Guests: Shmuley Boteach, David Horowitz, Jennifer Giroux, Rahm Emanuel, Sean McCormack, Leslie Marshall, Roy Black
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Tonight, explosive charges against President Bush. Did he ignore warnings about September 11?
You‘re about to enter SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. No passport required, no second-guessing allowed.
The government‘s former counterterrorism chief says Bush is doing a terrible job with the war on terror. But is Richard Clarke just trying to sell books? We‘re going to look at his charges and his possible motives.
And they‘re on opposite sides when it comes to politics. But Democratic Governor Bill Richardson and Rush Limbaugh agree on one thing, that Rush is a victim of overzealous prosecutors. Rush‘s attorney Roy Black is back with us in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY with the latest on Limbaugh‘s legal battle.
And Rush will soon have some company on the political talk airways. A new liberal talk radio network is headed for a radio dial near you. And where Bush bashers like Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo are hoping to give Rush a run for his money, some are saying they don‘t have a chance to compete with the king of talk radio.
Plus, an X rating in Mexico for “The Passion” film didn‘t keep audiences from flocking to the controversial movie. We‘ll tell you why it‘s still breaking box office records in America and around the world.
But, first, hey, you get a nasty book about George Bush that you want to sell? Call “60 Minutes.” It‘s time for “Real Deal.”
Now, “60 Minutes” once again gave top billing to a Bush-bashing author last night when former Clinton adviser Richard Clarke came on the CBS program to tell his tale about his short stint in the Bush White House before and after 9/11. Clarke‘s credibility was questioned today after it was reported that he had ties to senior advisers in the Kerry campaign and after Clarke made the outrageous claim that, just by looking at Condi Rice‘s face, he could tell the foreign policy guru had never even heard of al Qaeda.
The claim is preposterous, because everybody in government couldn‘t help but know who al Qaeda was because of all the attacks bin Laden launched on the United States targets in the 1990s, when Clarke was supposed to preventing terrorism attacks for the Clinton administration. Where were they after the al Qaeda‘s 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, or al Qaeda 1998 attack on the U.S. embassies in Africa, or during al Qaeda‘s attacks on the Khobar Towers, where American G.I.s died, or during al Qaeda‘s attacks on the USS Cole in 2000?
Because of his failures in the 1990s, Condi Rice had no choice but to know about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in 2000. And because Clarke failed to convince the Clinton White House of how dangerous Osama bin Laden was, President Clinton‘s Cabinet refused to kill bin Laden when they had him in their target. The conclusion of the Clinton Cabinet: Don‘t kill him. It could upset the Arab world.
You know, the hypocrisy was so deep on “60 Minutes” last night, you couldn‘t cut it with a knife. And, as for “60 Minutes,” they‘re proving themselves to be little more this campaign season than clearinghouses for Bush bashers, first, former Secretary Paul O‘Neill and now Richard Clark.
Hey, I‘ve got a book coming out this fall called “Rome Wasn‘t Burnt in a Day.” I wonder if “60 Minutes” would put me on if I promise to say something bad about George Bush. Probably not, because unlike Paul O‘Neill and Richard Clarke, CBS‘ parent company, Viacom, doesn‘t own the rights to my book. And that‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal.”
You know, we‘re going be talking a little bit more about the “60 Minutes” interview in just a minute. But first—and we teased you there with a little bit of quoting.
We‘ve got Rush Limbaugh‘s battle with Palm Beach prosecutors. It‘s heating up. But it‘s proof that politics makes strange bedfellows. First, the ACLU lends its hand by filing a brief with the court. And now former Clinton insider and current Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson is on board, saying in a letter to Rush Limbaugh that the seizing of his medical records is—quote—“a massive intrusion into yours and every citizen‘s privacy. Hopefully, you will be able to fend off these attacks.”
With me now to talk about the latest developments in the Rush Limbaugh case is Mr. Limbaugh‘s attorney, Roy Black, who is also an NBC analyst.
Hey, thanks so much for being with us tonight, Roy.
ROY BLACK, ATTORNEY FOR RUSH LIMBAUGH: Thank you, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Please, help me understand. This strange bedfellows thing is getting a bit more bizarre by the moment.
And people are talking about Bill Richardson as possibly being John Kerry‘s vice presidential candidate, and yet he‘s supporting Rush Limbaugh.
BLACK: Well, Joe, these are not really strange bedfellows, because this is not a political issue. This is a human rights issue, a privacy issue. There are people all across the political spectrum that are worried about their privacy rights. In fact, I‘ve gotten many letters and e-mails from prosecutors, police officers, agents, all outraged at this abuse of power in Palm Beach County.
So this is not really a political issue. And that‘s why you have many people like Governor Richardson joining us. And let me just say one other thing. The reason that that has come out is because Governor Richardson agreed to the release of his letter. Many other people who have supported us did not want to get involved publicly in this.
SCARBOROUGH: Now, how did it come about? Did Rush call the governor, ask him to write the letter? Had they known each other? Had they talked before about it?
BLACK: No. What happened, the governor just on his own sent the letter to Rush, who passed it on to me. And we asked whether or not the matter could be released publicly, because we certainly like to show that this is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. This is a human rights and privacy issue, as I said. And everybody should be concerned about it.
And Governor Richardson, I think, summed it up very well in his letter.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, a lot of people are noticing that Rush has actually been fighting two battles down in Palm Beach. One is with the prosecutor‘s office. And the other is with a local newspaper. This is what Rush told his listeners about “The Palm Beach Post.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If you talk to people in the press, they will tell you that their purpose is to protect the powerless from the powerful. But down here, “The Palm Beach Post” sides with the government and pursues citizens of good standing, assumes that citizens in good standing are the enemy and protects the government down here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Is that sour grapes or is that a fair charge against The Palm Beach Post.”
Well, “The Palm Beach Post” editorials have certainly been very harsh against both Rush and me personally. On the news side of “The Palm Beach Post,” I think that they have reported things fairly neutrally. And in fact in our recent filings in court, they wrote some I think very perceptive articles. However, the editorial position of the paper certainly and on the opinion pages have been very harsh of us and very supportive of what the state attorney is doing.
SCARBOROUGH: But, you know, a “Palm Beach Post” actually asked people in Palm Beach whether or not the state attorney should be able to use Rush‘s medical records. And their online poll said this; 93 percent of the respondents said no, with only 7 percent saying yes. With so many people in Palm Beach County and surrounding counties supporting Rush Limbaugh in this issue, why is any politician taking this matter on when he‘s obviously stepping over the line when it comes to privacy?
BLACK: Well, that‘s a very good point.
This is—as I said, it‘s not really a political issue. I think today people are worried about government being able to get into their private affairs. And what could be more private than your medical records? I think there‘s a lot of are concerned about allowing the police and prosecutors at their whim to be able to seize your records. And, of course, that‘s why the ACLU, Governor Richardson, and many people in this country are behind us, because they want to see the stop to this.
SCARBOROUGH: Roy, one final question. Your defense team has found what some are calling a gotcha piece against the prosecution.
In your brief with the Fourth Circuit, this is what you wrote: “Only two years ago, this very court suppressed evidence in a case out of Mr. Krischer‘s own office because of the state‘s failure to follow the procedures required by another state law.”
Do you this going to be binding and, in the end, going to crush the prosecution‘s case against Rush Limbaugh?
BLACK: Oh, I certainly think so.
And I would direct your viewers to our Web site, RoyBlack.com, in which they can look at the papers themselves. They don‘t have to rely upon our interpretation. But the same prosecutor‘s office used the same arguments two years ago in order to do something and the court said, you simply cannot do it. They flatly said, it is wrong. Yet they went ahead and did it again in Rush‘s case. I think it‘s an abuse of power. And I can‘t wait to get before the court to argue this matter.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Roy, any final thoughts?
BLACK: Well, as I said, Joe, I think the final thought here on the basis of this program today is to show how many people are supportive of us. I mean, the government here, the local prosecutor has just gone too far. You have to protect people‘s privacy. That‘s an important matter today in the 21st century.
SCARBOROUGH: It certainly is. And it‘s a matter that I think and I know you believe like me that it crosses party lines. It doesn‘t matter whether you‘re a conservative or a liberal. With the Internet, with all of these privacy issues, not just medical records, but financial records, employment records, I mean, this wall is being torn down. And by businesses, that‘s one thing. But when state governments, when prosecutors do it, it gets kind of frightening, doesn‘t it?
BLACK: Well, it gives us these images we always had of fascist governments being able to get our records, like right out of the book “1984,” where you have no privacy at all. You are worried about being watched and surveilled 24 hours a day and you really have no private life.
It‘s important for us to be able to have a private life in our homes and to be able to keep a zone of privacy in which nobody from the government can pierce.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Roy, I knew if I kept you on long enough, I would get the money quote. I got fascist government. That‘s money enough for tonight, buddy. Thank for being with us. I appreciate it.
BLACK: Thank you, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, and speaking of talk radio, the counterpunch to the so-called right-wing radio attack machine hits the airwaves on four stations in just 10 days.
Here are the biggest names from their lineup. We‘ve got Al Franken. He‘s of course the author “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” former comedian Janeane Garofalo, rapper Chuck D., Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and also a former law partner of mine, Mike Papantonio.
Now, with us to talk about the new network is Leslie Marshall. She‘s a radio talk show host from Los Angeles.
And, Leslie, you‘re a liberal, but you‘re not part...
LESLIE MARSHALL, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yes, I am. I admit to that.
SCARBOROUGH: Raise your hand. You‘re one of three people in America that admits it.
SCARBOROUGH: But you are not part of this network. So you are a perfect person to ask the question to. Do you think a liberal talk radio network is going to take off?
MARSHALL: Actually, I think a liberal radio talk network can take off. I‘m not real thrilled about this lineup. And I don‘t think that this lineup will necessarily win if there‘s a war.
SCARBOROUGH: Why is that?
MARSHALL: Well, honestly, I know it may sound really strange coming from a talk show host, but I think—I have this really crazy idea that talk show hosts should be hired to host talk shows. You hear me, Joe?
And for some reason, everybody out there in radio and television land, they want names and names that are going to make money. But a lot of the names today weren‘t names a few years ago. They‘re just passionate. They‘re educated. They‘re informed, and they‘re talented at what they do. And that combination has been a winning success for many people, like you and me.
And I‘m not sure that we see that chemistry with all of these individuals in this lineup.
SCARBOROUGH: And that‘s the thing people say about Rush Limbaugh. People that know radio, whether they‘re liberals, whether they‘re moderates, whether they‘re conservatives, they all seem to agree on the same thing. This guy knows how to talk in front of a microphone.
And if a liberal had Rush Limbaugh‘s sense of the mike and had his sort of shtick down, that liberal would succeed also. So it is—it‘s really about being talented.
MARSHALL: Wait. Joe, I don‘t disagree with you there. I don‘t disagree with you there.
But let me tell you—and I know I‘m going to get tons of e-mails on this one—I, many others, are just as talented on the radio as Rush Limbaugh. But they‘re not given the opportunity to prove that, me because I don‘t have the right genitalia, perhaps being a female, me because I‘m the wrong party politically, being a Democrat, especially in this McCarthyistic Bush era. Look what‘s happening with Howard Stern.
SCARBOROUGH: There you go.
MARSHALL: And, in addition—is that the money quote now?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, I think actually the right genitalia was probably the money quote from this segment, but go ahead.
MARSHALL: But, in addition to that, really, when it comes down to people investing the time, you know, years ago in talk radio, you would sign a five-year contract and people would give you the time, they give you a year to have few good book, the ratings, etcetera. Not now. You have to have names. And that‘s what‘s you‘re seeing in this network.
SCARBOROUGH: With Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo.
MARSHALL: Certainly Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Franken and Mr. Kennedy are actually liberals who are informed, who are educated and can be entertaining.
Janeane Garofalo, I‘m a huge fan of her as an actress and a comedian. I‘m not necessarily a huge fan of hers as a talk show host because she hasn‘t been one. So I‘m not dissing the network. I‘m just saying that, if you really want to win, you need to look at who your competition is. And it‘s not really about winning, because we talk about this liberal media, Joe, but let‘s be honest, there‘s not a liberal media.
I love everybody here at MSNBC. And my guy, Bill Press, there he is. I‘m available for hire. I have been here for two years. You guys haven‘t been calling. Look at Fox. Alan Colmes, good friend of mine. It‘s sort of like the lone liberal is paired with a conservative. That‘s what we see on television.
And then, in radio, they‘re far and few in between. We‘re becoming an extinct species in America.
MARSHALL: And so we need the liberal network so you can hear the other side, because there are two sides to every issue. And, as you know, Joe, because you claim to be a moderate...
SCARBOROUGH: That‘s what we give.
MARSHALL: Yes. You need to be—you need to be educated on both sides in order to make an informed decision.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Leslie, we‘re going have to leave it there. I don‘t know if I claim to be a moderate. I do claim to be independent, though. So thanks for being with us, though. We greatly appreciate it.
MARSHALL: I have you on tape. I have you on tape saying to me the last time I was on your show that you‘re a moderate. But I won‘t sell it to anyone.
SCARBOROUGH: Very frightening. Very frightening. Please, hide that tape.
SCARBOROUGH: Thanks a lot for being with us.
And still ahead, anti-terror czar Richard Clarke says he had meetings with the Bush administration and couldn‘t get anybody to take his warnings about al Qaeda seriously. We‘re going be talking about someone who was at those meetings. You won‘t believe what he had to say.
Plus, “The Passion” is still bringing Americans to movie theaters in droves. And despite an X rating in Mexico, people there are still flocking to see it. Our all-star panel is going to tell you why in just a minute.
SCARBOROUGH: Coming up, did President Bush do enough to tackle terror? One adviser says, no, the president ignored al Qaeda before and even after September 11.
We‘ll get to the bottom of that next.
SCARBOROUGH: A new book by President Bush‘s former terror adviser, Richard Clarke, blasts the White House for not taking al Qaeda seriously before September 11. But the White House hammered back at Clarke, calling the accusations irresponsible and offensive.
With me now is Roger Cressey, who was an aide to Richard Clarke and also sat in on those same meetings with President Bush. He‘s also an NBC News analyst.
Hey, thanks a lot for being with us.
Let‘s start with the $64,000 question tonight. Do you believe George Bush was soft on terror?
ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Joe, there‘s been a lot of frothing at the mouth today. And I think that‘s probably the one observation we can make. And not many people have read the book.
You know, Dick makes two central contentions in the book—first, that the president did not have that sense of urgency on al Qaeda, and the second one is that Iraq was the wrong war in the war on terrorism. To get to the first point, you‘ve got to go back to the president‘s own words, what he told Bob Woodward in Woodward book “Bush at War.” The president said: I did not feel that sense of urgency about al Qaeda prior to 9/11. And that‘s true from our own observations inside the White House.
Did the administration move forward on a policy against al Qaeda? Yes, they did. Was it proactive and a top-down? I mean, the record speaks for itself. And the answer there is no.
SCARBOROUGH: Now, conservatives, of course, would say on the terror front you could say the same thing about the Clinton administration.
SCARBOROUGH: Clarke was with the Clinton administration for eight years. They had a chance to kill this guy, Osama bin Laden, and they decided not to because they say they didn‘t have enough evidence as late as ‘98. Does Clarke make those same charge against the Clinton administration or is this directed mainly at the Bush administration?
CRESSEY: No, look, there‘s enough blame to go around on both Republicans‘ and Democrats‘ side.
And it wasn‘t a question that the Clinton administration chose not to. Remember, I was there in the last year of the Clinton administration. The issue was predictive, actionable intelligence. And they did not have it. And, of course, that‘s one of the problems we have today trying to find bin Laden. It‘s been very difficult to do so.
I think Dick‘s biggest criticism of the previous administration is that there was a terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan that was not destroyed when we had the opportunity to do so. And a lot of what you heard today claiming that there were terrorist camps that were vacated and that the Bush administration waited for a comprehensive policy before moving forward, Joe, these were the same camps that were bombed on October 7 at the start of Operation Enduring Freedom. So there‘s a little bit of spin going on, on both sides.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, let‘s talk about what the White House said today. Obviously, they moved quickly to blunt Richard Clarke‘s story. And this is what they said.
CRESSEY: All right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: His assertion that there was something we could have done to prevent the September 11 attacks from happening is deeply irresponsible. It‘s offensive. And it‘s flat-out false.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Obviously, there‘s frothing at the mouth from all sides.
CRESSEY: Just about.
SCARBOROUGH: But, obviously, though, if you‘re in the White House and you see this coming out, you‘ve got to say, you know what, this thing was drop in the middle of a very heated political season right before the 9/11 Commission. Isn‘t the timing a bit suspicious?
CRESSEY: Joe, the publication date is a function of the White House clearance process, which took several months to move. And Simon & Schuster did move up the date to coincide with the 9/11 Commission.
But if Dick Clarke wanted to make a real impact on the presidential election, he would have demanded that this book was released in September. This is when you would have had the biggest political bombshell. This is all about the 9/11 Commission more than it is about the presidential campaign.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes, which is, of course, when my book is coming out, in September. Bombshell, I‘ll tell you.
I want to play something that Richard Clarke told “60 Minutes.” President Bush got hung up on Iraq after the 9/11 attacks, according to Clarke. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES”)
RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said: I want you to find whether Iraq did this. Now, he never said, make it up. But the entire conversation left me absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: You worked there. You worked with Richard Clarke. Is that how you felt?
CRESSEY: I was in that meeting. So I witnessed it.
The issue here is not the he-said/she-said about that meeting. The issue is, a number of members of the administration at senior levels believed al Qaeda was incapable of doing September 11, that type of attack, without state sponsorship. And they believed that Iraq was the central force in international terrorism. And so their initial instinct, their gut instinct was to look at Iraq.
Was the president correct in saying, take a look at Iraq? Sure, he was. But there was a strong consensus at senior levels in the administration that Iraq was most likely responsible for this.
SCARBOROUGH: OK, Roger, but you were in this meeting, OK?
SCARBOROUGH: What I want to know is from you, judging George Bush, coming into the office, saying, I want you to find out if Iraq was responsible, do you draw the same conclusions, that the president of the United States was putting pressure on Clarke, on you, on other officials to conclude that Iraq was responsible for the 9/11 attacks?
CRESSEY: Look, Dick makes clear in the book and I think on the “60 Minutes” interview that the president did not pressure him to make things up.
SCARBOROUGH: I know. I know, but he did say—you know what I‘m getting at. I just want to know, what was your gut? Because Clarke says he felt pressured. I want to know—you were there. Did you feel pressured to draw the same conclusion? Come on. Give us an answer.
CRESSEY: Well, look, the president only raised one country when he asked for us to look for who might be culpable, so draw your own conclusions.
SCARBOROUGH: You looking for a job in the State Department? The diplomacy is unbelievable here.
CRESSEY: Joe, I spent four years there. I‘m done there.
SCARBOROUGH: You‘re done there. But you‘re not answering this question, are you?
CRESSEY: Well, look, Dick‘s book says what it says. People should read it and draw their own conclusions.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, first State Department, then White House, next stop, United Nations, I bet.
SCARBOROUGH: Thanks for being with us, Roger. I certainly appreciate it.
CRESSEY: Take care, Joe. Thank you.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
(AUDIO GAP) of the National Security Council is here with us tonight to talk about the possible scandal that‘s breaking out over Richard Clarke‘s tell-all book.
Let me ask you, Mr. McCormack, what‘s your take on these charges that George Bush was responsible for 9/11?
SEAN MCCORMACK, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, Joe, I just find that absolutely ridiculous notion and frankly offensive.
I think the American people know that this president‘s top priority is to protect America and the American people. And any suggestion by Dick Clarke on the eve of the 9/11 Commission hearings that this president and this administration didn‘t do everything it possibly could to prevent 9/11 from happening, I find that offensive.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, let me play you something that Mr. Clarke told Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes” last night. Here‘s what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES”)
CLARKE: Frankly, I find it outrageous that the president is running for reelection on the grounds that he‘s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11, maybe. We‘ll never know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: George Bush ignored terrorism, I mean, that‘s—that‘s just an explosive charge this political year. Do you think it‘s a political hit job?
MCCORMACK: Well, Dick Clarke is flat wrong.
And what Dick Clarke is ignore is the facts. This president from day one, from the first week of this administration, asked Dick Clarke to put together a comprehensive strategy. The president pushed Dick Clarke and his team to put together a more aggressive strategy.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you so much, Mr. McCormack.
And now let me bring in Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who served as senior adviser to President Clinton.
Congressman, what‘s your take on the statements made last night by Mr.
REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: Nobody believes that President Bush was told about 9/11 and he ignored it beforehand. Nobody believes, if he had information, that he totally ignored it.
There are two things that came out of this that are important. One, when they were told that terrorism was a priority, they chose to place it lower on the scale than their priorities of China, the missile defense system and Russia. Second is that rather than focus once post-9/11 that we dealt with al Qaeda, we knew al Qaeda was behind 9/11, rather than taking that and making that the entire focus, the resources were diverted to Iraq that had nothing to do with the war on terrorism, a la al Qaeda.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Well, we, of course, disagree on that.
But I want to have you respond to what the vice president said in a
radio interview today when he told Rush Limbaugh that Clarke was—quote -
· “out of the loop during the White House years.” And here‘s more from Vice President Cheney about Richard Clarke.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW”)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only thing I would say about Dick Clarke is that he was here throughout those eight years, going back to 1993 and the first attack on the World Trade Center, in ‘98, when the embassies were hit in East Africa, 2000, when the USS Cole was hit. And the question that ought to be asked is, you know, what were they doing in those days, when they—when he was in charge of counterterrorism efforts?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: Congressman, obviously, the ‘90s, we had a lot of attacks from Osama bin Laden and bin Laden. And, as you know, Osama bin Laden himself accused America of being a paper tiger for its failure to respond strongly in the 1990s. Is Dick Clarke really somebody that‘s in position to be attacking this president on his handling of counterterrorism?
EMANUEL: Well, Joe, there‘s a couple of questions there. I‘ll try to hit them all.
First of all, you know, Dick Clarke worked for Ronald Reagan, George Bush 41, Bill Clinton, and this president, so nobody can assume that he‘s a partisan hack. He‘s worked for all different administrations, Democrats and Republicans alike.
SCARBOROUGH: You don‘t think is a political attack?
EMANUEL: Joe, you asked me a question. I‘m going to finish it. Do I have political implications? Absolutely. Do I think it was politics that motivated it? Absolutely not.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you so much, Rahm Emanuel. We certainly appreciate you being with us tonight to talk about the story.
MCCORMACK: Thanks, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Thanks for being here.
All right, and coming up, it may have been bumped at No. 2 at the box office in America, but, this weekend, “The Passion of the Christ” is still making headlines around the world. We‘ll talk about that coming up.
But, first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk.
SCARBOROUGH: Even though it finished second in the box office rankings this weekend, Mel Gibson‘s “The Passion of the Christ” is still making headlines and defying expectations all over the world. It‘s earned close to $300 million in less than a month.
And with Easter right around the corner, many box office watchers think this movie may make more than $400 million in North America.
Let‘s go first to MSNBC‘s entertainment reporter Dana Kennedy with the very latest.
Dana, talk about the numbers this past weekend and also the expectations leading in to the Easter season.
DANA KENNEDY, NBC ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR: Well, Joe, the figures I have heard are as high as $600 million in north America.
SCARBOROUGH: Oh, my gosh.
KENNEDY: And, as you said, with Easter Sunday week coming up, that‘s just a perfect time for people to go for a second and third time. And this is what‘s happening with this movie. It is a bit like the “Titanic.”
People are going for repeat viewings. People who never thought they might want to go have heard about what a phenomenon it is. And that‘s—just the curiosity factor is bringing in people who might never have gone at all. And, yes, “Dawn of the Dead” did knock it out of first place this particular week, but it has, as you said, been out for a month. “Dawn of the Dead” is a remake of the horror classic. But horror movies traditionally do well at the box office.
Not a big surprise that it did finally beat it out. But I would say you‘re going to see “The Passion of the Christ” in the top five, certainly the top 10, for quite a few more weeks.
SCARBOROUGH: Help me out with the $600 million figure. It sounds absolutely astronomical. In terms of movie history, does that make that one of the three or four biggest movies ever?
KENNEDY: Yes, like right up there with “Titanic.” There is some thought that it could either best “Titanic” or get pretty close to it, yes.
And, as I said, the “Titanic” was one of those kinds of movies you just had to see. And you often had to see it a second—two or three times again. So that‘s what “The Passion” is getting. It has legs, as they say, in Hollywood.
SCARBOROUGH: Dana, explain this to me. When you talk to Hollywood insiders, when you talk to people that know the movie business, most of those people didn‘t think people were going to go see this movie the first time.
Why would a movie this violent—and, again, take us inside the minds of the people that run Hollywood and know the movie business better than anybody else. Why do these people think that Americans are going to see such a bloody, violent, and, whether you like it or not, a disturbing movie over and over again?
KENNEDY: Well, first of all, most people in Hollywood who are honest at all will say that there are no rules and nobody really knows anything. The famous screenwriter William Goldman was famous for saying that.
So, even though they may pretend they know what they‘re doing, they all really—they really deep down know that there‘s always a time for a phenomenon no one ever figured could happen. I think that probably the cynics say, well, Mel Gibson, his very name and his stature in Hollywood made it safe for people to go to a movie about Jesus Christ, because they figured, if Mr. “Lethal Weapon” is putting this out, maybe it won‘t be a typical religious movie. And indeed it is not, because certainly it is very graphic and very violent.
And for that reason, I think there‘s been a curiosity factor by some people. But, again, I think Hollywood executives are used to not knowing what‘s going to hit or what‘s going to flop.
Jennifer Giroux, let me bring you in here.
“The Passion” dropped to second place this week. Do you think it has seen its best days or do you think it is going to come back for Easter?
JENNIFER GIROUX, SEETHEPASSION.COM: Oh, it absolutely has rebound ability. I predict it will retake first place.
Dana, wrong again. People are drawn to the holiness of this movie.
It has nothing do with the violence. It has nothing to do
KENNEDY: I just move in the wrong circles, Jennifer, clearly, not holy enough in my world.
GIROUX: Well, I know when Dana went to review “Dawn of the Living Dead” (sic), she took her air bag, because we have all heard how weak her stomach is.
But wait a minute. I remember. Walking into “Dawn of the Dead” is like going into “Bambi” after “The Passion,” right, because “The Passion” is just so violent. It‘s fine to see people biting necks and squirting blood and everything else that is in there.
On a serious note, absolutely, with Easter coming, I think people are going to go out and see this again and truly people see the good in this movie, from teenage years all the way up. I think that this is food for the soul that people are craving in a country right now that‘s in turmoil, especially with what they‘re trying to do in the Supreme Court to the average American and what we think where God should be in society. So I look forward to seeing the rebound of “The Passion.”
SCARBOROUGH: Well, isn‘t that interesting? You bring up the Supreme Court, but there‘s obviously going be a very important ruling this week, the Supreme Court talking about the Pledge of Allegiance, Jennifer.
I—isn‘t it something that the biggest movie of the year is—is a
religious movie and one of biggest Supreme Court decisions is coming up on
· on whether “under God” can be in the Pledge of Allegiance?
GIROUX: It is, Joe.
And I‘ll tell you what. I like to think I represent the average American out here that is just doing our everyday daily duty. And we might not have the big letters after our names, but we do have the ability to tell right from wrong and discern that. And what the Supreme Court is considering doing is dead wrong. And the people that are behind getting God out of society are dead wrong.
You wonder why the Columbines happened. You wonder why kids are turning to drugs and to other things. It‘s because we‘re depriving them of God in our schools, the morality and in society. I think a loud message should be sent to the Supreme Court that there‘s a large sleeping giant awake out here for “The Passion of Christ” that wants God back in society.
SCARBOROUGH: Let mess bring in David Horowitz. He‘s from the Center For Popular Culture.
David, we heard Dana Kennedy talk about $600 million for this movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” a very religious movie. And this week, also, the Supreme Court, as Jennifer was talking about, is going be—is going to be looking at whether we take the words “under God” out from the Pledge of Allegiance. Do you think there might be a disconnect between Washington, D.C. and what middle America wants to see at the movies and what middle America want their children to recite in the morning at school?
DAVID HOROWITZ, EDITOR, FRONTPAGEMAG.COM: Well, we have two cultures in this country and perhaps even two countries at this point.
As I said before, this is a—“The Passion” is an awesome film and it‘s—it‘s as close as art gets to a religious experience. So I‘m sure that a lot of the audience is driven by that fact. There are a lot of religious people in this country. And I‘m sure that Hollywood is going to serve them a lot better in the next year and the years to come because of what Mel Gibson has done.
I wanted to make one comment on the violence. Since—since, in this story, it‘s the son of God who is taking these hits and this whole process, the passion, is foreordained, as you‘re told in the movie, it‘s not the same as watching violence, you know, against ordinary mortals. In some sense, emotionally, it‘s more intense because this is a divine figure who‘s taking on our sins. But, in another sense, it‘s not gruesome and gory in the way that it would be if it was just—you know, a human being who‘s not God.
SCARBOROUGH: Rabbi Shmuley, let me bring you in here.
Does the fact that this was preordained, if you read the New Testament, you believe the New Testament, does the fact that it was preordained by God make it less disturbing, make all of the violence that‘s offended you less disturbing to the Christians that go to see this movie?
RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH, SPIRITUAL ADVISER: No, not at all.
Look, I want to see religion flourish in the United States as much as Jennifer. I want to see God being firmly a part of our Pledge of Allegiance. What I don‘t want to see is religion going down the road of Hollywood, having to emulate and ape Hollywood. On the contrary.
Jennifer is running a Web site where she‘s taking charitable donations to try to get “The Passion of the Christ” an Academy Award. Who cares what is the Academy says about religion? I could care less. The fact is that Hollywood has become a sewer and the fact that people like Jennifer so badly needs Hollywood‘s imprimatur in order to valid God is deeply disturbing.
We having got to wean people off the popular culture, get them back to reading scripture, reading the holy Bible. The fact that this has become such a sacrament, of going to a movie theater, the fact that it‘s supplanting going to church is a testimonial to many Christians who believe that Christianity has failed in America, that now we need Mel Gibson as the new apostle, as the new forerunner of Christianity, the second coming himself, Jesus Christ incarnate, in order to revive Christianity.
Now, to us Jews, especially, had Mel Gibson simply lessened the violence and increased Jesus‘ message and especially had he told the audience at the beginning of this movie that Caiaphas, the high priest, is an ally of Rome, he is an appointee of Rome, so the Jews did not kill Jesus, you have a Roman police enforcer named Caiaphas, a Jewish capo, just like there were in the Holocaust, a collaborator who works with the Romans to kill a Jew, claims to be a Jewish king because the Romans had already abolished the Jewish monarchy, had he told us that, then no Jews would have had a problem with the movie, and had he lessened the violence, it could have been a wholesome message. And that was a very violent man.
SCARBOROUGH: Rabbi, I‘ll tell you what. We‘ll be right back with more from you and the rest of our panel. Got a lot more on our all-star panel on “The Passion” coming up next.
SCARBOROUGH: “The Passion” opened in Latin America and did remarkably well. In Mexico, where the movie was slapped with the equivalent of an X rating, “The Passion” took in $5.2 million, a record for its distribution company, the second best overall for a U.S. movie.
In Brazil, where you had to be 14 to get in, “The Passion” raked in almost $2 million, again, a lot of money down there.
Jennifer Giroux, we‘ll go back to you and have you respond to some of the rabbi‘s comments. He said that this movie being a success and people like you depending on movies to promote Christianity proves that Christianity may have failed in this country and also that you and others look at Mel Gibson almost as if he‘s the second coming of Christ.
GIROUX: I won‘t even address that absurdity, Joe, that you just said last.
But let me say this. You know, St. Augustine, who is a doctor of the Catholic Church, said that there is—and this isn‘t an exact quote—that there‘s no greater thing for your spiritual life than to meditate on “The Passion.”
Mel Gibson‘s movie is a meditative tool for the passion. And it has been embraced by Christians and Catholics alike and—David could attest to—Jews that also find it very accurate to their own tradition. This is a beautiful prayer tool. And for the rabbi to act like we‘re picking some Hollywood movie like “Casablanca” to be our new religion is just absurd.
You know, I‘m glad to see the rabbi is visiting my Web site.
There‘s a lot to learn there, Rabbi.
But, the fact of the matter is, I as a parent want to be able to let my teenager go to the movies without that one scene that has us knowing they‘re going be exposed to something immoral. It‘s time now for us to fight for clean entertainment. And the only reason it‘s important for us to raise the issue of the Oscars is that someone less—maybe a little bit less successful than Mel Gibson should not be discouraged from making a good, clean, wholesome, and, yes, maybe an adult movie.
Adult movies are OK if the theme is clean. They shouldn‘t be discouraged thinking they will not be considered for the talents they have in an Oscar. And that is our only purpose.
BOTEACH: I find this so absolutely shocking.
First of all, Jennifer Giroux just said that Jews have found “The Passion” true to their own tradition. Sorry, Jennifer. We‘re Jews. We‘re not Christians. We do not believe that Jesus was God. We do believe that he was a great teacher. We didn‘t kill him. On the contrary, this is a travesty of our tradition. We have tried to defend ourselves against accusations of God-killing for 20 centuries.
HOROWITZ: How does David Horowitz feel about that?
BOTEACH: Well, David Horowitz can say what wants. I will speak for traditional Judaism, since I‘m a representative of it. And for 20 centuries, we‘ve tried to respond...
GIROUX: Is David Horowitz a bad Jew because he disagrees with you?
Is David Horowitz a bad Jew?
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on, Jennifer, let him respond.
BOTEACH: For over 20 centuries, we have tried to respond to this charge of deicide.
HOROWITZ: Can I get in two words in here?
BOTEACH: Let me also just say that if it‘s OK to portray such graphic violence because this is a religious film and Jennifer is saying that adult movies can be made spiritual, I would assume that she would have no problem with nudity, showing a nude Christ, so long as it‘s a spiritual...
GIROUX: Wrong. Wrong, Rabbi. Wrong.
BOTEACH: Why? What‘s the difference? Then what‘s the difference, Jennifer? If violence is OK, why is nudity not OK?
GIROUX: Because redemptive suffering and what David Horowitz described as the suffering that we see in there is given a spiritual meeting if you understand that Christ took on the gravity of your sin and my sin.
BOTEACH: What about redemptive nudity? A lot of religious have sex cults. And they say that that is pretty redemptive. But you would probably would object to that, saying that it‘s not wholesome entertainment.
GIROUX: Absolutely. It is not.
BOTEACH: The whole idea of a religious movie that is rated R is a contradiction.
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a second. Hold on a second.
David Horowitz, we want to bring you in here.
SCARBOROUGH: And don‘t get sidetracked on redemptive nudity. Talk instead as to whether this movie is offensive to you as a Jewish man.
HOROWITZ: Well, no, it isn‘t offensive at all.
And I think that the rabbi and Abe Foxman and all of the people who attacked this film, saying that it was anti-Semitic and would incite violence against Jews, now is the time to apologize. This film has been seen by millions of people, millions of Christians. There‘s no pogrom out there. In fact, a Jewish agency did a study. And it showed that it diminished the hostility towards Jews.
This is a film about love. It‘s a film—the violence is necessary, because we as citizens of the 20th and 21st century have been so inured to human suffering in our time that, to believe this film, to have it make an impact on you, there has to be an extraordinary violence in the film. And you have to see extraordinary suffering.
And this suffering is twofold. One it‘s the suffering of the Christ,
but also it‘s the suffering of Mary watching her son. It‘s just—it‘s
just an amazingly, I think, moving and powerful experience. And I‘m
appalled by—it‘s only some Jews who have done this and some secularists
· of people who object to the fact that the Christian community in this country has been given this gift by Mel Gibson and is—and been able to go to their theaters in an extraordinary way.
HOROWITZ: ... have an extraordinary spiritual experience.
SCARBOROUGH: Let me go to Dana quickly.
Dana, Hollywood has typically forced blondes with blue eyes on American moviegoers, leaving Latinos, the largest ethnic minority in the country, with little to relate to. But this is how Latinos are relating to “The Passion.” Latinos are making up 40 percent of the total audience in several cities showing “The Passion”; 76 percent of Latinos said they‘ll go see the movie again; 86 percent classified the movie as excellent.
That‘s a pretty surprising demographic breakdown, isn‘t it?
KENNEDY: Well, I‘m assuming obviously many of them are Catholic and have maybe a stronger religious tradition than some.
But I will say, as a witness just down to that discussion, I have to
say to Jennifer that if I were someone that just flew in to Mars and heard
her talk about this movie—and, presumably, she wants people to go to it
· she gives off such a sort of scolding schoolmarm 1955 vibe that makes you feel like you should eat your vegetables and learn your catechism and go see this movie. It‘s a movie.
GIROUX: Dana, I talk to nine children every day.
KENNEDY: It‘s not all about morality and holiness. It‘s a movie, Jennifer.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, listen, we‘re going to invite you all back tomorrow night. I appreciate you being here, David Horowitz, Dana Kennedy, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and Jennifer Giroux.
We‘ll be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: Tomorrow on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, the Pledge of Allegiance is going to the Supreme Court. Will they let kids say the dreaded words “under God” in class? Should they?
We‘ll debate it tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.
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