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'Deborah Norville Tonight' for June 28

Read the complete transcript to Monday's show

Guests: Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, Glenn Kenny, Peter Bart


WILLOW BAY, GUEST HOST:  Transfer of power, Iraq‘s interim government sworn in two days ahead of schedule.




BAY:  Iraq now in the hands of a new leadership.


IYAD ALLAWI, INTERIM IRAQI PRIME MINISTER:  We have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people.


BAY:  Tonight, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw from Baghdad.  What‘s now in store for this war-torn nation?  Can a new government put an end to this and this?  When will U.S. troops be coming home?  And what‘s in store for Saddam Hussein now?  Also, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the former commander at Abu Ghraib prison.  She is one of the most controversial figures of the Iraqi war.  Her take on today‘s sudden transfer of power and what it means for soldiers on the ground.  And how today‘s historical event is playing in the Arab world.  Plus, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”


BUSH:  Stop these terrorist killers.  Now watch this drive.


BAY:  Why it‘s raising tempers in Washington and heating things up at the box office.


MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER:  I‘m trying to get members of Congress to get their kids to enlist in the Army.


BAY:  Oscar-winner Michael Moore‘s take on the events that led the U.S. to war is packing them into theaters across the nation.


MOORE:  I couldn‘t believe these numbers.


ANNOUNCER:  Substituting for Deborah Norville, from studio 3K in Rockefeller Center, Willow Bay.

BAY:  Good evening.  After 14 months of U.S. occupation, power in Iraq is now in the hands of an interim Iraqi government, the new Iraqi flag flying over government buildings in Baghdad.  The outgoing U.S. civilian administrator, Paul Bremer, handed over a letter sealing the former transfer of power in a secret ceremony.  In fact, it was so secret that only 6 of Bremer‘s 25 advisers knew of the decision to turn over power two days early, in hopes of averting terrorist attacks.

In some parts of Baghdad, there was little reaction, but in other parts of the city, people took to the streets to celebrate.  There were also smiles many miles away at a meeting of NATO leaders in Turkey.  Shortly after the handover, President Bush passed a note he received from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  But first, Mr. Bush scribbled something on it himself.  Rice had written, “Mr. President, Iraq is sovereign.  Letter was passed from Bremer at 10:26 AM Iraq time.” President Bush scribbled on the note “Let freedom reign.”  Seconds later, Mr. Bush looked down at his watch and shook the hand of British prime minister Tony Blair, who was sitting next to him.

At a speech this afternoon, the president called it a day of great hope for Iraqis.


BUSH:  We pledged to end a dangerous regime, to free the oppressed and restore sovereignty.  We have kept our word.


BAY:  Earlier today, I talked to Tom Brokaw, anchor of “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS,” who is in Baghdad covering the handover.


Tom, everyone here was very much taken by surprise by the transfer of sovereignty today.  You were there, of course, in anticipation of Wednesday‘s events.  But how did this all unfold?

TOM BROKAW, MANAGING EDITOR, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”:  Well, I think everyone outside of those who were in that closely held secret were taken by surprise, Willow.  I talked later to Condoleezza Rice, the president‘s national security adviser, and also to Ambassador Bremer, who was one of the principals in all this.  They insisted it‘s been in the works for several weeks now.  As the new interim leaders gained more confidence and felt that they could to take over the country, the United States was eager to hand off the power.  Also, there was that whole building tension about the June 30 date.  There was a great deal of concern that the insurgents might find that an irresistible target of some kind.  So they caught the insurgents off guard today, as well.

BAY:  We got the chance to hear Prime Minister Allawi address the nation.  Let‘s listen for a bit to some of what he had to say.

IYAD ALLAWI, INTERIM IRAQI PRIME MINISTER:  This is a historical day (UNINTELLIGIBLE) transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people.  We have been working very hard with Ambassador Bremer and with the coalition and Ambassador Richmond (ph) to achieve the transfer of sovereignty as quickly as possible.  We have done this today, and we feel that we are capable and in control of the situation and of the security situation.

BAY:  Tom, what was the overriding message in the prime minister‘s speech today?

BROKAW:  He made a very direct appeal to the Iraqi people—as he called it, to the grandsons and sons of the proud Iraqi people—to begin to stand up and fight back against the insurgency.  And at the swearing-in ceremony, all the leaders declared that were going to do whatever they could to promote Iraqi unity and democracy, and they all said to the Iraqi people, it‘s now time for us to fight back.  As Ambassador Bremer said today, it‘s now their country to fight for again.  And that is not lost, we think, on the Iraqi people, but they remain very skeptical after all that they‘ve been through with Saddam Hussein, and then in the last year, this American occupation, Willow.

BAY:  Tom, you say they—you think they remain skeptical.  What is your sense?   Were you able to get out and talk to people at all of what the mood is like there, what the reaction is like?  What‘s it like on the street?

BROKAW:  Well, I have not been able to talk to very many ordinary Iraqis.  There‘s still a great deal of security concern here.  But my colleague, Richard Engel, has been out, and the reaction has been quite muted.  There were new Iraqi flags.  Some people were flying them.  They were being raised over public buildings.  But you know, in the Middle East they react to almost any celebration by firing off their AK-47s or setting off fireworks.  There was none of that here in Iraq tonight.  In fact, the streets were all but deserted late this afternoon in Baghdad because, again, as I say, people are living in terror here, and they know that just because a piece of paper has been signed that the insurgents have not gone away.

BAY:  Clearly, the quietness a sign, then, of bracing for more violence.

BROKAW:  I think that‘s the big, big issue.  You cannot have a country, in any sense of the word, if the people are living in constant fear and those who are determined to bring down the institutions of the governance and the rule of law are able to strike at will throughout the country, as these insurgents have demonstrated they‘re able to do that in the past month or so.  So the first and clearest priority is to try to bring down the insurgency and to get a sense of security back for Iraq.

BAY:  You mentioned the top U.S. administrator there, Paul Bremer, a moment ago.  He quickly left.  Before he did, he had this to say.

PAUL BREMER, FORMER U.S. ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ:  We welcome Iraq‘s steps to take its rightful place of equality and honor among the free nations of the world.  Sincerely, L. Paul Bremer, ex-administrator for the coalition provisional authority.

BAY:  Tom, watching this from here, his departure seems abrupt to us. 

But was that part of the plan, as well?

BROKAW:  Yes.  I think that they wanted to signal very dramatically and affirmatively that Paul Bremer is out of here, that he‘s been the man who‘s been running this country effectively for the United States.  He has become a lightning rod not only for the Iraqi people but for political opposition in America, as well.

I was here just a year ago, when he first took office.  I remember meeting many of those members of what is now the new Iraqi government at their first meeting as the governing council, and there was a great deal of more optimism at that time.  I think historians and others will go back to this past year and use it as a case study about how not to build a new nation.  I‘m not going to review all of Paul Bremer‘s record here tonight.  I do think that the country owes him a debt for having served as long as he has, but he has more critics than he does admirers for the way that he ran this country in the last year, especially for the way he did not get the Iraqi army built up again, and for his heavy-handed ways.  The U.N. special representative here at one point called him a dictator.  He said he has everything to say about Iraq, and almost no one else does.

BAY:  Well, of course, as Paul Bremer leaves and the new government comes into full power, you had the chance to speak exclusively with Iraq‘s new president, al Yawer, today, and you asked him a question that so many Americans are, of course, wondering as we watch these events unfold, which is, When can the American troops come home?

GHAZI MASHAL AJIL AL YAWER, INTERIM IRAQI PRESIDENT:  The American troops can go home as soon as we make sure that our security forces are well intact and qualified enough to defend this new democracy in Iraq.  I‘m sure the Iraqi public are not—are not—they do not want to make all these sacrifices that happened in the last year goes in vain.

BAY:  Is this a step in the—the first step in the right direction of sending those troops home?

BROKAW:  Well, we hope it‘s a step in the right direction, that the Iraqi people will be able to run their own security in this country, but that‘s still many months off.  I also spent part of the weekend with General David Petraeus, who‘s trying to put together the internal security force for Iraq, more than 200,000 people in the army, the police department and the national guard.  And he is starting almost from scratch.  Now, he‘s a real can-do general.  He thinks he can get the job done by spring of next year, but even, that would be nothing short of a miracle.

In the meantime, the United States military will be here on the ground here.  The United States military will be expected to carry the fight against the insurgents.  You know, all of these new interim leaders say how grateful they are for the sacrifice of the young Americans to liberate Iraq.  I couldn‘t help but think that many parents are saying, But that‘s not why I sent my son or daughter off to war.  We thought that Iraq was a gathering threat against the United States.  That‘s the real reason that many of them went willingly into combat.  And of course, no weapons of mass destruction have been found yet.  But now that we‘re here, the Americans had to fight their way in, and it‘s quite likely that they‘re going to have to fight their way out, Willow.

BAY:  And as you say fight their way out, Tom, I‘d like to listen to another little bit of that interview that you did today with President al Yawer.  You asked him, Do you think now, with the transfer of power, that the Iraqi people will be more inclined to fight back, to defend themselves?  Let‘s listen.

YAWER:  There is no question about that.  If we look into the victims, you would have a staggering number, more than 95 percent or more of the victims, especially in the last six months, are all innocent Iraqis.  These people are hurting the Iraqi people.  They are terrorizing this society. 

And if you look into the approval rate that this new government is having,

you would find this government is well accepted and approved by the Iraqi

people.  So we have no doubt that the Iraqi people are siding with their

government, who are representing them in this fight against people who are

·         usually, I call them the army of the darkness.

BAY:  So does the government have the confidence of the Iraqi people, at least for now, Tom?

BROKAW:  I think it‘s very hard to say.  All the polls that have been taken here show confidence in this government, 68 percent.  But this is such a fractured country, it‘s broken in so many places, I don‘t have complete confidence in all those polls.  A lot of people here are skeptical about these leaders because they were named either by the United States or by the United Nations.  So they‘re going to have to earn the trust of the Iraqi in how they conduct the affairs of government now in not just the coming days, the coming weeks and the coming months, and whether they stick to the schedule of having an election in January of next year.  All the factions here say that that‘s critical.  You‘ve got to get the power and the decisions back into the hands of the people as swiftly as possible.

BAY:  Tom, we‘ve been hearing that there will be a transfer of control and authority over Saddam Hussein.  What can you tell us about that?

BROKAW:  Well, I think the important issue for Americans is that he‘ll remain in American military custody, that there will be a kind of symbolic transfer, as the new Iraqi government decides what to do about trying him and before what court.  But in the meantime, this government is, as I say, so bankrupt at the moment, in terms of its property and its institutions, there‘s not even a safe Iraqi jail for him to be held in, despite the fact that he built a lot of those jails over the years.  So he will remain, we‘re told, in the custody of the United States military, we presume somewhere in the airport area, which is where most of the fortifications are.

BAY:  Tom, finally, I‘d just like to get your take on what does this government have to do with a sense of urgency, frankly, in the next few days, in the next week or so, to really gain—start to build that confidence of its people?

BROKAW:  Well, I think the first thing that they have to do is to show great command and leadership.  General Petraeus, the man who‘s trying to rebuild the Iraqi security force, says you got to lead from the front.  They‘ve got to be out front and show the people that they‘re worthy of these new titles and responsibilities that they have.  And they have to act with alacrity and urgency in dealing with the security problem.

My own guess is that we will see quite dramatically in the next 10 days or so more of an Iraqi face on the fight against the insurgency, perhaps even some of the militia that are faithful to the sects here—for example, to the Shia—they may become involved in the fight.  The outgoing ambassador, Paul Bremer, I know was hoping that the Iraqi people have reached the breaking point and they‘ll will begin to fight back, push back, because they really have been the victims in the last several months.  Many, many more Iraqis have been killed than Americans.  Any loss of life on either side, of course, is a great tragedy, but the Iraqi people have been the particular victims of this insurgency in the past several weeks, and there‘s a great hope that they have now reached the tipping point and will begin to fight back on their own terms.  And how they do that will depend in large part on how they‘re led by this new interim government, and that will be a test of this government.

BAY:  NBC‘s Tom Brokaw, in Baghdad this evening.  Tom, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us tonight.

BROKAW:  My pleasure, Willow.


ANNOUNCER:  Coming up: What‘s in store for U.S. troops now that Iraq is in the hands of new leadership?  Former Abu Ghraib commander General Janis Karpinski weighs in on the future role of American‘s military in Iraq.

And still ahead: He made it to make a statement, but who would have guessed that Michael Moore would have a hit on his hands?


MOORE:  That‘s the majority of the country.


ANNOUNCER:  Why “Fahrenheit 9/11” is on its way to becoming one of the summer‘s hottest movies.

DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.


BAY:  We continue our coverage of the handover of power in Iraq earlier today.  Brigadier General Janis Karpinski used to be the commander of all the U.S. military prisons in Iraq, including the now notorious Abu Ghraib prison.  She had more than 3,000 troops under her command, but she was suspended by the Army after photos surfaced showing Iraqi prisoners being humiliated by U.S. soldiers.  We‘re joined now by Brigadier General Janis Karpinski with her take on the day‘s events.

General, welcome.


PRISONS IN IRAQ:  Thank you very much.

BAY:  How are...

KARPINSKI:  Good to be here.

BAY:  How are U.S. troops likely to have reacted to the news today that the transfer of power took place two days ahead of schedule?

KARPINSKI:  I think that they‘re probably feeling a very good effect from this, very positive actions, because it‘s a step in the right direction.  They—it‘s almost confirmation of the good work that they‘ve been doing and continue to do in Iraq.

BAY:  As we heard Tom Brokaw today ask President al Yawer the question that we all want answered, which is when will U.S. troops be heading home, he didn‘t have a precise answer, of course, but I would imagine that that‘s the first question that most of those troops stationed there have, is it not?

KARPINSKI:  I would guess that you‘re problem right on the money on that one because every positive sign, that‘s the first question that our troops are asking: When are we going to home?  Does this mean we can go home?  Will it be another week?  Will it be another month?  Will it be another six months?”  It‘s always important to have that mark on the wall.

BAY:  And how do you answer a question like that?

KARPINSKI:  Well, if I were still there, I would answer it the same way I answered the question when I was asked, When are we going to home, and I was asked very often.  I would tell them we still have to see.  We have work to do.  It‘s still a very important mission that we‘re doing here in Iraq, and it clearly is.  The Iraqi government is just in the crawling stage, I think, and they certainly need the efforts of the coalition troops to carry forth with the security requirements in that country.

BAY:  General, we learned tonight that military officials say that they have seen a tape that may show the execution of Army Specialist Matt Maupin.  As you may recall, Maupin has been missing since April 9, when his fuel convoy was attacked outside Baghdad.  This, of course, comes as another Marine is still reported missing in Baghdad.  Will soldiers, do you suspect, be any safer now that the transfer of power has been completed?

KARPINSKI:  I don‘t believe so.  I don‘t believe that they‘ll be any less safe, either.  I think that the soldiers are aware of how dangerous it is everyplace in Iraq.  They know what the rules are.  They know how to remain secure, to the extent that they can.  They‘re well trained.  They‘re certainly capable.  And these things are the nature of the hostilities in the area where they‘re operating.  And it‘s very unfortunate, but it is extremely important for the soldiers to rely very heavily on their leaders and on the training that they‘ve received.  This is terrible news for the soldiers over there, for our efforts in Iraq, and certainly, for the road ahead for the Iraqi government.

BAY:  Does the change in leadership make the role of the U.S. troops more challenging?  I mean, they are needed by the country but not necessarily wanted by the Iraqi people and the government.

KARPINSKI:  I agree with you.  I think that the role of the soldiers now changes, and I think it changes more dramatically than we maybe first believed, in many respects.  But I think that they have to have a clear understanding, down to the individual soldier level, who can give them instructions, who can give them orders, what the road ahead is for them and for the country, and what the part is that they‘re going to play.  I don‘t really think that there‘s a clear understanding or a clear definition of the lines of authority or the lines of command down to the soldier level, and I think that that is critically important right now, so that the soldiers have a complete understanding of the role that they are playing.  And it is still very important because the Iraqis want to govern their own country.  They have that right and they have that opportunity now.  But they are still very much in need of the security and the protection that the coalition force brings to their country.

BAY:  Let me ask you about the fate of Saddam Hussein.  There is a plan that would transfer legal authority for Saddam Hussein to the Iraqi government, while physical custody remains with the Americans.  Is this a viable plan?  Is it a complicated one?

KARPINSKI:  I think it‘s a very complicated—the whole situation involving Saddam Hussein is complicated.  It is an issue that needs to be treated as a priority.  I‘ve been listening to all of the information for the past couple of weeks, when they‘ve been talking about and discussing that specific issue, and there‘s a variety of opinions at the highest levels of both our government and the Iraqi government...

BAY:  General, you...

KARPINSKI:  ... and...

BAY:  You know those...

KARPINSKI:  And I think that...

BAY:  Go ahead.

KARPINSKI:  Yes, go ahead.

BAY:  You know those prisons.  Where would you put him?

KARPINSKI:  You know, the most secure prison in Iraq is not a secure facility.  The best of the facilities is minimum security, really, at best.  And I think that‘s an excellent question.  It has to be a facility where there is limited, extremely limited possibility of an overthrow or an escape or some intimidation of the Iraqi forces in an attempt to get him out of the facility.  And I do know those facilities, and I know that the work that was being done on restoring them and rebuilding them was not very thorough.  So we were waiting for a new facility to be constructed, and it‘s not under way yet.  So that is an excellent question.  And none of the facilities that I‘m aware of under Iraqi control would be able to house him.

BAY:  General, one final question on your situation.  You have been suspended from duty, but what happens next for you?

KARPINSKI:  I don‘t know.  It‘s kind of a day-by-day thing.  There‘s no less than 11 investigations that are ongoing.  And of course, all of my soldiers that are awaiting court-martial, the seven soldiers, or six of the seven soldiers who are awaiting court-martial, their fate is still kind of hanging in the balance, as well.

BAY:  And at this point, is it possible that you‘ll face charges?

KARPINSKI:  Well, nobody knows what the end result is going to be of any of those investigations.

BAY:  General Karpinski, thank you very much for joining us this evening.

KARPINSKI:  Thank you.

BAY:  When we come back: The U.S. says the Iraqi government is sovereign, but does the Arab world believe the Iraqis are really in control of their own destiny?  That‘s next.


BAY:  Al-Jazeera television covering the handover of power in Iraq, a story that has been playing prominently on news organizations around the world tonight.  There was mixed reaction in the Arab world.  Egypt said it would make it easier to restore stability in Iraq. 

Kuwait, which restored diplomatic ties to Iraq shortly after the transfer of power, called it the start of the new era.  But the 22-member Arab League said it hopes the new Iraqi government is actually able to exercise its sovereignty. 

And on the streets of Baghdad, there was guarded optimism. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator):  By the will of God, we hope that affairs will go well and we hope that the new government is good and better than the former one and we hope that we will live in peace and security.


BAY:  Joining us now to discuss how the handover is playing in the Arab world is Raghida Dergham, a NBC News diplomatic correspondent for “Al-Hayat” newspaper.

Raghida, welcome. 


BAY:  Obviously, this was the dominant story of the day here, but how did it play out in the Arab world? 

DERGHAM:  Of course, it‘s also the dominant story in the Arab world. 

After all, it‘s about Iraq and the future of Iraq.

You would have skeptics who would say as long as there‘s 150,000 American troops on Iraqi soil, this is not an end of occupation.  Others would say this is the beginning of the end of occupation.  And there are those who say wait on and let‘s see what will happen during the summer and how serious is the government in adhering to the timetable that would lead supposedly to the elections and therefore, real sovereignty of Iraq.

BAY:  I‘d like to take a look at some specific statements and get you to comment on them.

For example, some of those leaders who welcomed the news of the early transfer of power, the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, this is what he had this to stay: “I personally think that once the Iraqis feel that they are their own masters, and that they have a government that has power, then this will make the restoration of stability easier, and this is what we wish to see.  We wish for the Iraqi people that it gets the chance to handle all of its own affairs.”

How common a sentiment was this?  How much did we hear that expressed today?

DERGHAM:  Very common.  Very common. 

Those who really are giving it the best chance are saying that.  And they feel that it‘s going to be challenging, as we all feel.  This is not going to be an easy summer.  There is no clarity what will happen in the next few months.  Certainly, we know that the American forces are staying in Iraq until the end of the political process, which is until the end of next year.  What will happen then, from now until then, and will the government, really, this interim government do well on its promise that there will be a transfer?

BAY:  Let me ask you about that interim government.  We saw them today sworn in.  We‘ve heard them giving speeches.  What we know from U.S.-sponsored polls is that a vast majority of Iraqis have expressed confidence in both Prime Minister Allawi and, quite frankly, even more so in President al-Yawar.  Is that confidence echoed throughout the Arab world? 

DERGHAM:  No.  And it‘s very important confidence.  And what matters really are the Iraqi people, much more than the rest of the Arab world.  And the Iraqis, they feel this way about their government, I think the rest of the Arab world should support the Iraqis in their sentiment.

And I think we should give credit to the Iraqi people really altogether and to those who have been in government before and now.  They‘ve been quite pragmatic and have been very prudent.  At least Iraq is still unified.  It has not disintegrated.  There is no civil war.  Really, we should give them a lot of credit for having hung in there and have a government. 

BAY:  Let‘s look at quite a different reaction from “Al-Quds,” a

London-based Arabic newspaper.  The editor of that paper had this to say:

“The Iraqis have been shortchanged.  Why is Blair and Bush not there?  Where are the celebrations?  They wanted to have a show as soon as possible so everybody can go home.” 

Is that a common belief, that the Americans just pulled up and left? 

DERGHAM:  The editor is a good friend of mine.  And I don‘t want to really disagree very strongly.  But I think it‘s really a very small point to make as to who was there. 

BAY:  A small point to make or a minority of people feel that way?

DERGHAM:  A minority and I think he is really stretching the point here.  The point is, probably, had they been there, he would have been critical just as much.  That‘s my point of view here.

But the fact of that is that are many of the commentators who are very critical, look, rightly so, in some cases.  This has not been a very good page for Iraq from the point of view of many Arabs.  There has been an invasion and occupation, excesses.  And there is a lot of fear for the future of Iraq.  So I don‘t know if it‘s a minority or majority.

But I would only say to you fear is still out there.  Those, like the editor of “Al-Quds,” are a bit more negative than some other editors. 

BAY:  In a column for your paper, you took a slightly different position and you wrote that you believe that the Arab world has a responsibility as you suggested a moment ago to support the people of Iraq, support in very concrete ways with things like investments and job assistance with job creation.  Is it likely that Iraq is going to see that kind of support and that kind of help from the rest of the Arab world? 

DERGHAM:  Yes, it will have to. 

And the Iraqis are doing quite—and the Iraqi governments are really reaching out to explain that point of view, that enough of solidarity when it comes only to just to words of solidarity.  We need you to help us out in Iraq.  Now, there is talk amongst Arabs that there may be participation by—of peacekeepers, Arab peacekeepers in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government later on.

But I think it‘s very urgent to lend Iraq a hand.  I think not only security is challenging.  It‘s also the security of the individual Iraqi, the security of a job, of self-confidence, of optimism.  And that would very much help the Iraqis overcome the difficulties.  But, again, it depends on what the U.S. forces there and how does the policy from the United States—that‘s very important.

BAY:  A lot of questions again. 

Raghida Dergham, thank you for your insights into what the Arab world is saying about this tonight. 


DERGHAM:  Thank you.  My pleasure. 

NARRATOR:  Up next, the film that has got President Bush hot under the collar and movie fans packing theaters, Michael Moore‘s “Fahrenheit 9/11.”


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


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


BAY:  “Fahrenheit 9/11” and Michael Moore are raking in the cash, at the expense of President Bush.  But is it fair to call it a documentary? 



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

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL (singing):  Let the Eagle soar.


BAY:  That was part of a trailer for Michael Moore‘s new film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”  It opened nationwide this weekend to packed theaters, taking in a whopping $21.8 million on just 868 screens.  It is the first documentary to debut as Hollywood‘s top weekend film.  It‘s already set the record for the top grossing documentary ever.

The previous record was held by Moore‘s last film, “Bowling For Columbine,” which took in $21.6 million.  But that was for its entire run.  So did Michael Moore ever think he was going to get this kind of buzz and spark this kind of controversy?  And did he ever think he‘d sell this many tickets?

Joining us now to talk about the controversial film is Peter Bart, vice president and editor in chief of “Variety,” and Glenn Kenny, the chief film critic for “Premiere” magazine. 

Gentlemen, welcome.

GLENN KENNY, FILM CRITIC, “PREMIERE”:  Thanks for having me.

BAY:  Glenn, let me start with you.

Were you surprised at the box office for this film? 

KENNY:  It was pretty astonishing, especially considering the film opened in fewer than 900 theaters.  And the movie‘s only competition in terms of opening movies at the box office was a comedy called “White Chicks,” which came in, in second place despite opening in almost 3,000 theaters.  I‘m wondering what the vast left-wing conspiracy is that allowed this to be the only competition for the film. 

BAY:  Let‘s see if we can get to the answer to that.

But, in all seriousness, this film has become a pop cultural phenomenon.  Why?  What has gone on?

KENNY:  I think that‘s what happening, well, you can‘t call the situation in Iraq fortuitous for anybody.

But has happened is, over the past several months is what our old friend Newt Gingrich would have called a paradigm shift, whereas, a year, year and a half ago, the very idea of criticizing the president and the administration and its policies with regard to Iraq in the days following the tragedy of 9/11 was considered an almost seditious act and you would get your patriotism questioned. 

BAY:  Certainly unpatriotic, at the very least, right.

KENNY:  What‘s happened since then is that there‘s a lot of things have come to pass, including various—a lot of the insurgency activity, the very bad stuff happening in the prisons and so on.

And things have really turned around and people have started questioning.  You combine that with stuff going on in the news like the vice president cursing out a senator on the floor of the Senate, and it looks like these guys are going off the rails.  So clearly Moore, through no contrivance of his own, has an atmosphere in which this now becomes a cultural event that‘s like a really popular reality TV show and it‘s what everybody wants to be talking about.

BAY:  Yes.  And talking about it, they are.

Peter, in “Variety,” you write, the noisier the opposition, the bigger the box office.  This is pretty noisy.  But is it basically that simple? 


And, by the way, a footnote.  The company updated the box office this week.  It‘s at $24 million, not $21 million. 

BAY:  Wow.

BART:  So, usually, studios overguess the estimates.  In this case, they‘re actually revising it upward and next week, they are going to double the number of theaters, so the phenomenon continues. 

BAY:  But is the phenomenon largely a result of the noise? 

BART:  I think the noise is a tremendous factor in it. 

Look what it did for Mel Gibson.  I think Michael and Mel should get together and have a drink sometime.  But, sure, it‘s also the moment.  I agree that this is an extraordinary moment in history.  And Michael Moore is lucky to cash in on it. 

BAY:  Lucky.  And, you know, Mel Gibson should buy the drinks, to be fair, since the take on that was staggering.


BART:  Well, also since Mel will make a lot more money than Michael Moore.  He doesn‘t have to split it with Harvey and his other partners.               


BAY:  But Mel Gibson did some other things in the marketing of that film.  They really used grassroots marketing.  They marketed to church groups.  Theaters were sold out before the film opened.  Did Michael Moore and his distributor do similar things in terms of grassroots marketing with this film? 

BART:  To a degree, yes. 

There are groups that did decide to buy tickets in advance in blocks, and so somewhat of the same device was used.  Now, obviously, Mel Gibson I think was more planned.  I think this was—somewhat came together at the last minute, you might say. 

BAY:  Glenn talked about the Zeitgeist.  Do you think, sure, there‘s marketing, but there was something about the message in this film that touched a nerve? 

BART:  Yes, I think this is a moment when the audience out there is definitely responsive to something of a counterculture approach.  I think everybody has been fed somewhat the same line.  And I think this reflects a desire in many segments of the American public learn more, to try to figure out what‘s happening. 

BAY:  So do you think people on both sides of the aisle are going to see this movie in an effort to figure this all out? 

BART:  I do. 

BAY:  You do?

BART:  Yes, I do.  I do not think this is—I remember when I saw this picture first in Cannes, every said, well, the only reason everyone loves it, the audience is so responsive, it got a 22-minute ovation, was because they‘re all French and they don‘t like Americans. 

It wasn‘t true.  Only about a quarter of the audience was French.  I think, similarly, over here, I think you‘ve got people on the right and the left who are going to see this picture. 

KENNY:  Yes, I didn‘t go to a press screening.  I got shut out.  I might have not said enough nice things about “Bowling For Columbine.”  But I ended up seeing the picture in a neighborhood in Brooklyn where I live and the audience was not a homogeneous one at all.  And there‘s a lot of different people there and they were all responding to the picture.

BAY:  Interesting.

Well, we‘re going to have more with Peter Bart and Glenn Kenny on the controversial, yet very popular Michael Moore flick “Fahrenheit 9/11” in just a minute. 

Stay with us.


MOORE:  With everything going wrong, he did what any of us would do. 

He went on vacation. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  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. 




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s very emotional, very powerful, very the truth.  It is the truth. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I was against the war, so I might be biased. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Isn‘t every movie-maker biased?  Isn‘t they—aren‘t they trying to put out their own message? 


BAY:  Just a little bit of what some folks in New York had to say after seeing Michael Moore‘s new movie, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

We‘re back now with vice president and editor in chief of “Variety,” Peter Bart, and Glenn Kenny, “Premiere” magazine‘s film critic. 

Gentlemen, I would like to, for the next couple moments, talk a little bit about the quality of the filmmaking, the film itself.  There is no doubt about it.  It packs some powerful punches.  So why don‘t we take a look at a clip?


MOORE:  The embassy of Saudi Arabia.  How much money do the Saudis have invested in America, roughly? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I have heard figures as high as $860 billion. 

MOORE:  What percentage of our economy does that represent?  That seems like a lot. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s roughly 6 or 7 percent of America. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Moore, can I speak to you for a moment, pleasure, sir?

MOORE:  Yes.  Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How are you today? 

MOORE:  Good.  How you doing? 



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m with Secret Service.  How you doing?

MOORE:  Oh, how you doing, sir? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are just ascertaining information regarding—are you doing a documentary regarding the Saudi Arabia Embassy?

MOORE:  Yes. 

Even though we were nowhere near the White House, for some reason, the Secret Service had shown up to ask us what we were doing standing across the street from the Saudi Embassy. 


BAY:  Peter, let me start with you.  As filmmaking, how does this measure up? 

BART:  Oh, I think it‘s an excellent piece of filmmaking, in the sense that it veers between satire and tragedy.  So, you are laughing one moment, and you‘re very affected the next. 

But here‘s the problem.  It is not a good documentary, in the sense that, if you think of documentary filmmaking as a more structured, disciplined art form, on that basis, this is something of a mess.  So I regard Michael Moore more as a performance artist than a documentarian. 

BAY:  Glenn, what is your take? 

KENNY:  It‘s definitely Moore‘s best film in terms of its pacing. The clip you just showed was really one of the more real moments of the film, in terms of, like, this is not something that he planned and it is a moment that hits audiences, like a “what the heck is happening here?” thing. 

He has got a very skillful grasp of montage.  When he has got Donald Rumsfeld standing there making these fatuous pronouncements about how he so admires the humanity of the bombing, targeting in Iraq, and he‘s juxtaposing that with a clip of a little Iraqi kid with a wad of cotton coming out of his skull, it‘s powerful stuff.  And the movie moves like crazy.  There‘s not dull moment in it. 

BAY:  Any missteps? 

BART:  Well, you can poke a lot of holes in some of the factual

things.  He makes a lot of hay out of the connection between the Bush

family and the Saudis, but never actually connects


BAY:  Something, in our world, we‘ve been spending a lot of time analyzing, if it‘s factual. 

BART:  Sure.

And this whole depiction of Iraq as a land of kite-flying happy children before the bombing started is a little disingenuous.  You could poke individual holes in quite a few of the segments.  But the whole thing adds up to a very powerful whole.  And it really does—and, like I said, it keeps moving. 

It‘s funny.  Peter Bart was talking about the conservative noise against the film.  A lot of the smarter conservatives are now sort of laying back and saying, oh, don‘t bother seeing it, it‘s boring, because that‘s maybe a little more clever than saying, how dare he do this?

BAY:  Peter, Michael Moore was very clear that he wanted to effect change with this film.  Do you think that it does have the power to influence the elections? 

BART:  I think that there is a percentage, 5, 6, 4 percent, no one knows the exact amount, of independent voters, of swing voters, and I think those swing voters are susceptible to a very emotional kind of film like this. 

So, yes, I think that all of this is extraordinary, not just because of the box office numbers, but because, for the first time that I can remember in film history, you do have a movie that could affect the vote. 

BAY:  And, Glenn, and really shape the national conversation quite profoundly. 

KENNY:  And, man, if he fixes it so he can put out the DVD in the third week of October, that‘s going to be problematic for some people. 

BAY:  Glenn Kenny, Peter Bart, thank you very much. 

KENNY:  Thank you. 

BAY:  For your time.

When we come back, the daughters of two music legends who made a name for themselves, they‘re now making a comeback. 


BAY:  Thanks for watching.  Deborah Norville will be back tomorrow night.  And her guests will be the pop group Wilson Phillips.  After a long break, why did Wilson Phillips get back together?  Plus, the legacy of their famous parents.  And how is Carnie Wilson doing after her dramatic weight loss?  All that tomorrow night. 

But coming up next, Joe Scarborough asks, what really happened to the weapons of mass destruction?  “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” next. 

You‘re watching MSNBC. 


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