Guest: Bob Kohn, Jack Burkman, Ellen Johnson, Frank Keating, Claudia Rosett, Mort Zuckerman, and Amy Goodman
MONICA CROWLEY, GUEST HOST: As President Bush enters his second term, he‘ll start working on the L word, his legacy. Can he be both fighter and peacemaker? Plus, some say he‘s stacking his Cabinet with yes men and women. What will the Cabinet shuffle mean to the next four years?
Then, oil-for-food scandal put billions of dollars into Saddam‘s coffers, starved Iraqis and lined the pockets of U.N. bureaucrats, but just how high up does the scandal go? And will it bring down Kofi Annan? And why does the mainstream media seem to be missing big stories like this one?
And the government may know more about your college student‘s life than you do. A new federal database to track students may help fight terrorism, but does it cross the privacy line?
Those stories and more tonight on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
ANNOUNCER: From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
CROWLEY: I‘m Monica Crowley, in tonight for Joe Scarborough.
The presidential inaugural is still weeks away, but the president has wasted no time becoming a second-term president. It‘s time for tonight‘s “Real Deal.”
First-term presidents are consumed with policy and politics. But they‘re really driven by only one thing, reelection. Once they have reelection under their belts their focus changes. Every president as he heads into his second term turns his attention to something else, legacy. That‘s legacy with a capital L. And the kind of legacy all second-term presidents covets is that of peacemaker.
Let‘s take a look at all recent second termers. Richard Nixon, a great old cold warrior before Watergate forced him from office, had detente with the Soviet Union, the opening to China and Middle East diplomacy. Most former enemies were now on the table as potential partners in spite of or maybe because of the shadow of the Vietnam War. Nixon was thinking legacy.
Ronald Reagan, another great cold warrior, in his second term, he approached the Soviet Union giving up all nuclear weapons on both sides, unheard of, yes, but Reagan was thinking legacy. In his second term, Bill Clinton continued to try to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians to the table and he also had the Northern Ireland peace deal solidified. Bill Clinton was also thinking legacy.
In each and every case, the second term president is thinking about his legacy and he wants it above all to be one of peacemaker.
So, what does this mean for president Bush and his second term? He spent his first term waging war, bringing the fight directly to the world‘s terrorists. In Afghanistan, in Iraq and on and on down the terrorist line. He will continue to do just that. And that‘s tonight‘s “Real Deal.”
So, with one eye on the legacy, is President Bush going to pair fighting the war on terror with some attempts at peacemaking both at home and abroad?
Joining us now, Mort Zuckerman of “U.S. News & World Report” and Amy Goodman, the host of the radio program “Democracy Now.”
Amy and Mort, welcome. Nice to see you tonight.
CROWLEY: Well, Mort, I want to start with you, because, since winning reelection, President Bush has replaced no fewer than seven Cabinet members. Let‘s take a look at the changes he‘s made so far. And, of course, these are in most cases subject to confirmation.
Colin mail is out as secretary of state, with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice ready to step in. John Ashcroft will be replaced Alberto Gonzales. Donald Evans, the outgoing commerce secretary, was today replaced by Carlos Gutierrez, the CEO of Kellogg.
Meanwhile, over at the department education, Margaret Spellings will be the new secretary there. Still others expected to be confirmed—or leaving, rather—the administration include Tom Ridge, the first ever directed of Homeland Security, and U.S. Trade Representative Bob Zoellick.
So, Mort, a lot of new faces coming in to the Bush Cabinet? What do you think of these names, good choices?
MORT ZUCKERMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, “U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT”: Yes, I think they are good choices.
And I think the president clearly wants to reinvigorate his administration by getting fresh leadership to the top, which will have new energy, new ideas and hopefully a more compatible administration. particularly in foreign policy. You really had a dysfunctional administration with the State Department, to put it mildly, being completely unenthusiastic about most of the president‘s programs, particularly vis-a-vis Iraq, but going beyond that.
And I think now he wants to have an administration that can work together and therefore more effectively around the world. And I think he‘s right.
CROWLEY: Now, along those lines, Mort, the president has also indicated a desire to possibly shake up his economic team. Is that also a good idea?
Yes, I think it is. To be candid, his economic team, particularly his secretary of the treasury, who is a very fine man, is simply not up to the kind of task that we in this country are now facing, particularly with the potential of a lot of countries losing confidence the dollar and crashing the dollar. Somebody‘s got to have real confidence in the economic stewardship of this country. And I think we need new leadership in that regard.
And the president has very ambitious programs, both with the Social Security reform and tax reform that is going to need extraordinary political leadership, people who have a great deal of credibility with the Congress. And so he‘s going to have find somebody really unique and important in the position of secretary of the treasury.
CROWLEY: Amy Goodman, let me go to you, because you see some of the same names here that we‘ve been bandying about here with Mort. What direction do you think President Bush is going to move in, in his second term based on the new personnel?
AMY GOODMAN, HOST, “DEMOCRACY NOW”: First of all, he is surrounding himself with yes men and women, moving to his inner most circle, appointing them to be his Cabinet members. Very concerned about Alberto Gonzales. Here is a man who has been nominated to be the attorney general who was really laying the legal groundwork for what we saw at Abu Ghraib, the torture scandal, the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, saying that the Geneva Conventions are irrelevant or quaint.
This is a very sad comment, certainly not going in the direction of peace.
GOODMAN: Awarding those who were involved with these egregious human rights violations.
CROWLEY: The names that I read to you of those that the president is putting up in the second term here include a lot of women and a lot of minorities. So you have to admit that there‘s a lot of positive diversity in this second term Cabinet.
GOODMAN: I‘m looking at whether they represent a diversity of opinion. They represent a consolidation of the drumbeat for war and violations of human rights, because what we saw at Abu Ghraib, what we‘re seeing in Guantanamo, these are very serious violations.
And Alberto Gonzales was at the heart of them. Then you take someone like Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, and replacing her, Stephen Hadley, her deputy, as national security adviser. These were people who involved from the beginning in misleading the American people, in lying about the weapons of mass destruction.
CROWLEY: I have to stop you there, Amy, because I‘ve heard this over and over again. The American people rejected that argument on November 2. They do not believe that the president or his administration lied to them about of weapons of mass destruction and a number of other issues that you raise.
Mort, let me go to you, because lot of the critics of President Bush say that—just what Amy says, that he‘s choosing yes men in his Cabinet. And I say, well, why not? Karl Rove had a great quote about this. See—by the way, Karl Rove is the man that President Bush refers to as the architect. He sees it differently. He said—quote—“We‘re people who go at other all the time and hard. The president likes advisers who are comfortable enough in their own skin to do that. And we do.”
What is wrong with the president choosing a Cabinet, being surrounded by people he trusts, great advisers who are going those come to him with competing viewpoints? Isn‘t that what the president needs? And also doesn‘t he need Cabinet support for his own policies?
ZUCKERMAN: You know, I‘m reminded of President Kennedy, who selected his brother for attorney general, saying, basically, he needs legal experience.
I mean, we are always talking about presidents who want to have people who are compatible with them. I don‘t believe for a second that people like Stephen Hadley or Condi Rice are just going to be yes men to this president. It‘s nonsense if you know these people. There‘s no doubt but that there is consensus that emerged. What happened was that, when the consensus emerged within the administration, the State Department people, who, frankly, didn‘t share that view, but they were—part of their job was to go out and persuade other countries.
And you can‘t persuade other countries when you don‘t believe in those programs or, as Tom Friedman said about Colin Powell, he goes around selling these programs with raised eyebrows, basically saying, this isn‘t what I really believe in, but it‘s what I have to do. You can‘t work effectively that way. So I understand why the president is doing it.
And I don‘t think these people will hesitate to express contrasting views. Whether their views are the right views, what they ultimately come to, will have to stand the test of time and indeed the test of you say his legacy. But these are all very competent people. And I have no doubt but that they will give all the contrary views that are necessary to formulate policy.
CROWLEY: Well, Mort, I want to address the question of the president‘s legacy heading into the second term. It‘s sort of two-pronged approach here.
One is the war on terror. And one is something that Karl Rove and the president refer to as the ownership society theme. What do you think will be seeing in terms of both the war on terror and ownership society?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, certainly with respect to the war on terror, I think this president absolutely believes that this is his primary mission as president of the United States, which he would define literally as protecting the American public, because if we do have several more mega-terrorist attacks in this country, this country will go through a transformation that I wouldn‘t like my daughter to grow up in.
So I do think this is something that is really critical. And he‘s absolutely committed to it. And it‘s not only something that he believes in. He believes that the fight on the war on terror and the fight for democracy is inherently just. So I think he‘s got a double sort of ambition and motivation.
And, frankly, I think this was probably the single most important
issue on which he was elected. Now, with respect to the—quote, unquote
· “ownership society,” that is very different kettle of fish, because we are in a position in my judgment where we are facing huge fiscal deficits. And if the ownership society means that you drain the fiscal side of the federal government and deepen the fiscal hole, then I think we‘re building ourselves into a huge problem that is going to explode some time in the next half dozen years. And that is something I think we have to look at very, very carefully.
CROWLEY: Amy Goodman, part of what the president means by an ownership society, he‘s talking about making the tax cuts permanent, tax reform, as well as Social Security reform, giving folks the opportunity to take some of their own money, be responsible for it, not let the government have total control over their money.
Do you think—and the president had some success in getting two waves of tax cuts through in his first term. Do you expect that the Democrats might support some of these initiatives?
GOODMAN: Well, first of all, I agree with Mort Zuckerman that he‘s going to need some pretty extraordinary people when it comes to his economic team, when we‘re talking about some of the greatest disparities between wealth, those who have money and those who don‘t, increasing, and the president having to convince the American people that the richest people in our society deserve to get even richer.
Yes, he‘s going to need some pretty extraordinary people to convince the American people of that.
CROWLEY: Well, the Democrats went along for the most part in the Congress with the first wave of tax cuts.
GOODMAN: I agree with you there.
CROWLEY: So I think the Democrats may in fact go along with making the tax cuts permanent.
GOODMAN: I agree with you there.
CROWLEY: All right.
GOODMAN: And I think the real problem there on the Democrats is that we really need an opposition party and not Democrats who will also be yes men for the Republicans.
CROWLEY: Well, I‘m sure a lot of Democrats are saying amen to that, Amy. Thank you very much for being with us tonight.
We need to take a quick break. But, when we come back, the U.N. oil-for-food program was supposed to feed starving Iraqi children. But was it instead lining the pockets of Kofi Annan‘s son? The latest on the U.N. scandal and who it may take down.
And later, a fifth grade teacher is in trouble for handing out inappropriate literature to his students. What was it? Not “Lady Chatterley‘s Lover.” The Declaration of Independence.
That story later tonight on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
CROWLEY: U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is conducting an investigation into the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal. But could it lead to his own son?
SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY will be right back.
CROWLEY: Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. I‘m Monica Crowley, in tonight for Joe.
Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, now in the hot seat of the oil-for-food scandal. The secretary-general has maintained that he and his, Kojo, were not involved with a Swiss company at the heart of the oil-for-food scandal.
Back in April, Kofi Annan said: “Neither he nor I had anything to do with the contracts for Cotecna.”
Well, thanks to reporter Claudia Rosett, writing in “The New York Sun,” we know now that Kojo Annan was receiving payments from this company even as late as this year, raising serious questions about a conflict of interest.
Today, the secretary-general was forced to change his tune. And here is what he told reporters at the U.N. He said: “Naturally, I was very disappointed and surprised. I had no expectation that the relationship continued.”
Is this the beginning of the end for Kofi Annan?
Joining me now, the investigative journal who broke the story, my friend Claudia Rosett from the Foundation For the Defense of Democracies. And still with us, Mort Zuckerman of “U.S. News & World Report.”
Claudia, let me start with you because you‘ve done some amazing pioneering work on this oil-for-food scandal and you deserve a lot of credit for bringing it to the world‘s attention.
CLAUDIA ROSETT, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Hey, Monica. Thank you, and good evening.
CROWLEY: Hi, Claudia.
CROWLEY: Good evening to you, too.
Let‘s start with—the current figure that everybody is talking about here is $21 billion, $21 billion stolen from the oil-for-food program, which was supposed to be monitored by the United Nations. Where did all of that money go? Who profited?
ROSETT: OK, it was let‘s say $21 billion during the entire stretch under U.N. sanctions and then $17.3 billion, so most of it under the oil-for-food program.
And who profited? This was Saddam taking oil revenues that were supposed to go to feed and minister to the people of Iraq and using them—he had a whole series of uses, to buy arms, to fund terrorists, as we have seen in recent hearings with Henry Hyde‘s committee, to suborn and try to buy and corrupt the Security Council, something where there‘s a case—a pretty good case has been made that he succeeded.
And beyond that, to fortify his own regime. Saddam was on the ropes when this program was set up. This program helped bring him back. And let‘s see. Oh, finally, there‘s just massive theft, the building of the palaces and so on.
CROWLEY: Now, you are focusing here, Claudia, on the Iraqis.
CROWLEY: And we know Saddam Hussein and his sons really swindled the U.N. out of this money, and, of course, the U.N. looked the other way. But what about the French and Russians? Talk about the theft there.
ROSETT: OK, they basically—there was tremendous collusion from some member states of the United Nations, especially France and Russia, who Saddam targeted as members of the Security Council, to basically pilfer money that was supposed to go to help people in Iraq.
And the problem with all this—let‘s pull back for a minute—in light of the current story is, you had a U.N. secretariat run by Kofi Annan which was supposed to be supervising Saddam. It is turning out in step after step not only did they fail to supervise Saddam. At this stage, we have the problem that apparently the secretary-general was not even in touch with what his own son was doing and certainly failed—perhaps he can‘t be held responsible for that.
But what about the U.N. contractor themselves, Cotecna? It is the responsibility, I would think, of the U.N. secretariat, when it hires a contractor, to make some effort to see if money is going to...
CROWLEY: Especially, yes, exactly, when it happens to be the secretariat‘s son, who seems to have—profiteering here.
CROWLEY: Mort, let me go to you because you‘ve been on top of this story as well.
There have been a series of denials coming out of the United Nations. Everybody related to this scandal is issuing a denial. Let‘s start with Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, as well as his son, because it seems to me that the outstanding question here is, what did Kofi Annan know either about his son‘s involvement or about the scandal at large and when did he know it?
No, I think we are now in this really serious position of trying to ask and answer the question, is the United Nations corrupt? You have Benon Sevan, who Kofi Annan‘s best friend at the U.N., who was in charge of the administration of the oil-for-food program, who, according to Charles Duelfer, the head of the Iraqi study group, based on the people he interviewed, which included a whole range of Iraqis, and the documents he viewed, took in effect bribery from the Iraqis in his administration of the program of all over $1 million.
You had the secretary-general of the U.N., who is very fine man, Kofi Annan, who literally stated that his son had nothing to do with the contract, had nothing to do with the company going back five years. And we now find out that this child of his, who is in his 20s, was given—are you ready for this? -- a noncompete payment of $2,500 a month since 1998, which is absolutely preposterous when you think about it.
What could he in effect a noncompetitive force in? And it makes no sense. And when Kofi Annan goes public with this, it also raises the question—it is hard to believe that he didn‘t ask his own son, what were you doing and how much were you getting paid for and what‘s your relationship? So the whole Cotecna contract is in a sense under a cloud as well.
And the conflict of interests at the very least should have been made known to the member states of the U.N. if his son was working for them. He left very conveniently shortly before the contract was signed, according to Kofi Annan, yet he was continuing to be paid. For what? It makes absolutely no sense.
ZUCKERMAN: And it puts him into the crosshairs of this—puts Kofi Annan into the crosshairs of this investigation.
CROWLEY: Well, let‘s talk about that investigation, because there are a series of ongoing investigations into the scandal, including one being ostensibly conducted by the United Nations itself. How can that investigation have any credibility whatsoever? Isn‘t that the corrupt leading the corrupt?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, not necessarily.
That investigation, at least theoretically, is being headed by somebody who is incorruptible, Paul Volcker. But the investigations is not properly funded at this point. What is more, he has no power of subpoena. So he cannot force people to give up their records like the bank, Paribas, which refuses to give up their records. And they were the bank that was involved in all of these money flows. He cannot force many of the people to testify. And what is more. The U.N. Has stonewalled the American congressional committees who are investigating it, saying they do not want to provide these documents. And they also advise all the companies involved not to provide documents to the United States.
This is an outrage. We are a country that really provides the largest percentage of the funds, almost 23, 24 percent of all the money to the U.N. We are the ones whom they are looking to fund their new U.N. headquarters. It is ridiculous that we are not going to be given this information, when we were the country that stood the most to lose from an organization that was being corrupted by these in effect bribery payments.
CROWLEY: Claudia let me go to you on the other investigations, the congressional ones that are ongoing. Does the United States have any power, any influence here to force the U.N. to turn over all of their documents, many of which you have seen, all of their information over to these congressional investigators?
ROSETT: The U.S. controls a great chunk of their money, as Mort Zuckerman just pointed out.
CROWLEY: Are we willing to stand up and fight for this information?
ROSETT: I think we need to be, because the basic problem here, what created what really was the biggest fraud in the history of humanitarian relief, and that just happened on the watch of Kofi Annan under this program, is that the U.N. made a deal involving privilege and secrecy with one of the world‘s worst tyrants, Saddam Hussein.
And this was all the way the U.N. operates. They saw nothing very strange in this. That‘s what created the incubator for this incredible corruption. And until that changes, expect more. Go scratch at other programs. You will find problems. And if you want a functional institution that does some good for the world, it‘s...
CROWLEY: Well, real quickly, Claudia and Mort I want you both to address this. What about the future of Kofi Annan? If he were ignorant of what was happening here, then he‘s flat-out inept. If he did know what was going on and looked the other way or even encouraged it, then he‘s flat-out corrupt. Should he resign?
Claudia first and then to Mort.
ROSETT: That‘s the Kofi conundrum. And I think it‘s up to Kofi Annan still to decide what he‘s going to do. But we need a functional institution there. And we need somebody running it who‘s willing to come clean.
CROWLEY: Mort, is it even possible to have a functional institution at the U.N. or is it just so corrupt, you can‘t do anything with it?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, look, the U.N. really encapsulates for many people a lot of noble ideals and the hope for political settlement and peaceful resolution of many conflicts around the world.
But you cannot do it, for example, when, in Iraq, one of the hottest spots in the world, you find out that the U.N. has been an enabler to keep Kofi Annan in power and to suppress his own people. And what‘s more, to suborn, as Claudia points out in a brilliant job of reporting, to suborn the government of France, where they specifically were described by their foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, in the Duelfer report, the Iraqi study group report, that what they wanted were the contracts to develop two major oil fields, this is national corruption.
This is institutional corruption. This is personal corruption. And this is financial corruption on a scale that we have not seen. And it has done huge damage to the United Nations, at least in this part of the world, of course not in France, where they accept that as a normal part of life.
CROWLEY: Well, it seems to me that Kofi Annan has presided over so many serious security and humanitarian failures that, if he had an ounce of honor left, he would step down voluntarily. But I‘m not holding my breath on that.
All right, I‘m going to ask you both to stick around, because, coming up, we‘re going to talk about why this important story and so many others like it are missing from the mainstream media.
Don‘t go away.
CROWLEY: Victories in the war on terror, widespread corruption at the United Nations. We‘ll tell you why the elite media is missing the biggest stories of the year.
But, first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk.
ANNOUNCER: From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
CROWLEY: A top terrorist captured, new evidence of Iraq‘s weapons of mass destruction, and ties discovered between Saddam Hussein and the leaders of old Europe, these may be the biggest stories of the year, but why aren‘t they making headlines in the elite media?
We‘re back with Mort Zuckerman and Claudia Rosett. And now we‘re joined also by Bob Kohn. He‘s the author of “Journalistic Fraud: How The New York Times Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted.”
Welcome to the program, Bob. Nice to see you.
BOB KOHN, AUTHOR, “JOURNALISTIC FRAUD”: Same here, Monica.
CROWLEY: All right, Mort, let me start with you because, before the break, we were talking about oil-for-food.
And with the exception of an intrepid reporter like our friend Claudia Rosett, you, as a columnist, you‘ve been writing abut this. Bill Safire over at “The New York Times,” sort of “The New York Post” and “The Wall Street Journal” and “The New York Sun,” they have been covering it. But why haven‘t we seen more extensive coverage? This is the world‘s biggest swindle? Why haven‘t we seen more coverage of it?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think there was more coverage than you are implying, at least of the financial scandal part of it, when that broke.
It‘s a difficult story to get to. And I think Claudia Rosett did a brilliant job, along with “The New York Sun,” in really keeping after it and keeping a lot of focus on it. But frankly a lot of the sort of the cutting edge of news now is on the cable networks and their political talk shows, and that‘s where you see a lot more of this, these kinds issues, covered.
CROWLEY: And talk radio, too, Mort, talk radio, too.
ZUCKERMAN: And talk radio, too, absolutely.
But some of the more traditional media may—I was amazed, for example, that this story was not covered in “The New York Times” today, at least in my addition of “The New York Times.”
CROWLEY: Well, let me go to Bob.
Because, Bob, you‘ve written a whole book about “The New York Times.”
CROWLEY: Apart from Claudia Rosett, where are the investigator reporters on this? I thought that Watergate was supposed to give us a whole new generation of investigative reporters. Why haven‘t they been digging through this story?
KOHN: It‘s pretty amazing.
You say “The New York Times.” William Safire is an op-ed columnist. He writes an opinion column every week. And he‘s been doing the main investigative reporting work for “The New York Times” here. It reminds me of the old Busby Berkeley films with Mickey Rooney, one-man band with the drum and harmonica. William Safire has been an investigative reporter. He‘s been writing the stories. And he‘s been acting like the editorial page, because he today called for the resignation of Kofi Annan. Where‘s the rest of the paper?
CROWLEY: It‘s been Bill Safire and Claudia Rosett. Where is everybody else? It‘s unbelievable.
Claudia, I want to go to you, because another major story got buried last week. The world‘s second most wanted terrorist, Abu al-Zarqawi, practically admitted defeat when he criticized Muslim scholars in his statement last week. And here is his quote: “You have let us down in the darkest circumstances and handed us over to the enemy. You have quit supporting the mujahedeen.” He went on to add, “You left the mujahedeen facing the strongest power in the world—that would be us—“and not your heart shaken by the scenes of your brothers being surrounded and hurt by your enemy.”
Well, Claudia, an enormous story here, and yet “The New York Times” buries it on page A-22 in their Thanksgiving Day edition, which nobody really reads on the holiday. “The Washington Post” turns around and buries it in the 17th paragraph in another story about another development in Iraq.
What is going on here?
ROSETT: What‘s going on here is at some point they‘re going to realize they could probably sell more newspapers if they covered stories that people clearly do want to read about.
That‘s what actually I think is going on. You have got some kind of market shakeout going on. And I think to some extent you still have editors who perhaps are addressing ideas that are not necessarily just where their readers are. Also, I must say there has been some terrific coverage of, say, the U.N. oil-for-food story, but it‘s been spotty.
It‘s interesting. You‘ll get a very good story in one publication and then it‘s kind of dropped for awhile. What we haven‘t seen is a paper, apart from, say, “The New York Sun,” which really has been covering it—and “The Wall Street Journal” has been pretty well on this—but that has just said—just, as you said, the world‘s biggest swindle. Let‘s cover it, the way you once covered BCCI, the way that, you know—again, I think some closer look is just needed at what the assumptions are.
CROWLEY: Bob, let me turn to you because you‘ve written a whole book about “The New York Times.” You know the elite media very well. This story about al-Zarqawi is huge. We have a dispirited terrorist.
We have terrorists morale apparently shattered, according to the statement. This is a huge victory for the United States and our coalition in the war on terror, huge story. And yet the mainstream media buries it. They don‘t cover it. Why?
KOHN: Monica, the people making the decisions as to what goes on the front page and what goes—gets buried in the middle of the newspaper, “The New York Times,” or what stories get covered and what stories don‘t get covered, it‘s Bill Keller, the executive editor, and Jill Abramson, the managing editor. They‘re the ones who make these decisions.
And, frankly, I don‘t think the election is over for these people. I think that they‘re still in the mode of trying to embarrass the administration or at least mute all of the good news and try to pump up all of the bad news. On the front page of today‘s “Times,” the headline is, “Shadow of Vietnam Falls Over Iraq.” That‘s the front page of “The New York Times.”
CROWLEY: I know. It‘s outrageous.
KOHN: Isn‘t that outrageous, compared to what the real news is, the success in Fallujah and the finding of all of these ground-to-air missiles in Fallujah? That was huge news today. It was on the front page of “USA Today.” And then it‘s on—the oil-for-food program, which “The New York Sun,” a real upstart newspaper, which is gaining a lot of ground, doing some great coverage, is embarrassing the heck out of Bill Keller and Jill Abramson.
I think it‘s embarrassing for “The New York Times” to have William Safire scoop their own reporters.
CROWLEY: On the op-ed page, of all places.
KOHN: Right. Right.
CROWLEY: Mort Zuckerman, there also was another enormous story about a discovery of a chemical lab in Iraq and sort of, we‘re on the trail of weapons of mass destruction there, and yet again, another story buried by the mainstream press.
CROWLEY: You cannot tell me that liberal media isn‘t playing a role in how these stories are covered.
ZUCKERMAN: Well, I‘m not sure that I share that view.
I have to say that when you have the Iraq study group making a definitive statement that the threat extant from existing nuclear weapons or military stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction do not exist, but there is a latent threat there, there, they covered only the one half of it, not the other half, on that, I agree.
The question is, what is the importance of these acts? What is the importance ever al-Zarqawi‘s statement? While it does indicate some disarray, nevertheless, he‘s still leading a major insurgency in Iraq, and that is not over. And that is still the major story as it is seen by many editors. I don‘t disagree that this isn‘t an important indication of where it‘s going.
And the press by and large tends to cover the bad news and not the good news. It‘s the nature of the way the press works. But having said that, I do think that, for example, “The New York Times”—Bill Safire happens to be a great investigative journalist, as well as great columnist. But Judy Miller did a major store on the oil-for-food program.
They haven‘t followed it, frankly, quite as relentlessly and as expertly as Claudia Rosett. But she‘s a rare journalist on this story, who clearly knows the story better than anybody else. So I don‘t fault the press to the extent that you do.
CROWLEY: Well, I think that any kind of story that looks like it‘s going to vindicate President Bush or his approach in the war on terror tends to get buried by the liberal and elite media.
Guys, I want to thank you so much for your time tonight, Claudia Rosett, Mort Zuckerman and Bob Kohn. Thank you for joining us in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
And coming up next, the federal government wants to track your college student. A violation of privacy or just a fact of life in the post-9/11 world?
That debate when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMAS KEAN, CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: We know there‘s another attack coming. You and I can‘t say if it‘s next week or six months from now, but it‘s coming.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: The chairman of the 9/11 Commission told NBC‘s Tim Russert that it‘s not a matter of if, but when there will be another terror attack on America.
The vice chair of that commission says the government needs higher standards for tracking individuals.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE HAMILTON, VICE-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: There‘s isn‘t any doubt the hijackers used the state driver‘s licenses to get by a lot of checkpoints. So standards are important here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: But does a federal proposal to track college students cross the line and violate their privacy?
With us now, NBC terror analyst Steve Emerson and Frank Keating. He‘s a former U.S. attorney and was governor of Oklahoma in 1995, when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed by domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh.
Gentlemen, welcome. Nice to have you tonight.
FRANK KEATING, FORMER OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR: Thanks, Monica.
All right, governor, let me go to you first, because what this proposal aims to do is create a nationwide database of all students enrolling in our colleges and our universities. So what‘s your problem with that?
KEATING: Well, it‘s really rather bizarre, Monica, because, as a father of three recent college graduates, two in public—or I should say two in private institutions, one in a public institution, I didn‘t have access to the records that the federal government is going to have access to without the consent of the student or the parent. I had to get my child‘s consent to find out the same information that the federal government is going to get without anybody‘s consent.
No. 1, there‘s no reason for it legally. No. 2, even if there were jurisdiction—and I don‘t think there is federally or constitutionally—there‘s no reason why that shouldn‘t be a matter which is handled at the state level, in other words, to the colleges and universities work, or at the local level, where most of the funding of higher education comes from.
If this is a subterfuge post-9/11, that‘s one thing. But if it allegedly is to provide information to have a better college system, it really ought to be done on the state and local level, not the federal level. There‘s no reason for it.
CROWLEY: Well, I can understand your concern about possible abuse of this database. But the Department of Education says, look, we‘re going to control this. We‘re going to have all of the data. And that data will not be accessible to outsiders. So aren‘t there safeguards to be put in place to prevent that kind of accessing by outsiders?
KEATING: Well, that‘s what they say. But that doesn‘t necessarily mean what is going to happen.
There could be leaks. There could be obviously systems breakdowns. But the reality is, the federal government exists for the purpose in the Constitution of doing certain things the federal government should do. Why does federal government need to have knowledge about my child who was educated in a private institution that I paid the full freight for that child? Whether he or she graduates on time, whether he or she has a full load or a partial load, that‘s not Uncle Sam‘s business.
I‘m not subscribing to the Orwellian or the Big Brother theory in a black sense, but this is an example of nibble, nibble, cut, cut civil liberties, personal privacy slowly being eroded for no reason. And, in my judgment, it‘s unwise.
CROWLEY: Let me pick on that, because I do think that there is a reason.
And let me go to Steve Emerson on this, because, Steve you‘ve done some great work on terrorism. And I want to deal with the national security angle of this story with you.
The 9/11 Commission—and we just heard from Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton on this—the 9/11 report indicated that our colleges and universities may in fact be breeding grounds for terrorism, for terrorists and terrorist activity. Have we seen terrorist recruiting on our campuses? What have you found?
EMERSON: Well, terrorists have recruited. In fact, several of the terrorists on 9/11 used their status as students to basically provide their ability to hide in the United States.
There are close to half a million foreign students. The vast, vast majority, of course, are not connected to terrorism. But certainly one of the problems that we have is the ability of foreign students to come into the United States, pretend that they‘re enrolled here and basically go do other nasty things. Two of the 9/11 characters ended up using their visas for student—school—for student visas...
CROWLEY: They were student visas, right?
EMERSON: Absolutely. And they ended up actually not showing up.
They ended up conspiring to carry out the worst attack we‘ve ever seen.
Look, the governor is a very sharp guy. I very hesitantly am appearing tonight, because I do not want to be on the other side of the governor. He‘s a smart guy. I respect him a lot. And I take what he says very seriously. I don‘t know, however, that this is any more of an invasion of privacy, let‘s say, than the census is. And the fact of the matter is, I think there is a national security component to this, but I think the other overwhelming probably agenda is to track students to see how many end up matriculating.
A third of all students never end up graduating from the university they enroll in. That‘s a large number. And for issues of economics, I guess the federal government wants to know whether a dollar for purposes of supporting higher education is going to be put to good news.
CROWLEY: Steve, would it be possible, in creating a database like this, to run a crosscheck with the terrorist watch list? Might we be able to do that?
EMERSON: Well, certainly, that could be done. There would have to be a special subpoena or there would be have a special exemption to get access to this the way that bill is set up right now.
But, look, even after three years after 9/11, the fact of the matter is, the FBI still doesn‘t have the ability to track foreign students on a real-time basis because the law doesn‘t allow universities or doesn‘t mandate that the university provide this to the FBI in an international, real-time database. So, in the end, we still have the same problem that afflicted us before 9/11.
CROWLEY: Well, we still have a lot of work to do, as this debate makes clear, also in striking a balance between the public interest, privacy and national security as well.
Steve Emerson, Governor Frank Keating, thank you so much.
KEATING: Thank you.
CROWLEY: Next up, a California teacher was told he couldn‘t pass out a very offensive document, the Declaration of Independence.
That story right after the break. Stay with us.
CROWLEY: Welcome back. I‘m Monica Crowley, in tonight for Joe.
Religion is under attack on many fronts in America. And it was also a significant factor in this presidential election. Now in a bizarre case from California, a 5th grade teacher has been forced to stop distributing copies of the Declaration of Independence to his students because the document on which our freedom was founded happens to mention God. The teacher, Steven Williams, is suing.
Joining me to discuss this case right now are Republican strategist Jack Burkman, and Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists.
Welcome to the show.
ELLEN JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ATHEISTS: Thank you, Monica.
Now, Jack and Ellen, according to the story, the teacher in question, Mr. Williams, is suing the Stevens Creek School in the San Francisco suburb of Cupertino, California, claiming discrimination. Mr. Williams claims he has been singled out because he is a Christian. The school has made no comment on this case. And, also if you thought this was just involving the Declaration of Independence, well, there are couple of other American documents that have got this teacher in hot water.
Some of the other offending documents he‘s been prohibited from handing out to his fifth grade students include George Washington‘s journal, John Adams‘ diary, Samuel Adam‘s “The Right of the Colonists,” and William Penn‘s “The Frame of the Government of Pennsylvania.”
JACK BURKMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Monica, this thing belongs on Comedy Central. I don‘t think it belongs on network news.
Just when you think the state of California can‘t get any more absurd, it does. Look, what we should do, what you and brother Scarborough should do is find out the people who are involved in this, run their names on the air every night until they are driven out of education, because that‘s what they deserve.
The reality is this. Christianity is a threat to the agenda to a lot of these left-wingers all over the country. They have operated under the veneer for years that they‘re concerned about separation of church and state. This in a way proves it because it has nothing to do with separation of church and state. The Declaration of Independence wasn‘t even mentioned in those court rulings. It was the Pledge of Allegiance.
All this is, is a raw, naked attack on Christianity. They want to drive it out. In some ways, this is what Hitler did. This is what Stalin did. They want to get rid of religion. They want to get rid of thought. They want to get rid of all the glue that holds the society together. And then their atheist, their secularized agenda is easy to put forth.
CROWLEY: Yes. You know, Ellen, Jack raises a very good point. He raises the communists. The communists did a great job in banning God. Is that what you want to do? We‘re talking about the founding documents of the world‘s greatest democracy you want to ban because they mention God?
JOHNSON: Monica, the atheists are not even involved in this issue.
It‘s a public school district that‘s involved in this issue.
CROWLEY: Do you support banning the Declaration?
JOHNSON: It is not Christianity, it is not Christians who are under attack. It‘s the truth that is under attack.
What I think, we don‘t know what is going on in the classroom. I think we have to wait and find out. But I think I know what‘s probably going on. What I think that the teacher is doing—and this is a history teacher—is, I think he‘s whitewashing history. I think he‘s selectively coming up—oh, by the way, the Declaration of Independence doesn‘t have the word God in it.
You don‘t know it pains me to hear people even say that. We don‘t know our history. And now we have a history teacher who is trying to just selectively use parts of history to paint a particular picture of our history. I don‘t think this person wants to mention the...
BURKMAN: What is he doing? You haven‘t made an allegation? What are you suggesting he‘s doing? OK, I heard that. How is he selectively doing it?
JOHNSON: We need to find out.
BURKMAN: Well, what facts do you need?
JOHNSON: None of us know what exactly he‘s talking, what he‘s doing.
BURKMAN: No. But what facts do you need? We know the declaration—he has been banned from using it. What do you need to know?
JOHNSON: I‘m supposing that what he‘s trying to do is take quotes. He‘s trying to paint our nation as a Christian nation founded on Christianity and as our founding fathers...
CROWLEY: Jack, hold on one second. Hold on.
Let me ask you, Ellen. Most of our founders were in fact religious men. God is all over the place in American life. It‘s on our money. It‘s in our Pledge of Allegiance. It‘s the halls of Congress. Do you want to see God extricated from every aspect of American life?
JOHNSON: Well, no, that‘s not what this is all about.
You can‘t move a deity from—there is no deity to move around. There is no God to move out of public life. That‘s not what it‘s all about. It‘s upholding the constitutional separation of state and church. That‘s what American Atheists is all about. This is not—we‘re not involved in this issue in California.
I would certainly like to know more about this issue. But as—what Christians tend to do is, they tend to whitewash history. What frightens me is that he‘s the only one we know about. How many other teachers are out there selectively using...
CROWLEY: Well, wait a minute, Ellen. You just raised a good point.
And, Jack, I want to raise this with you.
This teacher claims that he‘s being discriminated against because he is a Christian. He is the only teacher in this school district required to submit all of his lesson plans ahead of time to the principal. Is this discrimination against this Christian teacher?
BURKMAN: Oh, it sounds like it.
In fact, the first time I read this, it sounds in this district and really in the state of California, it sounds like this is catching on. This is a very systematic, it‘s a very deliberate, it‘s a very concerted kind of discrimination. It‘s almost like the racial discrimination you saw in the South.
BURKMAN: This is a growing force in an area like San Francisco.
JOHNSON: There‘s many, many teachers across America are Christian, and no one is selecting them out for punishment or anything.
He‘s doing something he shouldn‘t do. And I think that, when the rubber meets the road and we find out what he‘s doing, we‘ll find out that he is being...
BURKMAN: How do you know? You‘re presupposing. I hate to...
JOHNSON: Because I‘ve been doing this for so long. In Alabama, they have disclaimers in science books against evolution. Ten years ago in Alabama, they used to rip the pages out of the science books that had anything to do with evolution.
Oh, my goodness. This is what Christians do.
CROWLEY: But what about the First Amendment rights of the teacher and the students?
JOHNSON: In Mississippi—the teachers in Eupora, Mississippi, and Pontotoc, Mississippi, are leading the children in prayer...
CROWLEY: All right, we have to leave it there. We have to leave the debate there. It‘s going to reach onward.
JOHNSON: ... all day long.
CROWLEY: I know.
Jack Burkman and Ellen Johnson, thank you so much for joining me tonight.
And that‘s all the time we have for SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY tonight.
“HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS” is next. I‘ll see you tomorrow.
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