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Are Conservative Groups Setting the Agenda for Everyone's News?; The Future of Boxing

Aired November 27, 2002 - 19:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE: On the left: James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right: Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE tonight: Al Gore blasts the right-wing media. Are Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, "The Washington Times" and the Republican Party setting the agenda for everyone's news?
Tonya is going pro, Mike's going another round. Is the sport of boxing still a knockout or on the ropes?

Plus, his show may have been canceled, but we'll see if Bill Maher is still "Politically Incorrect."


From the George Washington University: Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE this Thanksgiving eve. Tonight, Al Gore states the obvious, that the right wingers have a well-oiled and well-funded media machine. As if to prove his point, the right-wing media then jumped all over Gore today. We will join that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in just a minute.

Also, Tonya Harding and Mike Tyson both climbing into the ring. No, not against each other, but close. We'll ask, has the sweet science become a freak show?

And then, Bill Maher. He defined the word "politically incorrect" for five years on ABC. We'll try to get him to cut loose as he steps into the CROSSFIRE. First, as we do every day, we're going to give thanks for the follies and foibles and foul-ups of the powerful, which we chronicle faithfully in our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

President Bush today signed legislation establishing an independent commission to investigate 9/11. After signing the bill, which he had long opposed, Mr. Bush proceeded to undermine it. He appointed former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to chair the panel. I'm not making this up.

Kissinger, who last held power 26 years ago, is 79 years old, which means that, along with Rumsfeld and Cheney, Bush has more re- treads than Walt's discount tire store. According to the definitive biography of Secretary Kissinger -- written, by the way, by CNN Chairman and CEO Walter Isaacson -- Kissinger, "had an instinctive feel for power, but it was not matched by a feel for the openness of America's democratic system or for the moral values that are a basic source of its world influence."

Sounds to me like he's the perfect embodiment of George W. Bush's values.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Well at least the president isn't running him for Senate. You really have to be Democrat to do that. I have to say, though, Paul, you complained loudly that the president wasn't behind this commission. And I actually -- I hate to admit it -- I agreed with you. Now he appoints a head of it, George Mitchell, as you now, Democrat, his number two, and you're complaining still. What could he do to make you happy?

BEGALA: Put Rudy Giuliani as the Republican in charge.

CARLSON: Given too many speeches.

BEGALA: That would be credible for me.

CARLSON: It turns out that the vast right-wing conspiracy isn't just a figment of Hillary Clinton's imagination. It's also a figment of Al Gore's imagination. In an interview today with the "New York Observer," Gore explains that the free press isn't really free. It is secretly controlled, he says, by "wealthy ultra-conservative billionaires" who have made a pact with the Republican Party to undermine the reputation of people like Al Gore.

Despite the magnitude of this conspiracy, Gore went on to say the rest of the press, "have been slow to recognize the pervasive impact of this fifth column in their ranks." Secret conspiracies, fifth columns. Mr. Gore might have said more, but wealthy right-wing operatives, using tiny transmitters concealed in the fillings of his teeth, commanded him to stop talking, so he did.

BEGALA: I love this. Only the political press gets excited when somebody states the obvious. Sports reporters would not jump up and down if Al Gore said, you know, the NBA has a lot of really tall guys. It's obvious there is a right-wing media in America. It's obvious...

CARLSON: He said it's a conspiracy. It's a fifth column.

BEGALA: He didn't say it was a conspiracy.

CARLSON: Yes, actually, he did. He said it was a fifth column, meaning un-American people working against the American interest. You can't say things like this and be president, Paul.

BEGALA: There are a lot of right-wing cranks out there in the media banging on Gore.

CARLSON: And there are left-wing cranks and they're running for president. And that's the scary thing.

BEGALA: No. Now this news -- speaking of cranky people -- from our dirt bags and divorce court files. Former GE CEO Jack Welch's very messy divorce continues to amuse everyone who grew tired of the corporate chieftain lecturing the rest of us about his ethics. Welch's second wife, still smarting because ethical Jack jumped her, just as he had dumped his first wife -- revealed the shocking extent to which Welch freeloaded off of GE, billing the company for everything from basketball tickets to dry cleaning.

Now the "Wall Street Journal" reports today Welch is fighting back by spreading dirt about his wife's alleged impropriety while they were married. Real classy, Jack. Welch's self-laudatory autobiography was called "Welch, Strike from the Gut." A new more honest version will be released soon to be called, Welch, Straight from the Gutter.

CARLSON: I knew this was going to happen. I called this five years ago when he was palling around with Bill Clinton. They had the...


BEGALA: Palling? He hated Clinton. He's a right wing...

CARLSON: Yes, actually they were. And I remember thinking, all of this sucking up to CEOs is going to pay dividends some day, and it has.

BEGALA: He's a kook.

CARLSON: The Democratic Party is famously fractured these days, divided, unsteady and unsure of what it believes. It's in times like these that a party returns to its core values, which in the case of the Democrats mean to the unalterable, unshaken conviction that sport utility vehicles are evil and ought to be banned at gunpoint if necessary.

If there's one thing that brings the Democratic Party together like family, it's the idea that mountain bikes are morally superior to SUVs. Of course it's one thing to hold a belief, quite another to act on it. In Richmond, Virginia, one liberal group has taken that next step and begun a campaign of violence against SUVs.

According to police, more than 30 vehicles have been destroyed in recent months with hatchets, knives and buckets of acid. Some on the way out, wacky far right have had the gall to call this ecoterrorism (ph). (UNINTELLIGIBLE), however, recognize it for what it is, energetic activism by the bicyclist community, which is a major caucus in your party. Congratulations.

BEGALA: I am certainly not going to be for destroying people's private property. That's ridiculous. It's terrible and it ought to be condemned.

CARLSON: Glad to hear you say that. BEGALA: But you cannot compare that with the dominance of the Republican Party of all the corporate interest and of all these kook right people who you keep making fun of -- Al Gore for just pointing out dominant right-wing media. It's not at all comparable.


CARLSON: I must say, they're not setting anybody's houses on fire.

BEGALA: How many crazies in Richmond, Virginia? Not the same.

Well, let's face it, under President Bush, things are going very much in the wrong direction. Unemployment is up, family income is down. Deficit is up, stock market down. Crime is up, personal savings down.

As Al Gore used to say back when he was campaigning against Bush, Sr., everything that should be up is down and everything that should be down is up. And it gets worse than you think.

A new survey shows we're not even number one in making whoopee. The French make love much more often than Americans do, as do the Danes, the Canadians, even the Brits. My fellow Americans, we face a challenge of monumental proportions. There is a whoopee gap in George W. Bush's America. Let's see him try to blame that one on Bill Clinton.

Not going to happen.


CARLSON: Actually, Paul, there are many inaccuracies, in that the market is up 255 points, unemployment claims are down. But the real lie is here the British? This is a joke.

The French, of course, are lying, and so are the Canadians and the Danes. But when you say the British are beating us, you know the whole thing is a parody and it can't be true.

BEGALA: I only wish it were. Actually, the stock market is down about 30 percent since Bush took office. Two million people lost their jobs. But whoopee, you'd think even under Bush we can inspired, but not even...

CARLSON: They were so turned off by Clinton, they gave it you entirely.

BEGALA: I knew they would try but they didn't pull it off.

CARLSON: The worse thing about democracy, as any authoritarian regime can tell you, is the voters. Often they don't do what you tell them to do. Sometimes they even vote with their own interests in mind. It can be frustrating.

The Democratic Party learned this lesson a few weeks ago after getting creamed in the midterm elections. Strategists vowed never to let it happen again. The party's new strategy, remove voters from the picture entirely.

Two liberal lobby groups have launched an ad campaign urging Republican senators to switch parties and thereby throw control of the Senate to the democrats. Of course it worked once before, when Jim Jeffords of Vermont staged a one-man coup last year. But unfortunately for the Democratic Party, voters undid that deed in the midterms. Hence the need to subvert the electoral process again.

Victory without voting, power without elections, it worked for Idi Amin, it can work again. That's our rallying cry.

BEGALA: You're going to join me in condemning those four Georgia State senators who switched parties last week and through the whole Georgia Senate to the Republican Party?

CARLSON: After they were elected?


CARLSON: Yeah, I think it's pretty unseemly, to be honest with you.

BEGALA: Well at least you're consistent. I actually think it's fine. If a person want to switch parties, it's a difficult situation.

CARLSON: If you run under a certain party and then you switch because it's advantageous later, I hope you get punished for it.

BEGALA: Well, we'll see if the Georgia Republicans will be punished, those guys who just switched. Shame on them.

Well next, Al Gore has dared to suggest the obvious, as we've been talking about, that the right-wing media have a right-wing agenda and that Rush Limbaugh and the gang, once they heard that, started squealing like a pig stuck under a gate. We'll discuss that and more.

Later, a politically incorrect talk with a man who was a little too hot for ABC to handle. Plus, boxing takes a turn for the very weird. Stay with us.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Al Gore says the right-wing media is nothing more than a bunch of shills that dutifully follow the Republican Party line. The GOP spokesman promptly attacked Mr. Gore. And just to prove Gore right, the entire right-wing foam at the mouth, knuckle-dragging media pounced on Gore after taking the GOP's cue.

In the CROSSFIRE to discuss the latest dust-up, from San Francisco, KGO radio talk show host Bernie Ward, and in Seattle, radio talk show host and terrific film critic, Michael Medved. Guys, thank you very much for joining us.

CARLSON: Bernie Ward, I have a list of all the people in groups Al Gore has blamed for his defeat. Unfortunately, I left it in my office. But right off the top of my head...


CARLSON: That's right, I have a list right in my hands. But my list...

WARD: Well I expect that from you, Tucker.

CARLSON: Well, thank you, Bernie. Here are a couple. The Supreme Court, his own staff, the right wing Republicans and now the press. It's kind of pathetic, you've got to admit.

WARD: Well, it's not pathetic if you actually read people like Danny Milbank, who said on Howie Kurtz' show on your network that they didn't like Gore, they thought he was preaching to them. They took great delight in knocking him down every chance they got. And Milbank talked for the entire media in the way they approached Gore throughout the entire election. So unless he was lying, Tucker, then, in fact, Gore was getting a raw deal while Bush, as long as he didn't drool and could tie his shoe, it was considered to be a great success.

CARLSON: Let me clarify this. Dana Millbank is a straight news reporter, White House correspondent for "The Washington Post." Let's be honest here. Nobody likes Al Gore. You know that and I know that.

WARD: Wait a minute. You can't it both ways, Tucker. You can't have it both ways.

CARLSON: No that's just (UNINTELLIGIBLE). No one likes him, Bernie.

WARD: The media portrayal did not give him a fair shake and you just agreed that he was absolutely correct.

BEGALA: Michael Medved, let me dare to bring Al Gore's own words into this. He said something I think so painfully obvious. Earlier in the show I likened it to observing there are a lot of tall guys in the NBA. Here's what Gore actually said.

"The media is kind of weird these days on politics, and there are some major institutional voices that are truthfully speaking part and parcel of the Republican Party. Fox News Network, "The Washington Times," Rush Limbaugh. There's a bunch of them, and they're financed by wealthy, ultra-conservative billionaires who make political deals with Republican administrations and the rest of the media."

I mean that's just stating a fact. You don't have a problem with that you, do you?

MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I have a terrific problem with that, because he says these institutions are financed by wealthy, ultra-conservative billionaires, as opposed to only poor (ph) ultra- conservative billionaires.

BEGALA: Rupert Murdoch? MEDVED: Rupert Murdoch doesn't finance Fox News in the sense of operating at a loss. It's a very profitable operation. Rush Limbaugh is one of the most profitable operations in media history. They saw a market niche that wasn't being served and they went to fill it.

Now the proof that there's no agenda here is Rupert Murdoch also sponsors or created the Fox Network generally, and Fox Motion Pictures, which I can assure you, reviewing all that material, have no visible or discernable conservative or, for that matter, particularly liberal agenda at all. Unless you want to talk about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Ally McBeal" as particularly liberal.

BEGALA: Let me get to this point that Bernie raised as well, which is how -- and Gore made this point in the interview, which was in the "New York Observer" that came out today -- how then this right wing critique, starting in places like Limbaugh and at the lard butt sort of end of things with Limbaugh, then kind of seeps its way into the mainstream? And let me show you the proof. This is the point that Bernie was making.

We had our -- my assistant, Josh Cowan (ph), who is a brilliant young man, look up on Lexus Nexus, comparing the mainstream media's coverage of Bush and Gore on a variety of issues. Let me give you a few statistics.

There were exactly 704 stories in the campaign about this flap of Gore inventing the Internet. There were only 13 stories about Bush failing to show up for his National Guard duty for a year. There were well over 1,000 stories -- Nexus stopped at 1,000 -- about Gore and the Buddhist temple. Only 12 about Bush being accused of insider trading at Harken Energy. There were 347 about Al Gore wearing earth tones, but only 10 about the fact that Dick Cheney did business with Iran and Iraq and Libya.

That's (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Michael, isn't it?

MEDVED: Paul, it is not at all, because you're comparing apples and oranges. All those stories that you're describing are stories that Al Gore perpetrated during the campaign. It's things that he did in the public eye. Bush didn't have any TV cameras on him when he was in his National Guard training. You're talking about people digging in the distant past as opposed to things people do when you're vice president of the United States.


BEGALA: It's called journalism. Don't you think we have a right to know if our president committed insider training, was AWOL from his National Guard duty? Or if the vice president wants to go to war with Iraq? He used to be doing business in Iraq. Isn't that more important than Gore's earth tones?

MEDVED: I kind of have noticed that you and your colleagues didn't have a problem particularly getting those questions out in general. It's part of the give and take of politics. The truth of the matter is, I think something that was said before is absolutely true. Yes, people in the media dislike Al Gore, but they've got a lot of company. Al Gore is a spontaneously, sincerely dislikable individual.

WARD: Jeez, an awful lot of people voted for him.


BEGALA: More people voted for him than Mr. Bush.

WARD: And Paul Begala makes a very good point. And that is, that what happens in this country is, the White House press in particular are incredibly lazy. And so what happens is, when the right-wing media machine that David Brock (ph) talks about all the time in his book, when they crank it up, then the mainstream media picks up from there and continues to push on with it. You can go through a whole list of stories that Paul had and more, where Bush was never held to the same standard that Al Gore was held to.

MEDVED: Are you trying to suggest to me -- I mean it's very obvious. I had Andy Rooney on my radio show the other day. And Andy Rooney...

WARD: I didn't even know had you a radio show.

MEDVED: You don't know that I have a radio show? It's a nationally syndicated...

WARD: I didn't, but I'm happy to know.

MEDVED: Thanks. It's a nationally syndicated show in 130 cities. And on my show, Andy Rooney conceded what is very obvious, which is that CBS network and ABC network and NBC network are staffed by people who are predominantly liberal. Does that bias come out all the time?

WARD: Michael, have you ever been a journalist?

MEDVED: Yeah, I have, sure. I am a journalist.

WARD: You have, huh? Did you get to set your own stories, you got to do exactly what you wanted to do? There was nobody above you?

MEDVED: No. Nobody ever gets to do exactly what you want to do, but bias matters.


WARD: Hey, Michael, shush. Michael, shush. Princeton and a number of other universities have studied a different level, not the reporters. They've studied the editors, the assignment editors, the managing editors. And all of a sudden you see a completely political background.

CARLSON: Ah, a conspiracy. Bernie -- right. No, I think I've heard this. And I know the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the CFR (ph) coming. Let me just get you back to what Al Gore said today. He had a line that wasn't just your normal claptrap. I actually found it kind of disturbing. I wonder if you'll be willing to defend it.

He said that the mainstream press has been slow to recognize -- I'm quoting now -- "the pervasive impact of this fifth column in their ranks." This fifth column, meaning people who don't agree with Al Gore. Fifth column implies un-Americanism It implies that these people are not simply Republicans or right wingers, but that they're illegitimate, they're evil, they're seeking to undermine this country. That's rhetoric that's just over the top, isn't it?

WARD: Well, let me ask you, Tucker. What would you say of journalists who are taking money from corporations to be on their board and didn't reveal it when they were writing stories about them? What would you say about journalists who are taking money from Richard Mellon Scathe (ph) and writing journalistic stories...

CARLSON: Bernie, I'm not exactly -- hold on. Before you throw out anymore allegations and before we get into this wild...

WARD: What would you call them?

CARLSON: ... grassy knoll conspiracy stuff, I want to tell you that he's talking simply about people who don't agree with him.

WARD: No, he's not.

CARLSON: Are you alleging that people who don't agree with you are un-American? You're taking money from a corporation, pal. You've flapped (ph) products on the air.

WARD: Tucker, if you're going to filibuster that's fine. But if you want to let me answer, I will.

CARLSON: Please do. I just don't want you to embarrass yourself.

WARD: The fact of the matter is, is that he's not talking about that. And the context was that the mainstream media now is allowing these millionaires and billionaires, these networks, to begin to set an agenda.

MEDVED: By the way, Fox News sets an agenda only because it gets good ratings. Rush Limbaugh sets an agenda and I set an agenda because we have more people who listen to our radio shows, Bernie, than you do. And it's that simple.

WARD: Tucker, more people listen to me on the West Coast at night than you've met or heard in a million years. I have no problem with that. And if you ever want to come on my show and get eviscerated, I wouldn't mind that either.

MEDVED: I'd be delighted. And by the way, I've invited Al Gore to come on my show repeatedly.

WARD: Why haven't you invited me?

MEDVED: Because, Bernie, you're not a newsmaker. You're a commentator like I am. And if you...

WARD: Well invite me on, Tucker.

MEDVED: And if you have something substantive to debate other than throwing mud on people, claiming that they are bought and sold because they disagree with you...

WARD: Oh my god. Tucker, that's calling the kettle black.

BEGALA: Michael Medved -- hang on just a second, Bernie.

CARLSON: Hey, Bernie, not to blow your mind, but that's Michael Medved you're speaking to, not me. I'm here in Washington.

BEGALA: Michael, hand on just a second. Isn't that a valid point that you and Bernie actually just agreed on momentarily, which is that both of you allow other points of view on your program. But the most highly rated program is Limbaugh, who never has heard a discouraging word, never an honest debate. And his listeners proudly call themselves ditto heads because they don't have brains. They just do whatever fat boy Limbaugh tells them to do.

MEDVED: First of all, Paul, it's not true. I've guest hosted for Rush 30 times. And I will tell you that on that show when Rush does it -- certainly when I did it -- you have tons and tons of people who call in and disagree. They give precedence to...

BEGALA: Those are setups and you and I both know that. Come on. Those are setups.


CARLSON: I'm sorry, we're going to have to stop -- hold on. In this case, I'm the setup. Whoa, whoa, I'm sorry. Guys, you know what it means to take a commercial break. We'll be right back, I promise, and we'll talk more about conspiracies.

We'll also ask our guests, speaking of conspiracies, about Henry Kissinger's return to the national stage.

Later, Tonya Harding is ready to spin off the ice and take a jab at a new athletic career. It's appalling. You won't want to miss it.

Also ahead, "When You Ride Alone, You Ride with bin Laden." That's the word from Bill Maher. He joins us in the CROSSFIRE. We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Democrats are forced to consult history books today to look up reasons why they're supposed to dislike Henry Kissinger. Kissinger, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has agreed to come out of retirement to head up an independent commission as to why the September 11 attacks caught key government agencies off guard and unprepared.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight from San Francisco is KGO radio talk show host Bernie Ward. In Seattle is radio talk show host and film critic Michael Medved. Welcome.

BEGALA: Guys, thanks for staying with us. Michael, I mentioned earlier in the program -- I don't know if you heard it, so I'll read it for you again. Walter Isaacson, now the head of CNN, was the assistant managing editor for "TIME" magazine. He wrote, "The definitive biography of Kissinger" -- this is what he says -- "Kissinger had an instinctive feel for power, but it was not matched by a feel for the openness of America's democratic system or for the moral values that are a basic source of its world influence."

Why would our president, who loves to preach about his commitment to values and morality, put someone like that in charge of getting to the bottom of 9/11?

MEDVED: Well, because nobody has more experience in foreign policy, more meaningful experience in foreign policy than Henry Kissinger. You before, Paul, made an interesting suggestion, which is, why not Rudy Giuliani? Aside from the fact that Rudy Giuliani probably can't afford that break in his lecture schedule.

Rudy has no experience in foreign policy. It's not something he's done. He has no real experience in intelligence. He's been a big city major and a U.S. attorney. And Henry Kissinger has intensive...

BEGALA: Kissinger's experience in foreign policy was in covering things up and keeping things secret. Exactly the wrong thing. At least Rudy is a prosecutor who brings things to light.

MEDVED: I love Rudy, and I'm not a huge fan of Secretary Kissinger. However, you can't say the fact that this is somebody who knows where the levers of power are, who's a distinguished American public servant. And regardless of whether you think he did everything right as secretary of state, certainly no one would be better at being able to call people on the carpet and speak with some authority about the way things work in the foreign policy establishment in Washington.

CARLSON: Now, Bernie Ward, I understand, and I truly do, why Democrats are frustrated after the midterm elections. I'd be frustrated, too, if my party were falling apart, if its leading intellectual was Barbra Streisand and people laughed at it.

WARD: Well, your leading intellectual is George Bush.

CARLSON: To take out that frustration on the independent commission the Democrats said they wanted, it's kind of going far, isn't it?

WARD: Well, I don't know if the party is falling apart. And if you want to match your intellectual head against ours, I'll be happy to do it.

CARLSON: Barbra Streisand? Please, Bernie. That's sad.

WARD: Barbra Streisand to George Bush, yeah, I'll take that.


WARD: I wouldn't have any problem with that whatsoever. The problem with Mr. Kissinger is that it's somebody who is supposed to be uncovering the truth. And this is a man who, while lobbying the administration on what the policy should be with China after (UNINTELLIGIBLE), was also representing American companies over to get business with China and recommended an easy policy on China after the massacre.

This is a man who is considered a war criminal in many countries. And, in fact, in Argentina they're trying to get him up on trial and in Chile as well.


CARLSON: But wait a second, Bernie. I'm sorry the Argentines don't like him, but let's wait. Hold on, stop.

You say -- look, George Mitchell, former Senator George Mitchell of Maine, a Democrat, is number two in this commission. So, simply because a guy the Argentines consider unsavory is heading it, makes the...

WARD: The Argentines? Mr. Kissinger is considered a war criminal down there, Tucker. I don't know what crime you care about.


MEDVED: There are parts of this world, Bernie, where they consider every single American a war criminal and make every one of us a target. So what?

WARD: I'll tell you what. To have Henry Kissinger...

BEGALA: Excuse me, Bernie. Let me ask Michael to pick up this point that Bernie made a moment ago. That Kissinger runs one of the largest, most successful private consulting firms in the country, maybe in the world. Shouldn't he have to disclose every single firm and every single country where he is working now so we know what conflicts of interest he has as he's trying to investigate this?

MEDVED: I think that kind of full disclosure is probably a good idea. But George Mitchell, who is, again, a distinguished public servant, should do the same for his very elaborate law practice and his consulting business, which is also very prominent.

One of the things that I think I like about this actually is that with the Arab-Israeli conflict sort of looming in the background so much in the consciousness of people regarding 9/11, what you have here is a distinguished Jewish American as head of the commission, and one of the most distinguished Arab Americans, Senator Mitchell, as the vice chairman of the commission. And that's sort of a nice balance, don't you think?

BEGALA: Interesting observation. Michael Medved, thank you very much for joining us -- and Bernie Ward, as well, from KGO in San Francisco. Terrific debate. Happy Thanksgiving to you both. Thanks, guys.

Coming up, can Mike Tyson and Tonya Harding return from disgrace and jumpstart their careers? Well, if Henry Kissinger can, heck, anybody can.

Later, a man my friend, James Carville, once called "just as politically incorrect as I am, except he's smarter and funnier." That's worth staying tuned for.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. You won't be surprised to learn we're coming to you live from the George Washington University here in downtown Washington.

The names from boxing's glorious history are instantly recognizable -- Joe Lewis, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Mohammed Ali. Nevertheless, people have been predicting the sport's demise for generations now. That time may at last finally be at hand.

Consider disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding has decided to officially begin a second career in women's boxing. Her debut match will on the under card for an even more remarkable exhibition. The return to the ring of serial brawlers, ear biter and convicted rapist, Mike Tyson, who has just declared, quote, "I'm tired of being stupid."

Can the same be said of boxing? On tonight's card from Las Vegas, boxing promoter and sports entrepreneur, the incomparable, the amazing Rock Newman.


CARLSON: And in New York, the legendary, the everlasting boxing writer and historian Bert Sugar.


BEGALA: Thank you very much. This is a real treat.

As a fight fan, I mean this is like being able to sit down with Michelangelo and de Vinci. So let me get right to it.

Bert Sugar, let me start with you, sir. Tanya Harding, Mike Tyson, two ex-cons, you know, what's wrong with that though? If we can make a convicted drug driver, our president, and we have, why can't we give these ex-cons a second chance.

Go ahead, Bert.

BERT SUGAR, "FIGHT GAME" MAGAZINE: Well, I just wanted to distinguish between men's boxing and women's boxing. Women's boxing has always been a novelty. I'm afraid Tonya Harding's entry makes it a circus act. I mean, she belongs on the Howard Stern show, not on the under card.

As to Mike Tyson, I didn't think that his first fight in Memphis against Lennox Lewis was won that would -- that I wanted to attend. I couldn't defend him and boxing too because of his past action.

He had become the poster boy for boxing, which is somewhat like saying, "That Dracula is the poster boy for the Red Cross blood drive.


But coming out of tat fight, he did conduct himself even though he was getting the bejabbers beaten out of him, with a good sportsmanship. He's deserving of another chance. Here it comes against Clifford Etienne on February 22. Although, to tell you the truth, it's on George Burlington's (ph) wash day, and not to tell a lie, I won't be there.


CARLSON: OK. Now Rock, Rock Newman, I'm against women's boxing in general. I think it's ludicrous. But as long as it's going to be ludicrous, why not have Tonya Harding in it, I mean, just to bring it that much higher level of ludicrousness?

NEWMAN: Are you trying to mimic Mike Tyson when you say ludicrous?


CARLSON: Yes, I was. I'm glad you picked up on that.

NEWMAN: I am, I am very much -- Bert Sugar and I don't agree on much, but Lord knows we agree on our dislike and I think disdain for women's boxing.

You know, I saw something where Tonya said today that one of her strengths was her competitive spirit. I'm not sure that was the best choice of words being that she was involved in getting Nancy Kerrigan's knee whacked.

So this is a spectacle. It has the -- it has the elements of a nasty car wreck involved. So in terms of boxing, the question earlier has been, you know, is boxing getting another black eye? We said for years that boxing was already blind.

CARLSON: But wait a second, you're a promoter here. So if we're all in agreement that this is as you said, a spectacle, then why not just do it naked and just call it what it is?


NEWMAN: Well, I'm telling you -- you know something, the last presidential election -- and boxing has a lot in common -- the man that won the fight didn't get the victory. But Don King and Bob Ereman (ph), boxing promoters didn't steal it. The Jeb Bush's and the Kathleen Harrises and the Clarence Thomases of the world, they're the ones...

CARLSON: No, no...

NEWMAN: ... they stole it that time.

CARLSON: After we gave you this nice introduction, you have to go and spoil it.

BEGALA: Well, Bert...

NEWMAN: A little political overtone here.

BEGALA: Always welcome on CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: But Bert, let me ask you this. You had mentioned before that Tyson has now become the poster boy for boxing. You've got to help me understand why. I mean, we're talking before we came on about the Oscar de la Hoya, the Fernando Vargas (ph) fight. Carville and I want out there to watch it.

Last night, it was the Irish Mickey Wade (ph) going on, Arturo Gotti (ph), two great fighters. I mean there are a lot great fighters out there. Why aren't they getting the kind of promotion and publicity that Tyson gets?

SUGAR: Tyson is a personality. He transcends boxing. Likos (ph) did an entire study of hits on the Internet, and outside of Anna Kournikova, to seems to get them every week, Mike Tyson and Dale Earnhardt's snuck in, Earnhardt after his death, Tyson after his rebirth against Lennox Lewis.

He's a personality. The heavyweight division has always been the most viewed division in boxing. Tyson is the heavyweight division. He's more exciting than anybody out there. Whether he's as good of a fighter, I doubt it. But it's Mike Tyson, and Mike Tyson begets eyeballs to television, talk shows like this. He's not a boxer. He's personality.

BEGALA: So it's not enough for Lennox Lewis just to whip his ass in Memphis like he did a few months ago. He's also got to be kind of interesting or controversial. Or, what's he got to do?

I mean, he actually obeys the law and doesn't bit people's ears off, so why are we going to punish him for that?

NEWMAN: Well, the thing with Lennox, I think the problem always with him has been, he's a 6 foot 6, 260 pound, very muscular defensive fighter. You know, he just is not a compelling personality. He's not a compelling athlete in the ring. He frankly in a word...

BEGALA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fight outside of the ring...

NEWMAN: ... is somewhat boring.

SUGAR: May I just add to what Rock said? There's a very quick old story about a plane that goes down in the Azores (ph). Everybody is saved, but nobody will ever be saved. So after three weeks of trying to build bonfires to hail other planes, every goes back to work. The French build vineyards. The Swiss build cuckoo clocks. The Germans ottobahn. And after three weeks there's still 48 Brits on the side waiting to be introduced.

Lennox Lewis fights and conducts himself that same way.


CARLSON: Well, now wait. Rock Newman, I think there's a lot to what Mr. Sugar just said.

NEWMAN: Don't ask me to explain, but just don't ask me to explain it.


CARLSON: I think the point is that boxing has always had a lot of rough characters. I mean Sonny Liston, of course, was a former criminal. And I want to show, that's what I love this sport.

Listen. Look at this. This is an exchange between Clifford Etienne and Mike Tyson.

Etienne says, "Well, you know I've been in prison for armed robbery. I went through things -- I was locked up for 10 years."

Tyson chimes in, "I don't know about him, but I didn't do what I was locked up for."

Clifford Etienne (ph) says, quote, "I did."


So I mean, isn't there something appealing -- I mean these guys are boxers after all. They're, you know, there right on the border line of criminality.

NEWMAN: And you know, Clifford Etienne did what hardly any politicians ever do in that particular case, he told the truth.

SUGAR: Well, wait a minute. You have to understand, boxing is not a bunch of choir boys in search of a service.


SUGAR: These are street kids...

BEGALA: We've only got a few seconds left. So let me put you both on the spot. Who's going to win the fight, Tyson or Clifford Etienne, the black rhino from Louisiana? Bert Sugar first.

SUGAR: Oh, I've got to tell you this fight should be over in Tyson's favor between "Oh say and can you see."


NEWMAN: Yes, I think it's going...


... I think it's going to be exciting as long as it lasts. Both guys are going to be throwing bombs. Neither one of them are great defensively anymore.

I'd like to see who the opponent is going to be for Tonya Harding.

SUGAR: TBA, that terrible TBA.

BEGALA: Rock Newman, Bert Sugar, two legends of boxing. Thank you very much for joining us in the CROSSFIRE ring tonight.

Later, thanks to one of our viewers, one of the Republicans favorite attack lines from the Minnesota Senate race, just about to get fired back in their faces.

And next, he's got a new book, and of next year a new show. But has politically incorrect Bill Maher mellowed? Doubtful. We'll find out soon.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

You know, ABC put up with Bill Maher's version of political incorrectness from 1997 until last May, when the mouse finally pulled the plug on the show. But next year, Maher is coming back with an as yet untitled series on HBO. Appropriately enough, he'll be hosting a late night news and comedy show.

Meanwhile, he's had time to do A little writing. His new book is called, "When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden: What The Government Should Be Telling Us To Help Fight The War On Terrorism."

Bill Maher joins us from our Los Angeles bureau. Bill, good to see you, sir.

BILL MAHER, "WHEN YOU RIDE ALONE": How are you, guys?

CARLSON: Good. Bill?

MAHER: Yes, sir.

CARLSON: I was amazed to see you're one of the few people -- people say this is not a -- the war on terrorism is not a war against Islam. And your book, you say, "Wrong, it actually, pretty much is a war against Islam. And you don't respect Islam as a religion."

I want to put up on the screen a picture you have in your book... MAHER: No, I didn't say exactly that.

CARLSON: OK. Well, here's -- let me show you a couple of things you did say. "The real celebrity death match. Religion can be dangerous...

MAHER: Right.

CARLSON: ... in its drawing of Jesus and Mohammed in the ring." It implies this is a clash of religions. Is it?

MAHER: Yes, I agree. But I did not say I did not respect Islam as a religion. I said I didn't respect religion, any religion, any one who believes in fairy tales to answer questions that we can't answer.

So I don't respect our religions either. But I do believe it is a clash of civilizations, absolutely, between the Islamic world and the Western world as has been going on for a 1000 years.

CARLSON: So Islam itself, and I suppose you'd say Christianity and Judaism and environmentalism and all of the other religions, but Islam particularly is the problem. It's not just that the religion has been perverted by whackos. It's intrinsic to the religion -- is the fruits of 9/11, say?

MAHER: I think both things are true. I think it has been perverted by whackos. But yes, I think there is a lot going on in the religion and in the culture. I mean, let's face it. Religions are also cultures.

And you know, all I know is the most popular name for a kid in Pakistani after 9/11 was Osama. So anyone who wants to tell you that this is only a few extremists is just whistling past the graveyard. That's just not true.

BEGALA: Bill, you also take a shot at homeland security. I'm going to put up another picture from the book for our audience to see.


BEGALA: It's titled, "Demand real security." And it depicts -- there's a guy looks an awful lot like Osama bin Laden, just cruising right in presumably to get on the plane while a little old lady is being frisked. And a little boy is having his bag searched.

It's an interesting point, but I hope you're not saying that we should only look at race -- every Arab (UNINTELLIGIBLE), because if that's the case we would have never gotten Richard Reid, the alleged shoe bomber who was a Brit, or Jose Pedilla, who was a Chicano from Chicago or John Walker Lindh, you know, who was a white boy from Marin County. Right. We've got to look at more than just race, don't we.

MAHER: Yes. Well, that's not what that poster say, and that's not what the book says. What the book says is that we should stop randomness which is going on at the airport. We need to get Israeli, is the way I would put it. The Israelis have a smart, savvy, what I call the secret service for the people that is at the airports. That's what we need.

There's another poster in that says, "What we need is a secret service for the people." If you look at Secret Service guys they don't attempt to check everybody in the crowd. They very cleverly scan, knowing a lot of stuff that's in their head. They're part psychiatrist, part detective. And they are looking for clues. They're looking for the bad guys. They know what to look for.

That's what we need to do.

I've had it with being searched at the airport and signing autographs while there is a wand in my pouch.

BEGALA: In fact, you know, I used to work with a lot of those guys in the Secret Service.

And I think you're right about their techniques. But it's really expensive. I mean, do you really think this country...


BEGALA: Israel can do it because they have a tiny country. We have tens of thousands of flights every day. What you're talking about in a Secret Service model is highly educated, college educated men and women who risk their lives...

MAHER: Absolutely...

BEGALA: ... in order to protect other people's lives, not just kind of waving a wand over a bag.

MAHER: Because one of them could do the work that 10 of these people are probably doing now. If you paid -- I think I quote this in the book -- if you paid 10,000 people a $100,000 each, that's a billion dollars. If we can't find a billion dollars, I mean, give me a break. The Pentagon spends that before lunch and they don't even know on what.

We spend more than that combating the bull weevil. A billion dollars is not a lot. We could have a 10,000 man/woman force of really smart people.

But let me explain to people why they're seeing pictures. This book is an attempt to sort of do the propaganda posters that our country used to do as in World War II for the war on terror.

So that's why we have posters in the book along with the essays.

CARLSON: And the book does live up to your billing, I think, to a large extent. You do take politically incorrect positions. As you just said, you're for racial profiling.

MAHER: Right.

CARLSON: You think Islam is evil...

MAHER: No, no, you keep saying...

CARLSON: But you also say...

MAHER: ... that.

CARLSON: Well, that's essentially I think what Jim said that all religions are evil, environmentalists are evil.


CARLSON: Anyway, it's politically incorrect.

MAHER: I said I didn't respect religion.

CARLSON: OK. Evil, don't respect.

But you also come out with the...

MAHER: Evil is synonymous with disrespect. Interesting.

CARLSON: ... trendy, trendy possible position against SUVs, which is, you know. What is wrong with SUVs? You link them to terrorism or appear to.

MAHER: Well, they use a lot of oil. I don't know if you know that.


CARLSON: I did know that, yes.

MAHER: Ah...

CARLSON: But doesn't your car service that you take everywhere, Lincoln car service, doesn't that use a lot of oil too? Shouldn't you be riding your bike to appearances?

MAHER: No, they offered me a car service to come over here today. But I drove my hybrid car as I almost always do.

CARLSON: Oh, touche. All right. Keep doing it.

MAHER: So, yes. We had this discussion once before. And I think you were kind of laughed out of the room at the Billy Baldwin event when I mentioned...

CARLSON: No, I think you were laughed out of the room, Bill, as I remember.

MAHER: No, you were when you said, when you said...

CARLSON: No, I think you were. MAHER: ... you said, "Oil and terrorism connected, isn't that kind of a stretch?" And there was a huge laugh.

CARLSON: No, I think I said GM isn't responsible for 9/11 as you were implying at the time. But let's not...

BEGALA: Well, both of us (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was about a billion...

MAHER: Have you been reading the paper lately? There's a bit of a link between Saudi Arabia...

BEGALA: Let me ask you about something that's in the paper -- actually will be in the paper tomorrow -- and get your take on it.

Henry Kissinger to look into what really happened on 9/11. Good idea or bad?

MAHER: You know, first of all I don't really think that -- this big idea of a commission to look into 9/11 is the most necessary thing we have to do. I don't think it's a big mystery, like it's a mystery about the Kennedy assassination. It's not a mystery to me what happened with 9/11.

These guys are out there. We knew they were out there. It was a failure of will on our part to address the situation 10 years before.

There is no big mystery about it. But I do think it should be noted that during the Bush administration they did not have meeting on terrorism until after 9/11. And in the previous administration they had them every week.

CARLSON: And a lot of good they did.

BEGALA: Absolutely true.

CARLSON: OK, Bill Maher, we have a...

BEGALA: They prevented terrorist attacks on the millennium.

CARLSON: ... not quite sure (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- we have a question from our audience for you, Bill.

QUESTION: Hey, Bill. I'm Dan Miller from Washington, D.C. Been a long time fan. My question for you is to battle the right win conspiracy in Al Gore's words, in the media, why not run for office yourself?

MAHER: Well, I could never run for office because I believe such things as religion is something I don't respect. Can you imagine trying to win office in this country on a platform of religion is bad, marijuana is good, and babies are disgusting?


I mean, those are some of my beliefs. You know, I wouldn't get 3 percent of the vote. BEGALA: You'd get about 1 though, Bill. And maybe Dave here would be part of that 1 percent.

CARLSON: Find it tough to even find a wife with those beliefs, I imagine. But Bill Maher...

MAHER: I'm not looking for one.

CARLSON: I know you're not. I'm just kidding.


Bill Maher, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

MAHER: OK, thank you.

CARLSON: Well, the Begala for president campaign is picking up steam. We'll hear from one of the grassroots organizers next in "Fireback."

We'll be right back.


BEGALA: Welcome back. We call this segment "Fireback." You seem to take it literally. You "Fireback" at will.

Let's begin with Kathy Vera (ph) of El Segundo, California. She writes, "If Walter Mondale was old, Henry Kissinger is a relic. If Mondale is the past, Kissinger is ancient history. Kissinger has been an aging cheerleader for W since one. To think he will offer an honest assessment on what happened on 9/11 is to be truly naive."

Now Kathy, I don't know. Maybe he will come in and "Mr. President, you did everything right and the Saudis had role in nothing. Mr. President, you did a fine job."


It's a whitewash.

CARLSON: I think I'm missing the point of that e-mail. It's we're incredible losers, but you're even bigger losers. Is that the...

BEGALA: No, it's that Kissinger can't be trusted to tell us the truth. He's never -- he (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: OK. I think it's time to move on on the whole bombing of Cambodia thing at some point.

Michael Neier (ph) of Toronto, Ontario, foreign country, writes "You do realize that the last time Americans tried to invade Canada in 1812 you failed. Come on down," he says.

Clearly, from the map making division of the Canadian army...


BEGALA: This is...

CARLSON: What that in mind, I think we've got a pretty good shot.

BEGALA: This is a right wing assault on Canada, which is a lovely country.

CARLSON: We need the parking. I've told you this before.


BEGALA: See, right wingers, they hate Canada and they love Saudi Arabia. I don't get it, man, I'll tell you what.

CARLSON: I actually like Canada. They're funny little people. I really think so.

BEGALA: It's a terrific country.

Tom Cook (ph) in Wichita Falls, in my beloved Texas says, "I'd vote for Paul in a second, not only because I agree with most of his ideas but because it would be refreshing to have a candidate who didn't ride the fence on his opinions and actually sticks to his guns. Begala in 2004." Tom is writing about a Democrats dot come online survey. It's taken a life of its own.

CARLSON: Well, you probably are the best they have to chose from at this point.

BEGALA: No, no, you'll see. You'll see.

CARLSON: I'm serious. I'd work for you over Al Gore any day.

OK. Next up, we have Jamie McNeil (ph) of Martinsburg, West Virginia, writes, "Tucker are you busy for Thanksgiving? Have dinner at my house. We'll have a few drinks and talk politics. I'll save you a place on the right across from Mr. Al Sharpton."


Jamie, it's a deal. I'll bring the wine, you bring the Sharpton. I'll be there.

BEGALA: Excellent. I'd like to be at that table with you and Sharpton.

CARLSON: Yes, I would have it with Al Sharpton.

Yes, sir.

BEGALA: Yes, sir. QUESTION: Yes, I'm John from Portland, Oregon. My question is for Tucker. I was wondering if you agree with Mr. Medvads' claim that Al Gore's decision to wear earth tones in the campaign is a more relevant story than George W. Bush's decision to dodge the National Guard because the Bush story happened years ago and the Gore story happened during the campaign?

CARLSON: No, I think it's actually a real story where the Bush story is a conspiracy. And by contrast, Al Gore really did wear earth tones on the advice of his adviser. And I'm not saying it's big news. I'm just saying it sort of poignant and pathetic and sad.

BEGALA: The Bush story is not a conspiracy. It was reported by the Boston Globe...

CARLSON: Bush -- it is not a fact.

BEGALA: ... and the source was General William Turnipseed, the commander of the Alabama National Guard, the...


... general who Bush was supposed to report to who said Bush never reported.

CARLSON: General Turnipseed, he exists.

BEGALA: You think he...

CARLSON: Yes, sir, you have a question?

BEGALA: ... no, seriously, you think the Boston Globe made this up, Tucker? You're a journalist.

CARLSON: General Turnipseed says so.

BEGALA: So you think the journalist at the Boston Globe...

CARLSON: Yes, sir.

BEGALA: ... made this up, Tucker?

CARLSON: Please, Paul, you're making me sad.

BEGALA: No, I'm...

CARLSON: Yes, we have a question.

BEGALA: No, wait just a minute. I want you to say the Boston Globe made this up.

CARLSON: I'm saying it was determined where he was. That's what I'm saying.

BEGALA: He wasn't in Alabama for a whole year. The general said so. CARLSON: OK, yes, sir, a quick question.

QUESTION: Yes, I'm Bill Charvote (ph) from Sun City, West Arizona. And my question is for both of you. In the opening segment you both indicated that we are fifth in the whoopy poll. What advice would you have to the American public to bring us up to number one?


CARLSON: Cable, cable, turn off cable.

BEGALA: My advice is to stay tuned to CROSSFIRE. From the left, I'm Paul Begala. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again next time for yet more CROSSFIRE.

"CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT" begins right now.

Have a great night and a great Thanksgiving.

See you.


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