Guests: John Clodfelter, David Debatto, Vanessa Williams
ANNOUNCER: DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.
Terrorism‘s other victims. Condoleezza Rice about to be grilled on the 9/11 attacks. What more could the administration have done to prevent them?
But al Qaeda was also responsible for this and this. Tonight, on the eve of this unprecedented testimony, the families of al Qaeda‘s other victims deliver their message. It‘s not just 9/11.
Battlefront. Massive bloodshed on the battlefields of Iraq. Growing anti-American violence leads to the heaviest fighting since the fall of Baghdad a year ago. Tonight, one man who‘s been caught in the crossfire.
Vanessa Williams. Two decades after her stint as Miss America, she‘s still a reigning presence.
VANESSA WILLIAMS, FORMER MISS AMERICA (singing): Today you‘ll hear a cry she told me.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight former beauty queen Vanessa Williams on her new role as movie star, mom and NBA wife.
From studio 3-K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST: And good evening.
Tomorrow history will be made on Capitol Hill when National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testifies publicly before the 9/11 commission. One thing she‘ll be asked: did the administration pay enough attention to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda?
And while the focus is on the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001, the terror group is also responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people and attacks before September 11, including the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 which left 224 people dead, as well as the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, in which 17 American soldiers—sailors were killed.
Relatives of victims in those attacks want answers, too. And they think the commission should be investigating al Qaeda attacks that happened before September 11, suggesting that maybe the panel should be called the al Qaeda commission.
Two family members of victims killed in al Qaeda attacks will be watching the Rice testimony very closely tomorrow. They are Edith Bartley. She lost her father, Julian, and her brother, Jay, in the Kenya embassy bombing. And John Clodfelter‘s son Kenneth was among those killed about the USS Cole.
And our thanks to both of you so much for being with us.
Mr. Clodfelter, let me talk—start with you first. What is it that you have not heard so far during this 9/11 testimony that you had hoped you would have heard?
JOHN CLODFELTER, SON KILLED ON USS COLE: Well, I guess the main thing that I haven‘t heard is the responsibility, you know, for the attack on the Cole.
The FBI had told our families that, because of what happened to the Cole they knew what to look for when 9/11 occurred. And if that is the case, then I feel that when the Khobar Towers was attacked, that possibly the Cole could have been saved.
NORVILLE: So it‘s a reverse domino effect. If they had just gone back and looked at the clues, they might have been able to prevent the next tragedy from occurring?
CLODFELTER: Exactly. Because I remember hearing on the news that a planner in the Department of Defense back in 1998 had made a plan for going after al Qaeda. And that plan—it never made its way to the secretary of defense desk or the president‘s desk.
And President Clinton himself had just, in our estimation, lied to the families of those that were killed on the Cole, because he had told us that he would go out and get those that did this. And then he told the same thing to the families of those who were killed in the Khobar Towers and the embassy. And...
NORVILLE: Well, let‘s listen to what the president had to say. He spoke, and he spoke very eloquently at the memorial service that was held for your son and the other victims of the Cole. And let‘s listen to what he did have to say in October of 2000 about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To those who attacked them, we say, you will not find a safe harbor. We will find you. And justice will prevail. America will not stop standing guard for peace, our freedom or stability around the Middle East and around the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Sir, did you believe that the president was sincere when he said we won‘t stop at anything to find the people responsible?
CLODFELTER: At the time he spoke those words, yes. And all the 17 families felt he was sincere, just to find out that he was not sincere.
NORVILLE: Let‘s turn to an earlier incident that happened in 1998.
Ms. Bartley, your father was the United States ambassador at the...
EDITH BARTLEY, FATHER AND BROTHER KILLED IN EMBASSY: He was consul general.
NORVILLE: He was consul general at the embassy in Kenya. Your little brother was working a summer job there. Both of them were killed.
The State Department had not declared that embassy as a high-risk danger zone.
BARTLEY: No. We had embassies around the world that are labeled as danger pay posts, and that is because they‘re in a location where there is a lot of threat to Americans working there.
The Nairobi—embassy in Nairobi was classified as a medium threat post, but yet our intelligence community had information about al Qaeda cell activity active in Nairobi as early as 1996.
NORVILLE: How do you know this?
BARTLEY: It stated in the trial information that came out in 2001 when four members of al Qaeda were convicted for those embassy bombings.
And there‘s also information documented in the 1999 accountability report, which was done by Admiral Crowe in the aftermath of those bombings. He was tasked with looking into the events that led up to those bombings.
NORVILLE: And those four individuals are now serving life sentences in a maximum security prison in Colorado.
BARTLEY: Yes, they are. Yes, they are.
NORVILLE: And correct me if I‘m wrong, but it‘s your frustration that the 9/11 commission has not been long enough in its view in going back and looking at the tragedy that touched your family, the tragedy that touched the families of the Cole.
BARTLEY: I think the testimony that‘s coming out regarding all the intelligence information that has been available to both the CIA and FBI over the last ten years regarding active cells here in the United States and abroad is coming out.
However, I think the name of the commission is sort of misleading. But they are certainly tasked with covering the span from 1998 up until 2001.
Our government placed people, Americans, in harm‘s way in our embassies, and you know, unbeknownst to diplomats bidding on assignments there, they did not know. My father did not sign up for combat. He was not told about al Qaeda cell activity there, and he was not offered 25 percent per diem, as people are who take assignments in a high-risk embassy.
NORVILLE: But would your dad have taken that assignment if they‘d said, “You get 25 percent more per day?”
BARTLEY: Absolutely not. My father turned down offers to go to Nigeria and other places because of security concerns.
NORVILLE: What is it that you all connected with the 1998 killings want, Ms. Bartley? Is it you want an apology, the way we heard Richard Clarke earlier in the 9/11 commission, or is it something else?
BARTLEY: We have certainly requested acknowledgment of these lies and also, acknowledgment by Secretary Albright and other members of the Clinton administration and to actually admit and say and document that, yes, you know, we failed our own Americans. These are facts.
And to see the testimony that took place two weeks ago, where Albright and George Tenet sat before the commission and stated unequivocally over and over that we did all that we could do, is absolutely faulty. And it adds insult to injury.
Mr. Clarke was the only member of either administration to offer any type of an apology or acknowledgment that our government did not do all that it could do and that it failed its Americans.
NORVILLE: Mr. Clodfelter, Secretary Albright, when she testified earlier before the commission, she said, quote, “We did not have definitive evidence that the bombing of the Cole was really committed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda,” that that evidence came once the Clinton administration was out of office.
But you take exception to that. Is that right, sir?
CLODFELTER: Very much exception. I mean, because there was a point in time when Yemen was on the State Department‘s list of terrorist countries, and then it was taken off the list. And then after it was taken off the list, then all of a sudden the United States is providing funds to Yemen by the way of letting our ships go in there to go ahead and refuel.
NORVILLE: And you believe that your family and the other victims of the Cole, like the families like Ms. Bartley‘s, who were impacted by the 1998 killings, are entitled to be in the same pool of victims as those of the 9/11 tragedy. Why is that, sir?
CLODFELTER: Well, because they were all killed by the same people. That is, they were all killed by al Qaeda. Just the vehicles that they used to attack the various facilities was different, but it was still done by al Qaeda.
NORVILLE: And Ms. Bartley, if that‘s true, if there is evidence that links the bombing that killed your dad and your brother, the bombing that killed the 17 sailors on the USS Cole and the others, why wouldn‘t the 9/11 commission or the 9/11 special victims compensation fund include these few members?
BARTLEY: Our family should be included. And our legislation included the USS Cole. We passed overwhelmingly the House. We asked Congress to allow us to have the ability and the authority to file a claim with the 9/11 fund.
And I think that Congress—there was an oversight with Congress.
When 9/11 happened, it was in people‘s faces. It was here in this country.
Africa was miles away. It did not garner the same attention.
And I think perhaps the Clinton administration and the State Department in particular thought that no one would challenge or ask the questions and pursue these answers to the negligence, really, surrounding these bombings.
And they were sadly mistaken, because we are going to continue to press. And we are happy that there is a 9/11 commission. There weren‘t enough of us to form any type of commission like that.
NORVILLE: We tried to get someone from the White House. We tried to get someone from the State Department. We called the Defense Department. Across the board, they all declined. They said, you know, our people are testifying at the 9/11 commission. Listen to what they have to say. And that‘s certainly fair.
I don‘t speak for the administration, but I‘m sure there was no one in any position of authority, in either the Clinton administration or the Bush administration, that denies your loss, that wishes it had never happened. But I don‘t understand why they wouldn‘t be including these family members.
BARTLEY: We‘ve been asking the same things. I think that clearly under the Clinton administration there was a sense of arrogance and a sense that, well, it was only 12 Americans, and they‘ll go away.
NORVILLE: Have you felt that way, sir?
CLODFELTER: Yes, ma‘am. In fact, I‘m—all the 17 families have felt that way very much. It just seems like they keep on trying to put us to the back of the proverbial bus. And it‘s just unreal.
I mean, I‘ve sent e-mails to President Bush‘s—or to the White House on four different occasions, without any kind of response at all.
NORVILLE: And what would you ask Condoleezza Rice, if you were up sitting on that panel tomorrow, as she goes before them and testifies? What question would you have for her?
CLODFELTER: I guess the main question would be is the fact that why was Yemen taken off the terrorist list? I mean, because they should have been included, so that way the Cole would not have gone into that port at all, which would have saved my son‘s life and the lives of 16 of his shipmates.
NORVILLE: And Ms. Bartley, what question would you ask, if you had the opportunity to?
BARTLEY: I would like to know to—really to what extent Condoleezza Rice and the other members of the administration, the incoming administration were briefed about the serious threat to that al Qaeda posed to Americans here in the United States and abroad.
You know, Secretary Albright‘s continued to say we didn‘t have actionable intelligence, and I dare to say that‘s incorrect. You know, they had actionable intelligence. We had members of the CIA having—you know, watching members of al Qaeda in Nairobi and around the world. These people were under surveillance.
At what point is it considered actionable? Do we have to have so many body bags coming back before we act on information?
So I‘d like to know how much were they told? Because I don‘t believe the Clinton administration really took the issue of terrorism and al Qaeda seriously.
NORVILLE: To impress the incoming administering, “Folks, you‘ve got to stay on top of this.”
NORVILLE: Well, let me ask a final question for both of you. As the commission has been going forward and you‘ve been listening to the testimony, are you confident that the questions that you have will be answered by the end of the commission‘s work?
Sir, you first.
CLODFELTER: No, I don‘t think so. I mean, it seems like to me that the families of those that were killed should be able to do ahead and appear before this commission.
NORVILLE: In the same way that some of the others have been listening.
And Ms. Bartley?
BARTLEY: I have faith that the members of the commission will be asking pointed questions. I‘ve been following the testimony very carefully, and I think that they are asking tough questions and we‘re getting answers.
You know, we will have to see what happens from this, you know. Are our embassies going to be more secure? You know, are our buildings going to be more secure here in the United States?
Certainly, our administration and the intelligence community could have been—it was plausible for them to see that airplanes could have been used by terrorists against large buildings here in the United States prior to 9/11. We may not have known exactly what buildings, but we certainly knew that airplanes were a target and could be used by terrorists.
NORVILLE: Well, we know that since the attacks in Africa that left your bad and your brother dead, $1.5 billion has been spent to upgrade government buildings.
Ms. Bartley, thank you for being with us.
Mr. Clodfelter, our thanks to you as well. I know you‘ll be watching the commission hearings, as we all will.
CLODFELTER: Right. Thank you.
NORVILLE: And tomorrow, the commission goes forward, MSNBC will have live coverage as National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testifies at 9 a.m. Eastern time.
And then tomorrow night on this program I‘ll be joined by some of the members of the 9/11 commission.
And our question to you, what would you ask National Security Adviser Rice if you did have the opportunity? You can log on to MSNBC.com, scroll down the page to find the link, and you can share your thoughts with us.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, she stepped down as Miss America 20 years ago. But this ex-beauty queen isn‘t resting on her laurels. In fact, she‘s busier than ever.
Tonight, Vanessa Williams on what it‘s like to juggle marriage, motherhood and movie stardom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t know how you do it.
ANNOUNCER: But next, anti-American forces in Iraq launch the worst violence there in more than a year, and there‘s no end in sight to the bloodshed. One man who‘s seen it all talks about life on the front lines, when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.
NORVILLE: The fighting we‘re seeing in Iraq is now the heaviest since Baghdad fell to coalition forces one year ago. Almost three dozen Americans since last weekend, with the most intense battles raging in the Sunni Triangle.
Marines engaged in a fierce battle today in Fallujah with U.S. forces firing a rocket and dropping a 500-pound bomb on a mosque compound that was filled with worshipers, as well as insurgents. Witnesses say as many as 40 Iraqis were killed.
And all of this comes on the heels of a battle yesterday in Ramadi where Shiites militiamen killed 12 Marines.
At the Pentagon today, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. troops scheduled to leave Iraq might be kept longer. And he said that America will stay the course.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: U.S. forces are on the offense. The United States and our partners and free Iraqi forces are taking the battle to the terrorists. We will certainly not allow fugitives from Iraqi justice to stop progress towards a better life for 25 million Iraqi people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: For a firsthand perspective of what it‘s like for troops on the battleground we‘re joined tonight by former intelligence agent David Debatto, who served in Iraq and was just brought back last November.
Good to see you. You‘ve been on this show before.
What do you think is going through the minds of the troops that are on the ground right now?
DAVID DEBATTO, FORMER INTELLIGENCE AGENT: Well, let me say just first of all, that I‘m not an official spokesman for the Pentagon, the Army or the National Guard. But in my own opinion, they‘re scared.
The morale is still very, very high. In situations like this, the units really do tend to pull together. So I‘m sure the morale is very, very high. They‘re very well trained. But they‘re scared, and understandably so.
NORVILLE: When we look at the map, we see that there are at least six different cities in which some fairly intense fighting is going on. And we‘ve heard in the past about the troop strength and the numbers of troops that are in there. Secretary Rumsfeld says we may not be bringing out some of the guys as new troops are cycled in.
Are there enough forces on the ground to handle all of the jobs that need to be dealt with simultaneously?
DEBATTO: Again, in my opinion, no. There‘s not.
I think what you‘re going to see is that troop rotation is not going to be completed, that they‘re not going to pull out all the troops out, at least not in the time frame that they said they would. And I would not be surprised if you see additional troops go over in the very near future.
NORVILLE: And we‘ve already heard that the National Guard is predicting that by the end of May, probably close to 40 percent of the troops on the ground are going to be National Guard or Army Reserve people.
Are there enough active duty service people back on this side of the Atlantic to help supplant the troops on the ground over there?
DEBATTO: Not the way that the military has been restructured over the last 10 or 12 years ago. The mix of troops that we need over there—the support troops, the intelligence gatherers, the civil affairs troops, the engineers, all of the support troops that we desperately need over there, the truck drivers—they‘re only reserve components. That was done after Vietnam for reasons back then.
And, no, we cannot fight this war with just the regular Army.
NORVILLE: Help us understand what‘s going on over there right now. We‘ve got 60 percent of the population, roughly, is the Shiites, another 15 percent of the Sunni. And it seems like the rest are Jihadists that have come in, and they all seem to now have gotten together and just decided, “We don‘t like the Americans.”
Is that an oversimplification?
DEBATTO: No, because it‘s a very complicated situation, and I think that‘s very well put.
You do have the Shia, which again, in my opinion what it‘s looking like now is very scary. It looks like the Shia are getting together with the Sunni, which could be our worst nightmare come true. That hasn‘t happened in over 30 years or more, since Saddam was in power.
Together with some terrorists, al Qaeda, perhaps, that‘s pouring over the borders, especially from Syria, and probably Iran, as well. They‘re now together, at least in these areas that we‘re seeing getting hard hit today. That‘s very scary.
NORVILLE: But what we‘re hearing is that a lot of the current activity is being directed by this—this al-Sadr guy, who has inspired his own private Army to actively take up arms against the Americans. And we don‘t see any resistance from the other religious groups.
DEBATTO: There‘s probably a reason for that. They‘re letting him go.
They‘re letting him fight their battles right now.
You have to understand, this is a very, very—how shall I say? Calculating country. And you‘ve got leaders there that are sitting back, watching al-Sadr do this, perhaps some of them hoping he gets taken out by us to make their move. That‘s going on right now, too.
NORVILLE: But in the—in the Muslim pecking order, you‘ve got al-Sadr right here. Higher up the food chain is the Ayatollah al Sistani...
NORVILLE: ... who has come forward publicly and issued a statement asking people to lay down their arms, to cease the fighting.
Has he lost his authority or is there part of this calculus that‘s going on where he‘s being ignored, and he knows he will be?
DEBATTO: Let me put it this way, Deborah. He‘s very sharp. I wouldn‘t be surprised if he is holding back and letting us take care of Mr. Sadr for him.
NORVILLE: Because he is a potential threat to his own authority within the Muslim cleric...
DEBATTO: Absolutely, he‘s a young Turk. He‘s a young rebel. He‘s a young bull. He‘s definitely, in the last few days even, come way, way up, I think.
NORVILLE: He‘s also the son of another cleric who was assassinated about four or five years ago.
DEBATTO: Exactly. Sistani fears him in a way and would love him out of the way.
NORVILLE: What is America‘s, in your opinion, best course of action, given that there is this religious faction? And I know the effort at the outset was to try to keep this in as secular a context as was possible in a Muslim country.
DEBATTO: Deborah, we‘ve backed ourselves into a corner here. It‘s too late right now. We really don‘t have too many choices. We have to have overwhelming military superiority right now, an overwhelming show of force.
We‘re going to lose a lot of people if we just play it safe, even if that means going into the mosques. And I think you‘re going to see that, unfortunately, we‘re going to have to do that.
NORVILLE: Going into a mosque, it makes it very hard, I would think, to win the hearts and minds of people, when you‘ve attacked their religious place.
NORVILLE: But the insurgents were in there. The government forces, I‘m sure, felt we‘ve got to get these guys. If you hide in the religious facilities, so be it.
DEBATTO: Absolutely. But again, it‘s going to be worse in the long run. In the short term, it‘s going to cause a firestorm. There‘s no question about that. But if they can attack us, like they have today and yesterday, go back into the mosques, and then retreat and we don‘t go in, it‘s going to be far worse for us.
NORVILLE: Of course, meantime, the question is what happens on June 30? On Monday of this week the president once again stated his opinion and his intention that the handover will go through.
Let‘s take a look at what the president had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My judgment is that the closer we come to the deadline, the more likely people will challenge our will. In other words, it provides a convenient excuse to attack.
And this particular incident with Sadr, this is one person who‘s deciding that rather than allow democracy to flourish, he‘s going to exercise force. And we just can‘t let it stand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: The president certainly called that one correctly.
NORVILLE: When the handover date comes on June 30, to whom or to what will authority from the coalition provisional authority be given?
DEBATTO: Well, it‘s almost like a bad movie, the last man standing. At this point we really, really don‘t know. What I can tell you is we‘re going to be very, very close. And it‘s, in my opinion, not going to work and we‘re going to have to come back into those cities and provide security.
NORVILLE: Well, it‘s a grim forecast. We thank you for being with us, Dave Debatto, to share it.
DEBATTO: My pleasure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Up next, the busy career of Vanessa Williams, from recording artist to movie star to mom and NBA wife. Is it any wonder she‘s going on a family vacation?
WILLIAMS: Will you help me with the bags, please?
ANNOUNCER: DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.
NORVILLE: That‘s the 1995 Oscar-winning song, “Colors of the Wind” from Disney‘s animated hit, “Pocahontas,” performed by Vanessa Williams.
If ever there was a definitive multi-talented performer, this is it. She has proved that she is a triple threat: a singer, a dancer, an actress, and not to mention, an incredibly beautiful woman.
It has been 21 years since she was awarded the crown Miss America, the first African-American to receive that title. Since then she‘s gone on to appear in a number of movie roles, among them “Eraser,” opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger.
For her powerful performance in “Soul Food,” which was released in 2000, Vanessa was given an NAACP Image Award nomination.
And amidst it all, somehow this mother of four, who is married to L.A.
Laker star forward Rick Fox balances her life, motherhood and her career.
Her newest film is called “Johnson Family Vacation.” It opens today. It is her first comedy, and in it, Vanessa stars with Cedric the Entertainer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Put it back.
WILLIAMS: If you‘re living under my roof, that means you play by my rules. Now boys on the phone, boys on the answering machine, boys stopping by all hours of the night.
Don‘t roll your eyes at me.
CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER, COMEDIAN: That‘s right.
WILLIAMS: Cell phone. I didn‘t want you to have a cell phone in the first place. Your father‘s idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: And Vanessa Williams joins us. It‘s so good to see you.
WILLIAMS: Good to see you, too.
NORVILLE: Was that really acting or was that Vanessa the mom in full force?
WILLIAMS: Yes, right.
WILLIAMS: Well, I have two teenage daughters, 16 and 14. So, you know, they‘re not too crazy on the cell phone. But the outfits, though, we‘ve had conversations with the tight jeans, the low-riders, the belly shirts, all that stuff.
NORVILLE: Have they come to you and said they want to get anything pierced yet?
WILLIAMS: Yes. My oldest one wanted her belly button pierced for a good two years. And she finally has kind of grown out of it now. And now it‘s passe, say, so...
NORVILLE: Yes. If you wait long enough, they get over it.
NORVILLE: What‘s so amazing about your career is that you‘ve been able to have that career without having to sacrifice a lot of the personal stuff that I think a lot of actresses years down the road look back and go, I forgot kids, family, life, relationships. You‘ve managed to combine it all.
WILLIAMS: I did probably because my road was so—I went from a junior at Syracuse University, becoming famous overnight, being Miss America, having a tumultuous ending to that, trying to establish myself in my entertainment career, and really having so much effort to be taken seriously, that it was easy for me to find my peace and my rescue in my kids.
So motherhood, that was my foundation, that was my rock. And all the other entertainment stuff was the stuff that was really not stable.
NORVILLE: But that was the fun stuff, too.
WILLIAMS: Yes, exactly, exactly.
NORVILLE: I mean, I remember—I‘ve always followed the Miss America stuff. And I remember when you won and you said your great ambition was to be on Broadway. And when you got your first great Broadway part, I remember thinking, good for her. Her dream came true.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Yes.
NORVILLE: And it really happened pretty quickly.
WILLIAMS: Oh, yes.
Well, I had auditions early on and stuff. But stepping into Chita Rivera‘s shoes in “Kiss of the Spider Woman” 10 years later was phenomenal. Not only was it a fantastic show, but it was a perfect showcase for me, because I could sing and dance and act and it was mysterious and deep and sensual and vibrant. And it was wonderful.
NORVILLE: And when you‘re in a part like that, live on Broadway, no one can say, she was edited to look good or the makeup artist really did a number on her.
WILLIAMS: Right. Airbrushing, yes.
NORVILLE: No matter how begrudgingly it might be, they have to say, dang it, the kid‘s got talent.
WILLIAMS: Right. Yes, it‘s in its rawest form. And I also love the opportunity to make it different every night. Eights shows a week might sound terribly tedious, but it‘s a chance to work with an ensemble and have another go at it and discover something new.
NORVILLE: You talked about the tumultuous thing of the whole Miss America. Was that, in a weird kind of way not a great benefit, because when you‘ve gone through a crisis and you‘ve pulled yourself back together, you know, you find out you really are made of steel and there‘s not a whole lot they can do to you.
WILLIAMS: When I look back, I was 21 years old.
NORVILLE: You were a baby.
WILLIAMS: I was a baby. And I hadn‘t gotten a chance to really show what I could do. So I think, you know, I‘ve had the last 21 years to be able to say this is what I did—this is who I was 21 years ago. Now you‘re finally given the opportunity to do that. And I look at other people that are going through scandals now in their lives, you know, especially between Kobe Bryant, I mean, he‘s a young kid and I know exactly how that feels, you know?
NORVILLE: Kobe plays on your husband‘s team. Your husband is a forward for the Lakers.
NORVILLE: I have read somewhere that you thought that if he had a chance to go through college and had kind of that in-between kid and adult phase, like college is for a lot of us, he might have some made different choices along the way. And that says nothing about the current troubles that he‘s in.
But college is such a wonderful time to establish or to try to discover who you are. And you go from your house. You get a chance to be independent and figure yourself out and experiment and spread your wings, and then you get a chance to try to tackle life. When you go from your parents living in your house and then you‘re an NBA star and your parents are still living in your house and then you get married and you kick your parents out, he went from a boy to a man overnight, and that‘s a lot of—that‘s a lot of scrutiny and it‘s a lot of pressure.
NORVILLE: Now, you met your husband—it wasn‘t a blind date, but it was sort of a fix-up? Birthday party?
WILLIAMS: It was a fix-up. It was a fix-up. I was renovating my house. I had gone through a divorce, dating. And my designer, who lived in L.A., said, there‘s this new guy on the Lakers, his name is Rick Fox, you guys would make a great couple. And I said, I live in New York. What are you talking about?
And he had a birthday party. And he knew that I was in town. I had a movie opening called “Dance With Me.” And I invited him to the opening, and he invited me to his party. And he kind of pursued me hot and heavy.
NORVILLE: Did it click right away?
WILLIAMS: I think I really—he was six years younger. I had gone through a divorce. I had three kids. I wasn‘t going to uproot myself to try to date somebody on the other coast. So I kind of said, ah...
NORVILLE: Take it slow.
WILLIAMS: Exactly. I took it very slow.
NORVILLE: And yet, you‘re now married. Do you get into that NBA lifestyle, like beating off the groupies and all those things at the arena?
WILLIAMS: Yes, luckily, I haven‘t had to deal with any of that crazy stuff. So I hear stories about other people, but so far, so good.
NORVILLE: And yet, I hear Rick is taking acting lessons. He‘s thinking about following in his wife‘s footsteps?
WILLIAMS: Well, before I met him, he had done a movie with Whoopi called “Eddie.” He had done a couple of seasons of “Oz,” so he had gotten the taste and had the hunger. And he‘s been studying. He‘s taking acting classes and he‘s reading a lot. And he can‘t wait to start his new career.
NORVILLE: But Lakers fans would be...
WILLIAMS: They would like to keep him stay. They want to keep him as long as they can.
NORVILLE: He‘s not planning on retiring any time soon, or is he?
WILLIAMS: No. I think—it passes his mind when—because he‘s got a great team and he wants to get another championship, but I don‘t think he‘ll leave unless he‘s ready.
NORVILLE: One of the things that‘s always impressed me as well is that—you‘re an incredibly beautiful woman. You and I first met way back in April of 1992. This is—can I hold that right? -- the old “McCall‘s” magazine, and I want to just show your darling family. This is two kids ago.
WILLIAMS: Yes, two kids ago.
NORVILLE: Two kids ago. We‘ve now got a total of four, and this one is now 17?
WILLIAMS: Yes, she will be 17 in June.
NORVILLE: And driving cars. What lessons have you tried to share with your kids? Mom is famous. Dad is famous. There‘s a lot of action.
NORVILLE: And it could be very easy for a kid to not only want to pierce her belly button, but really get caught up in the glamourama of it all.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Well, they‘re pretty sheltered. They‘ve grown up in my own hometown. So they have their music lessons with my dad every week. So their grandparents are an integral part of their lives. So they live a pretty normal, sheltered life. They have the pressure of not wanting to be famous.
I mean, I grew up wanting to be famous and wanting to be on Broadway
and wanting to become a star, but also, you know, do my thing. They have -
· they‘re talented, but they really have no interest in pursuing a career in front of the camera. So they want to not be compared. And that‘s a whole different ball game.
NORVILLE: And maybe even make it more of a challenge, because the spotlight is always—a little bit of the light is going to kind of cast down on to the kids, as long as they‘re with mom, and dad, who also has such a high-profile career.
WILLIAMS: Right. Exactly.
NORVILLE: One of the things that I read that you had talked about once was this whole ageism thing. A lot of actresses talk about that. And I was astonished to hear that they were saying, you‘re too old for the part when you were still in your 30s?
WILLIAMS: Yes. Yes.
NORVILLE: What‘s with these people in Hollywood?
WILLIAMS: I think it‘s getting younger and younger. But also there‘s not as much longevity as there used to be.
Back in the studio systems, you were signed at the studio and had a good seven-year run and did as many things as you could. Nowadays, you‘re hot and people get tired of you quickly and you‘re over with. So, I‘m 41. I saw a change probably when I was about 37, 38, you know, going out for stuff. Oh, they‘re going to go younger, they‘re going to go younger.
NORVILLE: And how much younger were they going, like 18, 19 or...
WILLIAMS: No, no, like 20s, 20s, or early 30s.
So—and also, I had been around for so long that the perception is, we‘ve seen her, we‘ve seen her, we‘ve hired her, we‘ve seen her do that. So, but, luckily, I‘ve gotten a chance to—now I can play moms.
NORVILLE: And do you think one of the reasons that some stars are so out there in terms of throwing themselves in front of the cameras? You see on the red carpet—you‘ve been to more premieres than probably anybody. And you‘ve seen the outfits. And some of the stuff is just like, oh, my goodness, did they consult mom before they walked out?
NORVILLE: Isn‘t that part of the culture, to stay fresh, stay young, stay noticed, and if you have to be completely out there, so be it?
WILLIAMS: There‘s a lot of exhibitionism and also trying to be on the tabloids, because that‘s clearly what people talk about. But it‘s all about longevity and having a career.
What happened to Ben and Jen, we saw so much of them every day, people don‘t want to hear about it anymore. So you don‘t want to be oversaturated. So that‘s not...
NORVILLE: So you have to pick and choose really carefully.
NORVILLE: Well, you have picked and chosen a movie that has opened today. It‘s called “The Johnson Family Vacation.”
NORVILLE: You may play the mom, but you are one heck of a mom.
We‘re going to take a break. When we come back, more with Vanessa Williams. We‘ve all gone on some wacky family vacations, but not many of us have done it with the cast of crazies you‘re about to see.
We‘ll be back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION”)
WILLIAMS: Well, Glorietta, the truth is that...
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: My goodness. I can‘t believe you two made it this far.
CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER, ACTOR: What are you talking about, momma?
The trip is less than 2,000 miles.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Oh, I‘m not talking about miles, baby. I‘m talking about years.
So, anyway, what were you going to say?
WILLIAMS: What I was going to say is that Nate and I are going to renew our wedding vows on Valentine‘s Day, and we would sure love for you to join us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: She‘s been nominated 14 times for a Grammy, acted opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger. And she even starred in a Disney animated film.
We‘ve got more with Vanessa Williams next.
NORVILLE: You‘ve never had a vacation to compare with this one.
We‘re back with Vanessa Williams, who stars with Cedric the Entertainer in the new movie “Johnson Family Vacation.” It opens in theaters today.
What‘s an alligator doing in the bed?
WILLIAMS: Here in the bed. We picked up a strange hitchhiker, and she had a pet alligator. And that‘s how it got in the bed.
NORVILLE: It looked like it had a pretty nice piece of jewelry around the neck, too. If you could have caught it, you might have had a nice little birthday gift there.
NORVILLE: The story of the movie is basically the family piles into the car and goes off to the big family reunion.
WILLIAMS: To Caruthersville, Missouri, yes. And the couple, Dorothy and Nate, are actually separated in the very beginning, and so—it‘s a bit tense in the car on the way on this journey.
NORVILLE: And how far do they have to go to get to Caruthersville, Missouri?
WILLIAMS: It‘s a few days. It‘s a few days in an SUV with a lot of cranky kids.
NORVILLE: And mom and dad who hate each other.
WILLIAMS: Exactly. It was—the script was hilarious on the page, and it was just a no-brainer when I signed on.
NORVILLE: When you get one of these things, you obviously sit with the script and you just read it.
NORVILLE: Did you laugh out loud?
WILLIAMS: Yes. No, this was one of those—oh, my goodness, this is good. And then I met with Cedric. And he is warm and delightful. I had never met him before. And just a teddy bear. And I was his first choice. And when I heard Bow Wow was involved, it was...
NORVILLE: He plays one of your kids.
WILLIAMS: And then Solange, who is Beyonce‘s little sister, and Steve Harvey. It was just a great cast that came together.
NORVILLE: How was it to have such different personalities and many of them already—quote, unquote—“famous folks” coming together.
WILLIAMS: Oh, yes.
NORVILLE: Do you have to check your ego at the door?
WILLIAMS: Well, it was interesting, because we were all very similar, that we all had recording careers and act.
And it‘s so funny. After 20 years of saying that it‘s OK to do more than one thing and not have to be labeled, now it‘s passe. Everyone is expected to kind of—it‘s no big deal to be in a movie and do a C.D. and all that stuff. So...
NORVILLE: So, when you‘re sitting around on the set, this one is talking about, yes, I‘ve got a recording gig, I‘ve got the new C.D. coming out at such and such a time.
WILLIAMS: Yes. I can reminisce, but I could also give advice. These are two young kids that are both 17, have really no intention of going to college. And, again, the mother, the teacher comes out. And I said, it‘s really the time in your life where you get a chance to do that. So just carve out some time. And you don‘t have to stay the four years, but experience it. And I think I might have changed a few minds.
NORVILLE: How do you go about getting a role like this? Do they just call you up out of the blue and...
WILLIAMS: Yes. This one was a phone call.
NORVILLE: You are at that stage now. You‘re so well known. As you said, you‘ve been out there a long time, but that‘s a good thing. They know you‘re there.
WILLIAMS: Yes, but I still audition, though. I just finished pilot season and I just went out for a network on two different shows and ended up doing a pilot for UPN, which we just finished shooting on Sunday. And we‘ll see whether that goes, but I play a fashion designer.
But I was—when the creator, Dampa Patinski (ph), who actually went to high school with me, was writing the role, he wrote me in mind. When he pitched it, he said, well, kind of like Vanessa Williams. And then he just said, you know, why don‘t I just call Vanessa? And he called and said I‘ve got this role for you. Will you do it? And I read it. And, again, it was one of those things that was hilarious and I jumped right in.
NORVILLE: But that‘s great for you. But most of us don‘t have high school mates who have gone on to become movie writers and producers who can call us up and say, oh, would you come star in my new film?
For the guy who wants to break in, that is the most disheartening thing you could have possibly said. They don‘t have any connections. They don‘t the big shot agent.
WILLIAMS: Well, but we all worked hard. Even in high school, we all were kids with dreams. So I certainly believe in networking. Many of the people that I‘ve met in my career have not only went to high school with me, but also same community and also went to college with me. And, again, that‘s one of those networking things that you have that, for the rest of your life, it‘s like a secret fraternity, that people look out for other people that you had shared experiences with.
NORVILLE: The young lady who plays your daughter in the movie, Solange Knowles, Beyonce‘s little sister, she certainly is able to network.
NORVILLE: In the movie, she plays a really rebellious kid.
NORVILLE: How fun was that for you? I mean, you‘ve got this great grin on your face right now. You don‘t in the movie, but you do sitting here in the set.
WILLIAMS: Well, luckily, my girls are not quite as rebellious as she is. But, you know, they are quite expressive. And that‘s the age, you know? And you can‘t try to be their friend all the time as a mom. You have to set boundaries and set limits. And sometimes you‘re the bad guy. Sometimes, you hear, I hate you. But, you know that in the end, they‘ll love you and they‘ll respect you and thank you for doing it.
NORVILLE: It‘s like my sister once said, when one her kids said, you‘re the meanest mommy in the world, she said: That‘s right. And when you‘re the mommy, you can be mean, too.
NORVILLE: I‘m not here to be liked.
NORVILLE: How was Solange? Do you think she‘s got a career like her sister ahead of her?
WILLIAMS: I think she doesn‘t want the same career. She loves to—she‘s a songwriter. She‘s been on tour with Destiny‘s Child as a dancer, so she‘s toured across the entire world and she‘s gotten a taste of that fame.
But I think that she‘s looking for something different. Even her music is more reggae, more Third World, compared to the pop and the R&B that Beyonce has. So I hope she can carve out a path of herself and not be eclipsed by her big sister‘s career.
NORVILLE: That‘s always going to be—just like for years, you were former Miss America.
WILLIAMS: Right. Right. Right.
NORVILLE: And you‘ve been able to ditch that one. She‘s going to have to deal with, Beyonce‘s little sister.
NORVILLE: Which won‘t necessarily be the funnest thing, but...
NORVILLE: But, as you proved, you can outlast it.
WILLIAMS: Because her oldest sister is clearly on fire. She couldn‘t get any hotter.
NORVILLE: Speaking of music, what are you doing these days? I said in the intro you‘ve got 14 Grammys, always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
WILLIAMS: I‘m actually going into the studio in about two weeks. We‘re going to over to England to actually record in Abbey Road. I‘m doing a Christmas album—or a Christmas C.D. So I‘ll have that out this year.
NORVILLE: Oh, that‘s great.
NORVILLE: And what‘s the timing for Grammys? Because there‘s a certain time of year by which it has to be in the mix or you have to wait until the whole next year.
WILLIAMS: I think it‘s like October, end of October, it has to be submitted.
NORVILLE: So it will be Grammys a year from now.
WILLIAMS: Yes, right.
NORVILLE: Who do you listen to? Who do you hear nowadays on the radio that gets you excited?
WILLIAMS: I get kind of connected with a mood.
I just came back from Brazil. I took my 16-year-old there for just a mom and daughter vacation. And so all my stuff now is Girl From Ipanema and all the bossa nova stuff, because it reminds me of relaxing and where we just came from.
WILLIAMS: When I was doing “Dance With Me,” I got into salsa, learned how to salsa dance, and was listening to nothing but salsa music. So I‘m very, you know, I think, swayed by what I‘m feeling and what I‘m doing at the time.
NORVILLE: And, finally, where do you get your energy from? I mean, you‘ve got four kids at home, for crying out loud. You look fabulous.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
NORVILLE: You‘ve obviously got umpteen things on the plate, TV shows and records and everything.
WILLIAMS: I think I just feel good. I‘m happy. I haven‘t quite written myself or my career off yet. So I‘ve got some good years left, and, yes, I feel blessed. I feel lucky.
NORVILLE: And your mom and dad have been...
WILLIAMS: They‘re retired and busier than ever. They‘re never home.
NORVILLE: But they‘ve been huge supporters of yours all along.
WILLIAMS: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. My brother is an actor. And his career is finally taking off. He is in a new Ben Stiller movie. And he just did “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and got an Emmy nod, so he‘s really doing well. So we‘re all in a good, good space.
NORVILLE: What advice do you give somebody who is sitting there thinking, man, that Vanessa Williams, she‘s got it all going on? I wish I could be more like her.
WILLIAMS: Well, as happy as you are, it‘s still a struggle. I still don‘t live with my husband every day. I still wish that he were there for some of the recitals that he misses and some of the first things that will never happen again. Those are the kind of pains that people overlook when they see this glamorous, glossy Hollywood life.
It still means that, in order to see my husband, I got to fly out to the road or fly out to L.A. And we‘re always trying to say, OK, how much time, how long are you here for? OK, let‘s do that. So, when he retires when he chooses, and when I take some time off, it will be nice to be just kind of a married couple, which we haven‘t had for a while.
NORVILLE: It‘s been an exciting life and it will only continue to be.
Vanessa, it‘s so great to see you again. Continued success.
WILLIAMS: Thank you. Thanks, Deborah.
NORVILLE: When we come back, did you know you were paying $50 million for a rain forest indoors? How about a half a million for buses at Disneyland? Ladies and gentlemen, it‘s your tax dollars at work.
And we‘ll tell you about it in a moment.
NORVILLE: Tonight‘s “Bad Move,” in fact lots of them, courtesy of your elected officials.
The group Citizens Against Government Waste held a news conference today to unveil their annual list of Washington‘s worst pork barrel projects that are hidden deep in the appropriations bills in Washington. This year, the group says almost $23 billion, that‘s the highest amount ever, was wasted.
And these are some of the projects. How about $50 million for a five-acre indoor rain forest in Iowa? When it‘s completed, it will be the world‘s largest indoor rain forest. Or $5 million all to try to capture the energy from the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights. It‘s also being designed to heat up the Earth‘s ionosphere to improve military communications. Yes, $3 million to teach kids golf. It‘s called the First Tee program. It will create affordable and accessible golf facilities for young people all over the world; $500,000 to fund buses for Disneyland? Citizens Against Government Waste calls this one of the goofiest earmarks they found.
And $225,000 to repair Nevada‘s Deer Park pool. Now, this money was requested by Representative Jim Gibbons. See, he grew up a block away from the pool. And he admits, back in the ‘50s, he and some friends clogged up the pool‘s drain with tadpoles.
Folks, these are just a few of the highlights. And sorry about the cliche, but it is your tax dollars at work. And with all that spending, maybe we should not forget that right now the national budget deficit stands at more than $520 billion.
We will be back with a look ahead to Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony at the 9/11 Commission.
NORVILLE: That‘s our program for tonight. I‘m Deborah Norville.
Thanks for watching.
As we mentioned at the beginning of the broadcast, tomorrow, Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission. It is a highly anticipated and highly controversial move. And MSNBC will be providing live coverage when she begins her appearance at 9:00 Eastern time. That will be hosted by Chris Matthews and Lester Holt.
Then, tomorrow night, I will be joined by several members of the 9/11 Commission, as well as several of the 9/11 widows who will be attending the hearings in Washington.
Thanks for watching. Be sure to e-mail us.
“SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” is next.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.