Guests: Jamie Gorelick, John Lehman, David Dreier, Wyche Fowler, Mario Cuomo, James Hirsen
PETE WILLIAMS, HOST: Tonight, dramatic audiotapes of the 9/11 hijackers played publicly for the first time in today‘s September 11 hearings.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you will be OK. We are returning to the airport.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
We‘ll talk to two of the 9/11 commissioners.
Plus, later, Mario Cuomo turns up the political heat over Michael Moore‘s controversial documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
I‘m Pete Williams. It‘s time for HARDBALL.
Good evening. Chris Matthews is on assignment tonight.
The 9/11 commission‘s final public hearing today focused on the nation‘s failed defense posture on the morning of September 11. And radio transmissions of the hijackers themselves and air traffic controllers were played in public for the first time.
HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has our report.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: For civilian and military air traffic controllers, the confusion and chaos began at 8:24 a.m. The transponders identifying American Flight 11 had been turned off.
And then a man later identified as Mohamed Atta made this startling radio transmission.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you will be OK. We are returning to the airport.
SHUSTER: Soon, a second directive to passengers was picked up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any move, you endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 8:34, the Boston center controller received the third transmission from American 11.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody move please. We are going back to the airport. Don‘t try to make any stupid moves.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need you guys to—we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this real world or exercise?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, this is not an exercise, not a test.
SHUSTER: The Air Force ordered to battle stations two F-15‘s at Otis Air Force Base, 150 miles from New York City. But military controllers were confused.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quote, “I don‘t know where I‘m scrambling these guys to. I need a direction. A destination.” End quote.
SHUSTER: At 8:46 a.m., American Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center.
Meanwhile, United Airlines 175 from Boston had already taken off and had also already been hijacked, something one very distracted controller was unaware of.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The controller responsible for United 175 was unfortunately the same controller assigned the job of tracking the hijacked American 11.
SHUSTER: Just after 9:00, air traffic controller in New York spoke to controllers in Herndon, Virginia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have several situations going on here. It‘s escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re involved with something else. We have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.
SHUSTER: Military controllers in charge of the F-15s circling east of New York wanted to move the fighters west over the city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to take those fighters, put them over Manhattan. That‘s the best thing. That‘s the best play right now. Coordinate with the FAA. Tell them if there‘s more out there, which we don‘t know, let‘s get them over Manhattan. At least we got some kind of play.
SHUSTER: As all of this was going on, American Airlines Flight 77, which had taken off from Washington Dulles headed west, had already begun changing its flight path.
A military transport plane spotted American Flight 77.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 9:38, seconds after impact, reported to Washington tower. Quote, “It looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir,” end quote.
SHUSTER: Meanwhile a fourth aircraft, United Flight 93, which had taken off from Newark, was over Pennsylvania and seemed to be changing course.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They‘re pulling Jeff away to go talk about United 93.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we want to think about scrambling aircraft?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God, I don‘t know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s a decision somebody‘s going to have to make probably in the next 10 minutes.
SHUSTER: At 10:03 a.m., frantic air traffic controllers were being notified that United 93 had crashed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He‘s down?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did he land? Because we have got confirmation...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did not land.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, he‘s down? Down?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Somewhere up northeast of Camp David.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Northeast of Camp David.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s the last report. They don‘t know exactly where.
SHUSTER: At 10:18 a.m., with two attacks on the World Trade Center, another at the Pentagon and a fourth seemingly near Camp David, Vice President Cheney called President Bush and confirmed a shoot-down order.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, you read that from the vice president, right? Vice president has cleared. Vice president has cleared us to intercept traffic and shoot them down if they do not respond.
SHUSTER: But as the order worked through the chain of command, it didn‘t seem explicit enough to military pilots who were already trying to identify any civilian aircraft.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In short, while leaders in Washington believed the fighters circling above them have been instructed to, quote, “take out,” end quote, hostile aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to Langley pilots were to, quote, “I.D., type and tail,” end quote.
SHUSTER (on camera): Despite the confusion, the 9/11 panel did praise the efforts of both the military and civilian air traffic controllers, who were improvising that day against the challenge they had never encountered and never been trained for.
I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.
WILLIAMS: And we‘re joined now by two members of the 9/11 commission whose staff prepared that report: Jamie Gorelick and John Lehman.
Thank you very much for being here. Let me ask you this question, first of all, both of you.
Is it fair to say at the conclusion of what your staff found today is that the best air defense on September 11 turned out to be the passengers of Flight 93 who caused that plane to crash in Pennsylvania? They‘re the only ones who actually did anything.
JAMIE GORELICK, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: They changed the rules. The rules were, you let a hijack happen and you deal with it when it‘s on the ground. And those rules changed when the passengers and crew of 93 decided to take back that plane, even if it meant they were going to ditch the plane and lose their lives.
JOHN LEHMAN, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: They very probably saved the White House or the Capitol, because that was where it was headed.
WILLIAMS: You both have had experience at the Defense Department. Mr. Lehman, let me ask you, based on your experience with the U.S. military, does it surprise you that the military was unprepared for a threat from within the United States?
LEHMAN: Well, it has surprised me that the intelligence that was floating around for several years before—before 9/11 did not make its way up to the policy makers and the decision makers.
In 2001, just months before 9/11, the planners at NORAD rejected the idea of practicing the hijacking of an airplane as, to be used as a missile. So they never exercised it. They never developed protocols.
WILLIAMS: Why not? Why not? Do you know?
LEHMAN: They made the judgment that, you know, you can‘t exercise everything. That‘s so unlikely.
If they had seen intelligence reports that were available at the time, that never made it into the consolidated intelligence distributed to everyone, then there is no doubt, that would have gone right to the head of the list and should have.
So I think it‘s another very clear example of the dysfunction of our -
· the intelligence apparatus that we have today.
GORELICK: I would just say, though, Pete, and you‘ve been at the Pentagon, too. You know this.
The military is pretty good as a—an intelligence consumer. And my question today for General Myers and others was, why didn‘t you pull into yourselves and into your own planning process a government-wide assessment of what the threats were?
And you know, John is right. They didn‘t get intelligence which said, “Focus inside.” And so they were focused completely on the perimeter. And that has an enormous impact in what you‘re seeing in this report.
WILLIAMS: Another thing that this report says today that I found fascinating, is that on September 11, there was a total of 14 fighter aircrafts on alert in the entire United States as part of the air defense for the nation.
Were you surprised to learn that? Does that strike you as anywhere near enough?
LEHMAN: No. It‘s certainly not enough, but I wasn‘t surprised. And actually, I was surprised that there were that many. Because there was such a jihad against the defense budget during those years that the military was really hard pressed to even keep NORAD in existence.
But part of it was their own fault. Because all these commands view their pot of money as sacrosanct. The approach to air defense should not be that you have to buy airplanes that were owned by NORAD but to have a virtual command that uses the existing aircraft.
The Navy has F-14‘s and F-18‘s sitting down at Oceana. The Marines have them at Cherry Point. The Air Force reserve, the Air National Guard and the regular Air Force training—regular has thousands and thousands, literally, of fighters in this country at various stages of training.
You don‘t have to buy new airplanes. So in effect, it was a budget battle driven myopia that made this into a battle that resulted in no capabilities.
WILLIAMS: Ms. Gorelick, you talk about the military not reaching out for more intelligence. Are you surprised that the FAA didn‘t push more intelligence? Especially given that the FAA itself had been warning commercial airlines about the increased danger of hijacking.
GORELICK: No. I mean, you can‘t fault the FAA here at all. I mean, the FAA did not have the right intelligence either.
I mean, it was not exercising against this. It had protocols as we just discussed that were not remotely appropriate to the kind of hijacking that we had, to an airplane used as a missile.
This is not the FAA‘s problem. This is the way in which intelligence, which was someplace in the intelligence community, did not find its way to policy makers and certainly to implementers like the FAA and like the Pentagon.
WILLIAMS: But as a factual matter, hadn‘t the FAA given warnings to commercial airlines of the increased danger of hijacking?
GORELICK: Very minimal. I mean, I went through each of these. They did nothing.
They were called—somebody four or five levels down at FAA was called to a meeting by Dick Clark, told that there was a lot of chatter in early July. Three weeks later, they issue a bunch of security directives that don‘t relate to this at all.
And over the course of the summer, they put out some circulars that say there may be a problem, but we think it will be elsewhere. Nothing that you would do anything with. And certainly nothing that ordered any changes, which they had the authority to do, any changes in the protocols at airports.
WILLIAMS: All right. Thank you both very much. More questions from the 9/11 commissioners, John Lehman and Jamie Gorelick.
And a program note tomorrow night on DATELINE MSNBC, join Chris Matthews for an exclusive interview with Ron Reagan, the president‘s son.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
WILLIAMS: Coming up, why didn‘t NORAD and the FAA respond sooner on the morning of September 11? More with 9/11 commissioners John Lehman and Jamie Gorelick when HARDBALL returns.
WILLIAMS: Back with 9/11 commissioners John Lehman and Jamie Gorelick.
During today‘s hearing, Commissioner James Thompson asked the NORAD commander, what would have happened if all the—all those hijacked planes, if the information about what was going on had actually been relayed to the military?
Here‘s that exchange.
JAMES THOMPSON, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: Assuming everything had gone perfectly, everybody was perfectly prepared, focused inward, scrambled, armed, all the authorization there, all the information there, would it have been physically possible for the military to have intercepted those three aircraft before they completed their terrible mission?
GEN. RALPH EBERHART, COMMANDER, NORAD: Given the situation that you‘ve outlined, which we think is the situation that exists today, because of the fixes, the remedies, put in place, we would be able to shoot down all three aircraft.
WILLIAMS: Do you agree, Mr. Lehman?
LEHMAN: Well, it‘s hard to give a simple answer to that. I agree if they had more planes on alert as they do today, if they were, had rules of engagement existing, if they had exercised it, if they had 24/7 open communications as they do today. Had they been able to scramble within minutes of them learning of the unusual behavior, then, yes.
But that—to project that back to—I don‘t believe anything they -
· they could have done given the posture they were in and the lack of training and exercising they had done, and the few airplanes they had available, that they could have gotten any of the airplanes.
WILLIAMS: And the question is what would they have done? And Ms. Gorelick, one of the things we learned today is that after a conversation between the president and the vice president, the vice president thought he had given a clear instruction that if these military planes thought there was anything wrong, they could have shot them down.
But the order never got to the pilots. Were you surprised about that?
GORELICK: Well, the record is the vice president gives an order.
There‘s some dispute as to when he had this conversation with the president. But putting that aside, the vice president says, “You have authority to shoot down these aircraft.” And he reiterates it two or three times after that. And in fact, we know that the pilots never got that instruction.
WILLIAMS: And they were, in fact, told just to watch, basically, to get the tail numbers.
GORELICK: Yes. Look, the problem is that the—that the issues John is referring to were there. That is, there was no way to instruct the pilots on what to shoot. You can‘t just say shoot when you don‘t know what the target is. That‘s a pretty dangerous thing to do.
You could have shot down a medivac helicopter if you‘d done that. And neither NORAD nor the FAA had the situational awareness to be able to tell the pilots what to shoot.
WILLIAMS: Let me ask you both what you think, how many of these problems have been fixed in the meantime. And I ask you against the background of the Reagan funeral just last week.
There was a panic. The U.S. Capitol was told to evacuate because the governor of Kentucky, the radar wasn‘t completely matching what the FAA and the agency were seeing. Have we fixed these problems?
LEHMAN: No, we haven‘t fixed them all. And I think that some major restructuring is going to have to be made to fix them all.
I think that they—we‘re a lot better defended today than we were then, as the former FAA deputy said today in the hearing. We now have 16,000 pairs of eyes and controllers spring-loaded to jump on any unusual activity in the air, which is the first line of defense.
And we have constant open communications, which we never had before, between FAA and NORAD. And we have more airplanes on alert with rules of engagement and armed. So yes, we‘re better off.
But have we fixed the problem against a more sophisticated kind of threat of the same kind of suicide attacks? No.
WILLIAMS: Jamie Gorelick, John Lehman, thank you both very much.
Up next, Congressman David Dreier on the 9/11 commission report that there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were connected before the September 11 attacks.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Congressman David Dreier is a Republican—a Republican from California. He is co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in California.
Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.
REP. DAVID DREIER ®, CALIFORNIA: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Yes, it‘s great having you. What is your impression after the 9/11 commission? The hearings are over now. And on this question of whether there was a connection, a critical connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
DREIER: Well, it‘s interesting. Well, it‘s interesting. We are waiting for a report to come out. But the statement that was released yesterday was very interesting and there‘s this, it seems to be a real desire to create a great divide between the 9/11 commission and President Bush and the administration.
And you used the operative word, with what you first said. You said connection, and then you said critical connection.
There clearly was a connection. The report itself talks about the fact that we have seen Iraqi intelligence officers meeting in Sudan back to 1994 with Osama bin Laden. It is very clear that we‘ve seen ties.
Now, it has been said from the very beginning that there is no evidence of a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and the attacks on the United States on September 11 of 2001. That is the last line of the report that comes from the 9/11 commission.
So this view that there is somehow this massive, massive gap between the findings of the 9/11 commission, and remember, this is the 9/11 commission. It‘s focused on what happened on September 11 of 2001. And obviously, it will make recommendations as to ways in which we can ensure that it never happens to us again.
So I just think that—I don‘t want to call it much ado about nothing, Pete, but I do think that the administration has been straightforward. They believe that there has been a connection. And—the commission says that as well.
WILLIAMS: What difference does the connection make? The administration certainly did talk about this before the report came out. What difference did—why talk about it if the connection—if there‘s a connection but nothing is happening?
DREIER: Well, you know, it‘s been talked about, really, since September 11.
I mean, think about it, Pete. Is it clear that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden would share the same goal as far as the future of the United States of America? Obviously, they were haters of the United States of America.
Is it true that Iraq for more than a decade has been listed as a terrorist state in the eyes of the State Department? Yes. And so that‘s obviously a shared goal. Being clearly opposed to the United States of America and the west.
Is it clear that there were connections? Yes. There were connections.
Is it clear that there was some kind of collaboration on September 11? The answer is no. And no one has said that there was any collaboration between al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq. We have to make clear that there was a connection.
WILLIAMS: Maybe the way to ask the question is this: in what way did that connection threaten the U.S.?
DREIER: Well, you know, as a terrorist organization. We know that Saddam Hussein was paying $25,000 to the families of suicide attackers from the Palestinians and against Israelis.
We do know that they have shared this quest of trying to do everything they can to undermine the United States of America.
And so again, the report, as well as the administration, have not said that the attack on the United States which took place on September 11, which is what we have to deal with, was, that Saddam Hussein or Iraqis were involved in command and control.
But it is clear. I mean, the name Zarqawi.
WILLIAMS: So this—this was never—this was never a justification for the war?
DREIRE: I never saw it as a justification for the war, other than to
say that the president made it very clear in his speech after September 11
· you remember the speech that he gave, Pete, in which he said, either you‘re for us or against us. If you‘re not going to be part and parcel of our effort to deal with the global war on terrorism, you‘re against us.
And it was clear that Saddam Hussein and Iraq not only was not part of our attempt to fight the global war on terrorism. They were part and parcel of the war on terrorism itself.
And while not collaborating—we don‘t have evidence of collaborating on the attack against the United States—there was clear evidence of both the administration and the 9/11 commission that stated of connections between al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and Iraq.
WILLIAMS: All right, Congressman. Thank you. We‘ll wait for the final report. Congressman David Dreier.
DREIER: That we‘ll look forward to. Thanks, Pete.
WILLIAMS: Up next, the plight of Paul Johnson, the American being held hostage in Saudi Arabia.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
WILLIAMS: This half-hour on HARDBALL: American Paul Johnson is still being held hostage in Saudi Arabia. Are the Saudis doing enough to keep Americans there safe?
Plus, the debate over Michael Moore‘s new movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
But first, the latest headlines right now.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
American and Saudi Arabian officials are working together to try to save an American hostage, Paul Johnson. His captors have said they will kill him Friday unless Saudi authorities release al Qaeda prisoners. Johnson, who is a contractor there, was kidnapped Saturday by a group calling itself al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Joining me now is a man who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, probably for about as long as any other American. Former Senator Wyche Fowler, who was there for four and a half years, from 1996 to 2001.
Senator Fowler, I‘m sure as you watch this from afar, it has to be as agonizing for you as anyone. Are you confident that the Saudis are doing everything they can to resolve this situation?
WYCHE FOWLER, FMR. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: I am confident. And I think, as you just reported, that the United States is working with them, probably putting in considerable resources to try to save Mr. Johnson. We‘re all praying that somehow he can be released unharmed. And three weeks ago, two and a half, three weeks ago, that terrible tragedy up at—in Dhahran, at the Oasis compound, the Saudi security forces, when they raided it, actually saved about 70 western hostages and freed them.
Some were killed, but many were saved. And I‘m hoping that‘s going to be the outcome this time.
WILLIAMS: As you know, since April, the U.S. government‘s position, the State Department through its warnings, has been that American and Saudi Arabia should get out. Is that the right message for the American government to be sending, do you think?
FOWLER: No. I think—I think that‘s a mistake. I think that you‘ve got to fight terrorists where they are.
Under the president and the administration, they‘re certainly firm that we‘re not going to let the terrorists run this side of Iraq or dictate any of our decision-making process there, helping the Iraqi people. I had hoped that in light of the attacks in the last few weeks, that we would go to the aid of the Saudis, put in more resources, help them militarily with our intelligence and with actual manpower, if necessary, because the last thing in the world we‘re going to do is to let terrorists run us out of Saudi Arabia.
But asking American companies to go home when they don‘t want to do so, I think we ought to strengthen the communication and the alliance and the security both with the private sector and the public sector. But no, I think this is a bad signal and a bad message.
WILLIAMS: You say you don‘t want the signal to be that the terrorists can run us out of the Arabian Peninsula of Saudi Arabia. But are they doing that in slow motion now? There‘s something like, what, 35,000 American contractors—contract workers there now? Is that down considerably from when you were there?
FOWLER: Not considerably. My understanding—of course, I don‘t have the latest figures. But in talking to corporate American leadership who have been doing business in Saudi Arabia for 20, 30, some of them 40 years, most of them have not left.
They know the danger. Their employees know the danger. They have tightened their security. They have tightened the coordination with both the Saudis who are the ones really protecting American interests there, but also in very close coordination with the embassy.
But they do not want to leave under present circumstances. They realize that Americans have become a target. But the truth of the matter is, Pete, Americans basically are unsafe everywhere in the world now.
WILLIAMS: Well, indeed, American workers have been shot in Pakistan, they‘ve been kidnapped in the Philippines. They‘re threatened everywhere. But what is your sense of it? Because you spent so much time there and got extraordinarily close to the Saudi leaders.
We have heard a great deal since September 11 that in Saudi schools, for example, there‘s still a virulent form of anti-Americanism that is taught to young people. Is that still the case, do you think? And is that part of the problem here?
FOWLER: Well, it certainly was a large part of the problem. The foreign minister, the Saudi leadership, and several monitoring groups have said that most of the—of the offensive material to anybody has been cleaned up in the latest editions of most of the school books.
Is it 100 percent? Can you eliminate anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish sermons from every mosque in Saudi Arabia overnight? No. But I am convinced, and more importantly, many international monitoring groups, just like on the charities, are convinced the Saudis mean business.
They know they‘re under attack. They know they‘ve got to change. They know they‘ve got to reform their education system. And they‘re doing it as fast as they can. It might not be as fast as anybody wants.
WILLIAMS: They didn‘t exactly—they didn‘t exactly get a head start, did they?
FOWLER: They did not get a head start. They started with one foot in the bucket. It took them a long time to—to understand that there was a link between what was going on, this extremism, and what was being taught in many of the schools.
WILLIAMS: Well, Mr. Ambassador, do you think that if you were a potential American worker, you had been recruited by one of these companies, a family member of yours, would you advise them to go now to Saudi Arabia? Is it “safe” to go there and work for an American company?
FOWLER: Well, I don‘t want to pit my individual judgment against the collective judgments of the State Department and the administration. But I think that has to be an individual decision. Certainly an individual decision by employers and companies as to whether or not they‘re gong to stay there.
WILLIAMS: I guess—but I guess when I ask it, I mean, do you think this is just a temporary thing, or could this—is this going to be something that we‘re just going to see more of?
FOWLER: Well, we hope—it depends on who you believe. The Saudis are saying that they think this is the last gasp, that they‘ve broken up so many cells, they‘ve captured so many people, they‘ve killed and jailed so many people that these random acts are the only thing that‘s left of the al Qaeda organization.
I‘m not sure that‘s true. But, you know, terrorism is sort of like rape and murder. You can‘t ever totally eliminate it. You don‘t know what the grievance is that makes somebody want to go out and shoot somebody.
FOWLER: But you have to contain it. And you‘ve got to make progress. But you don‘t want to run away from it or else it will continue to flourish.
WILLIAMS: Thirty seconds left here. For a quick answer, if I may give you this type of questions From zero to 100 percent, where are—is the Saudi government now in terms of fighting terror?
FOWLER: They‘ve passed 50 percent. The reason is the terrorists have been attacking these compounds with Muslim women and children. And that has brought the Saudi population—you know, a lot of them sort of, like bin Laden of the world, who go around saying let‘s punch America in the nose.
But now that they‘re killing innocent Muslims and Saudis, they‘re saying, wait a minute, this is not our kind of people. And so the citizenry, I believe, has now moved over the line and is supporting the Saudi government in eliminating this stuff.
WILLIAMS: Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for your time.
FOWLER: Thank you, Pete.
WILLIAMS: Up next, filmmaker Michael Moore takes aim at the Bush administration in his new documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.” But is Moore‘s critique on target or out of bounds? That‘s ahead.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
WILLIAMS: Coming up, the debate over Michael Moore‘s new documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Is Moore‘s criticism of the Bush administration fair? And if it isn‘t, does that matter?
HARDBALL back in a minute.
WILLIAMS: Michael Moore‘s controversial anti-war film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” opens nationwide next Friday. The movie takes aim at the Bush administration and what it has done after September 11. But many critics are saying that Michael Moore‘s movie is not factually accurate.
Joining me now is the former New York governor, Mario Cuomo, who has been hired by the film‘s distributors to try to get the movie‘s rating changed from R to PG-13.
And Governor Cuomo, what rating do you carry today?
MARIO CUOMO, FMR. NEW YORK GOVERNOR: What rating do I carry today?
WILLIAMS: Are you going to be G today?
CUOMO: No, no. I‘m O for—no, VO for virtually objective.
WILLIAMS: OK. What is wrong with an R rating for this film?
CUOMO: Nothing. Nothing really, if it‘s explained. There‘s nothing terribly punishing about it.
But I think most people here are, as I did some time ago, before I was introduced to the language, and feel, oh, gee, well, this is dirty, or this film has no sex, no nudity, none of that. The only questions about this picture is—and it‘s—remember, it‘s a documentary.
And it is a documentary on a current subject that raises a—an immediately urgent issue. How should you vote in this election? What happened? Et cetera, et cetera..
WILLIAMS: But the—but the reason you want to do it...
CUOMO: And so all of that has to be...
WILLIAMS: ... is what? Because if you get into a PG-13, then you can
· it can be seen by people under 17? Is that the whole point?
CUOMO: No. Here, R technically, an R rating technically—no rating stops you from seeing anything. It‘s all suggestions to parents as to what they should discuss with their children and what judgments they should consider making with their children.
Nothing about a rating will stop anybody from going to a movie. The R
· the R—the NC-17 says no child under 17 should be permitted to see this movie. That‘s the old X.
CUOMO: R says, 17 or younger, you should—you should give them the advice and probably accompany them as an adult. Now, that‘s the technical language.
WILLIAMS: OK. So the reason for changing the rating is what?
CUOMO: In most people‘s minds, I‘ve discovered, when they hear R, they think it is dirty or something like. They hear PG-13, it‘s not quite so bad. So we would like either a PG-13 or a clear way to explain that R is not in any way something that should be shunned.
A parent should consider the subject matter, the adult subject matter and should discuss with it the child, et cetera, et cetera. But all of this is simply by way of advice to parents. And I don‘t think that‘s actually understood. I‘m going to try to make it understood. My larger...
WILLIAMS: OK. Well...
CUOMO: My larger mission, Pete, is to do everything I can to avoid all legal obstacles that may be thrown in front of this thing. Because there are a lot of people who don‘t want this film to be seen. There are people, as you saw in Variety yesterday, who have an organized effort to get movie theaters not to take it.
WILLIAMS: Well, but they‘re going to—they‘ve lost. Isn‘t it already going to be on 500 screens nationwide?
CUOMO: Well, I‘m told by Tom Ortenberg of the Lions Gate Films that it is 500 to—to 1,000. And judging by the reaction it has gotten in the three places where it has been seen, including Cannes, it‘s going to do extremely well unless someone figures out a way to sink it.
CUOMO: Well, already people are criticizing it for being inaccurate when they haven‘t seen it.
WILLIAMS: All right. Well, let‘s look at a scene.
WILLIAMS: We‘ve not seen the whole film. You have...
CUOMO: Yes, I have.
WILLIAMS: ...but the filmmaker gave us this clip.
WILLIAMS: This is where Michael Moore talks to Democratic Congressman John Conyers about the USA PATRIOT Act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FAHRENHEIT 9/11”)
MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: How could Congress pass this PATRIOT Act without even reading it?
REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: Sit down, my son. We don‘t read most of the bills. Do you really know what that would entail if we were to read every bill that we pass?
MOORE (voice-over): I couldn‘t believe that virtually no member of Congress had read the PATRIOT Act before voting on it. So I decided the only patriotic thing to do was for me to read it to them.
(on camera): Members of Congress, this is Michael Moore. I would like to read to you the USA PATRIOT Act. Section one, section 210 (ph) of this code, reads as follows...
(END VIDEO CLIP, “FAHRENHEIT 9/11”)
WILLIAMS: Governor, is this a fair representation of what the film is? Is it a lighthearted, satiric look at Washington?
CUOMO: No, no, no, no. It goes way beyond that. Let me say this very quickly—I know you have only limited time—to me, the important thing here is to get this shown. Let everybody who can see it see it. Let them arrive at their own conclusions as to accuracy, et cetera. And let the other side, whoever they are, the people who say it is not true, let them come forward and demonstrate it is not true.
Don‘t just stand on the sidelines and say, oh, no, he‘s a liar, and we caught him in a lie a year ago. The best campaign you could possibly have for president, much better than what we‘re going to have without this, is that documentary against another documentary that seeks to dispute it.
These documentaries are filled with pictures, with real evidence.
They‘re not aspirations, they‘re not speeches. They‘re real evidence.
That‘s the kind of debate we should have.
WILLIAMS: But this is—but fair to say, you‘ve been around politics a long time.
WILLIAMS: Fair to say that there are some cheap shots in here, that this—that this does have its propagandistic elements?
CUOMO: Pete, it is argumentative. There are cheap shots in every argument. If I‘m going to debate you on an issue or see you in a courtroom, I‘m gooing to say what‘s good for me. I‘m not going to say what‘s good for you.
Then you say what‘s good for you. That‘s what should happen here. If you don‘t allow that, and a big response, which I would welcome—and I would like to be part of the discussion—if you don‘t do that, what do you have? You have 20-second, 28-second commercials, $200 million worth, $100 million here, $100 million there.
No debates, because the president will not debate. Let‘s be honest.
He‘ll do as few as possible. Maybe two.
My god. You‘re talking about terrorism. You‘re talking about our future. You‘re talking about having lost the support of much of the—the world. You‘re talking about huge issues: deficits, working class...
WILLIAMS: Well, given the importance of these issues...
CUOMO: So this would make a better debate, this film. And go see it.
And judge against it. But first measure it against the other presentation.
WILLIAMS: Fair enough, Governor. Given the stakes, though, here...
WILLIAMS: ...do you think the movie hits the target in terms of being serious and accurate?
CUOMO: Oh, very definitely. Very definitely.
Here‘s what it does. It raises issues. Even that piece with Conyers.
That‘s more than lighthearted.
The fact is they don‘t read the bill. And the fact is that most people in the United States of America don‘t know that. They‘ll know it after they see this movie. And they‘ll start asking their congressmen.
And they‘ll say, well, if you didn‘t read the bill, did you realize it had this provision, this sneak-and-peek provision that says an innocent person can have their books taken or library books? They didn‘t read it.
Now, I‘m not blaming the Congress. I was governor for 12 years, and I know that the legislature didn‘t read most of the bills they passed on.
They read reports. They get the word on it. Now—but it‘s important for the people of the United States to know that. To know that in—ask the people of the United States, who declares war? Is it the president or the Congress? And who did it here? And see what answer you get, Pete.
WILLIAMS: All right.
CUOMO: All I‘m saying is it‘s time to use evidence, use facts. That‘s what this movie can do. It can start a really good argument on facts.
And it‘s a documentary. It is not a novel. It is not nonfiction. It is a documentary.
WILLIAMS: All right.
CUOMO: Is it argumentative? Yes.
WILLIAMS: All right, Governor. Well, thank you very much.
CUOMO: Thank you, Pete.
WILLIAMS: You kept your word. You said gee willikers, but that is G rated. Thank you very much, Mario Cuomo.
CUOMO: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: When we return, we‘ll get a different view of Michael Moore‘s controversial film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
For a different perspective now, I‘m joined by media critic James Hirsen to get his reaction to Michael Moore‘s anti-Bush film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” He is the author of “Tales From the Left Coast.”
Mr. Hirsen, welcome. Governor Cuomo seems to be saying, let the games begin. Let them take their shots, somebody else should make a documentary about how great Bush is and how dangerous John Kerry should be. What about that?
JAMES HIRSEN, MEDIA CRITIC: Well, I believe in free expression, Pete. And I think in the spirit of the marketplace of ideas, the governor is correct.
The problem is this term “documentary.” Is this a documentary? Is it entertainment? Or is it politics?
And one of the things documentaries do is convey acts. And on that basis, you know, we have a guy here, Michael Moore, who is impeachable. He has a very bad track record.
You know, if Baghdad Bob or Joe Isuzu claimed to make a documentary, they would have this same problem. And the—so the thing is, we look at what he‘s done in his other films, the over-the-top statements he‘s made. And he has staged events. He has done things that journalists would be fired for.
He has fabricated an interview with Fred Barnes. He has come up with factual errors and made quantum leaps in reasoning in his other films. So I think it is important to let the games begin, but the American people need to know before they shell out their money who it is that‘s giving them the information and what his track record is.
WILLIAMS: All right. So your point here is, caveat emptor, buyer beware, realize that you‘re not getting an accurate picture here? That‘s your whole point?
HIRESEN: I think, well, it‘s—yes, I think that‘s the main point. It‘s just like in a courtroom, if a witness is going to testify, it‘s legitimate to cross-examine that witness and impeach their credibility.
Michael Moore has a credibility problem. I‘ll give you an example. In “Bowling for Columbine,” he has a scene—in order to produce a punch line, he gives the audience the impression that one can open up a bank account in Traverse City, Michigan, and walk out with a rifle.
It turns out that that was staged. That‘s not factual. And nowhere did he reveal that. That was essentially revealed by people that were sort of investigating the film.
Similarly, he has a claim that a manufacturer in Colorado was producing weapons. That isn‘t the case. He makes a quantum leap tying Dick Clark in a very strange series of events to a homicide.
So similarly—and I have to say, I‘ve not seen “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but I do have sources that have seen and it conveyed some of the images to me. And I‘ve seen the trailer. But I do know that the central focus of the film is this notion that there‘s a sort of conspiracy involving George W. Bush and the Saudis and the bin Laden family, some dark conspiracy with 9/11.
And one of the main points is this 140 Saudi airlift that happened days after 9/11, we now know that that happened when the bans on the airports were lifted. And it was signed off by none other than Richard Clarke, the author of “Against All Enemies.”
HIRSEN: And there were about a couple of dozen people whose last name were bin Laden. They were part of a family that that had rejected and ostracized Osama bin Laden. And the Saudis were part of a government that had revoked Osama bin Laden‘s citizenship. So it doesn‘t quite hold together.
WILLIAMS: Well, let me get your view on where we should—what we should do with things like. I mean, on the one hand, Governor Cuomo basically says, let‘s have at it. You know, as many voices as possible in this long form. There‘s that view there. But are you concerned that more and more, especially young voters, get their opinions about politicians not from newspapers and stuffy people like me, but from late night talk shows, television comedians and movies? Is that good or bad?
HIRSEN: Absolutely. Absolutely, Pete. And you‘re not stuffy at all,
by the way. And they do.
It‘s—I mean, there‘s survey after survey that show that they get their information from late night television, from MTV. I mean, we just had Walter Cronkite appearing on MTV recently.
I mean, there‘s a blurring of the lines between entertainment and news. And the documentary label should really be applied to that which is the same as journalism, that it‘s conveying the truth. And in the case of Michael Moore, he is sort of a hybrid.
You know, Rob Reiner made a film called “Spinal Tap,” where it was very clear that what he was doing was dealing in fiction. It was a mockumentary.
Michael Moore makes a film and wins an award, an Academy Award at that ceremony he was booed at, and—for this notion of a documentary, when, in fact, in certain interviews, he has acknowledged that it‘s not. And I should say, I mentioned the over-the-top statements. In recent weeks, Michael Moore has put on his Web site that the people in Iraq that are killing our soldiers, that have cut off Nick Berg‘s head, that they should be called minutemen. And he predicted that they would win.
WILLIAMS: All right. Mr. Hirsen...
HIRSEN: That‘s the kind of statement we‘ve got to take into account.
WILLIAMS: ... I thank you very much for your time, James Hirsen.
Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now, it‘s time for “THE COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN.”
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