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'Scarborough Country' for June 13

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Michael Reagan, Nico Pitney, Karen Hanretty, Ann Larney, Frank Guinta, Anne Trenolone, Jack Myers, Michael Reagan, Alvina Floyd, Ted Casablanca, Willie Geist

DAN ABRAMS, GUEST HOST:  Coming up: Tonight we‘ll get to the growing controversy pitting Dan Rather against his old bosses at CBS.  I‘ll tell you whose side I‘m on.

But first, tonight‘s other winners and losers, your news scorecard.  Our first loser, former Bush White House counsel Harriet Miers slapped with a subpoena today.  First the president pulls her nomination for the Supreme Court, now Democrats pull her into their investigation of the firing of federal prosecutors.  Winner, current Bush political guru and Washington string-puller Karl Rove, who‘s managed to dodge a subpoena in that same investigation.

Loser, long-shot Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson, who tried to create a media frenzy today with a, quote, “major announcement.”  The news answer a question he hoped was on everybody Republican voter‘s mind.  Yes, Thompson will participate in the Iowa straw polls this summer.  Winner, non-candidate and potential frontrunner Fred Thompson, who successfully caused a media frenzy by just appearing on the “Tonight” show last night without even answering the real question on everyone‘s mind, Will he run?

Winner, a rare bright blue lobster whose life was spare this weekend because it was, well, blue and not red.  Loser, Congress and the president.  In a just released NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll, neither were spared the wrath of angry voters in blue and red states, who put The president‘s approval rating at an all-time low and Congress‘s approval rating even lower.  And now I‘m comparing them to a lobster.

For more on this brand-new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll, Nico Pitney joins us from the Center for American Progress, Republican strategist Karen Hanretty and radio talk show host Michael Reagan.

All right, so Michael, according to the NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll—it‘s just out just hours ago—the president has sunk to a 29 percent approval rating, 6 percentage points down since April, his lowest approval ratings in his presidency.  This going to change anything?

MICHAEL REAGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Nothing‘s going to change Washington D.C.  I mean, the president of the United States—it‘d be nice if he had a higher approval rating.  But the reality of it is, when every night, no matter what news channel you watch, it is negative, negative, negative on the president of the United States—of course, he doesn‘t help himself with his guffaws and everything else when he introduces the queen of England.  My goodness gracious, yes.  He—his numbers are low.  But look again at the Congress of the United States.

ABRAMS:  Right.

REAGAN:  They were elected to do something.  They have done absolutely nothing.  They‘re lower than the president.

ABRAMS:  Right.  We‘ll get—I‘ll get...

REAGAN:  Harry Reid‘s lower than them!

ABRAMS:  I‘ll hit them up in a second.  But you‘re not actually suggesting that the president‘s approval ratings are so low because, A, it‘s been the media coverage, and B, a few guffaws. and that‘s it.  Come on.

REAGAN:  Well, hey, but listen, come on.  There hasn‘t been any positive stories.

ABRAMS:  I mean—but—but...

REAGAN:  And yes, the president of the United States—hey, the president of the United States right now doesn‘t even...


ABRAMS:  Hang on!  Hang on!  Let Michael finish.

REAGAN:  The president of the United States right now does not have his own party on his team.

ABRAMS:  Right.

REAGAN:  The immigration issue is bringing him down.

ABRAMS:  Don‘t blame the media...

REAGAN:  His own party is trying to chew him up.

ABRAMS:  Don‘t blame the media for that!  I mean, come on!

REAGAN:  No, but there has not been—Dan, but there hasn‘t been, in fact, any positive stories about the president, anything he‘s done.  And now, when he attacks his own party, as he did on the immigration issue, it drives the numbers down even lower.  The president of the United States, unfortunately, is looking for a legacy, and the legacy he‘s getting may not be one he wants.

ABRAMS:  Yes, that I think may be true.  Nico, now I‘m going to hit you up with the other one, which is Congress, all right?  So you‘ve got Congress now, according to this new poll, at just 23 percent approval, 64 percent disapprove.  it‘s down from April at 31 percent.  March, it was at 31 percent.  You know, we‘re—yes, sure, we look at the president.  That‘s the highlight.  The president‘s approval ratings are down.  Well, then why is Congress sinking so much?

NICO PITNEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Well, I mean, this country wants to end this war, and President Bush and the conservatives in Congress are making that next to impossible.  And Americans are upset about that, and they‘re blaming the people in control, who have the power to do something.  Congress was blocked in their effort last month to stop the war, and since then, you‘ve seen a sharp decline in approval ratings for Congress.

But let‘s be serious.  For 12 years, conservatives who ran Congress ran the brand of Congress down into the ground, and you expect in less—in half a year, six months, for Congress to have sky-high approval ratings, that‘s not going to happen.

ABRAMS:  No one‘s talking about sky-high approval ratings.  The question is, it‘s been sinking since the Democrats took over.  I mean, right?

PITNEY:  Well, it went up, and it began sinking when the president vetoed the Iraq spending bill with accountability...


ABRAMS:  So you‘re basically saying the public is so dumb that they don‘t understand sort of what‘s what?

PITNEY:  I think they‘re frustrated.  I mean, look, a lot of us believe that Congress capitulated when they passed a bill that contained no accountability, that didn‘t contain an exit strategy from Iraq.

ABRAMS:  All right, Karen, I‘m throwing this one—this again—this is from this newly released poll.  Again, it‘s just out this evening.  Only 19 percent think the country is headed in the right direction, the lowest rating in 15 years.


ABRAMS:  I mean, I don‘t get how when these poll ratings are coming

out that are so low, that there‘s not going to be any change, that people -

that certain members of Congress aren‘t going to say—you know, forget about for the good of the country, let‘s say for their political futures...


ABRAMS:  ... that they‘re not going to say, we need to do something differently.

HANRETTY:  Well, that 19 percent number really encapsulates the president‘s low approval rating and Congress‘s low approval rating.  And I think both of our panelists this evening don‘t have it quite right.  The country has an absolute lack of confidence in the government‘s ability to get anything done, whether it‘s President Bush—you know, President Bush‘s numbers are falling among Republicans.  That‘s why his numbers are falling, because he went out there and he insulted them, kind of, you know, insinuating that they weren‘t doing the right thing for America by not supporting his immigration bill.

And they‘re frustrated with Congress, whether it‘s the Democrats or Republicans, because there were some—there was supposed to be some sort of change after the 2006 elections, and there‘s been no change.  It‘s really the status quo.  So of course those numbers are very bad.

And the fact of the matter is, I don‘t think that there is anyone, a man or a woman in Congress right now or in the administration, with real courage to stand up and insist and demand on a change for this country.  One way or the other...


PITNEY:  But you‘re not right there.

HANRETTY:  ... a change I agree with.

PITNEY:  You‘re not right there.  Look, this current Congress has passed...

HANRETTY:  Who?  Who is insisting on change?

PITNEY:  They passed stem cell legislation.  They passed the first increase in the minimum wage in a decade.

ABRAMS:  All right, but come on!  A minimum wage is not...


ABRAMS:  I know.  OK.  I know.  Yes.  You‘re going to get preachy on me now and tell me...


ABRAMS:  No, I didn‘t say it‘s not relevant.  What I said is that these poll results are not going to change because of minimum wage legislation.


ABRAMS:  Are you going to disagree with that?

PITNEY:  Well, I mean, certainly, minimum wage legislation is supported by the—by the...


ABRAMS:  That‘s not what I asked you.  I asked you...

REAGAN:  America is, you know...

ABRAMS:  I‘m asking you if you think...

REAGAN:  If I could just jump in for a moment...

ABRAMS:  ... these poll results are going to change based on...


PITNEY:  I think—I think Iraq—when we see movement on Iraq, that‘s when we‘ll see...

ABRAMS:  Exactly.  All right.

PITNEY:  ... the polls change.

ABRAMS:  And which comes to my next question...

HANRETTY:  Well, there‘s more to it than that, though.

ABRAMS:  The president‘s approval...

REAGAN:  If I can jump in for one moment?

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to you on this one.


ABRAMS:  The president‘s approval on the handling of Iraq is at 26 percent.  I think that‘s what this is about.  Michael, go ahead.  Michael?

REAGAN:  Well, I think a lot of it is about—I think a lot of it is, in fact, about Iraq and about the war in Iraq.  People would like to see it over.  You know, you sit home every night and you hear nothing but bad news about Iraq, and you see our men and women being killed each and every day.  You, as a parent, as a brother, as a son, want to reach out and try to be able to stop it.

I still believe we are doing the right thing in Iraq, and we need to win this war.  And we need to take the gloves off the men and women who are, in fact, fighting this war in Iraq...

ABRAMS:  So—so...

REAGAN:  And I think—and I think the argument‘s going on in Washington, D.C., do give aid and comfort to those who are the enemies of the United States of America, when you have the Harry Reids out there and the Nancy Pelosis making statements...

ABRAMS:  Look, you know...


ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Hang on...


REAGAN:  ... surge doesn‘t work.  You don‘t help...


ABRAMS:  So what you‘re saying is we should stop debating the war, right?  We should stop debating it, right?

HANRETTY:  Well, Michael...


REAGAN:  ... Bill O‘Reilly wants us to.


ABRAMS:  Bill O‘Reilly wants us to stop talking about the war—stop talking about it.

REAGAN:  Listen, you and I debating the war is one thing.  Leaders in Congress should be supportive of ending this war, but ending it when we win, they lose.  The way it‘s being debated right now is we lose on both counts.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me—let me move on in this poll, again, because this is interesting stuff just out.  Republican primary, 29 percent now behind Giuliani.  That‘s down from 33 percent in April.  You see there the numbers.  Fred Thompson, who‘s not even running officially yet—he‘s at 20 percent.  He‘s increased 3 percent in his non-campaign.  But most interesting to me, Karen, is John McCain, down 8 percent, 22 percent to 14 percent.  That has got to be very scary news for the McCain campaign.

REAGAN:  Immigration.

HANRETTY:  That number will continue to fall.  I‘m not surprised at all by that number, and I think the more Fred Thompson engages in this campaign, the more he takes away from Giuliani.  That‘s a lot of the loss Giuliani has seen, and also from McCain.  And I think McCain is now the poster boy for this illegal immigration bill that Republicans really don‘t like.

McCain has nowhere to go but down because what is he going to do to convince Republicans that he should be the leader of the free world, that he should their party, when he‘s out criticizing them?

ABRAMS:  Let‘s go to...

REAGAN:  John McCain‘s going nowhere.  John McCain‘s going nowhere.

ABRAMS:  Really?

REAGAN:  Immigration is the issue that‘s going to be the end-all for John McCain.

HANRETTY:  I wouldn‘t be surprised...

REAGAN:  Lindsay Graham...

HANRETTY:  ... if McCain drops out...

REAGAN:  Lindsay Graham...

HANRETTY:  ... by Labor Day.

ABRAMS:  Oh, I‘m sorry.  Michael, you mean...

REAGAN:  Absolutely.  Lindsay Graham‘s tying—

ABRAMS:  Michael, when you say he‘s going nowhere, you mean his campaign is sinking.

REAGAN:  Campaign is...

ABRAMS:  Oh, OK.  All right.

REAGAN:  ... absolutely going nowhere.  Lindsey Graham tying himself to John McCain back with the group of 14 is...

ABRAMS:  All right...

REAGAN:  ... is going to lose him the Senate race in South Carolina in 2008.  He‘s not going to be vice president of the United States under John McCain.


REAGAN:  Immigration is the death knell for John McCain.

ABRAMS:  All right, Nico, let me go to you now on the latest with regard to the Democratic race.  Again, according to this new poll just out, Hillary Clinton gaining some points, 39 from 36 in April.  Barack Obama down 5 percentage points, and John Edwards down 5 percentage points, as well.  Can you explain it?

PITNEY:  Well, I mean, I think Hillary‘s been on a good run, but I think these polls are very early and they move around a lot.  Generally, I think all of these candidates should be very excited.  On the right, you have extreme displeasure, discontentment with the candidates that they‘ve got.  And I think on the left, people are very happy with the group of candidates they‘ve got.  They‘re—you know, they‘re going back and forth.  They‘re vacillating a bit on...

HANRETTY:  Why do they keep begging Al Gore to run?


PITNEY:  Well, I don‘t think they—who‘s begging Al Gore to—where does he show up in the polls?


HANRETTY:  There‘s a lot!  I mean, are you kidding?  There‘s a lot on the left who are asking Al Gore to run.

PITNEY:  ... number two, like Fred Thompson?  Is he number two, like Fred Thompson?

ABRAMS:  But don‘t you think...


HANRETTY:  A lot in your party are asking.  (INAUDIBLE) is out there saying, Please, Al Gore...


PITNEY:  ... is the quintessential Democrat...


ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Michael, one at a time.  Nico, finish up, and then we can give Michael a chance.

REAGAN:  Go ahead.

PITNEY:  Look, I mean, I think—at the bottom line is, I think these candidates should be very happy with where they‘re at...

ABRAMS:  All right...

PITNEY:  ... and I don‘t think there‘s—there‘s...

ABRAMS:  Michael...

PITNEY:  ... you know, Obama has something to fear right now.

ABRAMS:  I‘m sorry, Michael.  Go ahead.

REAGAN:  “The Washington Post” extrapolated this.  I can see the signage now.  Dumb people for Hillary, smart ones for Obama, because that‘s what “The Washington Post” said, less educated are going for Hillary, the smartest woman in America, while the smart women are voting for Obama.  I‘d like to find out why.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Let me ask—but let‘s get back to the issue of Al Gore.  I mean, he‘s not—he‘s not in this poll.  But Nico, you know, look, you‘re saying that everyone‘s happy with the  candidates.  If Al Gore entered the race, the numbers—let‘s put up the numbers again for the Democrats.  Those numbers  would shift significantly, right?

PITNEY:  I think there would be a shift.  And I don‘t think there‘s any question that people very much admire Gore and like what he‘s doing out there.  But that‘s a very different statement than saying that they‘re upset with the current crop of candidates, which is, I think, very clearly what‘s happening on the righthand side.

ABRAMS:  Hey, Karen...

REAGAN:  If I could jump in again?

ABRAMS:  Yes, go ahead, Michael.

REAGAN:  If I could jump in for a minute?  You know, it‘s much different on the outside looking in.  Having been in a few presidential campaigns during my life, much different when you‘re outside, pretending to run, and being on the inside and actually running.  Organization is what wins you the nomination of your party.  What Al Gore would be lacking is the same thing right now Fred Thompson might be lacking, and that‘s organization.  They may love him in the polls, but does he have the organization in Iowa?  Does he have the organization in New Hampshire?  Does he have the organization in all of these states he‘s going to need to get people to the polls to vote for him to get the nomination of his party?

ABRAMS:  All right.  Thank you, Nico Pitney, Karen Hanretty and Michael Reagan.   This is interesting stuff in this just released poll.  It‘ll certainly be fodder for conversation for the days to come.

Coming up, a controversial field trip, middle school students brought to a Planned Parenthood clinic.  Now the mayor of the town is furious.  He joins us next.

Plus, an all-out media war between Dan Rather and his old network, CBS.  He criticized them for, quote,  “tarting up the news.”  Now his former boss and my former boss are accusing Rather of a lot worse.

And later...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) no, abacus, no academie, no.  Dang it, this is going to take forever.


ABRAMS:  It‘s a spoof on President Bush like you‘ve never seen before. 

It‘s coming up.


ABRAMS:  A New Hampshire middle school under fire tonight after taking students on a school-sponsored field trip to Planned Parenthood.  Last week‘s trip to the Manchester, New Hampshire, clinic was organized by the local YMCA and led to a tense confrontation between students and anti-abortion protesters.  The school board is investigating the field trip tonight.

Joining me now is Frank Guinta, the mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire.  And he is joined there by Ann Larney, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.  Thanks to both of you, particularly for coming and sitting right next to each other for this segment.

All right.  Ann, let me start with you. I mean, you would concede, would you not, that in retrospect, it was probably a mistake to take the kids to Planned Parenthood?

ANN LARNEY, PLANNED PARENTHOOD:  No, I wouldn‘t agree to that.  Planned Parenthood is a health care provider and an important part of the community.  We work hard to provide high-quality health care and information to teens and their parents.  And in these days, with this sort of sex-saturated pop culture, it‘s important that our teens have access to good information and to good health care services.

ABRAMS:  But shouldn‘t that be a parent‘s job to take them to Planned Parenthood, if they want, or for them to go with their friends?  But the idea of a school-sponsored field trip to go there?

LARNEY:  Well, a couple of things.  First of all, we were invited by the YMCA to participate in this school trip.  We did not provide the process before it.  And Planned Parenthood certainly believes that parents are the primary educator of their children with regard to sexuality education and...

ABRAMS:  So you would agree, then, that it was probably not the best decision to—I mean, you have to admit—you know Planned Parenthood‘s a controversial place and that it‘s probably not the best idea to have a school-sponsored field trip there, no?

LARNEY:  Well, no, I disagree with you.  Planned Parenthood, as I said, is an important provider and an important part of the community, and we‘re all aiming at the same thing.  We have a common interest.  We want our kids to be prepared for—to make good decisions, to have good health care.  We know that teenagers are sexually active.  Some research shows that 15, 20 percent of 15-year-olds are sexually active, and we have to help parents learn the tools to talk to their children about sexuality and about their decision making, and we have to have make sure that our teens are safe.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Mayor Guinta, now you found out about this—you got a phone call, and you went ballistic, right?

MAYOR FRANK GUINTA, MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE:  Well, I have certainly a different point of view.  I don‘t think it was appropriate for pre-teen youth to be exposed to the very adult-like situation and things that go on at Planned Parenthood.  I also don‘t believe that parental rights were recognized in this matter.  I think they were very much usurped.  And I also believe that taxpayer money that goes toward educating our children should not be dedicated toward bringing kids to Planned Parenthood.

ABRAMS:  But can‘t you make the same argument about teaching sexual ed?

GUINTA:  Well, I think they‘re two very different and distinct things.  There are—in our curriculum, there are accepted practices in how you teach health education.  Bringing kids to Planned Parenthood is not on that accepted list, and it‘s something that I don‘t think should happen.  I don‘t condone it.  The president of the YMCA did acknowledge that it was a mistake, an error in judgment by the program director.  And as you did mention, the school board is investigating.  We‘ll complete our investigation by Friday and take the appropriate and necessary action.

ABRAMS:  Does it matter that of the women who get abortions, women and girls who get abortions in this country, on the average, it‘s about 20 percent are teens.  And you know, what Ann is saying, in essence, is, you know, let‘s deal with reality here.

GUINTA:  Well, there is a reality to be dealt with.  However, the distinction here is it‘s not the responsibility of the school district, it is the responsibility of the parent.  And when we usurp parental rights, I don‘t think we‘re creating a positive environment to try to teach kids abstinence and other things that may prevent those unwanted pregnancies.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  You know, Ann Larney, I got to say I think I agree with the mayor on this one.  I think that you can believe—you can support Planned Parenthood, if you want.  You can think it‘s great, what they do.  And you can also say it‘s just not right place to send kids on a school-sponsored trip.

LARNEY:  Well, I mean, I think, certainly, that it‘s a school decision to make.  But again, we all, as a community, have to be aware of the issues that our teens face in today‘s society.

ABRAMS:  But isn‘t this the kind of controversy you guys don‘t need?  I guess that‘s my point.  I know you didn‘t bring this upon yourself.  They chose to come there.  And I get it.  You made that point.  You made that point earlier.  This was part of a tour, apparently, of some other places that they went, et cetera.  But wouldn‘t you rather not be fighting this one?  I mean, wouldn‘t you rather be fighting for the point you‘re making, which is about—about the things that Planned Parenthood does well, how important Planned Parenthood is, et cetera?  But wouldn‘t you rather not fight the one that somehow, a school field trip ought to be coming there?

LARNEY:  Well, you know, again, as I said, we were invited, and we are part of the community, and I think we‘re recognized.  I think Planned Parenthood is recognized in Manchester as part of the community that serves youth and their parents.  And you know, sure, do we want—we don‘t want bad press.  But we are all about prevention...


LARNEY:  ... and health care and protecting our teens and making sure they‘re safe and...

ABRAMS:  All right, Mayor, you want the final word on this?

GUINTA:  Sure.  What I would again say is, you know, the school district, with taxpayer money, shouldn‘t be focusing on these kinds of field trips.  I think if you want to take a field trip to the boys and girls club...


GUINTA:  ... the library, things of that nature, even the Salvation Army, that does talk about abstinence programs within their programs for at-risk youth, those things are good.  If we want to try to create a positive environment for at-risk youth, I just personally don‘t believe Planned Parenthood is the most appropriate place to do that.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, thank you both for coming on.  I appreciate the fact that you both aren‘t sort of, you know, elbowing—you‘re sitting so close.  Having people debating this close, we usually don‘t force you to be this close to each other.  You‘re not throwing elbows at each other.  We appreciate that, even though both of you are close enough to do it.  Appreciate Mayor Guinta and Ann Larney coming on the program.  Thank you.

Still ahead: CBS slams Dan Rather, accusing him of a sexist attack against Katie Couric.  He made the comments here on MSNBC.  I‘ll tell you who I think is right.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, now I got to figure out how to get a girl to kiss me and win this bet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What about me, little George?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, you can be in on the bet, too, Con (ph).


ABRAMS:  President Bush gets spooked and animated next in “Must See



ABRAMS:  Time for tonight‘s “Must See S.C.,” video you‘ve got to see. 

First up, a controversial new series is debuting on Comedy Central.  The star, a pint-sized president.  They call it “Lil‘ Bush.”


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How can I get little Laura to kiss me?  Oh, I know.  I‘m going to go sign up for that prayer group she runs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But George, that‘s a peer support group.  You have to be a sinner to join.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What the hell‘s a sinner?  I need to have a father-son-type talk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s a sinner?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, well, that‘s—that‘s easy, son, someone who sins.  For example, murder.  Murder‘s a sin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Murder?  Great.  Thanks for having this talk with me, Pop.  Means a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, well, you‘re welcome, son.  Oh, come on. 

Let‘s go over to James Baker‘s House and get you a hug.


ABRAMS:  And back in real life spoofery, Jimmy Kimmel literally gets to the bottom of the mystery surrounding President Bush‘s missing watch on his recent trip to Albania.


JIMMY KIMMEL, “JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE”:  Here is the president.  He‘s about to dive into a sea of enthusiastic Albanians.  You can see he has a watch on his wrist, right there.  Now you see here someone grabbing his wrist.  We don‘t know if the watch is on anymore.  Now you can see the watch is not on.  It‘s said because that‘s the watch his father gave him when he learned to tell time, like, six years ago.  And now it appears (INAUDIBLE)  And here, by the end, the president was completely nude.



ABRAMS:  Coming up: It can be flattering when two boys fight over a girl.  Something tells me this woman is not enjoying the public brawl over her.  Her boss battles her predecessor, Dan Rather.  We‘ve got the blow-by-blow, and I‘ll weigh in on this one.

Plus, Barbara Walters now saying she wants Paris Hilton as a co-host on “The View”?  Huh?


ABRAMS:  Coming up, we‘ll talk about Paris getting spoofed on the Web.  But, really, is she going to get the last laugh?  Barbara Walters now saying that she would give Paris a spot as a co-host on “The View”?  It‘s coming up later.

But first, it is getting ugly over at CBS, as the big wigs duke it out with Dan Rather over the evening news and anchor Katie Couric.  It started Monday when Rather said this on MSNBC‘s “Morning Joe.” 


DAN RATHER, HOST, “DAN RATHER REPORTS”:  It was clear at the time—and I think it‘s become even clearer—that the mistake was to try to bring the “Today Show” ethos to the “Evening News” and to dumb it down, tart it up, in hopes of attracting a younger audience.


ABRAMS:  CBS President Les Moonves responded, “It was a cheap shot,” and called it sexist.  Our former boss, now the executive producer of the program, Rick Kaplan, attacked Rather, defended the show saying, “We‘re very much a hard news program.”

My take.  Of course Rather‘s right.  The program is lighter than it was in years past when he was the anchor.  That‘s the business.  Rather set himself up for criticism by using the word “tart.”  I‘m sure he would agree it was a poor choice of words.  But our friend Rick Kaplan needs to stop the “We only do hard news business.”  But here‘s a little sampling of some of the, quote, “hard news” stories they tackled this week.


KATIE COURIC, CBS “EVENING NEWS” HOST:  It is a tough time to be a tree in the mid-Atlantic states.  There‘s a plague of gypsy moth caterpillars.  They crave leaves with a special preference for oak. 

Paris Hilton is back behind bars, told to serve her full sentence for violating parole in a reckless driving case. 

We continue our series “Advice to Graduates,” highlights from this year‘s commencement addresses.  Tonight, a few words about achieving personal fulfillment. 

The horse that won the Preakness, Curlin, is the favorite for the Belmont Stakes.  But did you ever wonder what happens to these athletes when they retire? 

In the world of auto racing, this is earth-shattering news.  The driver known simply as Junior got a new deal, and NASCAR has a new dream team. 


ABRAMS:  Look, I don‘t blame Katie.  I think she‘s great.  But CBS is now making this about sexism and hard news?  Isn‘t it just about what to do ratings?  Believe me.  I know that feeling.

Here now, Michael Reagan, radio talk show host, Jack Myers, editor of the Web site, and Anne Trenolone, the director of foreign policy for the Independent Women‘s Forum. 

All right, thanks to all of you for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.  All right, Michael, let me start with you again.  You know, why is everyone making this about what it‘s not?  I mean, CBS is now making this about how much hard news they do, and we do more or less hard news, and this is about sexism.  And isn‘t that really obscuring the issue? 

MICHAEL REAGAN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Oh, it really is.  It‘s funny to find out they‘re talking about sexism.  Well, when you put Katie Couric on to try and draw a younger female audience, is that not in and of itself, you know, sexism?  When you think about it, Dan, I mean, the reality of it is, you‘re trying to put a round peg in a square hole.  And they ought to put a news person there, not Katie Couric from the morning news.  They tried that with Jane Pauley years ago with NBC.  It didn‘t work out with Jane.  It‘s not working out with Katie. 


ABRAMS:  It‘s not because of her news chops.  But, Michael, but it‘s not because of her news chops.  I can tell you, you know, look, she has as good news chops as anyone. 

I think the debate, Jack Myers, is focusing on the wrong issues.  This whole business about “It‘s about her news credibility,” and she did the “Today” show, and this and that, you know, look, she‘s done a lot of reporting on a lot of important stories.  That‘s not the point here.  And I think Rick Kaplan is missing the point by trying make it all about how much hard news they do, et cetera.  I think that people in the news business have a tendency to be so defensive about the allegations that not doing only hard news. 

JACK MYERS, EDITOR, JACKMYERS.COM:  I agree, Ron.  You‘ve got it exactly right.  The issue is not whether Katie is good, bad, whether she‘s got news chops or not.  The problem that CBS is confronting is the same problem that all of the evening newscasts are confronting.  The average age is over 60.  They want to go with a younger audience.  They can‘t get a younger audience without really dumbing down the news. 


ABRAMS:  But you can‘t get a younger audience, period, at 6:30 at night.

MYERS:  I think you can, if you go with the tabloid, if you go with Anna Nicole, and you go with Paris, at 6:30 at night, you‘re right, you‘re not going to get it.

ABRAMS:  That‘s right.

MYERS:  But you‘re also—you know, when you talk about tarting up the news and going in that direction, the last female in the world who‘s going to tart up the news is Katie Couric.  So I think that‘s misleading, too.  I think the issue is really that the evening newscast as a genre, whether it‘s Katie, or Brian Williams, or Charlie Gibson, is a troubled genre right now. 

ABRAMS:  This is what Dan Rather said, that Les Moonves took his comments about the CBS news out of context.  Here he is on FOX News.


RATHER:  This isn‘t about Katie Couric.  It‘s nothing to do with her gender.  What it‘s about is the leadership at the very top of CBS.  At one time, places like CBS, they were the champions of hard news. 


ABRAMS:  Anne, what do think about this?  To me, this is just the battle about who can say they‘re doing more hard news than the next person.

ANNE TRENOLONE, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S FORUM:  Well, Dan Rather has been beating that drum for quite some time, even before he left CBS.  The thing is, did he frame his comments regarding Katie Couric in the best terms to say what he meant?  Not necessarily, but that‘s kind of a Dan Rather trademark anyway.  He basically has a valid point.  That‘s where the news business is going. 

ABRAMS:  But a valid point in terms of what?  Meaning if CBS makes the changes that Dan Rather is suggesting, you think that that is therefore going to change—with Katie Couric as the anchor, that that is going to change their fortunes at the CBS “Evening News”? 

TRENOLONE:  That‘s the gamble they took when they hired her. 

ABRAMS:  No, but I‘m asking you.  But I‘m asking you whether you think

you said that Dan Rather is right.  And I‘m asking you whether you think that, if they took his advice, and he chose the stories that Katie Couric reports on every night, that that would change the fortunes of the CBS “Evening News”?  

TRENOLONE:  Not necessarily.  She came in on the third horse, and it‘s going to take a while.  They‘ve been in third place for a long time.  And what they do to attract younger viewers, I don‘t think you‘re ever going to get the youth culture to radiate to the news like the older people did. 

ABRAMS:  Michael, do you want to get in?

REAGAN:  Yes, I think it comes down to something you don‘t want to talk about or they don‘t want to talk about.  I think CBS lost the country a couple of years ago with Dan Rather.  People do not trust CBS to give the news in a righteous way.

ABRAMS:  Why have the ratings gone done?

REAGAN:  And I don‘t think Katie Couric, because of her left-of-center opinions on the television show in the morning, coming to the news helps CBS.  They...


REAGAN:  What‘s that?

MYERS:  I don‘t understand, Michael, why politics is suddenly the issue. 

REAGAN:  Because politics does play...


MYERS:  We‘re talking about a 60-plus audience that is politically right of center that...


ABRAMS:  One at a time.

MYERS:  The reason Katie‘s audience is off is she‘s losing the 60-plus audience, maybe because she‘s a little left of center, but they‘re trying to go younger with a more contemporary audience. 

REAGAN:  People do not trust CBS...


ABRAMS:  Michael, Michael, just so we‘re clear, you‘re saying that Charlie Gibson is right of center and Brian Williams is right of center? 

REAGAN:  No, but people trust Charlie Gibson.  People trust ABC.  They do not trust CBS.  CBS has to earn back the trust of America that they lost under Dan Rather. 


REAGAN:  If Charlie Gibson moved to CBS, they‘d be number one. 

ABRAMS:  Oh, come on. 

TRENOLONE:  Bob Schieffer did very well. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s trying to...


MYERS:  ... who gets the highest ratings.

ABRAMS:  ... political explanation.  It‘s offering a political explanation for the fact that Dan Rather leaves, right.  Dan Rather leaves.  The raiders go up or stay the same, at least, with Bob Schieffer.  Schieffer then leaves, and then the ratings go way down.  Again, I‘m not necessarily blaming Katie, but to somehow suggest that Dan Rather‘s politics led later on to this sort of delayed response to the ratings going down at CBS makes no sense. 

REAGAN:  Well, it does make sense.  Katie Couric was taking some very left-of-center positions on her morning show, when they moved her...

ABRAMS:  You were blaming Dan Rather a minute ago. 


ABRAMS:  Are you blaming Dan Rather or are you blaming Katie Couric?

REAGAN:  Dan Rather began the process of CBS losing faith with the American people.  Bringing Katie in did not gain that back.  Bob Schieffer is a news man and is trusted, but, again, everybody knew he was a short-termer, not a long-termer, because of Katie Couric.  Nobody likes Katie Couric...


ABRAMS:  Jack, as someone who focuses on the media, do you think it matter that Rick Kaplan previously made—he‘s now really going after Dan Rather, and he‘s going after him hard.  You know, he‘s really basically saying he should move on with his life, et cetera.  Here is what Rick, our former boss, said about Rather in 2005. 


RICK KAPLAN, CBS “EVENING NEWS” EXECUTIVE PRODUCER:  Dan was meticulously careful to be fair and balanced and accurate.  His legacy, as he practiced then, is the gold standard journalist today (INAUDIBLE) struggle to live up to.


ABRAMS:  And then, this is what Rick Kaplan said about Dan today. 

“This is someone who should go through his life quietly.”

MYERS:  Well, Rick made a serious error, I think, of judgment of going after Dan instead of using the opportunity to promote Katie.  One of the things Les Moonves said yesterday was he can‘t believe the vituperative reaction to Katie and how much dislike and negative reaction there is to her. 

I think this is an opportunity to get America supporting Katie and to use her.  But, again, I think he also made a tactical mistake saying that we‘re focused on hard news.  That‘s not the way to draw the younger viewers.  Keep in mind that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are doing very well in delivering news to a younger audience.  CBS needs to change the format, and they need to find a way to do it with Katie.  I expect, though, that they‘ll bring in a male co-anchor within the next six months.

ABRAMS:  Anne, do you think—bottom line, were you offended by Rather‘s comment about tarting it up? 

TRENOLONE:  Well, you have to take Dan Rather‘s comment with kind of a grain of salt.  Remember, he is the king of Ratherisms and has been so epitomized in “Saturday Night Live” skits for...

ABRAMS:  So you forgive him? 

TRENOLONE:  Yes, I will.  I mean, in a culture where we use “pimp my ride” as a common sentence, “tarting up” is not that big of a deal.  The thing is, no one here has even mentioned the Internet.  None of these young people who these networks want to go after get their news from the evening news.  So they get things different ways...


TRENOLONE:  ... start thinking outside the box...

ABRAMS:  Yes, yes, believe me, we all know this.  This is the ongoing struggle.  The question is whether these guys ought to be going at it like this publicly over this at this time.  All right. 

TRENOLONE:  Well, they‘re getting good press. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, good or bad press.


MYERS:  I think Dan Rather doesn‘t like being out of the spotlight. 

He‘s a wordsmith.  He chose his words carefully, and he delivered them...


MYERS:  ... and I don‘t think he should be allowed.

ABRAMS:  Michael Reagan, Jack Myers, and Anne Trenolone, thanks a lot.

Up next, apparently the folks over at FOX treat us like Harry Potter‘s Voldemort.  The can‘t even speak our name.

And don‘t be fooled by the look, the bad singing.  A new music video spoofs Paris Hilton behind bars, that and the latest on Barbara Walters‘ comments about Paris hosting “The View.”


ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Beat the Press.”  I wanted to listen to the music a little bit first.  First up, our friends over at ABC‘s “World News Tonight” have their FOX News moment.  This is the top of their news cast last night.


CHARLES GIBSON, HOST, “ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT”:  Ever lost anything at the dry cleaners?  This man did and claims he deserves $54 million. 


ABRAMS:  The only problem?  Not that guy.  That‘s Washington‘s former mayor, Marion Barry.  This is the man they were talking about, Judge Roy Pearson.  ABC was quick to apologize for the mistake. 

Next up, we know our friends over at the FOX News Channel don‘t like to say anything about MSNBC unless it‘s negative.  I didn‘t know it had gotten this bad.  Watch the anchors of “FOX and Friends” be oh so careful not to mention NBC or MSNBC while discussing Dan Rather‘s interview with Joe Scarborough on this network earlier this week and Katie Couric‘s former gig on NBC‘s the “Today Show.”


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When Katie Couric came over from another network...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She was talking on a television show, and he—oh, there they are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The culture, the attitude, the atmosphere of that show... 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But Dan Rather made these comments on a cable show yesterday... 


ABRAMS:  A cable show?  I think it was a compliment.  They treat us sort of like Harry Potter‘s He Shall Not Be Named.  Must be pretty scary.

Up next, some tense moments on the set of “Good Morning America” today, as filmmaker Michael Moore ripped into the media and ABC‘s Chris Cuomo for not doing enough reporting on the run-up to the Iraq war.  Kudos to my pal, Chris Cuomo, for standing his ground against Moore‘s bullying.


MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER:  You might have prevented this war, you, this network, the other networks.  It‘s hard for me to even kind of sit here, really, in a way, and think about that that it‘s this building, in part, that, because the people didn‘t do their job—the media got embedded and went on board for a little thrill ride to, “Let‘s take over Baghdad in nine days.” 

CHRISTOPHER CUOMO, NEWS ANCHOR, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”:  Listen, if you‘ve ever been on an embed, you would realize that it‘s not a thrill ride.  Those men and women put themselves in danger because they want people back at home to see what‘s going on. 

MOORE:  Yes.

CUOMO:  Be careful with how you characterize us, believe me.  Be careful.

MOORE:  No, I don‘t have to be careful. 

CUOMO:  You want to talk about this house?  You want to make a grand statement about this house?  This house is the house of Bob Woodruff, who went over to cover the war and almost got killed because he wanted to show the truth of the situation.


ABRAMS:  Go Chris. 

And finally, what‘s that old saying about, if you have to repeat something over and over again, it‘s probably not true?  Our friends at CNN might want to take notice.  


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR:  CNN‘s Bill Schneider and Dana Bash, both part of the best political team on television. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... the best political team on television.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ed Henry, part of the best political team in TV.

BLITZER:  Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts, part of best political team on television. 

... the best political team on television...


ABRAMS:  You know, they‘ve got a point.  Remember this hard-hitting political story, the best team on TV sunk its teeth into the other day? 


BLITZER:  Mitt Romney‘s dog, Marley, recently passed on.  Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani, Tom Tancredo, and Chris Dodd currently are pet less.  In our next hour, cat lovers will get equal time.


ABRAMS:  The best political team on TV.  Next up, while Paris Hilton may have to deal with this new spoof video—not that one—she should look on the bright side today.  Barbara Walters said she wants to hire her as a co-host on “The View,” coming up.


ABRAMS:  In tonight‘s “Hollyweird” segment, first up, our favorite convict, Paris Hilton, causing more controversy from behind bars.  Apparently her mom and dad stopped by the Twin Towers Correctional Facility yesterday.  Some of the other inmates and their families are again saying there was more special treatment. 

On the phone is Alvina Floyd from Compton, California.  Her fiance is at the same facility as Paris.  Alvina, thank you very much for taking the time to join us.  We appreciate it.

ALVINA FLOYD, COMPTON, CALIFORNIA:  Hey, you‘re welcome, man.  How are you doing?

ABRAMS:  Good.  You say you ran into some problems yesterday because of Hilton‘s visit?

FLOYD:  Yes, what happened was, I got down there around 10:30.  I signed by visiting form pass out, and they told me my visit was at 12:30.  I got back to the facility around 12:20.  I got into the building.  They told me that they bumped me, and I had to come at 2:30, and that was because her lawyer came. 

ABRAMS:  They told you it was because of Hilton‘s lawyer being there? 

FLOYD:  Yes.  It was, it was, because he came exactly around 12:30 and went straight in. 

ABRAMS:  So you‘re convinced you had to wait a little bit longer/

FLOYD:  Yes, they closed it down around 12:30 and opened it back up at 2:30. 

ABRAMS:  And between 12:30 and 2:30, you‘re pretty confident they were dealing with the Hilton business? 

FLOYD:  Yes, because her parents came around 12:50.  And the inmate is supposed to get a 30-minute visit.  And when her parents came in, they had an hour and 30 minutes. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Alvina, thanks a lot for taking the time. 

Appreciate it.

FLOYD:  You‘re welcome. 

ABRAMS:  You know, let me just quickly go to our guests on this.  You know, we‘ve got Ted Casablanca and Willie Geist on this.  We‘re going to talk about a lighter side to this in a minute.

But, you know, I mean, could that be true, Willie?  Could they be that dumb at the prison to be actually closing the prison off for Paris and her family?

WILLIE GEIST, PRODUCER:  How tone deaf are these people?  Not just the parents, but the prison.  There‘s not a VIP line to go visit your people in prison.  This isn‘t Marquee in New York City.  You have to wait like everybody else.  These people don‘t get it.

ABRAMS:  I like the specific reference, Willie Geist talking about his favorite clubs, yes.  That‘s going to help him get in at the door.

GEIST:  I hope so.

ABRAMS:  All right, to a lighter story on Paris, a couple of video makers made a spoof of one of Paris‘ songs, “Stars are Blind.”  Their version is called “Paris in Jail.”  Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  I don‘t mind being confined to any state prison, because I would drive with DUIs, I caused a collision.


ABRAMS:  Ted, I don‘t know if there‘s anything to say about that, but...

TED CASABLANCA, E! ONLINE:  It‘s friggin‘ brilliant, that‘s all there is to say about it.  And Paris should thank the filmmakers for casting someone with such great cleavage.  Paris wishes she had a body like that.

ABRAMS:  All right, the question now, could Paris end up co-hosting “The View”?  A listener called into Barbara Walters‘ satellite radio show, asked that.  Her producer said no.  Barbara said yes and added, quote, “She would certainly always give us something to talk about.”  Willie, she can‘t be...

CASABLANCA:  Absolutely.  Barbara knows they need ratings, and Paris would get them great ratings, maybe not great conversation, but great ratings.

ABRAMS:  Yes, it would be great ratings for a little while, Willie, but I‘m concerned that after about, like, two weeks, and the sort of “woo” factor is over, you know, we wouldn‘t see big ratings.

GEIST:  Of course.  I mean, wasn‘t “The View” supposed to be this high-minded women‘s show where it‘s not just chit-chat and you represent different women‘s points of view?  What point of view, exactly, does Paris Hilton represent, the ex-con, millionaire socialite?

CASABLANCA:  Oh, come no, high-minded?  You know, Joy is always making sex jokes.  I mean, it‘s not exactly the highest minded show out there.

GEIST:  That‘s the way they sold it originally, so I don‘t think Paris Hilton would get us to that point.

ABRAMS:  I mean, this is—I mean, come on.  This isn‘t for real, right?

CASABLANCA:  Rosie got great ratings, and Paris would do the same.  I think you‘re right, Dan, maybe not for very long, but by then, you know what?  Maybe they‘d have their next host.

ABRAMS:  All right, Willie Geist, Ted Casablanca, thanks a lot, appreciate it.

Reminder, if you want to get your fill of Mr. Scarborough, “Morning Joe,” starting tomorrow at 6:00 a.m., right here on MSNBC.  His guests, Brian Williams, Senator Brownback and Lou Dobbs.  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  Up next, “Thief of Hearts,” the story of one smooth criminal, a master at wooing up women.  It‘s up now.



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