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Middle East Conflict Intensifies; Is Ventura Tough Enough for Politics?; Former Clinton Adviser Lands ABC Job

Aired June 19, 2002 - 19:00   ET



On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight: suicide terror attacks, military crackdowns and a barrier going up. Can anything be done to get the two sides off the fence?

It's been a wild ride for Jesse Ventura, from wrestler to governor and now apparently back to private citizen. Is there a place for outsiders in America's political system?

By George, ABC's named a former aide to President Clinton to host a Sunday talk show. Is this just another example of the media leaning left?


From the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.



Tonight, he wrestled with politicians and got body slammed, but should more Jesse Venturas step into the political arena?

Also, an old pal of mine from the 1992 Clinton campaign gets a new network gig on ABC, leaving some on the far-right whining about the media leaning left.

But we begin with a more deadly topic, violence in the Middle East.

Today's suicide bomber blew himself up at a bus stop in Jerusalem, killing six Israelis. This is the second suicide bombing in just two days.

Yesterday an attacker blew himself up on a bus, killing 19 Israelis. In a retaliatory move, Israel says it will seize Palestinian- controlled land and hold it as long as the terror attacks continue. Israeli tanks and troops have moved into the West Bank, and helicopter gunships have fired on targets in Gaza, wounding more than a dozen Palestinians.

Palestinian terrorist attacks have added fuel to a simmering debate over an Israeli fence being built along the West Bank in a bid to keep Israelis safe from suicide bombers. But will a wall succeed where troops and tanks have not?

In the CROSSFIRE, Dore Gold, foreign policy advisor to Israeli prime pinister Ariel Sharon, and he's also former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. And with us, Diana Buttu, who is the legal advisor to the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Thank you both for joining us.

ROBERT NOVAK, HOST: Ambassador Gold, today, only a few hours ago, after the second deadly suicide attack, the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Arabic called on Palestinians to stop these murderous attacks.

He said the following, we'll put it up on the screen.

"I declare from the stance of my duties to safeguard our people, their land and their future, my complete condemnation of any attack that targets Israeli civilians. These attacks are not connected to our legitimate resistance to the Israeli occupation, and our right to defend our existence in our holy states and our land in the face of the settlement danger."

End quote.

Ambassador Gold, in view of Yasser Arafat's statements, why do Israeli leaders continue this afternoon to attack Mr. Arafat?

DORE GOLD, SR. SHARON ADVISOR: Well, you know, you have to understand -- who took responsibility for the last attack on the French Hill in Jerusalem? This was the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Now, we have now clear-cut evidence in our hands, that we have taken from Ramallah, which shows that Yasser Arafat has authorized payment to the operatives of the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades.

For example, Rhayid Karmi (ph), one of the operatives who died last year, was paid $350. We have Arafat's signature in Arabic.

So we can't have a situation where Arafat is actually paying for the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades to attack Israel and then going on television and giving these so-called condemnations. There's complete inconsistency here, and it must come to and end.

NOVAK: Well, American officials, U.S. intelligence officials that I've talked to, did not find your evidence persuasive.

But let me ask you this question.

GOLD: Are you sure of that?

NOVAK: Yes, I am.

GOLD: We share intelligence intimately with American intelligence agencies and British intelligence agencies.

NOVAK: Well, they didn't find those documents persuasive.

But let me ask you another question, if I could, Ambassador Gold, and that is, that what good does sending your tanks into Ramallah do, when this has only the effect of encouraging the extreme elements who don't want a peaceful settlement? Aren't you playing into the hands of the most extreme elements in the Palestinian community?

GOLD: Well, you assume that there are these fundamentalists, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, that want to destroy the peace process, while Mr. Arafat's Fatah and the Tanzim, his militant organizations, are for peace.

Unfortunately, most of the attacks that Israel has been experiencing over the last two to three months, come from Arafat-loyal organizations, from the Tanzim, from the Fatah organization, from the PFLP, which is a component of the PLO.

And therefore, you know, this distinction is artificial. Right now, the best thing that could happen would be if the Palestinians really assumed responsibility for the territory that we turned over to them under the Oslo agreements. But they've failed to assume that responsibility, and Israeli civilians are dying every day.

BEGALA: In fact, Ms. Buttu, let me press that point with you.

The entire peace process of the last decade, from Oslo to Wye River to Camp David to Taba, from the Clinton plan to the Mitchell plan to the Tenet plan to the not-yet-released Bush plan, has come down to three words: land for peace.

Palestinians now control much of that land, but the Israelis have not gotten the peace. Why should Israel allow you to continue to control the land when your people haven't held up their end of the bargain and given peace?

DIANA BUTTU, PLO LEGAL ADVISOR: Let me correct you on that assumption. The Palestinians only control 17.2 percent of the West Bank. That is divided into 13 separate, noncontiguous reservations. They do not control the entire West Bank, and they have never been given land in exchange for peace.

This is -- you have exactly boiled it down. Israel has faced one equation and one equation only. Is Israel interested in land or is Israel interested in peace? And, sadly, Israel has shown time and again that it's only interested in land and not interested in peace.

What it is conducting now and what it has been conducting for the past 35 years is an illegal land grab. That's all that Israel is interested in.

BEGALA: But let me press the peace side of it and read you a comment that's in today's "Wall Street Journal." The saddest thing, I think, I've ever seen.

The mother of one of these murderers said this, on a videotape, standing with her son, who she was sending in to murder Israelis, and she said, and I quote, "This is the best day of my life. God willing," she says to her son, "you will become a martyr and you will be successful. May every bullet hit its target."

He went into Israel. He murdered Israelis before he himself was killed.

How can it be that Palestinian mothers hate Israelis more than they love their own children?

BUTTU: Well, let me say outright that I absolutely condemn any terrorist attack or any attack on any Israeli civilians. This is not something that I personally agree with, nor is it something that the Palestinian Authority or the PLO agrees with.

This is something that has been condemned in the past, and you're looking at a very radical small population of the entire Palestinian population, who believes in this. This is a very small, radical group and it's -- there's no sense in giving any credence to small radical groups.

NOVAK: Ambassador Gold, yesterday, after this very bloody suicide attack, for the first time, I believe, Prime Minister Sharon visited the site, and he commented several times, "So this is the Palestinian state."

Now, wasn't this an attempt to forestall President Bush from coming up with his speech, advocating a Palestinian state? Because surely the people who committed this attack were not interested in a negotiating process that would lead to Palestinian and Israeli states existing peacefully side by side?

GOLD: Well, here's the problem. The organization that conducted this operation today is not some fringe element of the Palestinians. The Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades are a member of Fatah. Fatah is the largest component of the PLO, which Ms. Buttu represents.

BUTTU: I'm going to have to interrupt you on that.

GOLD: Not only is Fatah a part of this -- but wait a second, also the PFLP, the people who invented airplane hijacking.

BUTTU: If I may -- I'm going to have to interrupt you at this point.

GOLD: Let me finish the point. PLFP...

BUTTU: The PFLP was outlawed by the PLO after it conducted a suicide bombing. So, you know, to go on and make these allegations that they're linked to the Palestinian Authority or the PLO is simply irresponsible on the part of Dore Gold.

GOLD: What about the Fatah organization? What about the Fatah organization, which is the largest component of the PLO.

BUTTU: Just in the same way...

NOVAK: Let her answer. Go ahead, ma'am.

BEGALA: What about Fatah and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade?

BUTTU: Yes. Just in the same way that there are radicals on the Israeli side -- in fact we have those radicals who are in the government. We have people who advocate...

GOLD: What about Fouad al-Shobaki, who is the chief financial adviser to Yasser Arafat...

BUTTU: If I'm not going to be able to speak.

GOLD: ... who paid for the Karina-A weapon ship?

NOVAK: Mr. Gold, let her finish her statement, please.

BUTTU: If I may please finish my statement. Just in the same way that there are radicals on the Israeli side, in fact who are in the government, who advocate ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and these are people who are in the government. The Palestinian Authority and the Fatah movement also has a splinter group, but this splinter group does not represent Fatah nor does it represent the vast majority of Palestinians who actually do want to live side by side in peace with Israel.

GOLD: Why is Fouad al-Shobaki, the chief financial adviser of Yasser Arafat, writing checks for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, who are involved in the terrorist attack today? That is not some peripheral organization or fringe element...

BUTTU: As Mr. Novak has pointed out...

GOLD: ... that is mainstream Fatah.

BUTTU: As Mr. Novak has pointed out, these documents prove absolutely nothing. And just the fact that Israel keeps repeating the allegations, doesn't mean that they prove anything. In fact, they prove nothing.

BEGALA: It seems to me, Ms. Buttu, you're either...


BEGALA: Excuse me, Mr. Gold. Excuse me, Mr. Gold. Either Mr. Arafat is in fact sponsoring terrorism, as Mr. Gold asserts, or he's not in control of his people, and why on earth should the Israelis empower him to run a state if it's a terrorist dominated state that he can't control? BUTTU: He's not -- he's certainly not in control of the territory. The only person who is in control of the territory is the person with the weapons, and that person is Ariel Sharon. He is the person who is in control of the territory. He is the person who is in control of the very situation on the ground.

Now, it's time for Israel to step back and recognize why we're in this situation and stop using reverse logic. The reason that we're in this situation is because Israel has occupied the territories for the past 35 years and denied the Palestinians their freedom. Reoccupying and denying Palestinians their freedom for yet a further period of time is simply not going to bring Israel peace, nor will it bring (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: Ambassador Gold, in this morning's "New York Times" there's a quote, a remarkable quote, not by a man on a street, by a member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, Mr. Michael Kleiner.

We're going to put this quote up on the screen. He said, "For every Jew who is buried as a result of an attack, we must make sure 1,000 Palestinians are killed."

Do you think that's helpful?

GOLD: Well, no, he's not a member of the Israeli government, he's a member of the Knesset. But I don't believe that he represents...

NOVAK: I didn't say that. I said he was a member of the Knesset.

GOLD: ... the views of the government. The main point here is that Israel, under the Oslo agreements, withdrew its military government. There was no military occupation of the Palestinians. In fact, the only occupation that existed under Oslo was an occupation created by Yasser Arafat over the Palestinian people.

BUTTU: So you mean to tell me the Palestinians are free? The Palestinians can travel wherever they want to?

GOLD: Just a minute, Ms. Buttu. Now let me finish my point. The Palestinians were given self-government. In fact, they have been given their freedom. But they don't have the freedom to attack innocent Israelis.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, at Camp David, and I didn't agree with his policies, but he still offered Yasser Arafat well above 95 percent of the West Bank. Mr. Arafat was not interested in land, he was not interested in Palestinian freedom, he was interested in destroying Israel, and so he launched a war against us in September of 2000, and we are all suffering from the consequences.

BUTTU: I simply don't understand...

BEGALA: Miss Buttu, in fact -- in fact -- excuse me. Let me ask you this question. In fact, there may be Israelis who make intemperate statements. They're not blowing up Palestinian children in pizza parlors, the way Palestinian terrorists are. They're not going to religious ceremonies and blowing people up.

That's why Israel now is building a fence. They're building a wall. And I understand that Mr. Arafat and the folks you represent don't like that, but I have to tell you, I come from Texas, where we won Texas in a war, and if Mexicans were coming across the Rio Grande River and killing our children on buses, the least that they would have to worry about would be a fence.

How on earth can you complain about Israel trying to protect its people with a fence?

BUTTU: Because Israel is not going to put the fence along the green line. It's not going to put it along the border. It's going to try to grab more land.

This is the very problem, that Israel has not yet decided which part of the equation does it want? Does it want land or does to want peace? And if it wants to have peace, then it's going to require Israel to withdraw completely from the land that it has occupied since...

NOVAK: That will have to be the last word. Thank you very much, Ms. Buttu. Thank you very much, Ambassador Gold.


NOVAK: When we return, Jesse Ventura says he's quitting. Should we cheer or grieve?

And later, it's official, believe it or not, George Stephanopoulos will be the solo host on ABC's talk show. Just what network TV needs, a Clinton phony with his own show.




NOVAK: Jesse "The Body" Ventura has had enough of politics.

The former pro-wrestler turned Minnesota governor has lost his fire in the belly, he says, and he adds he won't seek re-election. But his rapid rise to power did give career politicians a very nervous wakeup call, and might inspire other mavericks to challenge the major parties. Wouldn't that be good for the country?

In the CROSSFIRE to tackle that question, Dean Barkley, director of Minnesota planning and former campaign chairman for Governor Ventura. He joins us from Minneapolis. And here in Washington, Republican former Congressman Vin Weber, also from Minnesota.


BEGALA: Mr. Barkley, let me start with you, sir. Thank you for joining us.


BEGALA: Governor Ventura at one point, of course, was the darling of the people in Minnesota. Not only did they elect him, they rewarded him with, at one point, a 73 percent approval rating. And even today, it's only 43, which is not all that bad. And yet he's bowing out.

You know, when Harry Truman's rating was below that, and he toughed it out. When Ronald Reagan's was below that, he toughed it out. When Bill Clinton, for whom I worked, fell way below 43 percent, he toughed it out.

Isn't that the problem with dilettantes, like Jesse, is that they're not serious about the rough and tumble real world of politics?

BARKLEY: Well, I don't know about that. I think a person has to have that fire to be able to continue. He's spent four years giving it his best shot. I admire what he has done. I admire where he's brought the third-party movement, and he has made a judgment call that he would rather go back to the private sector, that the fire's not there anymore.

And I'd be the first one to say I would not want to recruit a candidate that's not sure they want to be in a race, because they don't make for a very good candidate.

BEGALA: Absolutely. We agree on that. But isn't that a warning to people who seem to be looking -- I confess. I like career politicians, OK. I like people who give their life to public service. I'm not against rookies, but this is the problem you get, is, they think it's going to be a lark, and then, boy, the first whiff of blood and they get the vapors. This is not body slamming in fake wrestling, this is the real world, right?

BARKLEY: Well, this is the real world, but he didn't walk way because he's afraid of the fight. He just basically said four years of his life, of trying to bring the third party to where it is now in Minnesota, and for public service was enough. He made a judgment call, but what was best for his family, was best for himself, and as far as the privacy he lost, and decided for his family's sake and his own sake he wanted to return back to the public sector and did not want to become a career politician.

You can criticize him for that, but I applaud him for doing what's right for his family, making a call that he thought was best for his own circumstances.

NOVAK: Vin Weber, when you were in college, one of your colleagues, Republican colleagues from Minnesota was Jim Ramstad. And yesterday on the event of -- on the occasion of Gov. Ventura's announcement, Ramstad said, quote, "Ventura was very effective at reaching out to many Minnesotans who felt powerless and outside the system," end quote.

Do you disagree with that?

VIN WEBER, FMR. MINNESOTA CONGRESSMAN: I think I agree with that for a few minutes on one election day.

And I'm not unhappy about that, by the way. I think that Jesse Ventura did send a message to both parties when he got elected in 1998. I was there in Republican Norm Coleman's headquarters that night...

NOVAK: You were his leading strategist.

WEBER: I was one of his leading strategists. We went down in defeat. I was disappointed, but I think Jesse Ventura did make a positive statement that night.

My argument with my friend Dean Barkley, who I have known for a long time and have a lot of regard for, is it really stopped that night.

Jesse Ventura had an opportunity to take what he did and build on it for the next four years and leave something important, and he really didn't do it. He chose to become more of an entertainer. He was more known for being on the Letterman show and the Leno show than he was for building the Independence party in Minnesota or nationally, and as a result, he's going to leave with very few footprints.

NOVAK: Well, I think we need a little more entertainment.

When I was...


NOVAK: Let me -- much more.

Let me...

BARKLEY: Do you just butt in to this conversation, or wait to be asked?

I don't know if I can let Vin just off the hook on that one.

WEBER: Dean, Dean, Dean -- you've never waited, as long as long as I've know you.

BARKLEY: I want to be polite. You know, I'm a polite centrist. I just don't want to bully my way in here.

NOVAK: Go ahead. Do you want to say something?

BARKLEY: You know, I've heard that rap for four years that, you know, it's the entertainment.

Jesse Ventura governed very well. For the first three years of administration, he accomplished things other governors only dreamed of. Only to the fourth year, when his two opponents that would have been if he had run, decided to ignore him in this last session and do their own thing without having the governor be involved, did the things kind of fall apart.

But I think he proved...

NOVAK: I think something more than Minnesota government is involved here. You know, I want to stipulate that I'm not nearly as fond as career politicians as Paul is.

BARKLEY: Well, thank you, Bob.

NOVAK: And don't we have a situation here, Mr. Weber, where people like you, who are in politics as a career politician, now you're a millionaire lobbyist, and you like to eat at the Caucus Room and at the Capitol Grill (ph) -- you just don't like these outsiders horning in on your little racket, do you?

WEBER: I really prefer career journalists.


WEBER: And I'll have lunch with you at the Caucus Room, as long as you buy, because you're worth more money than I am.

NOVAK: Well, that evaded my questions. You don't like the outsiders coming in, do you?

WEBER: Look, seriously. You make a serious point. I think that Jesse Ventura shook up the Minnesota political system. I think both parties need to be shaken up a little bit once in a while. But at the end of the day, you have to judge how they've performed on behalf of the people of the state or district they seek to represent.

My argument with Dean is, you know, sure, the first three years, he didn't do too badly. I will give him great credit. He assembled a good administration, and I think there is a lesson there. He put aside partisanship, got good Republicans, good Democrats. Maybe the next governor, whichever party he's from, will take that same lesson.

But to say he accomplished a lot the next three years and not the fourth is a little misleading. Those were three years in which revenues were gushing into the Minnesota treasury like they were the rest of the country. Hard to fail under those circumstances.

Then the state faces a fiscal crisis this year and he throws up his hands in defeat, and he has failed to deal with the legislature, with either party, and we've got a mess in Minnesota.

BEGALA: Dean, isn't the problem one about third parties, though? Go ahead.

BARKLEY: Vin is smooth. He's really smooth, I got to give him credit.

Jesse Ventura did not check out of year four. Roger Moen (ph), Tim Plani (ph) and Steve Swagen (ph), the leaders, decided they were going to have nothing to do with Ventura. They ignored his budget fix that would have fixed the problem, and gave us some diatribe that avoided everything until next year, to put the state of Minnesota in peril.

He didn't do that purposely. He was aced out by Democrats and Republicans. If two or three of them don't want to talk to you, what do you do?

BEGALA: Well, let me ask you about that, because I don't want to get into the particulars of who runs which party in Minnesota, because we have 49 other states watching, but this is a problem always with third parties, right?

Third parts to me, they're like cockroaches. It's not what they carry off you worry about, it's what they fall into and mess up.

And he fell into the governorship, was unable to bring the parties together. If he'd come from one of the major parties, then he could have been successful, but it's never going to be possible for a third-party candidate to succeed in America, is it?

BARKLEY: I think you're absolutely crazy on that.

The first three years, he did bring them together. If it wasn't for him, they wouldn't have got it done.

He had a very conservative House, a very liberal Senate, and he is the one who triangulated and brought them back. Only when dirty old politics in this governor's race came in, they made a conscious decision to make sure it didn't work...


WEBER: If we'd only abolish politics, he would have been successful.


NOVAK: Last question.

The founding fathers of this country, hen we started this country, many of the states had one year governorships and they couldn't succeed themselves. Wasn't that a good idea, to have one guy in there for a year? He's fresh. Get a new guy in. Wouldn't that be terrific?

WEBER: Who's the greatest one-term governor in American history? I can't think of him and neither can you.

NOVAK: Poke Stevens (ph), in Texas.


WEBER: Nice to be with you, career journalists. Good night.

NOVAK: Thank you very much, Dean Barkley, appreciate it. Thank you very much, Vin Weber.

Ahead in our "News Alert," new word about what may have led to a friendly fire attack by a U.S. pilot on Canadian forces in Afghanistan. It had to come from Berkeley california.

I'll tell you about the rut (ph) for PC coffee ahead. You know what PC coffee is? You'll find out in our CROSSFIRE "News Alert."

Also ahead, the media's agenda. More proof of liberal bias.



NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Still ahead, as former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos takes the helm of a major Sunday public affairs talk show, we'll examine whether there's truly a liberal bias in the media. Plus, your chance to fire back at us.

But first, it is time for a look at those unusual and interesting stories that you might not find anywhere but in our CROSSFIRE "News Alert."

Is there something rotten in Sacramento? Sure smells like it. It is a $95 million contract for software signed by California Democratic Governor Gray Davis' administration with the Oracle corporation. Just after the deal was signed, an Oracle lobbyist gave one of Davis' aides a $25,000 contribution for the governor's re- election campaign. Corruption anyone?

The joint legislative audit committee sure thinks so after finishing more than 10 hours of testimony last night, and that's a bipartisan opinion. Said Democratic assemblyman Dean Flores, I think we got taken to the cleaners. Two Davis aides have left their jobs and a third has been put on paid leave as a result of the Oracle deal. But what about Gray Davis? What did the governor know and when did he know it?

BEGALA: Tell you what he knew. He knew that Enron was ripping off of his state. And when the Bush administration was protecting Enron, he was trying to stop them. Maybe that's why the right-wings are going after him now.

NOVAK: What about Oracle?

BEGALA: All right. If we investigate that, let's investigate Bush's role with Enron. I'd be happy to look at both.

NOVAK: Gee, I knew you would answer that with Bush.

BEGALA: Davis is an honorable man and an honest man. Believe me.


BEGALA: Maureen Dowd of the "New York Times" today writes that a White House aide is claiming that President Bush's Ohio State commencement address was influenced by, get this, Alexis de Tocqueville, Adam Smith, the world's major religions, Aristotle, George Elliot, Emily Dickinson, William Wadsworth, Pope John Paul II, Cicero, Abraham Lincoln and the founding fathers, Benjamin Rush (ph), Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

The aide, John Bridgeland, is the director of USA Freedom Corps. And he went on to tell reporters that he had discussed Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics" with W. just that day. In other news, several of Bush's former professors at Yale and Harvard have been hospitalized after they fell into fits of paralyzing, hysterical laughter.

NOVAK: I think that's all very accurate, except for George Elliot. I don't believe -- I don't think George W. is a George Elliot man at all.

BEGALA: What's the chance that he knows who George Elliot was.

NOVAK: Do you?

BEGALA: She...

NOVAK: More news from California from the good old people's republic of Berkeley. A petition contained signatures of more than 3,000 Berkeley voters calls for only P.C. coffee, that's politically correct coffee, to be sold there. It would require the coffee brewed for sale be made of organic shade grown beans, whatever they are. Anybody selling non-P.C. coffee could be fined $100 or go to jail for six months. But P.C. coffee will contain caffeine, at least until the Berkeley (UNINTELLIGIBLE) police find out about it.

BEGALA: You know, conservatives love local control. Now, here's a local government doing what local people want, and you get all upset about it. Local control.

Republican leaders to the House of Representatives are taking a break tonight from their deliberations on a prescription drug bill to go raise money for prescription drug corporations. The chief operating officer of the British-based pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline is the chief corporate fundraiser for the Republican event. His corporation ponied out at least a quarter of a million dollars.

The Pharmaceutical Researching Manufacturers of America is also kicking in another quarter of a million. Pfizer is contributing $100,000. Eli Lilly, Bayer, Merck have each coughed up at least $50,000 apiece. And now you know why prescription drugs are so expensive in this country compared to other countries. It's overhead. Buying up all those Republican Congressmen ain't cheap.


NOVAK: These were all legal contributions, Paul. It's different than getting illegal contributions from the Chinese Communists? Who did that?

(APPLAUSE) BEGALA: What are you talking about? That is such a load of crap. These people are selling our health to the highest bidder. They should take those gavels that they have in the majority...

NOVAK: You don't like to be reminded of the Clinton plans, do you?

BEGALA: ... and use them for an auction, for an auction. That's what they're doing is auctioning off our health.

BEGALA: Coming up, one of our viewers challenges my view on homosexuality and dares me to think straight.

And those straight-laced conservatives are at it again, dragging out their new liberal media whipping boy.


NOVAK: One of Bill Clinton's former bosom buddies have a new TV gig. ABC makes it official, naming George Stephanopoulos as the sole anchor of its public affairs Sunday talk show "This Week." The moves begs the question, won't George just be yet another mouthpiece for the liberal agenda? And is this not more proof of the news media's tilt to the left?

In the CROSSFIRE, Mort Zuckerman, chairman and editor-in-chief of "U.S. News & World Reporter" and publisher of the "New York Daily News." Also, Ann Coulter, author and syndicated columnist.

BEGALA: Ms. Coulter, Mr. Zuckerman, thank you both for joining us.

Let's start with you, Ms. Coulter. I am amazed and impressed with the right wing's ability to continue this whine with a straight face. But at there's least one honest conservative out there, and his name is Bill Kristol. He used to work for Bill Bennett. He used to work for Dan Quayle. Now he works for Rupert Murdoch editing a very good magazine. In fact, sat next to George Stephanopoulos on that ABC show for years.

This is what he has had to say about it: "I admit it. The liberal media were never that powerful and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures." Isn't Bill Kristol right?

ANN COULTER, AUTHOR: Is that directed at me?

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am.

COULTER: I think Bill Kristol should change his first name to "even," since that's the only way he ever gets cited any more -- why, even Bill Kristol says -- I can't, I mean, if the question is how powerful the media is, no, it's stunning that Democrats have not been able to get as much as 50 percent of the country to vote for them in half a century. But that is despite the media, where I think there are -- I mean, outside of Fox News, no one is going to deliver objective news who could have possibly voted for Ronald Reagan, who was actually quite popular with the American people, winning two landslide elections; 49 states voted for Ronald Reagan. But, let see, Tim Russert worked for a Democrat. Chris Matthews worked for a Democrat. Leslie Stahl worked for a Democrat. And now we have someone who not only worked for a Democrat, but was the chief liar for an impeached felon. That is, you know, objective news at ABC.

NOVAK: Mr. Zuckerman, Mort Zuckerman, Paul would not understand this because he's never been a journalist. But we're not talking about commentators who can say anything. We're talking about reporters, which George Stephanopoulos is claiming to be for ABC. And I'd like -- a year ago, Ted Olson, a distinguished lawyer, was up in a tough confirmation fight to be solicitor general of the United States.

And this is what George Stephanopoulos said on ABC's "This Week" program. Said, "at issue, did Olson tell the whole truth about his ties to an anti-Clinton project of the right-wing "American Spectator"? Is it possible, then, that perhaps Mr. Olson, because of his long record as a partisan, is simply too partisan for this appointment, and maybe that's what Democrats are upset about?"

Would you send out George Stephanopoulos as a reporter for the "New York Daily News" with an attitude like that?

MORT ZUCKERMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Well, actually, I would. I mean, my own view of George Stephanopoulos is that whatever his previous associations with any particular administration, he has demonstrated a fairly good degree of integrity and objectivity in the role that he played on ABC. I don't see anything wrong with what he's doing. Tim Russert, of course, also represented Democrats in Albany and Chris Matthews in Washington. And both of them, I think, have done very well as journalists.

The fact that you were previously involved in political life, sometimes it is rumored, gives you an certain insight into what you're going to be talking about on television. And by the way, television is not the only media. I mean, if you want to look at radio, there's a lot of the radio commentators who are thought to be conservatives.

And I know, Bob, let me ask you a question. When was the last time anybody accused you of being part of the liberal media? I mean, there is a whole variety of people who represent different political philosophies. And when they get on the air, some of them carry that with them and a lot of them don't. And most of them try to be objective and fair-minded.

NOVAK: But nobody has ever...

COULTER: Could I say something about that?

NOVAK: Go ahead.

COULTER: Except the problem is, I mean, I agree that partisan political service should not be a disqualifier for going into the news business. But, in fact, it is if you happen to work for a Republican. Why is there no one like Tony Blankley...

ZUCKERMAN: Like Tony Snow, who hosts a Sunday show on Fox?

COULTER: ... Peggy Noonan, George Will, why are they not hosts of their own TV shows? No, no, no.

ZUCKERMAN: What about Tony Snow, Ms. Coulter?

COULTER: They are only permitted to come on as partisan, you know, from the right, Peggy Noonan. From the right, George Will.

ZUCKERMAN: Let me try a third time. What about Tony Snow, worked for President Bush...

COULTER: OK, outside of Fox News.

ZUCKERMAN: He hosts the Sunday show.

COULTER: Outside of Fox News. Finally, we get a little cable station. Thanks. We get Fox News. You get ABC, NBC, CBS, "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," MSNBC, CNBC. OK, we got Fox News. Yes, there's Brit Hume and Tony Snow and that's it.

BEGALA: By the way, you can have Fox News too.


NOVAK: I'll tell you what the problem is.

ZUCKERMAN: Excuse me.

NOVAK: Go ahead.

ZUCKERMAN: In a show that both Bob Novak and I have appeared on quite frankly called John McLaughlin, "The McLaughlin Group," he worked for a Republican president. And I just don't see why you have to pick out the people who make your case and leave out those who don't.

COULTER: He doesn't pretend to be objective. He is quite clearly a partisan.

ZUCKERMAN: He is hosting a show. You asked whether he's hosting a show...

COULTER: Yes, and he has two from the left and two from the right.

ZUCKERMAN: He's hosting a show.

COULTER: No, I said (UNINTELLIGIBLE) hosting a show as an objective news analyst, that -- he is not objective. He says he's conservative. NOVAK: You have a lot of good professional journalists who work for you both at "U.S. News" and at the "New York Daily News." Do you know how exasperating it is that when you come to a position that used to be held by David Brinkley, by Sam Donaldson, by Cokie Roberts, all of whom are professional journalists, that all ABC can think of is taking a former White House flak because he's a pretty boy and putting them on the air? Do you know how obnoxious that is?

ZUCKERMAN: I really don't think that's a fair description of George Stephanopoulos. I mean, I think it's a good try. But he's a very intelligent guy and he's a very good commentator and a very good analyst. And I think his political experience gives him a lot of insight that makes him that. I think you have to judge how he is on the air. And by and large on the air, it seems to me he carries off that job pretty well. And I think that's just an unfair criticism of one particular commentator.

I don't necessarily agree with him on everything that he says, but I think he approaches the job with integrity, with these very analytic and very intelligent in his comments. He's interesting. And, yes, he happens to be attractive. I mean, surprise, surprise, television is a visual medium.

BEGALA: Ms. Coulter, let me show you some data, since we've been talking anecdotes until now, that actually shows considerable right- wing tilt by the media. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting to this study and asked, for example, do large companies have too much power in America. Among media, only 24 percent agree; 62 percent of the American people did.

They asked should protecting Social Security be a top priority? Among the media, only 39 percent, yes; American people, 59 percent. And they asked if Clinton's tax increase on the rich -- asked them did you think it did not go far enough? Only 18 percent of the media thought the Clinton tax increase did not go too far, and 72 percent of the American people wanted higher taxes on the rich. This is a profound conservative bias by the media elite, isn't it?

COULTER: You may as well be citing People for the American Way. I mean, Fairness and Accuracy in Media, they claim that most of the stories in the "New York Times" during the 2000 campaign were pro- Gore. But somehow, miraculously, everyone at the "New York Times" voted for Gore.


BEGALA: In fairness, it was sponsored by them, but it was conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University, not a left-wing institution.

COULTER: Look, this is a silly poll. I'm talking about whom people have worked for, and I think you cannot explain why it is impossible for someone who has ever worked for a Republican to get a job as an objective news reader on TV. I mean, look what happened to Susan Molinari, pro-choice Republican Susan Molinari. When CBS hired her to give, you know, cooking and exercise tips for the "Morning Show," it was like World War III in the media. Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson has been given his own show on this station, CNN, amusingly titled "Both Sides." At the same time, Molinari was getting her show on CBS. Bill Bradley, who was about to go on to run for president as a Democrat, was going to be delivering serious analysis during the news program.


BEGALA: Miss Coulter, they're telling me to take a break. I was going to wait for you to take a breath, but I do want to thank you very much for joining us. Ann Coulter, moderate mainstream columnist; and Mort Zuckerman, the publisher of the "Daily News" in New York and of "U.S. News and World Report." Thank you both very much.

Later, it is your turn to fire back.

But next, Bob and I settle a few differences in "Round Six."


NOVAK: Paul, Pat Buchanan is one of the most skilled television people I know. He can handle any job. Can you imagine ABC putting him as the anchor of "This Week" on Sunday as they have a left wing ideologue such as George Stephanopoulos?

BEGALA: Let me answer with another question: James Carville is a skilled campaign manager. He ran Bill Clinton's campaign. Can you imagine him running an entire network the way Roger Ailes, Bush's campaign manager, does at Fox? He runs the entire network. It's not just like one guy in one show. The entire network over there is built around a right-wing crackpot political aide, Roger Ailes.


NOVAK: I want to tell you something. I've been in journalism all my life. I've been a Washington journalist for 45 years. I have not only never worked for the government, never worked in politics, I've never even had a job offer in government or politics. And I take that as a badge of honor.

BEGALA: Well, that's our country's loss. You would have done fine.

I think George brings a good perspective to it. Judge him on his work.

I think he was too anti-Clinton during impeachment because he was bending over backwards to be fair.

NOVAK: Maybe he wanted that $1 million job with ABC.

BEGALA: No, I think he's trying so hard to be fair, and that's to his credit.

NOVAK: OK, when we return: Your turn to "Fireback." Paul's viewpoint on homosexuality gets singed.

We'll be back in a minute.


BEGALA: Welcome back. It's time for "Fireback."

Let's go straight to the e-mail bag. Our first e-mail is from Brad Turner in Nashville, Tennessee: "Paul, I noticed your anger that someone even dare oppose homosexuality. If we use your argument, what if I killed 10 people, but said I was born a serial killer? Should I be set free since I was born that way? Just because someone is born homosexual, doesn't mean that we have to automatically accept their behavior as normal."

Brad, the fact that somebody equates homosexuality with mass murder is a sign of the homophobia in this society. At least...


NOVAK: All right, the next question is from Marg in Prince George, British Columbia. She writes: "I can't imagine being a senior in your country and not being able to pay for a much-needed drug. If I lived in the U.S., I would probably be dead by now. For such a rich country, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves for not providing extended medical care for the elderly."

Marg, like most Canadians, you're ill-informed and wrong. The U.S. has the longest standard of living -- longest life expectancy of any country in the world, including Canada. That's the truth.

BEGALA: Because of Medicare. Socialized medicine.

Yes sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, my name is Kendall Ketterland (ph) from Columbia, Missouri. I was going to ask if President Bush should have delayed his speech, or if that's just giving the terrorist groups more power by setting the timetable and really the agenda for peace over there?

NOVAK: The president is supposed to give his speech on a Palestinian state, and the people who don't want a Palestinian state are only two kinds of people: the Israeli government, and the Palestinian extremists.

I think he made a mistake in delaying his speech.

BEGALA: And as a great Bush critic, I think he did the right thing. Sometimes you have to take time and let things sort themselves out. And I applaud President Bush, first, for committing to give the speech -- which I think will be very important -- and also wait for the right time, and not giving it in the middle of terrorism.

So good for you, George. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Robert Walter (ph) from Athens, Ohio. I wanted to ask if we really need more celebrity politicians running for office on their popularity rather than their political stances. I mean, does the U.S. really need a senator Arnold Schwarzenegger or Representative Alec Baldwin, President Jesse Ventura or President Ronald Reagan?

NOVAK: Sure. What I'd do is get these dumb -- these career politicians out of there and get them home. They have made a career out of being on the public trough. We need celebrities or non- celebrities, but get the career politicians out of there.

BEGALA: And get the career airline pilots out of there. Let's have somebody who's never done it before flying planes too, right? I want somebody who knows what the hell they're doing running our country.

NOVAK: Next.

BEGALA: Yes ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Caza Miller (ph), and I'm from Montgomery, Alabama. DO you think it's time that the United States take a firm and definite stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict? When is enough enough?

NOVAK: Well, I don't know what a firm and definite stand is. I'm for peace, and I'm not for war.

Are you for war?

BEGALA: I think that President Bush engaged too late, but since he's begun engaging after 15 months of ignoring it, I think he's doing the best he can. And so I'm not willing to criticize him on it. We are taking a stand.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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