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'Deborah Norville Tonight' for June 17

Read the complete transcript to Thursday's show

Guests: Sam Donaldson, Peter Herbst, Peter Rainer



DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  Presidential affairs. 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I did something for the worst possible reason. 

NORVILLE:  From personal blunders to political power plays, they are under constant scrutiny even after they leave office.  Sam Donaldson on the American presidency.  Revered and reevaluated, tonight.  Sam Donaldson on President Clinton‘s memoirs. 

CLINTON:  Only a fool does not look to explain his mistakes. 

NORVILLE:  The latest battle for the Oval Office. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And we‘re making progress toward that goal. 

NORVILLE:  The faith factor. 

RON REAGAN, RONALD REAGAN‘S SON:  He never made the fatal mistake of so many, wearing his faith on his sleeve. 

NORVILLE:  And saying goodbye to Ronald Reagan. 

Plus, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

BUSH:  This is an impressive crowd, the have and the have mores.  Some people call you the elite.  I call you my base. 

NORVILLE:  Oscar winning filmmaker Michael Moore‘s take on the events that led to 9/11 and why the country is now at war. 

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER:  Members of Congress this is Michael Moore. 

I think it has a very good chance of presenting the truth to people. 

NORVILLE:  Tonight the truth about “Fahrenheit 9/11” and why it‘s raising tempers in Washington. 

MOORE:  You are going to see a half dozen things that you have not seen any where before.

ANNOUNCER:  From Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.


NORVILLE:  And good evening, everybody.

My first guest tonight is ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson.  So much to talk about, so let‘s get right to it.

Sam, good to see you.  First up, the release of former President Clinton‘s memoirs.  How anticipated is “My Life” actually?

SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s going to be a big book.  I saw his wife the other night, and I said to her, “You outsold Bill O‘Reilly but you‘re not going to outsell your husband.” 

She said, “I know it.” 

And you know, it‘s the first book, Deborah, I think that‘s going to hit Washington, that I know in my lifetime, in which instead of turning to the D‘s—you know, your own name in the index to see if you‘re there—we‘re going to turn to the L‘s first. 

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Because what everybody wants to hear about what Bill Clinton has to say about the Monica Lewinsky affair. 

As you know, Dan Rather spoke to him for a broadcast that will be on “60 Minutes” on Sunday night, and he spoke very candidly about Monica Lewinsky.  Let‘s listen to what Bill Clinton has to say about the “L” word.


CLINTON:  I think I did something for the worst possible reason, just because I could.  I think that‘s the most, just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything when you do something just because you could. 

And I have thought about it a lot, and there are lots of more sophisticated explanations, more complicated psychological explanations.  But none of them are an excuse.  Only a fool doesn‘t look to explain his mistakes.


NORVILLE:  That, I wonder is not just the best explanation he could give: “I did it because it was there.  I was president and I couldn‘t say no.”

DONALDSON:  Well, you know, Sir Edmond Hillary after he climbed Mount Everest, the first person to do that, was asked, “Why did you do it?”

“Because it was there.” 

Now, for Clinton to say, “I did it because I could” somehow doesn‘t have the same ring to it.  Then of course, Mr. Clinton very artfully then whips himself, having confessed that he did it. 

But Deborah, let me ask you a question.  What was it and what is going to be in his book that he says he did?  Remember, his story is it wasn‘t sex.  So I‘m interested in finding out what he thinks he did. 

Let‘s go back to January of 1998 when Bill Clinton said it wasn‘t sex. 


CLINTON:  I did not have sexual relations was that woman, Miss Lewinsky.  I never told anybody.  It‘s a lie.  Not a single time.  Never.  These allegations are false. 


NORVILLE:  Well, it turned out the allegations weren‘t false, and it turned out there was something with Monica Lewinsky and that prompted a big debate over what sex actually was. 

Dan Rather said something interesting.  He said throughout the course of the entire interview with the former president, not once did he say Monica Lewinsky‘s name.  What does that say to you, Sam?

DONALDSON:  I wonder if he said that woman.  I mean, I don‘t know.  I think he‘s very uncomfortable, according to Dan, and I think he should be about this. 

He would rather talk about the 22 million jobs that he created and bombing Slobodan Milosevic back to the Stone Age, the other things that he‘s going to say are to his credit. 

But let‘s face it, Deborah.  I think—I don‘t know how history is going to treat this president or any other president 100 years from now.  But I know in the first paragraph the name Monica Lewinsky is going to appear. 

NORVILLE:  Do you think it‘s really in the first paragraph of the book because very, very few people have seen the 978 pages of “My Life”?      

DONALDSON:  yes, I‘m sure it‘s not in the first paragraph of his book, but I think historians when they talk about Bill Clinton are not going to make it a footnote.  He wants it to be a footnote.  He wants the rest of his presidency to be what people talk about. 

But this was so singular and so interesting.  Let‘s face it, it‘s an interesting little story here that I think historians are going to note that this happened, that impeachment investigation resulted.  He escaped conviction in the Senate, but that‘s part of his legacy that he can‘t escape. 

NORVILLE:  Is part of his legacy and it‘s certainly no small thing.  I mean, as you point out, it nearly brought down the Clinton presidency, the Monica Lewinsky affair. 

And yet Dan Rather says that he‘s quite proud of the fact that he stood up to the impeachment proceedings and that he fought it, rather than shy away from that and shy away from talking about it.  There‘s a certain note of pride as talks about that episode of his presidency. 

DONALDSON:  Well, yes, because his view is that he stood against the forces of the vast right wing conspiracy, trying to bring him down. 

You know, in a way, Deborah, I‘m sorry about the book coming out, only because we‘re going to have to refight that.  The people who support Bill Clinton are going to say yes, indeed, he is a hero.  And the people who think he was not a hero are going to come right back, led by Rush Limbaugh and others, and we‘re going to have a week of refighting the Monica affair. 

NORVILLE:  Yes.  We‘ll be revisiting that in the same way that many aspects of the Reagan presidency were revisited the last few weeks since his death. 

One of the things, too, you talk about the vast right wing conspiracy.  Remember when Hillary Clinton went on “THE TODAY SHOW” with Matt Lauer and flatly denied what was going on?  If you don‘t, here it is.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it, is this vast right wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president. 

A few journalists have kind of caught onto it and explained it.  But it has not yet been fully revealed to the American public, and actually, you know, in a bizarre sort of way, this may do it. 


NORVILLE:  The president says that Hillary had all of that right except for one thing, that it wasn‘t a conspiracy, it was out in the open.

DONALDSON:  Well, again, I don‘t want to refight it but I think there‘s a lot of evidence that suggests that President Clinton committed perjury, obstruction of justice, for which ordinary Americans go to jail every day. 

But the interesting thing about the clip you just showed was during that period the first lady, now Senator Clinton, says she didn‘t suspect a thing.  She believed him.  She says until he testified before the grand jury and confessed, because perjury there would have been serious, that she was—if that is true, Deborah, she was the last person in the country to get on to it. 

I think she suspected, don‘t you?

NORVILLE:  Well, I don‘t know.  Look, there are plenty of wives out there who would say that some of these husbands can be real good at covering their tracks when it comes to having relations with other women. 

DONALDSON:  She knew him. 

NORVILLE:  I‘m not going to get in there.

DONALDSON:  She had a history.

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Well, there was a history.  You‘ve got that right.

You know, the thing about all of this is it makes one wonder if part of Bill Clinton‘s objective with his memoir is to rewrite history.  Every president wants to shape their legacy to the extent possible.  But maybe President Clinton is trying to go even further. 

DONALDSON:  I think you‘re right.  And I think he‘s quite good at it.  I mean, I‘ve never seen a politician as skilled as Bill Clinton and as knowledgeable about public affairs, about policy and all that.  Of course, there is that other side to him. 

So I think you‘re probably right.  His book is going to be a book which says, “I was a great president.  Here are the reasons, and this other stuff really doesn‘t matter.” 

NORVILLE:  Well, there is other stuff to talk about, and certainly, a lot of people want to read it because it‘s already set records on with the most presold book in that book vendor‘s history.

And one of the chapters that I think will probably span several chapters is the whole notion of the pardons that were granted in those closing hours of the Clinton presidency.  I know you particularly are interested in what he has to say on that.  Why? 

DONALDSON:  Well, absolutely.  Look, Bill Clinton left the office one point higher in the Gallup approval poll than Ronald Reagan when he left office, but the next day, after we found out about the pardons, well, his ratings went way down.  And I think so.

And his explanation for pardoning some of those people who had fled the country one step ahead of the sheriff, it was so tortured.  It was so filled with the kind of philosophical musings that the ordinary person, A, couldn‘t follow it and, B, if they followed it, didn‘t believe it. 

NORVILLE:  Well, there were 140 people that were pardoned in those final hours of the Clinton presidency.  And the one you talk about who was two steps ahead of the sheriff was Mark Rich.  And there was a relationship, a friendship with Mr. Rich‘s ex-wife, Denise Rich, who was a frequent visitor to the White House. 

DONALDSON:  That‘s right.  And also President Clinton‘s former counsel was Rich‘s lawyer, who argued the case before the president. 

I just think people will never believe that, looking at the merits of all of that, why any president would have pardoned this poor man.  I just don‘t think—I don‘t think it passes the smell test. 

NORVILLE:  And what about some of the others?  I mean, there was the Patty Hearst pardon.  There was Henry Cisneros, who had served in his administration. 

DONALDSON:  Well, those things can happen.  I mean, all presidents do that.  I remember that Caspar Weinberger was pardoned, remember, in the Iran-Contra affair after a jury said, “Well, no, this guy really had concealed what he knew during the investigation.” 

And so, Henry Cisneros, a former cabinet member pardoned.  I think people will understand that better than they understand Mark Rich. 

NORVILLE:  I wonder if people will understand the timing of this book.  Give us some insights as to why this book is coming out now in the—in the ramp-up months of the presidential campaign.  Does it hurt Mr. Bush?  Does it hurt Mr. Kerry?  Does it help Hillary?

DONALDSON:  You know, I suspect it doesn‘t matter.  On November 2 people will cast their ballots, and they‘re going to do it because of Bill Clinton‘s book and the fact that he dominates for the next week, 10 days, whatever it is.  The news space over John Kerry. 

I think it‘s Clinton talking about Clinton.  And that‘s what matters from the standpoint, as you properly point out, of trying to rewrite history or at least shape history. 

But I just don‘t think in the campaign—are you going to go vote, I mean, because of this book one way or the other?  I don‘t think so. 

NORVILLE:  I don‘t think many people do.  Well, if it‘s Clinton talking about Clinton, in the last week we‘ve seen a lot about Sam Donaldson talking about Ronald Reagan. 

We‘ll take a short break.  When we come back we will look at a very controversial remark by the son of President Reagan, taking direct aim at the man who‘s now in the Oval Office.  Back after this. 


ANNOUNCER:  Still ahead...

MOORE:  I‘m trying to get members of Congress to get their kids to enlist in the Army and go over to Iraq.

ANNOUNCER:  Oscar winner Michael Moore is heating things up again with “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

MOORE:  And we‘ll get the country talking about what‘s really going on.

ANNOUNCER:  You‘ll see why when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.




BUSH:  With Ronald Reagan‘s passing, some very fine days are behind us, and that is worth our tears. 


NORVILLE:  President Bush speaking at Ronald Reagan‘s funeral last week. 

Back now with ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson.  Sam, how would you rate the coverage of Ronald Reagan‘s passing?

DONALDSON:  Well, I think it was appropriate.  Let‘s face it, we spent 6 ½ days off and on, only four days when John Kennedy was shot to death.  But I think it was appropriate. 

This man made a great impression on this country.  Events that he put in motion I think changed this country and to some extent the world, and I thought it was not a time, Deborah, for us to be absolutely objective and say, “Now, let‘s look at this dispassionately and look at all the warts as well as the good things.”  I mean, speak well of the dead.  And I thought it was appropriate that we did that, frankly. 

NORVILLE:  It was a beautiful service, too.  I mean, so many people commented on just the—the appropriateness, the—the beautiful patriotism of the accompanying events.

But they also talked about what happened out there in California just as the president was being buried in Simi Valley.  And Ron Junior got up at the podium and had some very pointed remarks that George Bush basically redressed the next day. 

I‘d like to play that and hear the president‘s response and get your take on it.  Here‘s Ron Junior at his father‘s funeral.


REAGAN:  Dad was also a deeply, unabashedly religious man, but he never made the fatal mistake of so many politicians, wearing his favorite on his sleeve to gain political advantage. 

True, after he was shot and nearly killed early in his presidency, he came to believe that God had spared him in order that he might do good.  But he accepted that as a responsibility, not a mandate.  And there is a profound difference. 

BUSH:  I‘ve always said I think it‘s very important for someone not to try to take the speck out of somebody else‘s eye when they may have a log in their own.  In other words, I‘m very mindful about saying, you know, “Vote for me.  I‘m more religious than my neighbor.” 

And I think it‘s—I think it‘s perfectly—I think it‘s important for people of religion to serve.  I think it is very important for people who are serving to make sure there‘s a separation of church and state. 


NORVILLE:  What‘s the back-story on that?  Why did Ron feel that that was the appropriate place to make that comment?

DONALDSON:  Well, Ron has been going around the country for a long time now complaining about George W. Bush.  Let‘s face it.  That was in character.  He‘s been saying some really terrible things about the president, terrible in the sense that he‘s been a critic on lots of other things: Iraq and other subjects. 

And on this particular subject, that was a shot right across the president‘s bow.  No question about it.  It was not intended to be veiled.  It was intended to be very direct. 

I suppose his point was that—President Bush answered it as you heard—that religion is a personal thing.  And I agree with President Bush, someone of faith in the Oval Office I think is good thing.

But the problem becomes in the last line that Mr. Bush gave us there.  It‘s not in our Constitution.  It was a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote in which he used the phrase “separation of church and state.” 

Mr. Bush says he believes it, and yet many of his actions—faith based initiatives, things that he wants to do legislatively, money that he wants to spend—seem to be directed in a way that would break down that barrier.  And I think Ron was simply making his point. 

NORVILLE:  And yet, I gather there‘s some concern that, among the Reagan aficionados that George W. Bush may be racking—wrapping himself a little bit too tightly in the mantle as an heir of Ronald Reagan. 

I mean, certainly Ronald Reagan got to the White House because he had the support of the Christian conservatives in this country. 

DONALDSON:  Well, Mr. Bush is playing to his base.  You know, the president believes, and Karl Rove, his top political adviser, believed that the way to win the election is mobilize the base.  So he plays to the base, and his base loves Ronald Reagan.  Let‘s face it.

And so to say in any way, if not directly, that “I am his heir.  I am the legacy that he left”—And of course on tax cuts he is and some other domestic programs—is to just energize the base again.  That‘s what he‘s playing to, it seems to me.

NORVILLE:  One of the things that was interesting was to see you back out in a very large way.  You covered Ronald Reagan throughout his presidency, as you have others who have occupied the White House.  But you were front and center in ABC‘s coverage.  How was that for you?

DONALDSON:  Well, Deborah, once again Ronald Reagan lifted me up, as he always did when he was president. 

Look, I knew he was president of the United States and I wasn‘t.  I was just a reporter.  And any, anybody who noted me, noted me because I stood in his reflected light.  I understood that. 

But it was a joy to cover him because, A, he was interesting; B, he was important from the standpoint of the things he did and the ways that he kind of changed things; and, C, it was fun. 

I mean, Ronald Reagan would often say, Deborah, at a news conference, for instance, anything that came into his head of.  And his aides would run around afterwards and say, “What the president meant to say,” “Now you do understand that,” “Well, he misspoke there.”  And just covering was fun. 

NORVILLE:  I remember Art Buchwald wrote a column during the Reagan years, and he had this visual image he created of these guys in pin stripe Brooks Brothers suits with little attache cases, and they were the damage control team.  And the image was that after the president would say something, all of a sudden the little guys in the suits would come running out to fix whatever misstatement or misappropriation of words that Ronald Reagan might have made. 

DONALDSON:  Well, that‘s true.  But he was so comfortable, he didn‘t care.  I mean, when I say he didn‘t care, I don‘t think he meant to make mistakes, but remember, Mr. Reagan saw the world through rose colored glasses.  He saw things that the rest of us didn‘t quite comprehend.  And if he believed them, he said them. 

People said that one of his great strengths—and I think this is true --  is that he believed in things.  And he told us about them.  For instance, he believed communism belonged in the ash heap of history.  Right you are. 

But Deborah, he also believed that people here in Washington in the dead of winter slept on the sidewalk grates because they wanted to.  He would say that.  The staff would go around and say, “Well, you know, he understands their mental illness out there.” 

But he didn‘t care that his staff had to correct him on those things.  He was very comfortable.  And he understood the press, and kind of liked us, to tell you the truth. 

NORVILLE:  Yes, well, speaking of presidents and the press, George W.  Bush has had to deal with some—some issues with the press of late, especially with the 9/11 commission making its report. 

We‘ll take a short break.  When we come back, more on the controversy over the administration‘s assertion that Saddam Hussein had close ties to 9/11 and the 9/11 commission saying that they did not have the ties to al Qaeda that the president claims. 

We‘ll be back in a moment.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He had long established ties with al Qaeda. 

BUSH:  Zarqawi is the best evidence of a connection to al Qaeda affiliates and al Qaeda.  He‘s the person who‘s still killing.




NORVILLE:  Back now with ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson.

Sam, as you know, President Bush launched the war against Iraq saying that very clearly there were weapons of mass destruction that needed to be taken out, that Saddam Hussein was the supporter of al Qaeda and the connection to the 9/11 attacks could be made. 

And—and it‘s not happening.  It‘s just—There‘s no evidence to back this up.  How big of an issue is this going to be come November for the president?

DONALDSON:  That‘s up to the American people, but you‘re right.  The reasons for going to war as stated, and the president tried different reasons as time went along, seem to be falling away.  Certainly weapons of mass destruction haven‘t been found.  That was his principal reason. 

Now, you just heard the vice president say in that little clip that al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, there were longstanding ties. 

Well, the 9/11 commission says, in fact, there were contacts but that Saddam Hussein rebuffed Osama bin Laden, because he was running a secular state, and Osama wants a theocracy, as you know.  And Osama thought that Saddam Hussein was a bad man from all the available evidence.

But Deborah, you know, the polls today still say that the majority of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein somehow was connected with 9/11. 

NORVILLE:  Well, let‘s listen—let‘s listen to more of what Vice President Cheney said specifically about that connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.  And then listen to what George Bush said as a follow-up to that.


CHENEY:  He was a patron of terrorism, paying $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers in Israel and providing safe haven and support for such terrorist groups as Abu Nadal and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  He had long established ties with al Qaeda. 

BUSH:  The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.  This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda.  We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. 


NORVILLE:  A little bit of a revision there, don‘t you think?


NORVILLE:  It‘s interesting, too, because the vice president made those remarks on Tuesday.  They had to know what was going to be in that 9/11 report just a day later this week. 

DONALDSON:  But Deborah, they‘re stuck with the rationale, just as—just as Bill Clinton is stuck with the Monica thing and his explanation.  They‘re stuck with—with these reasons that they put forward. 

For them to say now, “Well, you know something?  You‘re right.  There were no ties like the ones we implied.”  Remember the word is implied. 

But it is right.  They never said Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 personally.  But the implication, when Americans said Osama bin Laden and this thing called al Qaeda, and they destroyed us on 9/11, and he has ties with him, the implication was there.  And the administration knew; that‘s exactly what they were planning. 

NORVILLE:  And here is flat out what the 9/11 commission stated with respect to that connection. 

Quote, “We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States.”

You know, we‘re not talking about implications.  We‘re not talking about inferences.  There is no evidence to support it.

DONALDSON:  But Deborah, remember this.  The president has been telling us for weeks and weeks that the main battleground against al Qaeda and terrorism is in Iraq.  That‘s the main battleground.  It doesn‘t say it‘s someplace else, Afghanistan or what have you.  He says it‘s in Iraq.

If there are no ties there, that sort of falls down.  I mean, I—I think—you know, meaning no disrespect, I think they‘re stuck with their assertions, and they‘re going to have to try to ride them through.

NORVILLE:  Well, it‘s the old “That‘s my story, and I‘m sticking to it” kind of thing.

DONALDSON:  You bet.

NORVILLE:  But you know what‘s interesting?  Bob Woodward said in a speech the other day to the Council on Foreign Relations that he believes the press was not aggressive enough in checking out that weapons of mass destruction intelligence, that a year-and-a-half ago, when that‘s what the president, that‘s what Colin Powell, that‘s what everybody connected with the administration was saying, the media did not do its proper job in checking it out.

DONALDSON:  Well, I don‘t know how we could have checked it out by going to Ira and, you know, looking at the places.  I do think we were very remiss in January of 2003, after Hans Blix, the inspector, said, You know, we asked the Americans, Where are these weapons? Because they said, We know where they are.  And they told us where to go.  And we would go to site after site and we wouldn‘t find anything.


DONALDSON:  I think, at that point, those of us in the press should say, Well, wait a minute.  If we‘re telling the inspectors where to go but there‘s nothing there, isn‘t there a problem here?  And I don‘t think we did.

NORVILLE:  Well, you know what‘s interesting, “The New York Times” has never been known to be the biggest cheerleader for George W. Bush...


NORVILLE:  ... and they‘ve done a mea culpa on some of their own reporting, especially on this issue.  But in the op-ed page of “The Times” today, they come out very, very strongly and say, “Mr. Bush is right when he says he can‘t be blamed for everything that happened on or before September 11, 2001, but he is responsible for the administration‘s actions since then.  That includes, inexcusably, selling the false Iraq-al Qaeda claim to Americans.  Either Mr. Bush knew he was not telling the truth or he has a capacity for politically motivated self-deception that is terrifying in this post-9/11 world.”  “The Times” goes on to say, “The president should apologize.”

DONALDSON:  Well, look, Deborah, the president and the people around him hated Saddam Hussein, and for good reason.  For good reason.  That man is a murderous tyrant.  No question about it.  And they were intent on removing him.  But they had to find a way to have the American people come along.  And so I think they tried a number of things.  They conscientiously believed they were serving the country in the right way, but they fudged a little bit.

Look at all this other stuff that‘s coming out—keeping people away from the Red Cross in detention.  We fudged.  The memos that come out from lawyers saying that, Well, the president can do anything he wants to, really, and if people carry out a certain amount of torture, they can be excused.

NORVILLE:  Well, just today...

DONALDSON:  And when I read those memos...

NORVILLE:  ... a CIA officer was—was charged in connection with the death of one of those prisoners under American control.  You know, when you‘re the president, when you live in the White House, you‘re going to be in the crosshairs.  That goes with the territory.  But I got to ask you about the new Michael Moore movie, 9/11.  Is it kind of like the Clinton book, it‘s not going to change your mind, no matter which—you know, if you feel this way, you‘re going to love him.  If you don‘t like him, it‘s not going to change your mind.

DONALDSON:  Well, I haven‘t seen it, so I—I could—I have no idea, except for the clips that we‘ve seen in the papers and all that, what‘s in it.  I know it‘s a devastating attack on the president for all of this, but I think it‘s not going to change people‘s minds.  You either, at this point—President Bush has sort of polarized the country, and I don‘t know whether it‘s half and half, but whatever it is, people are dead set the way they feel.  There is in the middle, Deborah, probably the people who control this election, maybe 15 percent, who will kind of still make up their minds.  But the rest of the people in this country, they know who they‘re going to vote for now...


DONALDSON:  ... and no movie and no book‘s going to change that.

NORVILLE:  And do those 15 percent by chance live in the select battleground states, or are those 15 percent of voters who find themselves in the middle out of luck when it comes to deciding who will occupy the White House in November?

DONALDSON:  Well, I guess they live everywhere.  I‘m not going to say, Well, one part of the country has people who, you know, think for themselves or are so wishy-washy, they don‘t know how they feel.  And the battleground states are very important.  To the extent that this 15 percent is in there, say Missouri, say Ohio, say one of the key states, then it‘ll matter more than if they are sitting someplace that either is solidly blue or solidly red at the moment.


DONALDSON:  I don‘t know how this election‘s going to come out, but I subscribe to the conventional wisdom, which is almost always wrong, that it‘ll probably be very, very close.

NORVILLE:  Well, on the last time around, there was a really close one.  I believe you covered that one, between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

DONALDSON:  Oh, yes.

NORVILLE:  It really was just in the closing days that one candidate made a break for it.

DONALDSON:  Four days before the election in 1980, everyone‘s polls—the public polls, Jimmy Carter‘s polls and Ronald Reagan‘s polls—were dead even.  My friend, George F. Will, the great conservative columnist, says, you know, there was a great tide of conservatism sweeping the country.  I said, Well, George, where was it?  Was it like a tsunami, it came up at the last moment from the ocean floor?  I think a sitting president always has an advantage.


DONALDSON:  And we don‘t have a king, but we‘re not into killing—regicide.  We‘re not deposing them.  We want to find a way to keep the guy who‘s there.  But in 1980, at the last, people said, No, I don‘t think so.  Jimmy Carter‘s a nice guy, but he needs to go home, and Ronald Reagan‘s acceptable.

NORVILLE:  Well, a few months from now, we will know what the answer to that question is.  And I hope, Sam, before then, you‘ll be back to talk with us.

DONALDSON:  Love to do it.

NORVILLE:  All right, Sam Donaldson...

DONALDSON:  By the way, Deborah, can I ask you a question?

NORVILLE:  Go right ahead.

DONALDSON:  You are in floral splendor!  Where did you get that gown?

NORVILLE:  Oh, you‘re asking me for fashion advice!  You devil, you!

DONALDSON:  Well, it reminds me of what Ronald Reagan once said.  They gave him a very loud shirt that looked like that, and he said, Well, at last I‘ve got something louder than Sam Donaldson.


NORVILLE:  Maybe that‘s why I wore it, to drown you out, big guy!

DONALDSON:  Oh, my goodness!

NORVILLE:  Sam, always a pleasure.  Thanks for being with us.

DONALDSON:  Good to see you.

NORVILLE:  You, too.

ANNOUNCER:  Up next:


BUSH:  I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killings.  Thank you.  Now watch this drive.


ANNOUNCER:  The film that‘s got President Bush hot under the collar, Michael Moore‘s “Fahrenheit 9/11.”


MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER:  I‘d be glad to go to the White House, bring the film.  I‘ll pop the popcorn.  We‘ll just sit there and have a good time.


ANNOUNCER:  The critics weigh in when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.



MOORE:  Members of Congress, this is Michael Moore.  I would like to read to you the USA Patriot Act!

ANNOUNCER:  From the corridors of power...

MOORE:  Congressman?  Congressman?

ANNOUNCER:  ... to the streets of small-town America, to the front lines.

BUSH:  This is an impressive crowd, the haves and the have-mores. 

Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.

ANNOUNCER:  ... comes the true story that will make your temperature rise.


NORVILLE:  That‘s a clip from the trailer from the Oscar-winning director Michael Moore‘s new controversial movie called “Fahrenheit 9/11.”  It is a scathing look at the Bush administration‘s response to the September 11 terror attacks and the war in Iraq.  It also won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and it opens in this country in a week.

Joining me now are two film critics who have seen the movie.  Peter Herbst is the editor-in-chief of “Premiere” magazine, and Peter Rainer is film critic for “New York” magazine.  His review of “Fahrenheit 9/11” will come out on Monday.

Gentlemen, I first want to put the politics aside.  As a movie, how does “Fahrenheit 9/11” rank?  Peter Herbst, let‘s start with you.

PETER HERBST, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, “PREMIER” MAGAZINE:  Well, I enjoyed it a lot.  I saw it at Cannes, where there was a very charged sort of environment.  And of course, we were France, where they‘re—you know, the French are not big fans of this—this adventure.  And there was a lot of sympathy for the movie.  It was very exciting to see.  I saw it at a press screening that was very crowded, hard to get into.  I actually got dragged in by the editor of French “Premier” for whom I‘m very grateful.

It was—it was an entertaining film.  You didn‘t have to buy every argument he made to be drawn into it.  I found it absorbing, fun, funny, as you‘ve seen from—from some of the clips, and at the end, very, very moving.  So I was impressed by it.

NORVILLE:  So as a piece of entertainment, you would give it a thumbs-up.

HERBST:  Yes.  As a piece of entertainment, it‘s—it‘s his most pulled-together, engaging, least annoying film.

NORVILLE:  OK.  And let‘s hear what the critic for “New York” magazine says.  Peter?


inflammatory movie, and it—it lays out a pretty comprehensive case

against Bush.  As a movie, I think it has its ups and downs.  It tends to

sort of digress from—from the main political points.  And sometimes, the

structure‘s about as baggy as Michael Moore‘s pants.  But it does, I think,

make a very strong case for what Moore is trying to achieve, and I think

that‘s not easy to do in a movie of this kind of complexity.  And it also -

·         it‘s very funny, and a lot of documentaries just aren‘t.  People think of documentaries as being, you know, dull movies that are good for you.  We all remember back to when we were in high school and saw all these documentaries...


RAINER:  ... you know, the lifecycle...

NORVILLE:  Insects.

RAINER:  ... of corn flakes and stuff.


RAINER:  Right.  So I think that Moore is sort of in the forefront of making documentaries that people actually want to see.

NORVILLE:  Well, one of the things about this movie is there are points to be made, and he finds the most pointed way to make those points, particularly when he goes into the office of Representative Conyers and gets a lesson about how it really works in Washington, with respect to legislation.


MOORE:  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 passed?

MOORE:  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.

Members of Congress, this is Michael Moore.  I would like to read to you the USA Patriot Act.  Section 1...


NORVILLE:  And these looks askance that he gets as he goes in the Softy ice cream truck of singing the Patriot Act is pretty funny, no matter what your politics are.

Peter Herbst, as a documentary, does this really fit the bill?  Because the definition of a documentary is, is a movie that does not editorialize.

HERBST:  Well, I‘m not sure that that‘s—that‘s the only definition of a documentary, but I think that this is a piece of cinematic rhetoric.  This is Michael Moore sitting you down at a bar and saying, You know, we got into this war for kind of weird reasons.  I‘m going to tell you a little bit about the background.  George Bush‘s family has been involved with the Saudis for many years, and he had some prejudices about that, and he‘s very angry at Saddam Hussein because his father didn‘t take him out.  And he sort of traces the argument and explains how he feels we fell into this war and what the consequences are.  And it‘s just a piece of argumentation.  I think it‘s a kind of documentary.  I think there are all kinds of documentaries.  I think that it‘s unfair to say it‘s not a documentary.  It‘s a—it‘s a non-fiction film.  But I think it really is a piece of rhetoric.  It‘s wonderfully filmed and funny argumentation that basically says, Look, this is—this is a mess.  Here‘s how I think we got into it.


HERBST:  It‘s not always convincing, but it‘s—it‘s always entertaining.

NORVILLE:  Not always entertaining, sometimes very upsetting.  Peter Rainer, there‘s a section of the movie in which there‘s some really up close and personal war footage from Iraq, and there‘s some question about how Mr. Moore was able to obtain all of that footage.

RAINER:  Yes.  I know he had some sources that leant him the footage, and so forth.  You know, I think the bottom line with that is that this is footage that we have not generally been seeing in the news.  And to see the blasted bodies of American soldiers and Iraqis, children, I think is very upsetting in a particular way right now because so much of this has been really kept from us, as audiences.  And so it‘s very startling to see it, you know, however it arrived in his movie.

NORVILLE:  You also say there are some place where you frankly think he takes some cheap shots, where one woman, veiled woman, is calling to Allah, and suddenly, there‘s some editing techniques that are a little bit jarring.

HERBST:  Yes.  There‘s a shot of a woman whose life has basically been reduced to rubble, and it‘s very powerful, very upsetting footage.  Then Moore cuts to Britney Spears being interviewed, saying that she trusts the president.  We really don‘t need that, you know, and he may have lost the Britney Spears vote in the process, which will work against his agenda here of evicting Bush from the White House.  But that kind of really powerful sequence stands on its own, and you don‘t need to editorialize in any way by putting someone like Britney Spears in there.  I think it undercuts his message, which is something that he tends to do throughout this movie.  He goes for the guffaw, and what you miss with that approach is the kind of in-depth, complex analysis that I think would really have made for a more, you know, comprehensively effective movie.


HERBST:  But it‘s still pretty damned effective.

NORVILLE:  Well, we want to talk some more about the effectiveness of the movie and some of the techniques that he uses in it.  We‘ll be back.  More with my guests in just a moment, as we continue to look at Michael Moore‘s controversial movie “Fahrenheit 9/11.”


MOORE:  I want to make sure, if I do nothing else for the rest of this year, that those who‘ve died in Iraq have not died in vain.




MOORE:  Congressman?  I‘m Michael Moore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, Michael!  How‘re you doing?

MOORE:  How‘re you doing?


MOORE:  Nice to meet you.  Very nice to meet you.


MOORE:  Do you have kids?


MOORE:  Is there any way we can get them to enlist and go over there and help out with the effort?

Congressman?  Michael Moore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How‘re you doing?

MOORE:  Good.  Good.  I‘m trying to get members of Congress to get their kids to enlist in the Army and go over to Iraq.

Congressman?  Congressman?  Congressman Jessel (ph)?  Congressman Jessel?  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Michael Moore.


MOORE:  I‘m wondering if...

(voice-over):  Of course, not a single member of congress wanted to sacrifice their child.


NORVILLE:  Back talking about the movie on 9/11, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” with Peter Herbst, the editor-in-chief of “Premiere” magazine, and Peter Rainer, the film critic for “New York” magazine.

Peter Rainer, that clip that we just saw was, you know, getting the members of Congress as they‘re walking in for a vote in the house...

HERBST:  I can‘t hear this.

NORVILLE:  ... and—Peter, can you hear me?



NORVILLE:  OK.  Well, one Peter can hear me, and I‘ll talk to the one that can hear me while we fix the other audio.  And—and—and the man in the middle, Congressman Mark Kennedy, actually did stop, did talk to him, did say, yes, we should show this to members of Congress who voted for Iraq, and then went on to say, By the way, I‘ve got a nephew on the way to Afghanistan.  Clearly, he‘s someone who has family that are engaged in the American military effort going on, but that didn‘t make the movie.

RAINER:  Yes, I‘ve heard that.  And if that‘s really the case, that was very unfair of Moore not to put that in there.  I think the overall message of what he‘s saying, though, is true, that essentially, members of Congress do not have any personal stake, in terms of their own families serving.  I think there‘s—there‘s one congressman whose son is serving in Iraq, and that‘s it.  So I think the overall point is well taken, but to edit out Kennedy‘s statements in that way I think would be very unfair.

NORVILLE:  Yes.  Clearly, this is a movie with a point of view.  Clearly, these are film excerpts that have been selected to make that point of view.  And there‘s one point that Mr. Moore makes in this movie.  He says that President George W. Bush has spent an extraordinary amount of time on holiday while some fairly pressing matters have been going on.  Take a look at this.


MOORE (voice-over):  With everything going wrong, he did what any of us would do.  He went on vacation.

BUSH:  We must stop the terror.  I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers.  Thank you.  Now watch this drive.


NORVILLE:  Pretty effective technique.  Peter Herbst, does it work?

HERBST:  Well, I think his back swing is a little quick, and I think he...


HERBST:  It works.  I think that even for somebody like me, who is not terribly sympathetic to this war, it seems a little unfair to Bush.  You know you‘re being manipulated.  It‘s not—it‘s not as if you come in—you‘d have to be very gullible to watch this film and think everything is true in it.  This guy is just laying it out for us, and here it is.


HERBST:  Nevertheless, there is a lot of humor in the film.  And George Bush is a very charming man and can be very funny, I think really kind of sinks himself in this because he seems very callow.  I mean, there‘s a very effective scene when he finds out that planes have hit the World Trade Center...


HERBST:  ... where he‘s in a kindergarten classroom, and the camera focuses on him for five or six minutes as he looks blankly, and we wonder what‘s going on his mind, whether he‘s...

NORVILLE:  Well, we can imagine what that is.  But let me ask you real quick, Peter Rainer, is this going to affect the election outcome?  Briefly.

RAINER:  Well, I think it probably will.  I don‘t think that only the converted are going to see this movie.  Moore, after all, is a best-selling writer, as well, and I think that there a lot of people who are going to be drawn to this movie, certainly, you know, the quote, “undecideds” who may change their mind.


RAINER:  You know, when you talked before about documentaries being objective, I don‘t think that that‘s true anymore.  I think that documentaries have as much of an agenda as any op-ed piece in any major newspaper.  There‘s a definite perspective here...


RAINER:  ... and an attack mode that I think is very—very particular to Moore.

NORVILLE:  Certainly in this one.  Peter Herbst, Peter Rainer, thank you very much for talking about the movie.  We appreciate it.

HERBST:  Thank you.

NORVILLE:  We‘ll be back right after this.


NORVILLE:  Thanks for watching.  I‘m Deborah Norville.  Coming up tomorrow: If you love reality television, you haven‘t seen anything yet.  From “Fear Factor” to “Survivor,” “The Osbournes,” “The Real World,” reality television is the most popular TV genre going, but how real is it?  Tomorrow night, I‘ll be joined by reality TV producers, including the man who produces this latest one called “Blow Out.”  Plus, we‘ll talk to some contestants and find out what were they thinking.  That‘s it for tonight.  See you tomorrow.


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