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PAULA ZAHN NOW

George W. Bush Visits National Guard Association; Interview With Seymour Hersh

Aired September 14, 2004 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome. Thanks so much for being with us tonight on PRIME TIME POLITICS.
Who represents African-Americans better, George W. Bush or John Kerry? It's turning into a hot debate. And the battle over battleground states. Tonight, some surprising results in another exclusive CNN poll.

And latest rage and outrage in Washington politics, the Wonkette. You won't want to miss her.

But first, today's big story, George W. Bush and the National Guard. The president traveled to Las Vegas to speak with the National Guard Association about the future, but he can't seem to get away from questions about his past.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General, I'm reporting for duty.

ZAHN (voice-over): Four years ago, this is how candidate George W. Bush opened his speech to the National Guard Association. Today, before the same group, President Bush barely mentioned his own service in the National Guard.

BUSH: Nineteen individuals have served both in the Guard and as president of the United States, and I'm proud to be one of them.

ZAHN: Instead of dwelling on the past, the president focused on the Guard's role now.

BUSH: You are a vital part of our strategy to defend America. You're fighting terrorist enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan and across the globe, so we do not have to face them here at home.

ZAHN: John Kerry, who speaks to the same group on Thursday, has also been keeping away from the controversy, leaving Democratic Party leaders to take up the attack.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: His lack of commitment 30 years ago is an insult to those who fulfill their National Guard duty. His lies only make the matter worse.

ZAHN: Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe unveiled a new political offensive called Operation Fortunate Son. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: His supervisor wrote that Bush had not been observed at this unit. Where was he and why did he miss his physical, this son of privilege, this fortunate son

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: The Democrats' attack is based on recent media reports raising questions about how the young George Bush got into the Guard, and whether he fulfilled his duties, especially when he was in Alabama working on a political campaign and assigned to an Alabama Air Guard unit.

The president's usual response to questions about his Guard service has been to point to his honorable discharge as proof he did his duty. Well, on Monday, first lady Laura Bush did the talking, telling a radio interviewer she thinks documents used in a CBS report questioning her husband's Guard service were faked.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: You know, they probably are altered, and they probably are forgeries, and I think that's terrible, really.

ZAHN: But a group called Texans For Truth is now offering a $50,000 who proves George W. Bush fulfilled all of his duty and drill requirements in Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And our senior White House correspondent, John King, traveled west with the president. He joins us from Las Vegas this evening.

Good to see you again, John.

So let's go back and talk a little bit about the reception the president got today among all of those members of the National Guard. How was he received?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Overwhelmingly enthusiastic reception, quite positive, several standing ovations.

Look, the president is the commander in chief. Some here might have some questions about what he did 30 years ago, although we talked to quite a number of people who said they don't care so much about what he did 30 years ago. They want to know how he'll deal with their health care issues now, how much advance notice they'll get before they're deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or somewhere else.

So the president is the commander in chief and there's a great deal of respect for him here. Very people few people said they wanted questions answered about 30 years ago. One senior official from the Delaware National Guard told me, look, a lot of upper-middle-class and rich kids 30 years ago did get some special privileges. That's the way it went back then. That's how he viewed it. He wants to know what the president will do tomorrow, not what he did 30 years ago. ZAHN: And we certainly can't ignore the significance of the White House putting Laura Bush out there to add to the noise surrounding these documents that are now at center of this National Guard controversy. A smart move on the White House's part?

KING: They think so.

More and more, Laura Bush is being used as a subtle weapon, if you will, in this campaign. She has way high approval ratings. More than 60 percent of the American people view her favorably. She is polite even when she says sharp things. They knew we would focus today on these documents and they wanted someone out there suggesting to the American people, don't believe this. These documents are forgeries. Who better to do that than the very popular first lady?

ZAHN: All right, John, thanks so much. We would love for you to stick around, because we have a lot more political ground to cover.

Tonight, we have another exclusive look at the changing numbers in a major battleground state. The Bush and Kerry campaign struggle for the advantage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

J.C. WATTS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Mike, thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: The challenge from former Congressman J.C. Watts. He'll debate anyone on whether George W. Bush is good for African-Americans. Well, tonight, the Reverend Al Sharpton accepts that challenge.

That and our PRIME TIME POLITICS voting booth is open. Our question tonight, which candidate would do more for blacks, Bush or Kerry? Tell us. Just go to our Web site, CNN.com/Paula. We'll have results at end of the hour, as PAULA ZAHN NOW: PRIME TIME POLITICS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: All week long, we're bringing you exclusive poll results from key battleground states. And tonight, there is big news for John Kerry in Michigan, where 17 electoral votes are at stake. The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup gives Senator Kerry a six-point lead over President Bush among likely voters in Michigan, 50 to 44 percent. And Kerry has a seven-point edge among registered voters.

Well, tonight, John Kerry is in Michigan. Earlier today, he courted voters in Ohio, another key battleground state, and accused of president of not being up front on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just today, the president stood up, down, and talked to the National Guard and just glosses over Iraq, as if everything is just fine. But you know and I know, Americans know and the world knows, because all you have to do is see it on the evening news or read the newspapers, that the situation in Iraq is worse, not better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Well, Kerry picked up support today from five women who lost their husbands on September 11. They publicly endorsed his candidacy and said President Bush has betrayed the families of the victims. How important is Michigan? Remember, Al Gore beat George Bush there in the year 2000.

Joining me here now in New York, Joe Klein, CNN contributor and "TIME" magazine columnist. Senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in Detroit with the Kerry campaign. And we check back in with senior White House correspondent John King, who has not moved since our last live shot. He still is in Las Vegas.

Welcome, all.

So, Candy, let's talk about the significance of these numbers in Michigan. As we mentioned, Al Gore took this states. Is this about the only ray of hope John Kerry has seen over the last couple of days numbers-wise?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, no, they think they're seeing some things internally that tell them that the Bush bounce post-convention may be flattening out. We'll see. It's not showing up yet in most of the public polls.

They look at this Michigan poll and say, we're not surprised. We knew we were strong in Michigan. It is second to Ohio only in loss of manufacturing jobs, and there's a Democratic stronghold there. I think that they would be more panicked were it closer in Michigan. If they were behind in Michigan, they'd be more panicked than they appear to be now, although, as I say, they now are looking at the numbers that they're getting internally nationwide and saying, we think it's going to get back to where it was, which is dead even nationwide.

ZAHN: Joe, give us your broad view on these numbers?

JOE KLEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the way they've been tanking in a lot of polls since the Republican Convention, any good news is great news, because this -- this kind of result in Michigan shows that they're not tanking across the board.

Last night, we had Wisconsin, which was a state that Al Gore won in 2000 and Kerry has now dropped significantly down, and also true in Missouri and several of the other key battleground states. So, if John Kerry can't win Michigan, he's not going to get elected president.

ZAHN: John, let's talk a little bit about how the Bush administration is reacting to John Kerry's very barbed attacks on him when it comes to the issue of Iraq. Do they plan to have to deflect this for many weeks to come?

KING: Well, they know this will be a debate until the very end.

They know John Kerry is coming here to Las Vegas to speak to the same audience, the National Guard Association, the president spoke to today. And he came here. And he didn't mention his own Guard service. He did deliver a new attack line, suggesting that when Senator Kerry shifted his position on Iraq back in the Democratic primaries, it was because of pressure from Howard Dean, the president saying if he will shift for political reasons or for expediency, political expediency, in a Democratic primary, what will he do when confronted with a very difficult global challenge/

So this back and forth over Iraq will go to the very end. You're mentioning Michigan. The Bush campaign says the Kerry campaign still a little nervous. They say, in the past 24 hours, they have increased the ad buy, the Kerry campaign has, not only in Michigan, but in Minnesota as well and in Wisconsin. So, at some point, Senator Kerry has to put away the Democratic states. The president has to do the same in some Republican states. It's a reflection of how fiercely contested this election is.

ZAHN: Jump in here, Joe.

KLEIN: The president's been very effective with his flip-flop line on Kerry's position in the war. Kerry did something interesting today for the first time, which is pointing out, Mr. President, you're in charge of this war. Things are going very, very badly. What are you going to do about it? And I think that that is going to be a very powerful question for the next seven weeks.

ZAHN: It might be a powerful question, Joe.

But, Candy, take a look at these statistics. When voters were asked who could do a better job in handling Iraq, the president has a commanding lead, 57 percent to 37 percent. So how much leverage do the Kerry folks think they really have here on the issue of Iraq?

CROWLEY: Well, look, they know, first of all, that they have to bring down some of those numbers. But they know that what they've been trying to do is kind of change the conversation a little bit and say, look how much Iraq has been costing us, not just in terms of dollars, but in terms of what we could have bought had we not gone to war the way we did, that is, without allies who can help pay for it.

So they've been trying to kind of turn the corner and say, this is a domestic issue now. It's why you don't have education or it's why you don't have health care, that sort of thing.

I wanted to say, talking about the president's National Guard speech, they looked at that here in camp Kerry and said, we think he made a major mistake in this speech. And we think that the president gave us an opening, and that is they believe now that they may sort of rejigger what John Kerry was going to say at his National Guard speech to kind of encompass what you heard in that sound bite, which is, wait a second. Let's take a real look at what's going on, on the ground in Iraq. And they've trying to frame the president, trying to get at his leadership numbers, which are very high, and his honesty and integrity numbers, which are high, saying, look, this is a man who is not telling you the truth. And they think Iraq now stands as something they can make that case about.

ZAHN: But the bottom line, Joe Klein, in the end, when it comes for us all to vote in November, is this National Guard thing going to still have resonance?

KLEIN: Well, I don't think it is. I don't think it is for a couple of reasons.

One is, we know who George W. Bush is now and what he did 30 years ago doesn't make a difference. We now know that when he was young and irresponsible, he was really irresponsible. But he is also repentant. He has been born again. And the people who would hold him to task on the things that he did when he was young and irresponsible have forgiven him for that, because he's now a religious man, a man of faith,

ZAHN: John, given what Joe just said, does the campaign view the president then as, what would you call it, partially inoculated here?

KING: Well, no, they don't view him as partially inoculated to the past, to the past.

They do -- they know what Senator Kerry did today. And remember last night we were talking about how far behind George Bush was in Michigan on the issue of health care. He cannot win the state of Michigan or probably win nationally if he's so far behind on health care. So he has to try to whittle that.

John Kerry cannot win if he's so far behind on national security issues and Iraq. So he needs to whittle that. Joe can remember this. back in 1991, when Bill Clinton was wobbling, but he wouldn't fall over, he would say, you can either be discouraged by the polls or you can try to change them. That's what John Kerry is trying to do. And that is what the president is trying to do.

ZAHN: All right, trio, we got to leave it there. Thank you, all, Candy Crowley, John King, Joe Klein. Look forward to talking to you lots in the weeks to come.

Detroit and its suburbs give the state of Michigan a lot of African-American voters. And this year, both parties are fighting hard for them. Can Republicans win the hearts and the allegiance of African-Americans? Some strong opinions in a debate right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The African-American vote is important for both President Bush and Senator Kerry, but there is debate among black Americans as to which candidate is the better choice. An independent pro-John Kerry group called The Media Fund is launching a multimillion dollar ad campaign designed to reach out to black voters in key battleground states by attacking President Bush's record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, THE MEDIA FUND AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bush said prosperity was right around the corner. But he wasn't talking about the corners in your neighborhood. What are you going to do about it?

ANNOUNCER: The Media Fund is responsible for the content of this advertisement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: After seeing that ad, you can question whether that is an independent group or not, but this campaign has outraged former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts, who was the only black Republican in Congress before he left in 2002.

He issued this statement: "I will challenge anyone to debate me on Bush's record vs. Senator Kerry's record on issues that directly impact my community."

Well, the Reverend Al Sharpton, a former Democratic presidential candidate, never backs down from a challenge. He joins us right now. Unfortunately, J.C. Watts is traveling tonight. He cannot join us. But this is a serious issue, worth discussing and debating.

So joining me tonight in place of former Congressman Watts is the Reverend Joe Watkins, the director of Hill Solutions and also an adviser to the Bush campaign.

Good to see both of you.

(CROSSTALK)

AL SHARPTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For the record, I was traveling and I got here. J.C. should show up. I would like to debate him on this issue.

ZAHN: Well, good effort on your part.

REV. JOE WATKINS, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: You've got me, Reverend Al. You've got me?

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON: We'll spar, but I wanted to fight with J.C.

ZAHN: We're going to get the two of you together in one room, I promise.

But let's start off tonight by listening to one of the radio ads also being aired with the obvious purpose of getting the black vote out for John Kerry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, THE MEDIA FUND AD) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bush is a rich man in the White House who is sending black men and women to be slaughtered in Iraq, while Cheney and his Halliburton boys get rich on oil. Don't keep getting played.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Is that ad over the top?

SHARPTON: I think that the ad is not only over the top. I think that when you look at the fact that everyone in politics gives towards the market that they are trying to interest, they are directly talking about how a disproportionate amount of people that died in Iraq were black.

ZAHN: So, wait a minute. You're saying it's not over the top? You agree with the essence of what it's saying.

SHARPTON: I'm saying that there is no question Halliburton made money. There's no question a lot of blacks died in Iraq. No one should have died if the premise for going in was weapons of mass destruction.

So I think that, clearly, you can't deny that Halliburton made the money. You cannot deny that people white and black died, and you cannot deny that blacks died disproportionately. So the Republicans need to answer it, rather than talk about what is over the top. Let's talk about what has in fact happened.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Why don't we answer the charges in this ad? Are there or are there not a disproportionate number of African-American men and women dying in this war in Iraq?

WATKINS: Paula, to that, I would say, don't believe the hype.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: What's the answer, yes or no?

WATKINS: I don't believe that, not for one second.

SHARPTON: You don't believe it or do you know the facts?

WATKINS: What I do know is that African-American men and women have put their lives on the line for this country. They've been brave. They are among our greatest heroes. And I'm proud. I know this. More importantly, this president is proud of every African- American woman who has stood up in line for the United States.

SHARPTON: No question about it.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Hang on. You can't both talk at the same time or nobody's going to understand anything. (CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Wait, wait, wait.

This is a very specific charge they're lobbying.

SHARPTON: That's correct.

WATKINS: Yes.

ZAHN: You look at statistics and they do tell you that more African men and women are dying in this war than whites.

WATKINS: It is the choice of African-American men and women, as it is the choice of all Americans, to enlist, to serve, to support our country and defend our country.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: All right, so you're acknowledging that these statistics are true?

WATKINS: I don't know that the statistics are necessarily true.

But what I will say is this, that these 527 ads are over the top. And this is why the president of the United States and Senator McCain...

ZAHN: That is a whole 'another subject that we'll get off on another time.

WATKINS: Are against them, and they've gone to court to stop them.

ZAHN: Let's talk about some of the other statistics that I don't think anybody can ignore here.

According to the Congressional Black Caucus, 7.3 million Americans are now without health insurance, and the poverty rate for African-Americans rose 24 percent last year. How are you going to convince those people that they should vote for George Bush?

WATKINS: Well, you know, the beauty is, is that we are not -- we meaning African-Americans, are not owned by any political party.

And if you listen to some Democrats talk about it and some leaders talk about it, what they'll try to tell you is that all African-Americans are poor. That's not the case. If you look at what President Bush has done since President Bush has been president, over one million African-Americans are now homeowners, own their own homes, are building wealth.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But you're not proud of those other statistics, are you? WATKINS: What I'm proud of the president's response to statistics, what has he has done with historically black colleges and universities by raising the amount of federal funding for black colleges, what he's done in the

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: The Democrats aren't off the hook here either. Hang on one second.

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON: Paula, if we're going to have a dialogue, he should at least answer one question tonight. If J.C. was going to send you, he should have at least given you the facts. She asked you two questions and you haven't answered either one of them.

WATKINS: The facts stand for themselves. This president has done a very, very strong job.

ZAHN: OK. Gentlemen, gentlemen, I want to move you on to the issue of Democrats, people within your party, are accusing your party of not representing African-Americans the way it should?

SHARPTON: I think that there is a great challenge in the party. I clearly was one of them that raised it. I continue to raise it.

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON: But I do not say because you have a relationship that has questions in it that you go and just start running in the streets with anybody who's never done anything for you and has stood against your interests.

George Bush sent lawyers to court, to the Supreme Court, against affirmative action. We have had an increase in poverty, an increase in unemployment. We have had any number of judicial appointments by George Bush by people who have defended segregationist judicial policies. So to say that he's an alternative to our internal party things is to say that suicide is the answer to a headache.

ZAHN: All right, you've just picked four or five issues. You heard what Reverend Watkins said.

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON: No, I'm still waiting for him to say something.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: He's putting to increased home ownership among African- Americans.

WATKINS: Absolutely, home ownership, education.

(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: Point to one other statistic that would make Reverend Al Sharpton proud.

WATKINS: Education. This president has supported public education. Funding for kids in public schools from grades K through 12 has increased by over

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Reverends, I hate to do this. I will have to go to church on Sunday and repent for cutting two reverends off, but I got to do it.

SHARPTON: Bring J.C. Watts

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: We've got to move on, gentlemen.

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON: ... have to represent. I feel for you.

WATKINS: He's a great guy. He's a great guy.

SHARPTON: Good guy.

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS: ... President Bush.

SHARPTON: He should be in retirement.

ZAHN: I can hardly wait to see you talk during the commercial.

Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Joe Watkins, thank you again for dropping by here this evening.

Which candidate do you think is better for African-American voters? That is tonight's PRIME TIME POLITICS voting booth question. Cast your ballot at CNN.com/Paula. We'll have the results at the end of the hour.

Domestic politics just part of the political equation this election. Events in Iraq are also a major factor -- Abu Ghraib and why the investigative reporter who broke the story thinks it could come back to haunt the campaign in a dramatic way -- that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: When the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke and the world saw those disturbing pictures of Americans abusing Iraqi prisoners, President Bush took a hit in the polls.

Well, that was five months ago, and the president's numbers have recovered. Now, seven weeks before Election Day, the investigative reporter who broke the Abu Ghraib story says the White House was warned two years ago of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of prisoners from the war on terror in Afghanistan were being held. That reporter is Seymour Hersh. He makes that charge and more in a new book called "Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib." He joins us now.

Always good to see you. Welcome.

SEYMOUR HERSH, AUTHOR, "CHAIN OF COMMAND": Hi.

ZAHN: One of the more explosive charges you make in your book is that this war on terror that the United States has entered into not only in Afghanistan, but in Iraq, has made the world a more dangerous place. Are you suggesting that the world would be better off with the Taliban in power and Saddam Hussein in power?

HERSH: Well, there would be certainly a lot more Americans and Iraqis alive, and you tell me what the progress is.

And the man who's now president, now prime minister, worked for Saddam Hussein. Mr. Allawi was a -- he was a member of the Mukhabarat, the intelligence service. He's seen even by the most open-minded American supporters as Saddam-like. We don't have a popular leadership there.

We don't have any, as I say -- no intelligence about what's going on among the people who are opposed to us, the insurgency. From the day one we had no information about the insurgency. We had no information when we started the war that there would be an insurgency, and we have no information today about the insurgency. If they're going to bomb us tomorrow, we'll find out about it after the fact.

ZAHN: Let's move on to the issue of prisoner abuse.

So in this book you tell in great detail about the CIA analyst who submitted a detailed report to Condoleezza Rice. She in turn analyzed it, called for this high-level meeting and asked Donald Rumsfeld to do something about it. In your book you say he chose to do nothing about it.

Well, we interviewed Ms. Rice over the weekend. And she denies that she or any top member of the Bush administration ignored warnings.

Let's listen to has she had to say on Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: In the fall of 2002, we were made aware that there was some concerns the people might have been being held at Guantanamo who didn't meet the definition of unlawful combatant.

There were also, early on, some conditions or some concerns about conditions of overcrowding. But nothing that suggested, to my recollection, that there were abuses, anything -- abuses going on at Guantanamo and certainly nothing that would suggest the kind of thing that went on an Abu Ghraib.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Sounds like we're talking about two entirely different stories here. Who's lying? The CIA analyst or Condoleezza Rice?

HERSH: It's not lying.

First of all, the definition the White House has of torture and abuse are very strange. I write about it in the book.

For example, for the White House it's -- if your intent in maiming or hurting somebody was to get information related to national security, that's not torture.

Also, the White House has a definition of abuse that Human Rights Watch and other groups have been arguing with the White House for three years about their definitions. They have very different -- and for them, putting a hood on somebody and tying up and putting goggles so he can't see what he's doing is not abuse.

I'm saying to the very top of the government, the attitude was always we don't care, really, what happens to these prisoners. We want to get the intelligence any way you can. If you want to use force...

ZAHN: So who should be accountable?

HERSH: I think first of all we should find out what did happen between Rumsfeld and the White House. I think...

ZAHN: We don't know that yet?

HERSH: We should ask more. We should get this report declassified, if we can. I wish they would make it public, make the report public. Let's get it out.

ZAHN: So what do we know tonight?

HERSH: What we know...

ZAHN: Do we know that Dick Cheney allowed for this prisoner abuse to continue?

HERSH: No. The way the White House puts it is, did Dick Cheney or Rumsfeld know about Abu Ghraib? And the answer, of course not. They would have gone batty about it. They're not irrational people. This kind of conduct is awful.

But did they know that prisoners were being treated any way the command thought viable? Yes.

Did they know that nobody -- that the Geneva Convention was seen as something that, an unnecessary evil? Yes. Did they know we were being very tough with people on occasion? Yes.

Did they know we had a secret unit that ran around the world that disappears people? Yes. All in the name of protecting America initially, but that's happened.

ZAHN: Do you believe there is a cover-up at work here?

HERSH: I believe that anybody who wants to go after the higher ups, including secretary of defense and -- would be doing so at -- at the peril of his position.

ZAHN: But that's still not answering the question whether you think there's a cover-up here.

HERSH: Do I think that somebody sat down in the room and said, "You will not do this"? No. Those things rarely happen. No, I don't think so. I don't think there was a plan, a master plan.

I think everybody understands -- the various investigations, we're told, you will just look at this parameter...

ZAHN: Sure.

HERSH: ... and not go beyond it. And I think that is interesting.

ZAHN: Interesting? By that what do you mean?

HERSH: I'm a journalist, and -- and I don't speculate about what I don't know. I don't know if there's a cover-up. I couldn't prove to you today there was a cover-up.

ZAHN: Finally, the question about the politics of all of this as you look ahead to the next four years of what might transpire in Iraq, do you really believe that President Bush or John Kerry can implement -- implement a plan that is so drastically different from one another, that that should help us decide how to vote?

HERSH: I haven't heard anything from Senator Kerry that indicates to me that he has a solution. I know this government doesn't have a solution. No exit plan. I know that because I talk to people all the time.

I haven't heard anything from Kerry. Kerry's solution is, he's going to go to the foreign -- other foreign governments and ask them to send their troops. But let's see. Let's just change the color of the corpses.

The Germans are going to say, "Oh, that's a great idea, because now you're the president. We're now going to send our boys to die."

I don't think it's viable. Until either until this administration or the next one, or whoever it is, if it is Kerry, starts talking about some concrete way to put and end to the bloodshed, we're in trouble.

ZAHN: Seymour Hersh, thank you for spending time with us tonight. Appreciate it.

We asked the Defense Department to respond and received this statement: "It appears that Mr. Seymour Hersh's book apparently contains many of the numerous unsubstantiated allegations and inaccuracy which he has made in the past based upon unnamed sources.

Investigations have determined that no responsible official of the Department of Defense approved any program that could conceivably have authorized or condoned the abuses sent at Abu Ghraib. If any of Mr. Hersh's anonymous sources wish to come forward and offer evidence to the contrary, the department welcomes them to do so."

Well, we shared that statement with Seymour Hersh. He said he stands by his reporting.

And joining us now is a former deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, Jed Babbin. He's an expert in national security and foreign affairs and the author of "Inside the Asylum: Why the United Nations and Old Europe are Worse Than You Think." Jed Babbin joins us from Washington.

Good to see you, sir. Welcome.

JED BABBIN, AUTHOR, "INSIDE THE ASYLUM": Thanks.

ZAHN: First off, I want your reaction to the first part of the salvo that Mr. Hersh fired tonight, essentially saying that Iraq -- if Saddam Hussein was still in power today you wouldn't have as many Iraqis dead or Americans dead.

And he said the situation is so out of control that you now have parts of the country that are in control of the insurgents.

BABBIN: Well, there are parts of Iraq that are currently under control of the insurgents, and we're working on that with the Allawi government.

But Mr. Hersh is basically saying that this whole war on terrorism is our fault and our idea. And I don't think that anyone who has studied these facts over the past six or 10 years can possibly come to that conclusion.

This war was not started by the United States, and if we followed Mr. Hersh's advice, I guess the Taliban would still be running Afghanistan and supporting al Qaeda. I mean, it's just a ludicrous position, Paula.

ZAHN: Well, the point he was making is he does in his book talk about the impact of 9/11. He just thinks the American public was misled about the reasons why the war on terror expanded into Iraq.

He has always maintained in his reporting over the last several months that there has been no proven connection of any active involvement in Iraqi officials and al Qaeda members, in the 9/11 catastrophe.

BABBIN: Well, I think that's -- I think that's probably quite correct. I think Vice President Cheney said as much, more than once.

The fact, though, is that Saddam was hip deep in terror from Abu Nadal to Hamas to whatever, and the fact that he was not tied into 9/11 was not one of the reasons we went in to war there.

We went in to stop him from doing what we believe, on the basis of the intelligence we had, that he was dealing with weapons of mass destruction and other terrorist groups. That's why we went to war.

If the intelligence was wrong, as it appears now that it was, that's not the question that Mr. Hersh is raising.

ZAHN: Mr. Babbin, got to leave it there this evening. Thanks so much for your perspective. Appreciate it.

BABBIN: Thanks.

ZAHN: We're going to turn back to the battle over President Bush's military service and show you how Internet sleuths were the first to raise doubts about those controversial "60 Minute" documents.

Election year politics, as easy as falling off a blog, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: With each election cycle, the World Wide Web plays a larger role in U.S. politics. And the big story this year is the rise of the weblogs. They are known as blogs for short, a kind of combination diary, news roundup and gossip sheet posted for everyone to read.

And technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg shows us just how bloggers have changed politics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By 1996, most candidates had their own Web sites. In 2000, John McCain inaugurated online fund-raising. And 2004 seems to be the year of the blog.

HOWARD FINBERG, POYNTER INSTITUTE: They're igniting a great deal of enthusiasm and energy among partisans, at least in -- among some of the very political blogs out there.

SIEBERG: Howard Dean's young edgy supporters used blogs, or weblogs, to organize and raise millions in cash during the primaries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It is cool!

SIEBERG: Web logs for techies, for the media, or just for fun, now number in the millions. The technology needed to set up a blog is as easy as one, two, three, and political blogs often have links galore, ads galore, and, hey, you can even get the t-shirt.

MARKOS MOULITSAS, DAILYKOS.COM: The blogs is a 24/7 endeavor. I actually dream what I want to blog the next day.

SIEBERG: Markos Moulitsas' site, DailyKos.com, works closely with the Democratic Party.

MOULITSAS: The whole point of blogging is this notion of participatory democracy. And I think people really appreciate this notion that they're partners in the endeavor. It's not just them taking marching orders, but it's actually them being asked for their opinions and their thoughts and their suggestions on how to proceed.

SIEBERG: Glenn Reynolds, another superstar among political bloggers, has no official party ties. The usually described as conservative law professor and author of InstaPundit.com says blogs get people thinking and doing.

GLENN REYNOLDS, INSTAPUNDIT.COM: You can sit in your living room and shout at your television, which makes you feel helpless. You can turn off the television, which is no great solution, or you can try to do better yourself. And I think that's a very constructive response.

SIEBERG: Some lean slightly right or left. Others lean really right or left. And candidates even have their own blogs.

This blogosphere is helping reshape campaigns and campaign coverage.

(on camera): In fact, at this year's political conventions, bloggers were given press credentials for the first time. Many hoped it would boost online traffic and maybe even generate some cash. But for the most part that hasn't happened.

Regardless, most political bloggers say they do it on principle, not for the profits.

MOULITSAS: We are making a real difference. It's just going to grow as the influence of the blogs grow.

SIEBERG: Instapundit and Daily Kos usually rank at the top in the blog influence quotient. But how do you sift through those other, oh, 140,000-plus essay, diaries and cheap shots?

FINBERG: There's a lot of silliness out there, and there's a lot of -- there's a lot of ranting out there. And I think that's going to be the challenge for both political bloggers and other forms of bloggers, is to get heard over the din.

SIEBERG: So what's it like being among the top dogs of the political blogs?

REYNOLDS: Being a rock star in the blogging world is kind of like being a champion bowler. You're a star to a very small segment of people. Sadly, it doesn't come with limos.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And the latest example of a blog affecting politics happened just last week after the "60 Minutes" story on President Bush's National Guard service broke.

A message on FreeRepublic.com said typewriters from the 1970s couldn't have produced the document CBS used. The anonymous writer known only as Buckhead (ph) concluded the documents were forgeries.

CBS stands by its story tonight.

Joining me from Los Angeles is Bob Johnson. He is the spokesman of FreeRepublic.com, and in Knoxville, Tennessee tonight, Glenn Reynolds, the blogger whom we met in Daniel Sieberg's report.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Bob, I want to start with you this evening. Tell us how quickly this blog site seized the "60 Minutes" story and then the questions about these documents possibly being forged started -- ensued?

BOB JOHNSON, FREEREPUBLIC.COM: Well, first of all, Free Republic is not technically a blog. It's a bulletin board, although they serve the same purpose.

The "60 Minutes" program started off at 8 p.m., and by 8:19 we had the first comment from a participant of Free Republic about the comments that "60 Minutes" and Dan Rather had referenced from those memos not looking right. That was by a poster by the name of Tanker K.C.

During the next hour or so, there were several other comments pertaining to the same thing from people that either had experience in the military or experience with typefaces and documents, who indicated that what CBS or Dan Rather presented didn't look right.

Now, at 10:30, CBS had put copies of those documents up on their web site, and over the next hour, they started to be analyzed by members of Free Republic. And approximately at 10:59 was the famous post by Buckhead (ph), indicating that he felt that the -- that the memos that CBS had produced were a hoax.

ZAHN: All right. So Glenn, help us understand, then, tonight why it is that bloggers were the ones who uncovered the inconsistencies or at least the suggestions of inconsistencies in these documents?

REYNOLDS: A couple of reasons. Bloggers are inherently obsessive compulsive, I think, and have an eye for detail. And most people are pretty web savvy, which means they kind of know things about fonts and computers.

And when you show them a document that looks like it came right out of somebody's laser printer in the year 2004 and say it was typed in the year 1972, they tend to be pretty skeptical. And I think the blog format lets you present visual evidence really well. And in fact, Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs used this wonderful blinking overlay that kept alternating back and forth between the CBS document and something he had just done on his computer using Microsoft Word, and they looked the same. I think that was very powerful.

ZAHN: Bob, let's come back to the issue of where the story stands tonight. We mentioned early on in the broadcast it was Laura Bush who increased some of the noise surrounding it, suggesting it was her belief that she thinks these documents were forged in blogland.

Where does it stand tonight?

JOHNSON: Well, personally, Paula, I think that the issue of whether or not these documents are fraudulent has passed. We've passed that point, and the horse is already out of the barn.

The only point right now, the question that we have is why Dan Rather and "60 Minutes" and CBS News would put their reputation and their credibility at stake to prop up a sagging John Kerry campaign instead of just telling the American people the truth.

ZAHN: All right. Glen Reynolds, you get the six-second last word here.

REYNOLDS: I think that CBS has been blogged to death, and I think they should admit their error.

ZAHN: And we should add on to the tail end of this report, once again, CBS at this hour continues to stand by its reporting.

Bob Johnson, Glenn Reynolds, thanks to both of you.

JOHNSON: Thank you for having us.

REYNOLDS: Thank you.

ZAHN: Our pleasure.

There must be zillions of blogs on the Internet. But once in awhile, one manages to do more than just satisfy the craving for political news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANA MARIE COX, EDITOR, WONKETTE.COM: Things like CNN, "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," that's your roughage. That's your green vegetables. That's, like, what's good for you. And then there's what I do, which is like dessert.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: We'll dish with the Wonkette when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: We are talking about blogs and their influence on this year's presidential race. One of them, Wonkette.com, is considered a guilty pleasure, especially for people inside the Washington beltway.

Wonkette is an irreverent mix of rumors, gossip and an opinion that the Web site says reaches 400,000 political junkies each month. It has been both hailed and criticized.

And joining me now is the brains behind the blog. It's editor Ana Marie Cox.

Great to see you.

COX: Good to be here.

ZAHN: So is any of it true?

COX: Some of it.

ZAHN: But what we're really trying to do is blur the lines between news and satire. And you describe yourself as a failed journalist.

COX: Right.

ZAHN: So is it important to get it right on the site?

COX: It's important. Actually, I've never gotten anything wrong that should be right, which is to say, I have never printed something that I thought was true, or believed -- that I consciously knew was fake. Let's put it that way.

I print things that are satire. If I have to explain what satire is, I might as well quit everything. If I write something that is supposed to be a factual statement and it turns out to be wrong, I'll correct it prominently, I'll correct it quickly.

ZAHN: But you don't set yourself up for that situation too often?

COX: Right. I often say that people should have a complete media diet. Things like CNN, "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," that's your roughage. That's your green vegetables. That's, like, what's good for you. And then there's what I do, which is like dessert. It's not always good for you. It's not very filling, but it's tasty. It's fun. It's, you know, empty calories.

ZAHN: When you read an article that says, quote, "Wonkette's arrival on the steps of the capitol is a quiet victory for creeping 'National Enquirer' values."

Is that a badge of courage for you?

COX: I'm actually sort of proud of that. I think they're -- the "National Enquirer" is a very popular magazine! And a lot of people do get their information from it. And I do think that what I do is less like the "National Enquirer" than it is like "The Daily Show." And I do like to think that I'm teaching people to think critically about the news that they're getting. I'm able to say stuff that reporters are not. I'm able to sort of call, you know -- call people on statements that sound funny and ridiculous and should be mocked.

ZAHN: Staff members of both campaigns read your site. Do you ever hear from them? Do they ever complain about anything you've written?

COX: Yes, I hear from them. Yes.

ZAHN: What do they say?

COX: They complain. You know, I think -- the operatives on both campaigns are a little too savvy to complain openly. To come back...

ZAHN: You'd be quoting them on my show the next night?

COX: Exactly. Mostly I get kind of, let's say, nudges.

ZAHN: And what do they try to get you to do? Remove something from the site or make sure the next day that you soften something around the edges?

COX: If I get something wrong -- if I get something, like, absolutely wrong. That's just one of the cases. If I just make an error, you know, I'll hear from them. And that does not happen very often.

Most of the time I get like, "Ha, ha, very funny."

Everyone likes to think they have a sense of humor until it's directed at them. But then you have to play along.

ZAHN: Are you an equal opportunity basher here on both campaigns, or do you think you've been tougher on the Bush campaign?

COX: I try to be equal opportunity, but I probably have been tougher on Bush. I mean, a lot of the jokes I make about Kerry are actually sort of compliments in disguise, or, you know -- compliments not in disguise, but -- but still jokes.

ZAHN: All right. You're a self-confessed John Kerry supporter. Do you think anything you write will affect the way people vote?

COX: If it does, then John Kerry's in much more trouble than the polls would suggest.

ZAHN: An honest Wonkette. Nice to meet you, Ana Marie Cox. Thank you for your time.

COX: Good to meet you.

ZAHN: Once again, tonight's prime-time politics voting booth question on CNN.com/Paula is: "Which candidate is better for African- American voters, John Kerry or George W. Bush?" The results, straight out of this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The Bush campaign this week is defending itself against potentially embarrassing allegations in Kitty Kelley's new unauthorized book about the president. Among her claims: that George W. Bush used cocaine at Camp David while his father was president.

"NEWSNIGHT's" Aaron Brown with a look ahead to his interview tonight with Kitty Kelley.

How did she defend herself? She's getting creamed.

AARON BROWN, HOST, "NEWSNIGHT": She -- Well, yes, there is a fair amount of creaming going on out there.

She defends herself and her work ferociously. She is a wonderful advocate for her work. She's been through this drill before. People have attacked her work before. Nothing is new in that regard from her perspective. And she came to this interview and the other interview that she's done already prepared to defend her work.

And people will have to listen to, I think in a sense, the totality of our conversation, which runs about 12 minutes or so, and make their judgments about how she defends her work.

ZAHN: Well, why don't we listen to 20 seconds of that...

BROWN: We'll give you a taste.

ZAHN: ... to tantalize our viewers?

BROWN: She talks -- she talks a lot about the president when -- that phase in his life when he drank a lot. And then she says he was a pretty obnoxious and difficult drunk.

And then suggest perhaps he was an abusive drunk with his wife. And that's sort of where this clip picks up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: As best I can tell, you have no source that says there was spousal abuse.

KITTY KELLEY, AUTHOR: No.

BROWN: You have a source that says, well, people worried about it and there's no evidence there was.

KELLEY: That's right.

BROWN: Isn't that to some degree -- that's just printing gossip. That's unfair. KELLEY: No, I really don't think it is. I think it gives you a window into his absolutely rampaging pugnaciousness during the time that he was drinking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: I will be watching all 12 minutes of it tonight, Aaron Brown.

BROWN: Ten o'clock Eastern.

ZAHN: Yes, I know. I know where to find you.

BROWN: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thanks so much for dropping by.

That wraps it up for all of us here this evening. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. We'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night. Have a good night. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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