Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



Did Bush Declare War in State of Union Speech?; Interview With NFL Films President Steve Sabol; Is Tyson/Lennox Match Ever Going to Happen?

Aired February 2, 2002 - 19:00   ET


MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne. Our guest is Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts. It's good to have you back, Barney.


SHIELDS: Thank you. In his first State of the Union address, President Bush revealed potential new targets in the global war against terrorism.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea, as a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens. Iran, aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom. Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.

States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. We'll be deliberate, yet time is now our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather.


SHIELDS: The response from the Bush designated axis nations was immediate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is, in fact, little short of declaring war against North Korea. This statement made by Bush is stupid and it is improper for the president of a superpower to issue a judgment on the conduct of a state through sheer imagination.


SHIELDS: Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister declared: "We are used to this type of cliche statements by the United States and also the arrogance that is associated with the statement." Bob Novak, was President Bush delivering a triple declaration of war on Tuesday night?

BOB NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I hate to echo that unnamed Communist anchorman from Pyongyang, but that's what it sounded like. The president has been a very effective war leader. And I think he had the people of the United States behind him, but I have never heard of anything quite like this. This was a surprise to indicate that imminent action, military action, was against these three, what we used to call them rogue nations.

The nexus, the connection with the events of September 11 is very dim. The president didn't even kind of set the connection. Didn't talk about Osama bin Laden. We -- and besides that, Mark, we do not have the armaments after expending so much against -- so much of an arsenal against Afghanistan to go to war against anybody for a while.

But I can tell you this, many Republican members are very concerned about that speech. Not going to say anything, because they don't want to criticize the president in what is described as a state of war.

SHIELDS: Barney Frank, you're not a Republican member. You're not afraid to say anything. Your reaction?

FRANK: I was stunned by it. In the first place, it's just literally -- it's not coherent. They're not an axis. They're not together. I mean, to call them an axis, the axis was Italy, Japan, and Germany working together.

Secondly, you have to distinguish between states that are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and are repressive and those that a real threat to the United States. And that clearly hasn't been made yet. And what he's talking about, if you took him literally. And you know, it's interesting that we're saying if you took him literally. We used to taking presidents literally in the state of the union. This wasn't a show. It was a speech, a very serious state occasion.

You'd be talking about the largest American military action since World War II. I mean, by definition, it's going to be bigger than a war against Korea. And while I would love dearly to see all three of those nations governed very differently, the notion that you lump them all together and that you make this kind of a threat and call them access, I just think it's very poor public policy.

And in particular, I've been disturbed by what I think is a stepping back by President Bush, over Colin Powell's objections, from a real effort to kind of encourage civilization in the behavior of North Korea. I think we've been making progress there, along with Kim Dae Jung. And he's backed off it.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, on the subject of North Korea, Charles Krauthammer, the columnist who's been an all out cheerleader of the president's aggressive policies says thank God for North Korea. Its virtue is it's non-Islamic. I mean, it was almost thrown in there. You have Iran and Iraq, but... AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Affirmative action.


HUNT: Yes. You know, I know I saw Jim Schlesinger, the acerbic former Defense Secretary who made the same point that Barney made. He said it's a heck of an access when you kill a million of each other. The Iraqis and the Iranians.


HUNT: I think that the president is right that there is a connection that can be made and should be made between terrorism and those who possess weapons of mass destruction, but I think you have to divide these in two categories.

I think that North Korea and the Iranian warnings were really -- was just rhetoric. This was, I think, a legitimate effort to try to intimidate them. I'm not sure it'll work, but I think that's what he's -- we're not going to pre-emptively strike either one of those places. It would be a disaster.

Iraq is quite a different matter. And I think Bush laid down the marker. And I think, for better or worse now, if Saddam is not gone or 2 or 2.5 years, it's going to be -- it's going to hurt Bush politically. It's certainly a very desirable goal.

Two big questions. Number one, is it like Afghanistan? Are those centers in Iraq, if you give them help, will all of a sudden the government crumble? Most people think not. Secondly, if do go in there with an air campaign, special forces, where are we going to base it? What's our Pakistan? I don't think it'll be Saudi Arabia. I doubt Turkey will go along.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, good question.

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": It does to seem to be an expansion of the Bush doctrine from when we were engaged in a war against terrorists with a global reach. He's now drawing our attention, in really a frightening speech I think with legitimate reason, to the commonality those three do have, which is that the three of them are on the State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorists. And the three of them are also developing weapons of mass destruction.

As Condoleezza Rice said the next day, is there any doubt that al Qaeda types, had they access to such weapons, biological, chemical, that they wouldn't have used them? Of course, they would. This poses a grave threat to the West. But I agree with Al, the three otherwise with respect to how we now respond, are not in the same situation.

NOVAK: When you look at the administration, this was a big defeat for Secretary of State Powell, because this is not his style.

O'BEIRNE: Well, he's outnumbered and wrong, maybe. NOVAK: Well, I think he's right. He's outnumbered and right. And just today, he is giving the assurances, not to the North Koreans, Kate, but to the South Koreans, who are scared to death by this.

FRANK: Two points. First, it does look like Secretary Powell's tenure as Secretary of State will have gone roughly from September 11, because that was the first time they actually took him out of the room and let him be the secretary. And it ended at the State of the Union.

Secondly, Kate, I think the point you make argues against the kind of Bush approach. Yes, if al Qaeda had the weapons of Iraq, Iran or North Korea, they would've used them. And in fact, neither Iraq, nor Iran, nor North Korea shared them with them. I mean, the very fact that al Qaeda had no access to any of the weapons of those three countries argues against the notion that it's a commonality of purpose.

O'BEIRNE: But the key thing, it seems to me the key thing that, Bob, you must be arguing with the president about, and you too, Barney, the president says time is not on our side. They didn't have them September 11. There's no guarantee they won't. And he will not wait for events to overtake them. Bob is apparently willing to let...


FRANK: Well, what do you do with North Korea? Are we going to invade North Korea?

O'BEIRNE: Apparently, no, I would venture to say no, we're not.

FRANK: What do you mean apparently? Well, then, time will never be on our side. That's our point. And by the way, people -- something that Al said, well, he had a good point about Iraq. It was different with Iran and North Korea. Part of the problem is that he treated them as if they were all the same. And they're not the same. And that's just not coherent thinking.

HUNT: And I don't know if Syria and Libya should sue to get on the list. I mean, if...


NOVAK: Kate, you're very much up on military affairs. When are we going to get -- you know, we really shot our wad in Afghanistan on armaments. When are we going to -- he says time is not on our side, but we need time to rebuild that arsenal.

O'BEIRNE: Well, when it comes to Iraq, I would be optimistic. Our bombs are a lot smarter than they were in 1991. And now we'll see whether or not we got to stay smarter.

NOVAK: A lot less of them. Fewer of them.


SHIELDS: We have one million fewer men under arms. NOVAK: And fewer smart bombs.

FRANK: And not reliable allies, like the Northern Alliance. You can't capture Iraq with the Kurds the way you could capture Afghanistan with Northern Alliance.

O'BEIRNE: Because we heard a lot of this before Afghanistan, too, I will remind you.


FRANK: But you knew it from me, Kate. And I -- Afghanistan and Iraq are very different. And trying to ignore that, I think is, you know...

O'BEIRNE: I allow they're different, but there's an awful lot to...

HUNT: Where are we going to base the American forces if we go in Iraq?

O'BEIRNE: I don't know.

SHIELDS: Last word, Barney Frank and the GANG will be back with who's going to pay for the Bush budget? And later, Congress goes to court against the president.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. The president's State of the Union address signaled red ink ahead of the federal budget.


BUSH: It costs a lot to fight this war. My budget includes the largest increase in defense spending in two decades. My budget nearly doubles funding for sustained strategy of homeland security. To achieve these great national objectives, to win the war, protect the homeland, and revitalize our economy, our budget will run a deficit that will be small and short-term, so long as Congress restrains spending and acts in a fiscally responsible manner.


SHIELDS: Al, what is the argument against restraining domestic spending to offset the war in the cost of the war against terrorism?

HUNT: Mark, there is no shared sacrifice. If there's a war, the first priority must be the men and women in uniform. And certainly that is President Bush's first priority. History, Vietnam in particular, has shown us you can't have guns and butter over a sustained period of time.

And what this administration proposes are lots of guns, lots of tax cuts for the very wealthy, and to cut back on job training and health care. In other words, they want to have guns, caviar and no margarine. That's the objection.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, somebody said, one of the president's biggest supporters said it was very Churchillian. It was Churchillian, except there was no sweat, there was no toil, and there was no tears, was there?

NOVAK: Well, I don't know if there's a war either. I've always been questioning that. But I do know that this -- all this business, this is a conservative administration or it's supposed to be. I think that probably we're spending too much on domestic stuff. They're putting all this money into a lot of domestic programs that they shouldn't, but this whole deficit thing is ridiculous.

If we have a recovery such as the most conservative and restrained economists predict we're going to have, we're going to have huge surpluses again coming up very soon. We're going to have money to burn. And the point is the tax rates, within a year or so, the tax rates are much too high right now. And we need to have tax cuts for everybody. And that is what the president is talking about.

And I think that Mitch Daniels laid it out very well, Al, when we had him on "NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" earlier today, in which he said that we have to do is control -- the government had to control some of this domestic spending and some of this pork barrel spending.

SHIELDS: Doesn't the president have a veto -- go ahead, I'm sorry, Barney.

FRANK: Well, I want to come back a year from now. When Bob said we're going to have these surpluses a year or now.

SHIELDS: By year-end.

FRANK: A year or so from now. So I want to come back here and watch Bob burn the money. I think we're all going to be very cold if we have to depend on that money. But I want to answer your question literally. You said, you know, why -- what's the argument about domestic spending? The same argument as military spending. People will die if we don't do it, quite literally.

The medical system of the United States is both excellent and disastrous. It is superb medicine, but it is very unevenly available. The president basically has given up on trying to provide a prescription drug program for all the people. His program says you get prescription drug help on Medicare if you make $13,000 or less as an individual, $17,000 a couple.

So millions of middle income Americans, retired on $25,000, $30,00, are going to have a problem paying for their drug bills. He's talking about cutting back on Medicaid. You know, we worried about whether if there was an outbreak of anthrax or something else, our public hospital system, our health system would be ready for it. Our health system isn't ready for Friday night in a lot of big cities. Emergency room shutdown.

So the underfunding of medical care, which leads to it being denied to an awful lot of people, frankly, is causing more deaths over time than we use for terrorism.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne?

O'BEIRNE: Let me go back to your initial question, Mark.

SHIELDS: Please.

O'BEIRNE: One would think it would be at a time, given the priorities the president's laid out of defense, both with respect to a military overseas and homeland defense to say that Washington to get back to basics. Stop doing much of what it does, and concentrate on the fundamental responsibility to protect and defend American lives from these kinds of threats.

But the White House doesn't want that kind of that fight at the moment. It seems to me they fell as though they're fighting these two front wars. They don't want to be fighting a congressional civil war over spending. And so, I feel that they're going to let both Republicans and Democrats, who want to spend too much money, off the hook.

SHIELDS: Al, there's $48 billion in defense. It kind of whistled right through. The president promised a top to bottom review, as candidate. And you look at it, and you everything's going to be funded. F-22s, Ospreys, Crusaders, it's all funded. I mean, what happened?

FRANK: Top to bottom.

SHIELDS: Top to bottom?

HUNT: They said that they would invest in new technologies. And they were quite critical of some of the Clinton proposals. Back then everything, every major system that Clinton wanted, they want, too, in addition to the new technologies. I think there were no decisions made at least in this budget.

And I also, Bob, apparently the Republican run CBO says that we're going to have, you know, exclusive to Social Security of $700 billion deficit over the next 10 years. And that's before you get into homeland security, defense, foreign bill and taxing standards. That's going to be...

NOVAK: That is the green eye shade type of I don't care whether Republicans, Democrats or Socialists. That's the green eye shade type of...

SHIELDS: And they're normally wrong.

NOVAK: And they're always wrong. The business economists, if you have a -- think there's going to be a 3 percent growth rate, if you have a 3 percent growth rate, the money will come roaring in.

But you know, Barney's argument, you know, you lost the election, Barney. And whether you...

FRANK: And does that mean democracy ends, Bob?

NOVAK: No, it...

FRANK: We have a debate. No, we didn't lose everything, and we have a debate. And saying you lost the election, that precludes debate is silly.

NOVAK: No, but the...

FRANK: The president said he was for prescription drug program during the election.


NOVAK: But it's not your -- it's not your (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

FRANK: It's not yours either. It's not an honest carrying out of what he said.

NOVAK: OK, it's a difference of opinion.

FRANK: No, he never went out and he has said to people, "Oh, yes, I'm going to help you with prescription drugs if you're making $13,000 a year or less." I think he misled people. And we're entitled to call that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SHIELDS: Last word, Barney Frank. Next on CAPITAL GANG, Congress and the president eyeball to eyeball in court.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, announced it will go to court to get details about Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, including contacts with the Enron Corporation.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president will stand strong on principle, fighting for his right and the right of all future presidents.


SHIELDS: Democratic strategists James Carville, Stanley Greenberg and Robert Strum distributed to members of Congress a memorandum containing this ice. "This is an issue where democrats ought to talk about right and wrong, greed and responsibility... This is, after all, a story about high-level corporate malfeasance and excessive corporate influence in government, in Congress, to be sure, but increasingly in the Bush administration."

Couldn't said it better myself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: I haven't seen it, but I wouldn't support that. The last thing we should do is politicize this scandal.


SHIELDS: Kate, is the president behind the curve on the Enron scandal?

O'BEIRNE: Mark, one of the headlines, following the State of the Union, was the president didn't mention Enron. The entire speech was a rebuke to Washington's obsession with Enron. The president explained war. We face this deadly threat, being unified is more important than ever. In a bipartisan way, he singled out Teddy Kennedy and thanked him for the education bill.

I think he's making himself, by being so above politics, more and more immune to these kinds of charges. The public gives him high marks for being decent and honest. It makes it harder and harder for the Democrats to do this. That -- the president's honesty, in contrast to Tom Daschle's, we're not going to politicize Enron, it's Terry McAuliffe, not freelancers. Terry McAuliffe, the head of the party, is the one who called Enron a metaphor for the Bush administration. In North Carolina, Democrats running Enron ads against Liddy Dole. But it's all the Democrats sort of have.

The president leads on top issues. He's neutralized others. I think the Democrats figure we've got to politicize Enron and hope the recession lasts.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, Dick Cheney has remained strong. He's fighting for the rights.


SHIELDS: Yes. I mean, 12 times they've turned over Clinton/Gore stuff, this administration has, but Dick Cheney's a man of rock solid principle.

NOVAK: I agree with everything that Kate just said. And I think that this is a -- that the people obsessing over Enron. They want to bring the administration into it. And their biggest ally in this, the two biggest allies, are George Bush and Dick Cheney with this ridiculous position on presidential prerogatives.

The point of the matter is Dick Cheney has said in private talks with senators that he is worried about the power of the presidency. The power of the presidency's very strong. It's been very strong for the last 20 years. I think it's too strong. I don't like presidents being able to go to war without congressional assent. And a lot of Republicans agree with that.

At the -- if they would make a deal, cut a deal with the comptroller general, and that deal could be cut, make that phone call, they could get rid of this and they could get rid of the issue.

SHIELDS: Bob, twice, you know, a lot of Republicans believe this, but they won't say it in public.

NOVAK: That's right.

SHIELDS: OK, Barney?

FRANK: Well, I'm sorry that my Republican colleagues have gotten so timid. I have to say, I could not disagree more with Kate, whom I usually find very reasonable, that somehow it's inappropriate to talk about major public policy issues, because we're fighting against terrorists. Of course, you don't suspend democracy.

And Enron is important to me, not because of...


FRANK: You said that we're in the time of unity, et cetera, et cetera, and that this is inappropriate to bring it up. He was nice to Teddy Kennedy, so we should mention Enron. Enron is not about individual misbehavior in my judgment on the part of the government. It's a very striking discussion of the difference in philosophy.

And I think the biggest scandal out of this is going to come from the appointment of Harvey Pitt to be head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, replacing Arthur Levitt. I mean, we've seen that the accounting profession's been in a shambles in a lot of ways. And what did we hear from Harvey Pitt? He came in and said well, he was going to bring a kinder and gentler approach to regulating accounting.

I think a kinder and gentler approach to regulating accounting than what we've had would violate the sodomy laws of most states. I mean, it's incredible to talk about this. What you're talking about is a real gap in this Republican philosophy that there's no real role for government protecting people. And the poor, innocent workers at Enron, whose pensions were decimated, no, I don't think it's inappropriate to talk about how horrible that was and how much we must protect people in the future.

SHIELDS: So much for this budget, Al. What's your own sense?

HUNT: Well, Barney, it's even worse. Not only Harvey Pitt, but they named two other SEC commissioners from the accounting industry.

FRANK: And can I just say one other thing? If Hillary Clinton had been the head of a commission regulating an industry, then went to work for a major factor in that industry who benefited from the regulation, et cetera, the way Wendy Gramm had, you can hear the talk radio nuts without even turning on the radio. They'd be screaming so loud.

HUNT: What really bothers me, I mean I think Bob and Kate have been right all along about Cheney ought to turn this over. What really bothers me is, not just that the vice president won't do it, but the things he's saying that are just patently false. He's claiming they're asking for confidential information inside the White House, communications. That's not what the GAO is asking for. They're asking for something quite simple. They want the name of the lobbyist and the dates and the subject matter during the energy drafting thing.

FRANK: When did people start getting embarrassed that they met with the vice president? He said it will deter people from coming.


HUNT: Wait. And let me just go one more -- and go into the point that Mark made earlier, they just handed over to Dan Burton's office, various material dealing with Al Gore's e-mails to staff, Clinton's conversations with Barak. So the doctrine, to change doctrine now is it's fine to turn over confidential conversations with foreign leaders...


HUNT: ...if it's Clinton. But you can't tell the public what lobbyists.

NOVAK: That can be your column this week, Al. But let me tell you, they turned a corner this week that I perceived in my talking to people at the White House, that they made this a party issue. They'd been on the phone to Republican senators, trying to get him in line. They say there's -- they're demonizing Walker. They say he's gone crazy, David Walker, the comptroller general. So they have really turned the corner and made this a point.

HUNT: A mistake, you think?

NOVAK: I didn't say it was a mistake.

O'BEIRNE: You know what, though? The GAO is operating a little differently than they have in the past, too, even under David Walker. In all -- in 2000, the GAO under David Walker let vice president Gore completely stiff arm them when the GAO was looking for material from his office, as part of the e-mail investigation. So this suing the executive branch is a new phenomenon.

SHIELDS: Just to follow up on what Bob said, they're demonizing David Walker, who's a Trent Lott appointee. I mean, this is a man...


SHIELDS: active partisan Republican. And I just want to...

O'BEIRNE: Walker never acted like this with the Gore stiff arm.

SHIELDS: For goodness sakes, I mean, they get -- they've turned over everything. They're doing e-mails and...

FRANK: It's a four-power axis. Iran, Iraq, North Korea and David Walker.

SHIELDS: And David Walker. But I have to say this, it just sends up such a stench about Dick Cheney that he's hiding something. And I'll tell you this, if you put Enron in charge of energy policy, it's like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank.

NOVAK: I have to -- wait, I have to say one thing that the problem...

O'BEIRNE: Yes, I'm with Cheney on the merits here.

NOVAK: The problem with not turning it over is it allows people like you, Mark...

O'BEIRNE: Right.

NOVAK: say things like that, which is really unfair. And I thought that the whole -- the latest Carville, Shrum (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was really disgraceful.

FRANK: Why are they not turning it over, Bob? Since it's so obvious that they ought to, that's the obvious...


NOVAK: You know why? Because they're dumb. I think they're dumb.


O'BEIRNE: Their argument GAO has no...


FRANK: I'll go with his defense of the administration. They're dumb.

O'BEIRNE: They have a serious legal argument against GAO.

SHIELDS: Kate, nobody's every accused Dick Cheney of being dumb before. The GANG will be back with a "Capital Classic," looking back at a famous Bill Clinton State of the Union.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. And now CAPITAL GANG classic. President Clinton delivered his first State of the Union address on January 29, 1994, employing a memorable visual effect.


BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you send me legislation that does not guarantee every American private health insurance that can never be taken away, you will force me to take this pen, veto the legislation, and we'll come right back here and start all over again.

NOVAK: I think he made a mistake. I think that's a no win situation. Either he actually vetoes a health care bill because it doesn't meet the Hillary standard, or else he is just bluffing. And it looks like he has no credibility. I think that is the case. SHIELDS: The president had to restore flagging sense of urgency about health care, that it had been on the wane, no question about it, since his speech last fall. I think he did that. But I think the Republicans right now are divided.

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Dole looked like his sour self in response to Clinton. And I think that's not a winning operation either. Although the chart was an excellent idea, the Clinton administration came out the next day with a chart of the current system, which is even worse than the one that Bob Dole had.

HUNT: Yes, I would say I think that Bill Clinton is going to have to be flexible, because his plan is not going to fly. I think he and Jim Cooper and John Boyle can probably get together on that in the next couple of months.

NOVAK: But see, I don't even think if the Cooper package may not get enough. I think it's a retreat all the way.

CARLSON: There will be some health care reformers here.


SHIELDS: Bob, it doesn't happen that often, but you were right that evening. What happened, Bob?

NOVAK: Well, I also have to say that you and Margaret were wrong in predicting there would be health care reform. And Al was wrong in thinking there would be a compromise. The American people didn't want this socialized medicine scheme. And they still don't. And very effective Democratic congressman like Barney and Ted Kennedy are putting it in a little piece by piece, year by year, but the American people didn't want it. And -- but once I saw that they want it, I was right.

SHIELDS: Barney?

FRANK: Well, first, this socialized medicine nonsense, you know what is the most popular form of medical care in the United States is the medical care delivered to the Veterans Affairs Department to veterans, which is run by the government. It's given by government doctors in government buildings, with government pills on government sheets. So this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of socialized medicine is a great mistake.

I think it's a tragedy that we didn't get it. And it continues to be the major gap in American social policy is we don't have health care.


O'BEIRNE: You were giving Bill Clinton back then credit for addressing, with a real sense of urgency, you know, these on net needs. Once he lost, I don't think he ever mentioned health care for the next -- you know, next two years. That's how much he cared.


HUNT: Well, I still think there could've been a compromise back then. But anybody who can identify Jim Cooper today, who thinks he's not either a shooting guard for the L.A. Lakers or a rock star, can come and watch this program any time they watch.

SHIELDS: Al, I would say this. CAPITAL GANG CLASSIC is a great lesson in humility at all times. And I just hope Novak gets some of it.

NOVAK: Not for me that night.

SHIELDS: Thanks for being with us, Barney Frank. We'll be back with the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG on Super Bowl weekend with our "Newsmaker of the Week," NFL Films president Steve Sabol, our look "Beyond the Beltway" at Mike Tyson's problems with boxing expert Bert Sugar, and our "Outrage of the Week." That's all after the latest news following these messages.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne. On this Super Bowl weekend, our "Newsmaker of the Week" is Steve Sabol, president of NFL Films.

Steve Sabol, age 59. Residence, Moorestown, New Jersey. Religion, Jewish. All Rocky Mountain Conference Fullback for Colorado College. He began as a cinematographer at NFL Films, which was founded by his father, Ed Sabol. Received 26 Emmy awards. Feature film credits include "Semi-Tough," "Paper Lion," "Brian's Song," and "Black Sunday."

Al Hunt, who attended Haverford School in Haverford, Pennsylvania with Steve Sabol, full disclosure, interviewed him earlier this week from outside the Superdome in New Orleans, the site of Super Bowl XXXVI.


HUNT: How are the players and how's the game different today from that first Super Bowl 36 years ago?

STEVE SABOL, PRESIDENT, NFL FILMS: Well, the Super Bowl's changed, Al, in that when it started, it was a football game. Then it started to grow. Then it became an event, a happening, an experience. And now, the Super Bowl's become a national holiday.

HUNT: But pro football's popularity just seems to get bigger. Why is professional football become arguably America's sport?

SABOL: I think because the marriage of football and television is so perfect. I mean, you just look at the shape of the television screen. It's the same shape as a football field. Just the pace of the game is perfect for television. And television and football become perfect marriage.

HUNT: Back in the '50s and '60s, there were very colorful players. Niterion Lane (ph), who passed away this week, Norman Van Brocklin (ph), Butkis (ph), Bobby Lane (ph). Who are the colorful players today?

SABOL: Maybe the players are not as colorful as they were in those days, Al, but the stories are great. One of the things that makes this Super Bowl so interesting is you have the best team, which is the Rams against the best story, which is the Patriots. It's sort of like I just read Laura Hildebrandt's (ph) book on horse racing. This Super Bowl is like war admiral against sea biscuit.

HUNT: Let's come back to this game in just a minute. But let me ask you about the Super Bowl, the huge, extravaganza happening. Looking over the past 35 years, the game is often a bust. I think only six Super Bowls have been decided by less than a touchdown. Why wouldn't you supposedly get the top two teams, as it's so often one- sided?

SABOL: Al, that's a question that I have asked 25 different head coaches. And I still don't have an answer. It's amazing to me, as you said, that you get the two best teams that the sport, playing in a championship. And one team is a two-touchdown favorite. I just think that the Super Bowl, just being here, is so psychically pulverizing, that unless you're used to it as a player, and unless you can absorb that, that you get the deer in the headlights.

And usually in the beginning of a game, there's a fumble, a turnover, and then an avalanche starts. And it's all over. But that's a question that I've asked. And I've never gotten a satisfactory answer. I hope it doesn't happen Sunday.

HUNT: On Sunday, what is NFL Films going to look for to provide that special dimension?

SABOL: A Super Bowl, the tide usually turns not on big plays down well, but on small things done poorly, a missed interception, a fumble that should've been picked up, a penalty. Those are the subtle little nuances that change the momentum of the game. And once that momentum changes in a Super Bowl, that's usually it. There are very rarely any comebacks ever in a Super Bowl. Once a team gets a 10 point lead, that's usually the game.

HUNT: What you're really saying is who makes the mistakes early, that's going to be -- that that's going to determine the outcome, probably.

SABOL: Al, yes and no. Not in this game, because that's what makes the Rams one of the most interesting teams, because Mike Barts (ph) is a coach who doesn't use turnovers as alibis. And he doesn't -- he's not going to worry about an interception here, an interception there. His offense is so volatile, he can throw two or three interceptions and still come back and win the game.

The only other coach that looked at football that way was Bill Walsh. And a lot of people don't remember that in 1981 championship game, when the 49ers beat the Cowboys, it ended in Montana to Clark, the famous play, the catch. The 49ers had six turnovers in that game and still won it.

HUNT: In reality, do the Patriots have any shot?



No, well, look, you hope you do. Bill Belichick is a great coach. And they're a great story. They've overcome adversity. Their quarterback coach passed away. Their best player was AWOL. Tom Brady's the -- you want them to win. You want them to win, but history tells me it's just not going to happen.

HUNT: Final personal question. You and I grew up together, the precursor of the fabled NFL Films where at 80 pound football games at Haverford. You are the most creative filmmaker around, but does the NFL know what lousy football players we were, Steve?

SABOL: Listen, as you used to say, Al, when I was a running back and you were the tight end, we weren't fast, but every step meant something.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, in view of the facts, Steve Sabol was pretty blunt about it, that 83 percent of the games have been blowouts. They've been lousy games.

HUNT: Right.

SHIELDS: Why is the Super Bowl in pro football -- why is it so special?

HUNT: Well, it so rarely lives up to its billing. I doubt it's going to tomorrow. I think the Rams just have too much, Mark. But I think that Steve is right, the popularity has to do with television. It is the ideal television sport.

I also would credit to my friend of almost 50 years, Steve Sabol. I think Steven Sabol are creative geniuses. NFL Films has brought excitement, has brought interest, has brought fun. And they're even profound. And they've just an incredible job. I also will say all Rocky Mountain Conference, you know, notwithstanding, thank God, he's a better filmmaker than he was football player.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak?

NOVAK: It's really a fascinating conundrum, because people who are not great sports fans don't have World Series parties. They don't have NBA finals, parties. They don't even have Kentucky Derby parties anymore, but all over America tomorrow night, people will be gathering. They won't even watch the game much. It is a -- and you know, this popularity is amazing, because this sport -- can't see the people's faces. It is a kind of a game that most Americans can't imagine playing. They've all shot basketballs, played a little baseball. They might still play baseball.

And yet, there is -- maybe it's like war. It has some kind of a fascination for the American spirit.

HUNT: Kate?

O'BEIRNE: I have a question for you, Mark. How did Margaret know enough not to be here tonight?


It's bad enough that I have to feign interest in such things for the men in my life at home, now you're making me do it on the set. Having said that, I'll watch the Super Bowl tomorrow. I'll be one of those people who begins the game by saying, "Now who's playing again?" And I assume a big part of the audience are people like myself who do get caught up in the hype.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, last word, except watch those Patriots tomorrow.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the latest crisis of the saga of Mike Tyson with boxing authority Bert Sugar.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the new fight in heavyweight boxing. Challenger Mike Tyson's brawl with champion Lennox Lewis in New York preceded his appearance before the Nevada Athletic Commission. Tyson was asking reinstatement of his boxing license to fight Lewis in a big money Las Vegas bout.


MIKE TYSON, BOXER: I'm crazy, but I'm not crazy like that. You know what I mean? I might want to have sex in crazy place, but I don't want to kill or rape nobody or hurt nobody.

JOHN BAILEY, NEVADA BOXING COMMISSION: Because of what has occurred, because of the context in which you're here today as a prior licensee with the disciplinary problem, that there has been a diminishment of boxing because of the conduct.


SHIELDS: The commission voted four to one against Tyson.


TYSON: I'm a fighter. And every time I see him in the streets though...

LENNOX LEWIS, BOXER: He attacked me at a press conference the other day. And then he takes a bite out of my leg. So you know, you have to ask him if he wants to fight me.


SHIELDS: Joining us now from New York is boxing writer Bert Sugar, a true legend, former editor of "Boxing Illustrated" and of "Ring" magazine. He is co-author of the newly published "Sting Like a Bee: An Inside Look at Muhammad Ali." Thanks for coming in, Burt.

BERT SUGAR, BOXING HISTORIAN: Thank you for having me.

SHIELDS: Burt, will there be a Tyson/Lewis fight somewhere in the ring?

SUGAR: About as much chance as your twin forgetting your birthday. Never happen.

SHIELDS: Never happen. Now you got to say -- you got to answer this question for me, Bert. I mean, somebody who only eats vegetables, you call a vegetarian. Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield's ear. He took a bite out of Lennox Lewis' leg. Does that make him a humanitarian?

SUGAR: Aw, that's two-thirds of a pun, P-U. No. What it is is -- and he also threatened to eat Lennox Lewis' children.

SHIELDS: Yes, he did.

SUGAR: And he doesn't have any.


SUGAR: Mike Tyson has got this wonderful aura that he's trying to live up to in his own mind's eye. I put to you that he said he's going to -- anytime he meets Lennox Lewis in the street, I'll fight him. He didn't say he wants to meet him in the ring. I question whether he wants to meet him in the ring.

SHIELDS: Do you think he -- in other words, you think there's a little concern that he might not be able to beat Lennox Lewis?

SUGAR: I think he may have more than a concern. And I think that's why he bit Lennox, I'm sorry Evander Holyfield's ear. He found he couldn't win. And he didn't bite it once. He bit it twice until Mills Lane disqualified him before Evander ran out of operating body parts.

NOVAK: Bert, why do you say there won't be a fight when there's a lot of states that say they'll have him? I guess the -- one of these boxing associations that recognize him as champion has already authorized the fight. He can go to one of these third world countries. I'm sure they'd love to have him.

Would it be because Lennox Lewis won't fight him? Is that the reason?

SUGAR: Well, two reasons, Bob. One is the way the contract is written, it can only happen in six jurisdictions, all in the United States. Number two of which is basically Lennox Lewis says he needs help and he won't fight until he needs -- gets help.

But even just as importantly, there are two potential rape charges that might come down against him in the state of Nevada. And unless he can move around the ring in ankle bracelets, I don't see it happening.

NOVAK: Bert, let me ask you a question. I've been following boxing all my life, since I was a little kid, saw one of the Graciano/Zayo (ph) fights in person when I was a kid. And I would pay the big money on Pay-per-View to see Lennox Lewis fight Tyson, knowing all this. I think there are millions of Americans who would do that. Don't you think there'd be a tremendous payoff on people -- paying to see this fight?

SUGAR: Oh, I think there's a lot of people -- they buy a lot of eyeballs on Pay-per-View. I think that these are probably the same people that would love to see car accidents. But by the same token, and somebody came out and said it's worth between $300 and $400 million to Las Vegas. I don't know who came up with that. I think Arthur Andersen before they shredded the estimate.

But the problem is, Nevada felt their integrity was at stake, the boxing commission. They didn't want Mike in. And it wasn't just the press conference. It was everything he had done.

SHIELDS: Yes, Kate O'Beirne?

O'BEIRNE: Football and boxing. This is just great, Mark. Bert, my husband waxes nostalgic about Gillette's old Friday night fights that the families used to all gather around and watch. Clearly, people thought that boxing was wholesome family fare. I daresay most parents don't feel like that anymore. What happened, Burt?

SUGAR: Well, we always get nostalgic. And things get better as we get older. And everybody can still go da, da, da, whoever saw one of those Friday night fights. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's because in boxing, particularly, they used to be eight champions, a heavyweight down to a fly weight. He was a world champion. And we can name every one of them.

Now there's 17 divisions, count them, 17, with as many -- because of these alphabet soup groups -- as four champions in each division. And I'm sure everybody but IBM and AT&T has a champion. And we don't know who they are. We do know Lennox Lewis, but does anybody know that there's also a champion named John Ruiz in the heavyweight division?

So it's always, you know, somehow confusing. They've shot themselves in the foot. As Bob said, somebody has said, the WBC who has made Tyson the number one contender, they have authorized the fight. Well, sure, it's worth $1.5 million to them to have it. But we have lost something. We don't have the little boy smile of a Ray Leonard or the power of a Tommy Hearns or the machismo of Roberto Durand. And the heavyweight division is the flagship, and look at it. SHIELDS: Al Hunt?

HUNT: Well, Bert, I'm, like Jim O'Beirne, I remember watching those Friday nights at my uncle Phil's. And you identify with those fighters, Bobo Olson, who just died recently. Remember Chuck Davey, the south paw from Michigan State? South Philadelphia's Joey Giordello?

I mean, you would argue about them with your friends at school. My 15-year-old -- I don't think boxing is much on his radar screen now. Can you ever catch -- can you ever get it back? You -- I thought you articulated very well the mistakes they made. What can they do to bring it back?

SUGAR: Well, if we have a Muhammad Ali, it comes back. Muhammad Ali was charisma.

HUNT: That's true.

SUGAR: He was to boxing what a Michael Jordan is to basketball.

HUNT: Right.

SUGAR: It doesn't quite have that charismatic figure. Maybe it has a couple for the Latino market in Oscar de la Hoya and Tito Trinadad, but it doesn't have the charismatic figure who will transcend the sport and make it popular with everyone.

SHIELDS: OK, hey Bert, thank you so very much for being with us.

SUGAR: Thank you for having me.

SHIELDS: It was Don Dumphy (ph) and Bill Corriman, Friday night, wasn't it?

SUGAR: It was indeed. How to look to sharp.

SHIELDS: Yes, absolutely right. And the GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week." Thank you.


SHIELDS: And now for the "Outrage of the Week." Thanks to Ed Henry of the Capitol Hill newspaper "Roll Call," we learned that at least 104 House and Senate staffers have suffered adverse reactions to handling irradiated mail. Those symptoms have ranged from headaches to dizziness to burning eyes to bleeding from the nose and ears.

One postal service official tried to blame the reactions on unusually warm January weather. Baloney. You can be sure if White House staffers were bleeding from their noses and their eyes -- and their ears, it would be a front page story and a major national crisis. The men and women of Capitol Hill deserve no less attention -- Bob Novak.

NOVAK: The overwhelmingly Republican Idaho legislature just did what no state legislature dared until now. It repealed a term limit statute enacted by vote of the people. While America's voters favor term limits, professional politicians do everything they can to block them. Term limits have never been enacted by any state legislature, only by popular referendum.

Idaho is one party Republican state with many lawmakers running unopposed. So politics there and elsewhere need not fear the will of the people. You call this democracy?

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne?

O'BEIRNE: The Bush administration issued a new rule to help poor women get prenatal care. The program affected provides health care for poor children and now unborn children will also be covered. Makes sense, right? Not to feminists, who oppose this aid for unborn babies because they prefer pretending only one human life is involved when a woman is pregnant. I thought they were pro-choice. Apparently not if a woman chooses to have a healthy newborn.


HUNT: Mark, the Bush administration, which won't give an inch on huge tax cuts for the very rich, instead will propose spending cutbacks on health care for the very poor. Now it's not surprising this draws protest from Ted Kennedy, but Republican governors Jeb Bush of Florida and Rick Perry of Texas also are opposed to the proposed crackdown in Medicaid spending. Don't they realize that public hospitals have to sacrifice their share in order to help country clubs?

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, this business of term limits, it was a rallying cry for the Republican revolution. And they lost their enthusiasm for term limits once they took over.

NOVAK: Oh, don't give me that stuff. You know...

SHIELDS: What changed?

NOVAK: Because I admit -- I have admitted, I wrote in a book that they were hypocrites about it. The Republicans were hypocrites. They used the issue, but the American people wouldn't like it. And they just can't get by the politicians and people like you, who like to have the same gang of conspirators running our government.

SHIELDS: Is that the way you feel about it, Bob?


SHIELDS: OK, thank you.

This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG. If you missed any part of this program, you can catch the replay at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, and even again at 4:00 a.m. Eastern for the real fans.

Coming up next, CNN PRESENTS "Black Hawk Down."




Back to the top