jive Records and that “American Idol” called them and told them bad things about Corey, told them that he was a liar, and they dropped his record deal.  So, basically, he is trying to start from scratch and get his career started.  This is the way he wants to do it. 

WITT:  OK, a couple things I want to bring up here.  You say he talks about this $900 million that he wouldn‘t have, as regarding—what is that, a lawsuit?  Is he worried about a lawsuit?  Did he talk about that?

RAY:  Absolutely.  I said, what do you think is going to come out of it?  Paula could get fired.  You could be sued.  He said, well, if I‘m telling the truth, I don‘t have to worry about any of that.  And that‘s true.  If he‘s telling the truth, he doesn‘t have to worry about a lawsuit.  And that is his claim. 

WITT:  OK.  But you know what?  This new record, this timing here, come on, is this a publicity stunt? 

RAY:  Hey, I asked him that.  I said, do you believe in all publicity is good publicity?  And he said, I have heard about it, but, really, it‘s about I am just trying to clear my name.  He kept going to that point. 

And, you know, I really drilled him today.  I did not let him off very easily.  I kept asking him over and over, this is ugly.  Everybody loves Paula Abdul.  She can get in trouble.  His response was, well, she left me in the dust, so it‘s about me right now.  And he has been trying since he was 13 years old, for 10 years, to try to get a record deal going, and he sees this as his opportunity to clear his name and to start from scratch. 

Of course, that‘s suspicious, too, because, last night, if you watched “Primetime Live,” one of his hits that he was singing on air was called “Paulatics,” P-A-U-L-A-tics.  So, he is sort of perpetuating this whole spin, and it‘s going to keep going and going, and it just happens to be the day he drops his book and his album. 

WITT:  Funny how that happens, huh?RAY:  Isn‘t it interesting? 

WITT:  What do you think about the fallout for the show?  Is there going to be any? 

RAY:  You know, I interviewed John Quinones as well earlier this week and asked him, is this similar to the “Quiz Show” scandal of the ‘60s, or whenever that was?  I was too young. 

WITT:  Yes, me too.  I don‘t recall.  Or I can use that in court, too. 

I don‘t recall.  But, anyway...

RAY:  Exactly. 

And he said he doesn‘t think so, because America votes.  It‘s not really the judges.  And I brought up a very interesting point, which is, the judges do get them to the top 30, and then they really do influence the American public.  When it comes down to it, when Simon says, you know what, I think you really should worry about it, you might be kicked off tonight, it happens.  They get kicked off, so they really do influence America‘s opinions. 

WITT:  So, Tanika, what do you think the buzz is out there?  How is the country reading all this? 

RAY:  You know what?  It‘s going to be very interesting.  This is the first day.  We were walking down the street.  I picked him up at “GMA” and we walked a block to the restaurant.  And you wouldn‘t think people would recognize.  Apparently, everybody was watching last night.

There was a street vendor who just glanced up at Corey and said, yo, man, what‘s up?  That was really sleazy.  You kissed and you told?  Wow, man, that‘s gross. 

WITT:  You mean this guy was saying he kissed and told him that was the sleazy part, not the fact that Paula may have been having an affair with him? 

RAY:  Well, yes.  I guess, if Paula was there, he would have said something different. 

But you are right; there is another person in this situation.  Paula Abdul apparently had an affair with Corey Clark, who was a contestant on “American Idol.”  And Corey said a lot of interesting things.  He said when they were hanging out at the Sprint phone store and they went to Fred Siegel to buy clothes, which she all paid for, he said, she was really bold about it.  She had no qualms with being caught. 

So, I thought that was really interesting, too.  Maybe she was going through a rough time in her life at the time.  Whatever it was, it‘s messy, and we haven‘t seen the end of it. 

WITT:  I am sure we have not.  We appreciate your being on with us. 

Thank you very much, Tanika.  Thanks. 

RAY:  Absolutely. 

WITT:  All righty. 

So, was this program fair or was it not?  The accusations and the speculation on what last night‘s special would reveal have already landed Paula Abdul and her “American Idol” future on the cover of multiple magazines this week and the cover of many of today‘s newspapers.

So, joining me right now, former MTV veejay Kennedy and Carmen Rasmusen, one of Corey Clark‘s fellow contestants on season two of “American Idol.” 

Thanks to both of you for being here.

CARMEN RASMUSEN, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  Thank you.  

KENNEDY, FORMER MTV VEEJAY:  Hi, Alex.

All right, here‘s the question.  And I am going to pose it to you first, Kennedy.  Should Paula be fired from this show? 

KENNEDY:  Paula Abdul should be fired from the show, because there has been a great injustice served to the American public.  It is not the fact that she was having a possible sexual dalliance with a mediocre-looking man with a girly voice.

Her great injustice is the fact that she is the worst judge that could possibly be picked for the show.  I am a huge “American Idol” fan.  I think the fact that Constantine was voted off was also an injustice.  And you could put a retarded sea mammal in between Randy and Simon.  It would probably benefit the contestants more. 

(LAUGHTER)

WITT:  Oh, my God.  A retarded sea animal, that‘s kind of harsh.  OK, but Simon is defending her.  There‘s a switch. 

KENNEDY:  Simon is defending her because Simon has the show‘s best interest at heart.  They want to finish out the season.  They want good ratings.  And if FOX is smart, they will take this little entree to move the often slurring Paula Abdul from that very important chair. 

WITT:  OK, now, here‘s the deal.  You are saying that Paula should be fired, if it‘s all true.  I mean, we have to talk right now to see, Carmen, is the stuff that was said last night on the show—you watched very carefully. 

RASMUSEN:  Yes. 

WITT:  Is it true, everything that Corey was saying, all the allegations, all the stories?  You know behind the scenes, so, share. 

RASMUSEN:  Right. 

No, I don‘t think all of it is true.  I think there are elements to the story that are true.  For example, I do think that Paula Abdul called Corey Clark to give him help on the show.  I don‘t think she slept with him. 

(CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY:  How would you know, though?  How would you know?

RASMUSEN:  Well...

KENNEDY:  Either way.  You know what?  Even if she didn‘t sleep with him, even if she was just helping him pick out songs and get some fancy clothes. 

RASMUSEN:  Right. 

KENNEDY:  That‘s help that you didn‘t have. 

RASMUSEN:  I agree. 

(CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY:  Now, what if Simon Cowell was courting one of your female co-contestants?  Wouldn‘t that upset you? 

RASMUSEN:  OK.  You know what?  No, it wouldn‘t, because the judges helped all of us on the show. 

I was given comments by the judges on what clothes I should wear, what songs I could sing.  And Ryan Star from the first season of “American Idol” had Paula Abdul‘s phone number as well.  And she said that she frequently called Paula Abdul to find out what songs she should sing, what clothes she should wear.  And she had late conversations with Paula into the night.  She didn‘t have a sexual affair with Paula Abdul. 

WITT:  Carmen, did you get her phone number?  Did you get Paula‘s phone number?

RASMUSEN:  No.  No, I didn‘t.

But Paula Abdul was very kind and she was always quick to give any of us advice, if we wanted some, and she was very supportive and fair to all of us.  And I think that Corey Clark has a very compelling story, but, as a whole, it just doesn‘t ring true.  There are many inconsistencies. 

WITT:  OK.

All right, now, Carmen, you are saying you don‘t believe that they had sex. 

RASMUSEN:  No, I don‘t. 

WITT:  But let‘s listen to Corey talking about his sleepovers with Paula Abdul.  Take a listen, everyone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “PRIMETIME LIVE”)

JOHN QUINONES, ABC:  You slept with Paula Abdul. 

COREY CLARK, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  yes. 

QUINONES:  What room?  Where? 

CLARK:  In the guest room.  That‘s where I always usually stayed at. 

QUINONES:  Why the guest room? 

CLARK:  I don‘t know.  Like she—it seemed like kind of, you know, that is where she stayed a lot, too, because even though she had her room, like, that was the room that had like the little dog ramp for her dogs and stuff.      

QUINONES:  A dog ramp? 

CLARK:  Yes, because she has got like three little dogs.  It‘s Thumbelina, Tulip, and Tinkerbell. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  OK, he knows about the dogs, Carmen.

RASMUSEN:  We all knew about the dogs, too, she brought the dogs to rehearsal with her every week on the show.  So, we were all were actually introduced to Thumbelina and Tinkerbell and Tulip.  So I don‘t think that that proves anything at all. 

KENNEDY:  I think we know why the song is called Paulatics, because Paula does not give her animals Frontline.  And she has somehow gotten these mites under her skin, and she is infected and could infect the other contestants with Lyme disease, another reason she should be fired. 

RASMUSEN:  This is what is interesting to me, though.  We had security around us 24/7.  We were always in a group with at least one security guard around us.

And, at the mansion, we had three security guards at the house.  Whenever a car would pull up to the mansion, it was a gated area and the security guard would say, who are you here for; where are you going; what are you doing; what time will you be back? 

So it would have been very hard for Corey to slip away without someone knowing about it.  And the fact that he has gone two years without telling anyone about this is kind of interesting.  His family members knew about it.  His friends knew about it. 

WITT:  All right, so, why do you think he is talking about it now? 

RASMUSEN:  Publicity. 

WITT:  What‘s the deal? 

RASMUSEN:  Publicity.  He has got a CD coming out.  He‘s got a book coming out, and he wants to get his face out there, because, without “American Idol,” without hopping on this fame vehicle, no one would care about Corey Clark anymore.  He wouldn‘t be where he is today without that show, and in order to get back to where he wants to be, he needs to use the “American Idol” fame vehicle. 

KENNEDY:  OK.  But you know what?  If it weren‘t true, if it were just a salacious rumor, why would Paula Abdul still be calling him?

Just because he is gross and is a publicity hound and basically a media whore doesn‘t mean that he didn‘t have an inappropriate relationship with Paula Abdul on a judged show.

RASMUSEN:  Well, we don‘t know exactly what that phone call was regarding.  She didn‘t say anything besides, call me back. 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  You guys, let‘s listen to this.  For people who haven‘t heard this, let‘s listen to it, because Paula must have known this was wrong.  Here‘s this message that she left for Corey after reading about his book proposal.  Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PAULA ABDUL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Hi, it‘s Paula.  Call me back. 

Listen, if the press is trying to talk to you, you say absolutely nothing. 

That‘s all you do. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WITT:  So what‘s the message there, Kennedy? 

KENNEDY:  I think the message is Paula sounds like she is slurring again.  And I don‘t know if that‘s because she has got a neurological disorder or because she is ingesting something that is impairing her speaking abilities, and her, at one time, good judgment. 

This is a woman who was married to Charlie Sheen‘s brother.  She obviously has fantastic taste in men, or at least did at some point.  And her taste has really gone downhill, I have to say, another reason she should be fired. 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  Carmen, what about the flowers?  You know, the “American Idol” contestants are giving flowers to the judges.  What do you think that was about?  Do you think they are trying to show support right now?  Is that typical? 

RASMUSEN:  You know what?  When we were on the season, we handed the judges flowers as well.  I think they were definitely showing support for the show and for Paula and just being nice.

It‘s getting down to the finals, to the top five.  And I think the contestants are showing their appreciation to the judges and to the show,, because “American Idol” is a cultural phenomenon.  I would not be where I am today if it weren‘t for that show.  Corey wouldn‘t be where he is today if it weren‘t for that show.

Whether or not Paula Abdul was right—if this whole thing is true, if she had did have a sexual affair with Corey Clark, I think she needs to come clean.

WITT:  All right. 

RASMUSEN:  I think that she needs to tell the truth about it.  But I think, ultimately, America will forgive her and “American Idol” wouldn‘t be the same without her. 

WITT:  That is going to have to be the last word on this front. 

Kennedy and Carmen Rasmusen, thanks so much for joining us tonight. 

We appreciate it. 

So, here‘s the question.  What do all of you think?  Do you think the special program about “American Idol” and Paula Abdul was fair?  Go to our live poll at Joe.MSNBC.com.  Make your voice heard in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

The runaway bride finally breaks her silence, releasing a statement through her pastor.  But will Jennifer Wilbanks‘ words answer the question so many Americans are asking?  We are going to talk to two women with very different answers to that hot one. 

Then, Ann Coulter will be here live to talk about what she says is the radicalism against conservatives on college campuses. 

Stick around.  SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY is just getting started.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  The runaway bride finally tells America what she was thinking. 

Is it enough to answer America‘s questions? 

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

WITT:  Maybe the most famous runaway bride of all time, Katharine Ross, ditching her groom at the altar to run off with Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate.”

It‘s been more than a week since Jennifer Wilbanks disappeared, just days before she was set to marry John Mason in Duluth, Georgia.  Authorities launched a massive manhunt, until Wilbanks turned up last weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  She told police she had been kidnapped and raped, but later admitted making up that story. 

Today, we heard for the first time from the runaway bride. 

And with more on that, here‘s NBC‘s Don Teague in Gainesville, Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON TEAGUE, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  We have been waiting for nearly a week now to hear from Jennifer Wilbanks.  And today, we did, sort of. 

There was a news conference here at her family‘s church in Gainesville, Georgia.  It was held by the senior pastor here at the church, who read from a written statement that he said Jennifer had spent the last two days writing.  He said the words were heartfelt and sincere.  In that statement, she offered her sincere apology for all of the troubles she caused.  She also asked forgiveness from her community, from her family, and from her fiancee, John Mason.                 

SMILEY: “My running away had nothing to do with cold feet, nor was it ever about leaving John.  Those who know me know how excited I have been and how excited I was about the spectacular wedding we planned and how I could not wait to be called Mrs. John Mason.  In my mind, it was never about timing, however unfortunate.  I was simply running away from myself and from certain fears controlling my life.”

TEAGUE:  Well, Pastor Tom Smiley says that Jennifer Wilbanks is not emotionally ready to address the public, but she sincerely wants to and she plans to sometime in the near future.  In the meantime, she is receiving what he calls professional counseling. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  Thank you, Don Teague.

So now that we have gotten a glimpse into what Jennifer Wilbanks was thinking, will that change what Americans think about her? 

Joining me to talk about the very latest developments in this story are Lisa Bloom from Court TV and Arthur Aidala, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. 

Welcome to both of you.  Thanks for joining us here on SCARBOROUGH

COUNTRY.

LISA BLOOM, COURT TV ANCHOR:  Thank you. 

ARTHUR AIDALA, FORMER PROSECUTOR:  Hi, Alex. 

WITT:  Ladies first on my shows, when I get a chance to do that. 

So, Lisa, give me a read on what you think about the pastor today and his representation of Jennifer Wilbanks.  Did he sell it to the American people? 

BLOOM:  You know, I think she is probably saving herself for the best TV offer for her story.  I hate to say that, but you know those morning shows are probably circling as we speak.  She is probably getting a lot of offers. 

If I want to be less cynical and just be idealistic, I would say, she was a confused young woman.  That‘s why she ran off to Vegas in the first place, hoping that what happened in Vegas would stay in Vegas.  Instead, cable news world seized upon her story, making her an involuntary reality show participant, much, I‘m sure, to her surprise. 

She probably still is confused, if you take statement at face value. 

But I am too cynical.  I don‘t it at face value. 

WITT:  OK.  But you are supportive of the woman as someone who needs help, perhaps, psychological help? 

BLOOM:  Clearly.  Look, clearly, she needs help.

And some of us who are divorced might say, I only wish I had left my husband in the days before the wedding.  You know, I don‘t hold that against her.  I don‘t hold it against her that she had issues, that she wanted to take some time on her own.  It was terribly thoughtless, what she did to her family and friends, not calling to let them know that she was OK, if she made one phone call.  But she shouldn‘t be prosecuted. 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  Thoughtless is one thing, but a crime is another thing.

BLOOM:  Yes.   

WITT:  Arthur, is there a crime here? 

AIDALA:  I am jumping out of my skin here listening to Lisa. 

First of all, the first thing that Lisa did, she just—she zoomed in on the issue.  Money, this is what is going to come out of this, is that she is going to make a lot of money on the morning shows? 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  Yes, but, Arthur, do you think that is something she thought about?

AIDALA:  Not only did she put everyone in her family through this; not only did she put the authorities through this; I will tell you the truth.  She put me through this.  I sat there all weekend watching this thing.

And this poor woman, right before her wedding day, she disappears.  Now, that‘s one thing.  And it‘s another thing also if she went to a hotel and she took a bottle of pills and she slept all weekend and she had no idea what was going on and then she woke up and she called and said, oh, my god.  I‘m so sorry.  Here I am. 

That‘s not what she did.  When she found out, she called.  She said, I was raped.  I have been kidnapped. 

BLOOM:  For two hours. 

AIDALA:  She lied on two separate occasions. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM:  She lied for two hours to the police. 

AIDALA:  As soon as she understood that there was some commotion about this, she didn‘t do the right thing.  She did the wrong thing. 

And according to you, Lisa—you are in the industry, so you know better than I do—she is going to make a lot of money. 

BLOOM:  She probably will. 

AIDALA:  From “Good Morning America” or something.

(CROSSTALK) 

AIDALA:  That‘s disgraceful. 

BLOOM:  Well, Arthur, if we put behind bars everybody who makes money by selling their story to the media, we are going to have to build a lot more prisons.  When we catch all the murderers and rapists and we got nobody else to prosecute, then we can start going after poor little Jennifer Wilbanks.  But, my goodness. 

(CROSSTALK)

AIDALA:  You know better than I do. 

BLOOM:  Is she a hard-core criminal? 

AIDALA:  They are not allowed to make money from their stories, right? 

When someone is...

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM:  Tell that to the tabloid world, Arthur. 

AIDALA:  The Son of Sam law, right, the Son of Sam law.  She should not be able to make money.

BLOOM:  She‘s not a criminal.  She‘s certainly not a felon.

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  Yo, Arthur, I think the question has to be asked here.  Do you think she was really doing this for the money when she set out on that run on Tuesday night? 

AIDALA:  Absolutely not.  But do I think she should benefit from this?  No.  Do I think that she has to be made somewhat of an example of?  I am not telling you she should get the death penalty.  I‘m not saying she should go to jail.  Neither is the prosecutor.

WITT:  But are you saying that she did a crime?  Are you saying that she committed a crime?  And, if so, what‘s the crime? 

(CROSSTALK)

AIDALA:  OK.  It is very clear-cut.  She called the sheriff, the chief sheriff from her town, and said, I have been kidnapped.  That is lying.

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM:  That was not a statement under oath.  That‘s not a crime, just to lie to the police.  If it were, millions of Americans who lie during criminal... 

(CROSSTALK)

AIDALA:  Well, Lisa, how come I just represented—how come I just represented a young woman very recently who called the police after she had a fight over a parking spot and lied and said the person she had the fight with had a gun, and it took me days to convince them not to charge her?  They wanted to charge her so badly.

BLOOM:  So, why did you defend her and you don‘t defend Jennifer? 

AIDALA:  Well, because that‘s my job.  That is what I do for a living.

BLOOM:  So it‘s whoever is paying you, Arthur? 

AIDALA:  Let me ask you something.  That incident took one police officer about 15 minutes of his time, not $40,000 or $60,000. 

BLOOM:  And Jennifer Wilbanks was a couple of hours until she came clean.  She should be rewarded for coming clean, not punished. 

(CROSSTALK)

AIDALA:  She didn‘t come clean. 

(CROSSTALK)

AIDALA:  She didn‘t come clean. 

BLOOM:  Leave that woman alone.  She‘s a private citizen.  She didn‘t sign up for this. 

AIDALA:  She said she was raped.  How much more of a horrendous crime can you have than say, I was raped; I was kidnapped and raped? 

AIDALA:  How about actually being a rapist or being a murderer?  I think those are more horrendous crimes.  The police don‘t have enough resources to go after real criminals. 

(CROSSTALK)

AIDALA:  Who says that rapists and murderers shouldn‘t be prosecuted? 

Of course, they should. 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  All right, now, Lisa, you are saying this is a young woman who is confused. 

BLOOM:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  I want to get a little more of this statement from today. 

Let‘s have it as it was read by the family minister.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SMILEY: “I understand that many people wanted to hear from me personally today.  And I wanted to be here.  However, I look forward to the days ahead when I am strong enough to speak for myself.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Strong enough to speak for herself.  Are we going to hear from her?  Are we going to hear the truth? 

(CROSSTALK)

AIDALA:  Who cares?  If you have a lawyer, she should keep her mouth shut. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM:  Let me say this.

Jennifer Wilbanks, you are always welcome to come on my show on Court TV and tell your story.  I‘ll be happy to have you. 

AIDALA:  That‘s not fair, Lisa.  I can‘t make that offer. 

WITT:  Mine, too.  Mine, too.  I am sure Joe would like her here on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY as well. 

AIDALA:  But, Lisa, let me ask you something.  How come it‘s a crime to yell fire in a crowded movie theater? 

BLOOM:  It‘s not a crime, but it‘s not protected by the First Amendment. 

You know, and that‘s inciting people to get hurt.  We are talking about a young woman who took off, not illegal, without telling her mother, bad judgment, but not illegal.  And the only possible crime is lying to the police for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. 

(CROSSTALK) 

AIDALA:  So, it‘s a crime.  You just admitted it‘s a crime, Lisa.

WITT:  Lisa, what you have to think about here, though, too, is the premeditation.  In fact, many people are sympathetic toward Jennifer, but there are others who are not.  They are pointing out this whole series of things. 

BLOOM:  Premeditated bus ticket buying? 

WITT:  OK.  No, listen, she apparently acted with premeditation.  Here are the things.  She lied to her boss about leaving to get her wedding dress fixed. 

BLOOM:  Not a crime. 

WITT:  OK.  She bought the bus ticket in advance. 

BLOOM:  This is not a crime. 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  ... panic vs. preplanned.  Look at the full screen right here. 

BLOOM:  OK, but none of these are crimes. 

WITT:  She cuts her hair to disguise herself.  She leaves all her personal belongings behind, making it look like a disappearance.  Then she‘s seen at a Las Vegas casino.  She gets to Albuquerque.  Then she calls the cops, told them she has been kidnapped and raped. 

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM:  Only the last one is a possible crime.  And if all of us who got haircuts that were bad and lied to our bosses were criminals, again, we really have packed...

(CROSSTALK)

AIDALA:  So, Lisa, you are admitting it‘s a crime.  You are admitting it‘s a crime. 

BLOOM:  She ran off to Vegas.  She had 600 people coming to her wedding.  She had 14 bridesmaids.  The girl wanted a little time of her own.  And, instead, cable news seized on...

(CROSSTALK)

AIDALA:  Don‘t you think there‘s a certain responsibility to tell someone, to tell one person, just tell one person? 

BLOOM:  Yes.  As a mother, I would strongly recommend—I think what she did is terrible.  But it‘s not a crime. 

(CROSSTALK)

AIDALA:  You keep referring to it as a crime. 

WITT:  The one thing that the two of you agree to as having been a crime, calling in this false police report.  The Albuquerque Police Department says, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  Prosecutor—we are not going to prosecute here. 

(CROSSTALK) 

WITT:  And, yet, Gwinnett County says, we are looking at this.  Could be a couple of weeks.  We still may. 

AIDALA:  Because the Albuquerque Police Department didn‘t use all of their resources.  What would have happened if, God forbid, there was a fire, and because all the police officers and the firemen are looking for this young woman, a child died in that fire because all the resources were wasted?

WITT:  All right. 

And that‘s going to be rhetorical question.  We have got to leave it right there. 

Lisa Bloom and Arthur Aidala, thank you so much for being us.  Greatly appreciate both your time. 

Coming up, we have a piece of videotape that is truly outrageous and disturbing, and he is still on the loose.  We have all the details. 

Plus, it‘s the most popular book ever written, so, should the Bible be taught in American public schools?  A new twist on the battle to teach the Bible coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Should a public school in Texas be allowed to offer a class on

the Bible?  It‘s a hot question down in Texas and in many parts of this

country.  We are going to debate it in our SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY showdown,

But, first, here‘s the latest news your family needs to know. 

(NEWS BREAK)

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

WITT:  Thanks for joining us, everyone.  I‘m Alex Witt, in for Joe Scarborough tonight. 

Now we‘re going to get a story that is really just outrageous.  I‘m also going to tell you, it‘s very hard to watch, a helpless 83-year-old woman beaten in a D.C. Metro station, the entire stunning attack all caught on tape.  The victim works as a vendor at the Foggy Bottom train station.

And Tuesday afternoon, here, you see it.  The man seen in this video -

·         look at that—approaches the woman, just starts beating on her.  In fact, much of the attack is so brutal, we can‘t show it to you, but you certainly can get the idea right there.  Police have sent the video to a lab at Quantico.  They are hoping to get a better picture of that man.  D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey says, if it were up to him, he would give this man a life sentence.  Now, Charles.

If you know anything about this crime, call this number you see on your screen.  There is a reward.  Look at that number and call it, 202-727-9099.  Talk about a heinous crime right there.  Need your help. 

Meantime, today is the national day of prayer.  And people around the country bowed their head with the president as he marked the day by giving thanks for freedom and asking God‘s help in defending it.  President Bush prays a great deal.  He reads the Bible every day.  Almost three billion copies of the Bible have been sold, but public schools in this country are not allowed to teach the Bible. 

The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools is fighting to change all that.  Their most recent victory was in Odessa, Texas, where 6,000 residents voted to get the Bible back into their classrooms.  But not everyone was happy with that vote. 

And joining me right now is Michael Johnson from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, as well as Michael Gross, civil rights attorney. 

Gentlemen, thank you for being here. 

MICHAEL GROSS, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION:  Thank you. 

MICHAEL JOHNSON, NATIONAL COUNCIL ON BIBLE CURRICULUM IN PUBLIC

SCHOOLS:  Glad to be with you. 

WITT:  All right, Michael Gross, we are going to begin with you, because you say this is a very sneaky way to teach religion in public school.  What do you mean?

GROSS:  Well, there is a wall of separation, to use Jefferson‘s term.

And you will remember that the Constitution, a more important document than any other document for students in public school to study and learn about, begins, “We the people.”  And the first of the Bill of Rights says, Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.  That has been interpreted many times by our Supreme Court without exception to say, don‘t teach religion in public schools.  This is a simple rule.  This curriculum violates that rule.  And it‘s unconstitutional. 

WITT:  Supreme Court in 1963 says the Bible can be appropriately used, as long as it‘s taught objectively to teach, not preach.  Don‘t you think that‘s possible, Michael? 

GROSS:  This is not objectively.  The National Council on Bible Curriculum.  And what is the Bible curriculum?  What is the Bible curriculum?

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON:  Well, perhaps you should read it, Michael, and then you would be a little more informed. 

GROSS:  Don‘t presume. 

JOHNSON:  I‘m glad to join you, Alex.

(CROSSTALK)

GROSS:  Don‘t presume.  I make no judgment about the Bible, sir, but about separation of church and state. 

JOHNSON:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

GROSS:  This is not a matter of disrespect for the Bible, but it‘s not to be taught in the public school.

JOHNSON:  Alex, can I jump in here? 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  Let‘s show some respect for Mr. Johnson. 

Have your—have a go at it. 

JOHNSON:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

I‘m very happy to join you on the National Day of Prayer, which is one of the greatest threats on the calendar for the ACLU.  You can see that they are hostile to religion.  That has always been their M.O.

Look, the U.S. Supreme Court has been very clear on this issue.  They have said, as you just stated, in Abington v. Schempp in 1963, that the Bible is an appropriate course of study in the public schools.  In 1980, they revisited the issue in Stone vs. Graham and repeated that theme. 

Here‘s the rule of thumb.  Public schools can teach the Bible, but not preach.  They can present, but not proselytize.  And the National Council‘s curriculum does that. 

WITT:  All right.  So, Michael, what do you want to do in Odessa, Texas?  Give me the details.  Lay it out. 

JOHNSON:  Well, in Odessa, Texas, the people, it‘s a grassroots movement, like it is in 35 other states, in 300 school districts, where the National Council‘s curriculum is being taught.  It presents the Bible as an objective part of the secular program of education, just like you said the United States Supreme Court has clearly authorized. 

The United States Department of Education stated under the Clinton administration that this is something that can and should be done.  The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy observes that no one in the English-speaking world can be considered literate without a basic knowledge of the Bible. 

It was the blueprint and the foundation of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and our entire educational system. 

GROSS:  Whose Bible?  Whose Bible?  Whose Bible? 

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON:  When it‘s removed from schools, we rob students of a complete understanding of history. 

GROSS:  It‘s theology.  It is not history.  It is creed.  It is not geography.  It doesn‘t belong in the public schools.  What do you say to the wall of separation?  The people who wrote the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights...

JOHNSON:  Well, I will tell you. 

(CROSSTALK)

GROSS:  ... understood how dangerous it was to mix church and state.

WITT:  All right. 

GROSS:  They realized it. 

JOHNSON:  Oh, right.  And...

GROSS:  They were close to the dangers in history. 

WITT:  Gentlemen...

(CROSSTALK)

GROSS:  Let‘s not get back to the Dark Ages here.  This is an important difference.

JOHNSON:  No.  No. 

The true meaning of the First Amendment, Michael, as you should know, if you remember from law school, was to prevent the federal government from establishing a national church.  That is all it was.  It was to keep government out of religion, not to separate religion from our public life. 

WITT:  All right. 

JOHNSON:  And just because the ACLU and its allies are out to do that, they are on a search-and-destroy mission to obliterate all things religious. 

WITT:  And, gentlemen, let‘s put our passions aside. 

(CROSSTALK)

GROSS:  ... wonderful evangelical movement.  Set up a tent. 

WITT:  Gentlemen. 

GROSS:  Keep out of our public schools.

WITT:  I want to put passions aside here for a moment.  Let‘s look at some statistics as offered by “The Educational World.” 

The question here, could reading the Bible make students any smarter?  Listen to these numbers.  A Bible literacy report questioned the top high school English teachers from around this country.  Here‘s what they were asked.  Should the Bible be studied?  More than 98 percent surveyed believe Bible literacy gives a distinct educational advantage to the students.  Also revealing in this study that 90 percent of English teachers interviewed believe that biblical knowledge is crucial for just an overall good education. 

Mr. Gross, your reaction to that? 

GROSS:  Look, that‘s a matter of faith, not reason. 

Are you teaching it as truth?  Are you saying it‘s true? 

JOHNSON:  No.  It presents the Bible objectively as part of the secular education.

(CROSSTALK)

GROSS:  Did the sea open up?  Did Jesus rise after death?  Is that true or is that theology? 

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON:  Mr. Gross, if you will let me finish, I will explain it to you. 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  What about offering the Bible as something that opens up discussion, interpretation? 

GROSS:  Look, you are masking—don‘t be deceptive.  At least be honest and forthright.  If it‘s creationism, don‘t get around it by calling it intelligent design.

JOHNSON:  This is not a matter of creationism, Michael.

GROSS:  This is a matter of teaching the Bible in public schools.  Teach it at home.  Teach it in church.  Teach it in all sorts of public forum, but not where the government establishes a public school system and the First Amendment says keep them separate.

JOHNSON:  Let me ask you, Michael.  How can students understand da Vinci‘s “Last Supper,” work like Michelangelo‘s Sistine Chapel, Handel‘s “Messiah,” Milton‘s “Paradise Lost,” or Martin Luther King Jr.‘s speech when he says, I have been to the mountaintop?  They can not understand basic references in our culture without a foundation in the Bible.  That‘s what all these educators are saying in the polls.

WITT:  Mr. Gross...

GROSS:  You are going to teach the meaning of “The Messiah” by reading the New Testament? 

WITT:  Mr. Gross? 

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON:  No.  We are..

WITT:  I‘m going to give you the last word here, sir.  I‘m going to give you 10 seconds to answer this question. 

(CROSSTALK)

GROSS:  What happened to the Koran?  What happened to the other books?

WITT:  Is there any—sir, is there any circumstance under which you think the Bible could be fairly taught, Mr. Gross?  Last word to you.

GROSS:  Not in a public school, no. 

WITT:  All right, Michael.

JOHNSON:  Because they are hostile to all things religious. 

GROSS:  That isn‘t true. 

WITT:  Michael Gross, Michael Johnson, gentlemen, thank you very much for your time. 

Their passions will certainly continue, no doubt. 

Now, you never know what she is going to say, but it is always entertaining.  Up next, conservative author and commentator Ann Coulter joins us live in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

Wave, Ann.  Say hello to everybody.  There you go. 

And don‘t forget, our live vote question.  Do you think the special program about “American Idol” and Paula Abdul was fair?  Go to Joe.MSNBC.com to vote.

We‘re going to be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

WITT:  Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

Five months after the presidential election, the battle between red and blue states is very much alive in America.  Ann Coulter, who last month made of the cover of “TIME” magazine, has experienced this firsthand.  While speaking at universities across this country, some are branding her a hate-monger. 

But joining me now, Ann Coulter, the author of “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must),” although I must say, you say it much better when I hear you do it in interviews than I just did there.

ANN COULTER, AUTHOR, “HOW TO TALK TO A LIBERAL (IF YOU MUST)”:  Hi, Alex.  It‘s great to talk to you.  I thought I had to get up early on a Saturday morning to do that. 

(LAUGHTER)

WITT:  OK, well, I am going to book you for my show, too, so just—

I‘ll be calling you afterwards. 

Anyway, let‘s take a look here at the cover of the “TIME” magazine.  First of all, I understand you didn‘t like this too much, the way the photographer shot this, this fish-eye lens.  Why?

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER:  Yes, let‘s not look at that one.

WITT:  No, no.

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER:  Look at the one that was supposed to be the cover.  Flip through that and go to the one that was supposed to be the cover.  I like the one on the inside. 

(LAUGHTER)

WITT:  But why were you upset by this?  I mean, look, you‘ve got great legs.  If you‘ve got it, flaunt it, as long as you do it tastefully. 

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER:  I am just saying, why can‘t—it‘s like what liberals do with my clothes.  Why can‘t they just show me honestly?  That‘s a fish-eye lens.

WITT:  OK.  So...

COULTER:  It‘s a distorting lens.  Why can‘t they just show an accurate photo of me? 

WITT:  So, what do you think?  Do you think the liberals, the liberal media, “TIME” magazine, was trying to show you inaccurately? 

COULTER:  I think it‘s a distorted photo.  And I don‘t like distorted photos of myself.  That‘s all.  We can move on. 

How about showing the nice photo inside that should have been the cover photo?

WITT:  OK.  Well, I have heard many people say it‘s an attractive photo.  But, anyway, moving on, as you suggest. 

COULTER:  The “TIME” magazine photo editor apparently didn‘t think it was an attractive photo, because when I ran the same photo of her, they asked me to take it down. 

WITT:  Oh.  All right.  Well, point taken. 

Now, you recently spoke at St. Thomas University in St. Paul.  You‘ve been doing this all around the country.  And the president of that university, the Reverend Dennis Dease, had this to say: “Although Ann Coulter‘s presentation may have been meant as an act or a shtick to entertain by provoking those who disagree, such behavior unfortunately contributes to the growing dark side of our culture, a disrespect for persons and their sincerely held beliefs.  Such hateful speech vulgarizes our culture.”

Harsh words, Ann.  I mean, so, here‘s the question.  Are you disrespectful of other people‘s beliefs? 

COULTER:  I was taking such positions as that the spread of democracy through the Middle East is a good thing, that we should not be overturning a 5,000-year-old institution like marriage on the whim of a few state court judges. 

What were my other wacky and controversial positions?  No, I mean, I was saying things that apparently a lot of people agree with, apparently a vast majority of Americans, in fact.  But college campuses are—it‘s like a safe streets program for capitalism or for normal people.  As people have seen a small slice of in the case of Ward Churchill, the typical college professor is a raving lunatic. 

The idea that a Catholic college is appalled and is referring to hate speech, someone talking about, like I say, the spread of democracy and the sanctity of marriage, as if that‘s the hate speech, really tells you where college campuses are today. 

WITT:  Which is what?  You think they are just bastions of liberalism? 

COULTER:  No, I think they‘re lunatic asylums. 

(LAUGHTER)

COULTER:  Let‘s run clips from Ward Churchill here and compare that to the things I say. 

WITT:  Yes, but aren‘t there a bunch of Young Republican clubs all over this country? 

COULTER:  Yes.  Yes.  They‘re the ones who invite me to speak.

WITT:  So, what‘s happening to them? 

COULTER:  Well, they are the ones—they‘re the rebels on campus.

And I must say, you are getting a very bright breed of Young Republicans coming up to fill the ranks.  I don‘t know what liberals are going to do, since what they have are a bunch of lemmings and grade-grubbers, saying what the professors want them to say, protesting the people they know their professors want them to protest. 

Whatever you can say about liberals on college campuses, the one thing you can‘t say is that they are courageous.  They are doing exactly what their professors want them to do.  And the College Republicans, no, they are tremendous.  They are the ones who are usually inviting me to speak, so that the dean of students or the president of the university can then denounce the speech as hate speech, because I didn‘t say something loving and outreaching, like calling the people who died in 9/11 little Eichmanns, as a university professor did.  No, that‘s not hate speech. 

WITT:  OK. 

I want our viewers, in case they haven‘t clued into this already, to see when this all began.  This is a clip from back in October at the University of Arizona.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COULTER:  You take away the terrorism and liberals would hate Muslims. 

Could the Marines please find them? 

You take away the terrorism and liberals would hate Muslims.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  All right.  What was that?  That was a pie that came right at you.  What did you think?

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER:  Missed me.  Two pies.  Both missed. 

WITT:  OK.  And were you—how scared were you?  I am just curious.  When you saw that come at you, what did you think?  Did you think terrorism? 

COULTER:  No.  I was being attacked.  Why would you say that? 

Yes, I thought it was Adolf Hitler back to life, Alex.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTER:  What do you mean, terrorism? 

WITT:  Well, I mean, but terrorism of a certain kind, I mean, terrorism of your beliefs, mean, terrorism of your ideology. 

COULTER:  Someone was...

WITT:  People trying to take you down.  It‘s got to be unnerving.

COULTER:  You don‘t have a lot of time to think when someone is running at you throwing things at you. 

I could put a pie in the face of Hulk Hogan if he were giving a speech and I staged a sucker punch like that, but that‘s different a category from idiotic questions, students yelling up—standing up and yelling obscenities.  That is a physical attack.  And, as I mentioned, despite the fact that it was a sucker punch, both of them missed me, whereas the two handsome young men didn‘t end up so well.  They got beaten up. 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  But let‘s extrapolate that even further.  Do you think that college campuses are not safe for conservatives? 

COULTER:  No.

When I give a speech, I don‘t think I would want to be the liberal running at me.  Let them try it again.  All of MoveOn.org is going to end up in the emergency ward.  But I do think that‘s a different issue from—and I have been giving college speeches for five or six years. 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  Ann Coulter, you know what happens when you get told to wrap? 

That‘s what I am getting.  Five, four.

(LAUGHTER)

WITT:  Anyway, thank you very much, Ann Coulter.

And we‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  And don‘t forget about our live vote.  Do you think the special program about “American Idol” and Paula Abdul was fair?  Go to Joe‘s Web site at Joe.MSNBC.com to vote.

And stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Tonight‘s show brought to you by the number five.

And, no, this is not “Sesame Street,” but, in fact, today is a special

day, May 5, 2005.  That is 5/5 of ‘05.  And at 5:05 and five seconds today

·         Got all of this? -- you should have made a wish, because this day with only zeros and fives only comes along every 1,000 years.  So, if you made a wish, here‘s hoping it came true. 

And that‘s all the time that we have tore tonight.  Joe will be back tomorrow night.  Be sure to watch Imus tomorrow morning.  His guests include Tom Brokaw. 

And got something to say?  You can send Joe an e-mail at Joe@MSNBC.com.

Meantime, as we approach 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast, “HARDBALL” is next. 

Have a good night, everyone.

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

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