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Experts Sift Through Rubble of Convoy; Will Palestinian Militants Agree to Cease-Fire?; Bush Meets With Musharraf

Aired June 24, 2003 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone. Nice to be back.
We saw a poll today showing nearly two-thirds of Americans supported the war with Iraq even if weapons of mass destruction are never found. The lack of weapons and the slow but steady casualty reports have not weakened support in the United States not yet at least.

The same cannot be said about Britain where the lack of WMDs had caused huge political problems for the prime minister and where tonight's lead story will no doubt cause even more, more trouble, more political problems, the deaths of young soldiers in Britain today.

That's just one of two Iraqi stories tonight, the other begins the whip. Our Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre with that, the latest on the hunt for Saddam, Jamie a headline.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pentagon officials are saying tonight that that super secret raid last week by Task Force 20 may have disrupted what was essentially a smuggling pipeline for Iraqi leaders to get in and out of Syria. Right now experts are sifting through the rubble of that compound that was attacked to see who they killed. No one here thinks, though, it was Saddam Hussein.

BROWN: Jamie, thank you, back to you near the top tonight.

To the Middle East next, the latest in the efforts to get Palestinian radicals, terrorists to lay down their arms Sheila MacVicar in Gaza tonight, Sheila a headline.

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Aaron, from Gaza where people are wondering if indeed there will be a cease-fire among the Palestinian militant groups and asking the question whether Israel's recent actions have helped to undermine not only the new Palestinian prime minister but also the road map to peace.

BROWN: Sheila, thank you.

To the White House next where the president today met with someone who became crucially important to the U.S. after the attacks of 9/11, the president of Pakistan, our senior White House correspondent John King with us tonight, so John a headline. JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, that visit a reminder despite all the focus on Iraq, all the focus on the Middle East that there is still at least a small scale war underway in Afghanistan and that Osama bin Laden is still unaccounted for. President Bush says President Musharraf of Pakistan is doing all he can to help and deserves $3 billion more in new U.S. aid -- Aaron.

BROWN: John, thank you.

And our last stop in the whip, new images of the Shuttle Columbia crew as the investigation into the disaster reaches a critical point, Miles O'Brien on that tonight, Miles a headline.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, the investigation into the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia is now in its final stages and now NASA is setting its sights on a return to space but how soon can they fly safely, all this on the day that NASA releases some poignant video of the Columbia seven in orbit.

BROWN: Miles, thank you, back to you and the rest shortly.

Also coming up tonight on NEWSNIGHT, more on the shuttle story with the co-author of "Apollo 13" Jeff Kluger.

A look at the White House fund-raising machine, Arianna Huffington joins us there.

Jonathan Karl looks at the odd couple in the debate over adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare, the president and Senator Ted Kennedy.

Also tonight, the possibility that a drug that fights baldness might prevent something a whole lot worse than losing your hair.

And, another big fan we're told of Harry Potter, someone who knows a thing or two about great storytelling and publishing riches, very pleased to have Stephen King with us tonight. He doesn't do many interviews so he'll join us later. Morning papers back as well, lots to do in the hour ahead.

We begin with one of the deadliest days yet in Iraq for Britain even more so. Six British soldiers killed of the 16,000 now patrolling in southern Iraq. As a proportion of the total force in the country, today for Britain it's roughly comparable to 54 Americans losing their lives in one day. If you can imagine the impact that would have here you can understand the grieving tonight in the U.K. and perhaps the political fallout tomorrow.

The report comes from ITN's Bill Neely.


BILL NEELY, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two attacks just miles and hours apart, the targets men of two separate regiments including this one the 1st Battalion the parachute regiment. Both groups attacked in the same small time in the second and deadliest incident six bodies were discovered in mid afternoon.

GEOFF HOON, BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY: These personnel were members of the Royal Military Police who had been engaged in training the local Iraqi police. Initial information suggests that they may have been involved in an incident at the police station in Al Majar al-Kabir.

NEELY: Al Majar al-Kabir is at the edge of the British zone, here four hours earlier a double ambush, two Land Rovers come under rocket and gunfire from a large number of men. One soldier is injured. They call for help.

A Chinook helicopter flies in and is immediately fired on. A further seven soldiers from the Quick Reaction Force are injured taking the total to eight, three seriously. So, one helicopter attacked, two vehicles destroyed, 14 British soldiers dead or injured.

At a state banquet tonight the queen spoke for the notion.

HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II, UNITED KINGDOM: The tragic loss of British lives today reminds us all of the difficulties to be faced.

NEELY: Her guest President Putin who bitterly opposed British troops in Iraq spoke for Russia.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: Our sincere condolences for the loss of the British soldiers in Iraq. It is clear for everyone tat in spite of the differences that existed before today we need to act jointly.

NEELY: The powers who were attacked were due to begin leaving Iraq in a week's time. Their ambush reminds those left and in London that Iraq is still a dangerous and occupied country.

Bill Neely, ITV News.


BROWN: And now on to CNN's Jamie McIntyre and the emerging picture of last week's attack on a convoy at the Iraqi-Syrian border. What it was was what it wasn't and how it came about. This remains a story of many questions and there are more questions still than there are answers.

But here's Jamie's report with what we know now.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): Pentagon sources tell CNN the attack on this compound near the Syrian border is believed to have interrupted a smuggling operation that was essentially a pipeline for fugitive Iraqis to move in and out of Syria.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There were reasons, good reasons to believe that the vehicles that were violating the curfew that existed in that area were doing it for reasons other than normal commerce.

MCINTYRE: Almost a week later, Rumsfeld remains tight-lipped but Pentagon sources say last Wednesday's nighttime attack, which leveled the compound and destroyed several trucks traveling on a nearby highway was carried out by Apache helicopters, Air Force F-15s, and an AC-130 gunship.

Sources say the people targeted had ties to Saddam Hussein's captured senior adviser General Abid Hamid Mahmud. Mahmud has told interrogators he briefly went to Syria after the fall of Baghdad along with Saddam's sons but that they were expelled.

Were the people killed in the attack the same ones who smuggled Mahmud out of the country? The U.S. won't say but officials are saying that along with Mahmud the U.S. captured a mother lode of leads in the search for Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants.

And, forensics experts are combing through what's left of the compound trying to figure out exactly who was killed. No one in the Pentagon, though, thinks it was Saddam Hussein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that senior Iraqi leaders were, in fact, taken out?

RUMSFELD: I have no reason to believe that.

MCINTYRE: But the Pentagon says it has no doubts it hit a legitimate target.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I'm confident we had very good intelligence.

MCINTYRE: Although the Pentagon won't acknowledge it, some U.S. troops apparently did cross over the border into Syria in hot pursuit of a suspect and wounded three Syrian border guards in some sort of an engagement.


MCINTYRE: It's now been six days since this incident and we're finally hearing that Syria has demanded the return of its border guards. Sources at the Pentagon say that is quietly being worked out.

But at the same time some Pentagon officials are questioning whether those border guards actually played some role in the smuggling operation that appears to be pretty much a well worn smuggling path from Iraq to Syria -- Aaron.

BROWN: Does the Pentagon or the administration maintain that it has a right under some international law or another to cross the border in hot pursuit of someone?

MCINTYRE: It does not but that doesn't mean it wouldn't do it if the circumstances were right. Obviously, if they were chasing Saddam Hussein across the border, U.S. troops would follow and that's what might have happened here in their "enthusiasm" to make sure they got what was apparently a straggler who looked like he might be getting away.

They may have crossed the border, although it's not certain. This is, depending on the situation, it may be the case where the U.S. would seek some "forgiveness" later rather than permission ahead of time.

BROWN: Thank you, Jamie, that's a good way to put it, Jamie McIntyre our Senior Pentagon Correspondent.

There are times when the threads of a story come together in a certain way and it breaks your heart. Today we learned that investigators are all but sure what destroyed Space Shuttle Columbia.

That's one thread of the story which came wrapped in another, a picture of astronauts who never saw it coming, reporting for us tonight CNN's Miles O'Brien.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): They are a long way from home movies, the Columbia 7 in their prime at their peak literally on top of the world. Sleeping, grooming, exercising, and in the case of Pilot Willie McCool goofing around with a wad of duct tape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, we play volleyball.

O'BRIEN: NASA released ten hours of new images in all, some of the 28 videotapes that astonishingly survived the fiery disintegration of the orbiter on February 1. It is poignant but adds nothing new to an investigation that is reaching its final stages.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board is now saying more definitively than ever that foam falling on the leading edge of the shuttle's wing inflicted a fatal wound.

ROGER TETRAULT, ACCIDENT BOARD MEMBER: We have the photographic analysis in evidence which indicates that the foam struck on panels six through nine and when you put all of those pieces of Swiss cheese together it's a pretty compelling story that in fact the foam is the most probable cause of the shuttle accident.

O'BRIEN (on camera): That is no secret to NASA which is already lining up its ducks for a return to flight. The optimistic target date is December 18 but NASA managers say that is arbitrary, meant more to spur the workforce. More likely, they say, it will be at least March before a shuttle flies again and maybe later than that.

ADMIRAL HAL GEHMAN, CHAIRMAN, ACCIDENT BOARD: I don't see any recommendations which are so difficult to accomplish that they shouldn't be able to return to flight in six to nine months.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): But Hal Gehman's board will not offer a prescription for a safe return to space. That will be up to NASA and the agency is now looking long and hard at several changes like mandating external cameras like the one that flew on Atlantis last October, alternatives to foam, more rigorous inspections of the carbon panels, and a look at ways to perform repairs in orbit and that's just for starters.

RANDY AVERA, SPACE ANALYST: There's flight crew training for the astronauts that will be very different. There are procedural changes that will be very different and also re-certifying the launch team to the new rules, all of this as to happen and it takes time.

O'BRIEN: The board plans to release its voluminous report in a month. NASA already has another independent team in place to figure out what to fix and how to do it so that scenes like this will happen again relatively soon in relative safety.

Miles O'Brien, CNN.


BROWN: When the shuttle was on the drawing board NASA sold it as a kind of space pickup truck. Missions would be safe, routine, frequent and cheap. Today if you're looking for such qualities you might want to look at the Russian space program or something unmanned but certainly not the shuttle which raises the question why bother with the shuttle at all?

Jeff Kluger joins us tonight, science correspondent at "TIME" magazine, critic of the space shuttle program. We're glad to have him with us here in New York. Just a couple of quick ones on the report, this notion the shuttle may fly again in December, do you have any sense they're rushing it?

JEFF KLUGER, SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I think they are rushing it or they're at least rushing an optimistic report. One of the problems with the shuttle has always been that the hype and the reality have been moving along in lockstep and the hype has never -- has always exceeded what we in fact were able to achieve.

So, I think the idea that we're going to fly again in December is more of a morale booster for the people in the program but it may not be a realistic projection.

BROWN: One of the things that might have happened after the tragedy is a kind of step back and look at the program itself whether it really serves a necessary purpose beyond a kind of feel good that we were able to send people into space aboard this thing. None of that seems to have happened, at least to me. Should it have?

KLUGER: I think it should have happened and I think if it had happened as sorrowful as it is for partisans of the program to hear, I think had it happened the space shuttle and the station as well would have been powered down.

Keep in mind these two projects at this point essentially exist to serve one another. The space station exists to give the shuttle a place to go. The shuttle exists to service the space station. Take one out, the purpose of the other vanishes completely.

The space station is an essentially indestructible, well- entrenched program that's financed and built through just dozens of congressional districts. Now, this is nothing new. This is the way all Washington projects, large scale projects get done but I think if we see what's driving the project, the program, it would be wiser perhaps to back away from them.

BROWN: I want to set aside simply the mystery and the accomplishment of manned space flight for a second. The science of either program is overrated?

KLUGER: The science of either program I think is greatly overrated. Look there's absolutely no denying that both the space shuttle and the space station are magnificent pieces of engineering and they're elegant. They're complex. They're beautiful to look at. These are pieces of machinery to be proud of. But what they do doesn't come close to justifying the cost that goes into building them and flying them and I think that's the problem.

BROWN: Was the -- I'm looking for perspective here, was the science of man walking on the moon overrated?

KLUGER: Well, the science of man walking on the moon was always entangled wit the politics of man walking on the moon and more to the point the geopolitics, the global politics of it.


KLUGER: So, there was certainly some hype behind it but there are things we learn from retrieving moon rocks that we never could have learned about the origin of the moon itself, about the origin of the solar system, about science, about geology, and more to the point we learned profoundly valuable fundamental skills about moving, navigating from one body to another. Orbiting the earth we've been doing for more than 40 years now. We know how to do it. We don't need to practice that any longer.

BROWN: You used a term earlier today that you thought the shuttle should be used for boutique missions I think was the term. Can you tell me what that meant? I wasn't sure I understood it.

KLUGER: I think one of the best purposes to which the shuttle has been used is the repair of the Hubble space telescope and for that matter the deployment of the Hubble space telescope.

This is a remarkable piece of equipment that is best entrusted to the hands of trained astronauts. I think putting that telescope in the cargo bay of the shuttle having loving hands carry it up there and sending loving hands back up to repair it was precisely the use the shuttle should be put to.

These are very expensive, very specialized, as I did say boutique missions. The idea of using the shuttle to launch unmanned communication satellites to conduct experiments on frog reproduction and zero gravity...


KLUGER: ...these are all things that could be, better be done in unmanned ships or not at all.

BROWN: Do you have any gut feeling on when the shuttle will in fact fly again?

KLUGER: I certainly don't think it will be December. I do think it will be before -- within the year we'll see it fly, probably next spring.

BROWN: Nice to see you, thanks for coming in.

KLUGER: Thank you for having me.

BROWN: We look forward to seeing you again.

Ahead on NEWSNIGHT, the president meets with a critical partner in the war on terror.

Also, continuing to talk about cease-fire in the Middle East while Israel continues to round up suspected Hamas members.

And later, author Stephen King joins us to talk about the re- release of the dark tower novels now 30 years old.

A break now, this is NEWSNIGHT from CNN.


BROWN: In the Middle East tonight the two sides appear bent on stopping violence by the likes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the Palestinians by negotiation, the Israelis by taking militants off the street, one way or another which the Israelis believe is helping but the Palestinians say it's simply making negotiations that much harder.

For the latest we turn once again to CNN's Sheila MacVicar who is in Gaza where it is morning -- Sheila.


An Israeli intelligence official has told the Knesset subcommittee that they believe that the militant group Hamas has reached an agreement in principle for a three-month cease-fire.

What's holding up the announcement of that cease-fire, Palestinian sources tell us, are the kinds of actions we've seen from Israel including the action last night of rounding up 130-plus Palestinian men in the Hebron area, men that they said were, they alleged were members of Hamas.

Now that also comes at a time where there is another issue that is also creating a blockade if you will and that is where is the body of the Palestinian militant, the Hamas member killed by Israeli forces on Saturday night also in Hebron.

Palestinian sources, Hamas sources telling us that until the body of Abdullah Kawasmeh, is returned to his family and until he is buried there will be no announcement. We've got senior militants part of the outside leadership in Cairo negotiating meeting again with Egyptian officials. The Egyptians have been very much involved in this.

There's been a lot of pressure and everyone is just waiting now for the time to be right for this cease-fire to be announced -- Aaron.

BROWN: Let me try two quick questions and we'll see if we beat the rooster here in getting them in. First of all, why is locating this body such a difficult task?

MACVICAR: One, we know where the body is. It's with the Israeli Defense Forces. The Israelis say they intend to hand it back. The question of course is when?

The killing on Saturday night was described by Secretary of State when he was in the region as not particularly helpful. It's something that angered Hamas militants. Remember, that comes after the attempted assassination of another Hamas militant here in Gaza.

So, the question is, you know, how much do the Israelis really want this? They say they're very suspicious about the cease-fire. They say that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, other groups are just going to use it as a time to regroup, rearm, and then re-launch terror attacks. Prime Minister Abbas says he needs this time before he can begin to disarm them. That's what's really at stake.

BROWN: Sheila, we'll leave it at that, Sheila MacVicar in Gaza where needless to say the sun is coming up. Thank you very much. Thank you.

It says something about diplomacy, we suppose, that a general who staged a coup to take over is country and whose country remains a haven, perhaps not a safe haven but a haven for al Qaeda terrorists found himself warmly welcomed at Camp David today.

It is fair to say that Pakistan is an imperfect ally and its president is an imperfect leader. But imperfect or not, Pakistan provided considerable help in the war in Afghanistan and did so at some risk and so President Musharraf found himself with the president today.

Here again, our Senior White House Correspondent John King.


JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is hardly perfect but a critical partnership nonetheless.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since September the 11th attacks, Pakistan has apprehended more than 500 al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists.

KING: Yet as Pakistan's President Musharraf enjoyed his Camp David welcome and his fourth meeting with President Bush, there was a sense of deja vu, still no definitive word on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein for that matter.

BUSH: You named two. There are others around too and we're just on the hunt and we'll find them. It's a matter of time.

KING: Washington from time to time has pushed Pakistan to be more aggressive in that hunt and Mr. Musharraf says he is now taking unprecedented steps searching remote tribal areas where the al Qaeda leader might be hiding.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: Whether Osama bin Laden is here or across the border, your guess, sir, will be as good as mine.

KING: U.S. officials say Pakistan's overall cooperation with the Pentagon, the FBI, and the CIA is quite good and cite the months' long search for bin Laden deputy Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as just one example.

General Musharraf became President Musharraf in a 1999 coup and Mr. Bush raised continuing U.S. concerns about political reforms. Washington also wants Pakistan to ease tensions with India and to do more to halt terrorism in the disputed Kashmir region. But the war on terrorism is by far priority number one from Mr. Bush's perspective.

PROF. RICK INDERFURTH, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV.: The United States cannot win that war without Pakistan's help. There's no question about that.

KING: The president promised a new five year $3 billion aid package, half of it for education and economic development and half for defense and security programs.


KING: It might seem quite odd given that the overwhelming focus was the war on terrorism but top aides to the president say the two presidents spent quite a bit of time talking about education reform. Why?

U.S. officials say perhaps the most lasting benefit that could come from this cooperation, again in an imperfect relationship, is if President Musharraf can deliver on his promise to root out the teaching of anti-Americanism in Pakistan's schools and more importantly perhaps in its mosques -- Aaron.

BROWN: That's a very complicated question. Does this money that ultimately will end up in Pakistan, does it come with strings to guarantee somehow that it doesn't end up funding schools that promote anti-Americanism is just one of the things that we worry they promote?

KING: The strings have not been written yet, if you will. The president has to go to Congress with this proposal but White House officials made very clear today that Pakistan, if the president gets his way, will get the first few installments but they will watch that money very closely.

They say they take President Musharraf at his word and they see some evidence so far that he is willing to take on that tough fight, getting the anti-Americanism out of the schools and out of the religious teachings but they say if they don't see progress they will do just as you suggested. They will cut off the money.

BROWN: John, thank you, our Senior White House Correspondent John King. We're glad to have you with us tonight.

Coming up on NEWSNIGHT, promising news on prostate cancer as tests show a drug may help prevent it, the details in just a moment.

This is NEWSNIGHT from New York.


BROWN: A few stories from around the country tonight, beginning with that wildfire in Arizona. There was some progress today in fighting the fire. Firefighters in the mountains north of Tucson say it is now about 15 percent contained. The weather forecast is hardly encouraging. High winds threaten to whip up the flames that have already destroyed more than 200 homes and businesses so far.

And novelist Leon Uris has died. He was 78, best known we think for the novel "Exodus" about the founding of the modern state of Israel. A former editors said this about him. "He was a handful. He was one of those great sort of Hemingway-esque key man authors." A fitting tribute comes from publisher Harper Collins set to publish the last book by Uris in October, a fictional history of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Happy accidents are a staple of scientific advancement and this may well qualify as one of them but a drug used to treat something that's the subject of late-night infomercials might be used to prevent something else. Something deadly serious.

Here's CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Peter Greenwald, director of the National Cancer Institute's Office of Prevention, is well aware that he and every other man has a one-in-six chance of developing prostate cancer.

That risk prompted Dr. Greenwald become one of nearly 19,000 men nationwide who participated in a trial to determine if the drug finesteride (ph), known as Propecia or Proscar, and currently used to treat baldness and enlarged prostate, could also reduce a man's risk of prostate cancer.

The researchers stopped the study early, because the findings were so promising. They had the first evidence now that prostate cancer could be prevented.

DR. LESLIE FORD, NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE: There was a 25 percent decrease in the number of prostate cancers in the men that took finesteride versus placebo.

GUPTA: But there are caveats. The patients taking finesteride who did develop prostate cancer had a potentially more aggressive form. And the researchers aren't sure why.

FORD: It's very important that we continue to follow the men who developed prostate cancer to see if their tumors behave more aggressively or just happened to look different under the microscope.

GUPTA: The drug also has possible side effects, including decreased sex drives. But still, the news is encouraging for both men and their doctors.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


BROWN: Another health story tops our world roundup tonight. It comes from Beijing. The World Health Organization today is taking Beijing off the list of SARS hot spots. The disease, according to the WHO, is under control in Beijing. Still presents a danger, though. More than 25 people have come down with SARS in the Chinese capital since the disease was discovered. More than 170 have died.

Next, to Milan and the arrest of six people helping a local group with ties to al Qaeda. The six men, five of them Tunisians, one a Moroccan, charged with aiding terrorism, fraud, and the possession of phony documents.

Still to come on NEWSNIGHT, we will talk with Arianna Huffington about whether political fund-raising is out of control.

Up next, the strange pair that's getting things done in Washington, Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush.



SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN FINANCIAL NEWS: I'm Susan Lisovicz with this MONEYLINE update. The Dow Jones rose nearly 37 points today. The Nasdaq fell 5, the S&P 500 added 2. Investors cautious today. The first day of the Federal Reserve's two-day meeting on interest rates. The Fed widely expected to cut rates tomorrow.

Watch "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" weeknights at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

Now, back to NEWSNIGHT with Aaron Brown.

BROWN: And before we take a break, a word from the legal department tonight. On June the 9th, 2003, CNN aired a report about the effectiveness of the TASER, an electronic gun designed to incapacitate someone in the midst of a crime or an attack.

CNN's report included a demonstration of an M-26 TASER fired at seven volunteers. In that demonstration, the M-26 failed to incapacitate any of the seven.

According to the manufacturer of the M-26, TASER International, the specific gun used in the demonstration had a malfunctioning capacitator and was defective. CNN should have included that in its reporting, did not. CNN -- TASER says its own study of more than 1,600 field uses by law enforcement shows a 94 percent success rate of the M-26. So there you have that.

We'll talk with Stephen King in a moment.


BROWN: Quite a feat, you can curl up on the couch with a book, get up a few hours later with the full benefits of an aerobic workout. Not any book, mind you. The ones that can get your heart racing, turn your knuckles white, and leave you breathless are the books of Stephen King.

Only in recent years, some literary types have admitted what his fans have said for a long time, that just because his books sell millions doesn't mean he isn't a terrific writer.

Mr. King is rereleasing his series The Dark Tower. He began writing when he was 22, new installment due out this fall with the final two to follow that.

He joins us now.

We are very pleased to meet you.

STEPHEN KING, NOVELIST: It's nice to be here.

BROWN: Thanks for coming in.

Did you know when you started this that -- about 30 years ago -- I am guessing, about 30 years ago -- how it would end?

KING: Didn't have a clue.

BROWN: How do you do that?

KING: Well, I know where I want to start, and for me, it's a little bit like pulling a thread out of a mousehole. You just hope that you're going to get the whole ball of thread when you are done, and sometimes you do, and sometimes it breaks.

But with this thing, I started when I was 22, and I wrote one book and put it aside. And later on, when I'd started to have some success as a writer, I showed my agent at that time these stories. And he said, Hey, these are pretty good. Maybe I can sell them to the "Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction," which he did.

And then Donald Grant, a very small publisher in Providence, Rhode Island, said, I'd like to do them as I book, which he did, and it was like a small edition, 10,000 copies was all there was.

And I made the mistake or had the inspiration of putting them on what they call the ad card for a book called "Pet Semetary," and I got all these letters from readers saying, I can't find this book.

So we ended up doing it in paperback, and people started to ask me, Well, what happens next?

Now, I had sort of a vague memory...


KING: ... of what happened next, but it just ballooned into this very long fantasy Western where the main character is, like, a combination of one of the Hobbits from "Lord of the Rings" and Clint Eastwood from the spaghetti Westerns in the '70s.

BROWN: I was going to say, there is sort of a spaghetti Western quality about it.

KING: Yes.


KING: Well, I knew when I started, I was just totally taken by "The Lord of the Rings." And a lot of young people don't realize those books had a life long before they were born. And in the late '60s, when I read them, I thought, I would like to write something with this sweep. But I didn't want to sit down then, because I was afraid that I'd end up rewriting Tolkien, and nobody really needed that.

BROWN: You -- I will assume that you have learned a lot about writing since you were 22 years old, and that...

KING: I hope so. I hope so.

BROWN: Right. I hope so too. Do you have any wish you could go back and rewrite the first one?

KING: I did. That's why...

BROWN: Did you write the whole -- rewrite the whole book?

KING: The whole first volume...


KING: ... has totally been redone. And now we're reissuing them. And the idea behind the reissue of the first four books is, when I go someplace and I say, Have you read something I've written? just about everybody raises their hand...


KING: ... because they've come to see me. And then I say, Put your hand down if you have never read one of the Dark Tower books. And about 50 percent of the people put their hands down.

So I wanted to reach the other 50 percent that hadn't. And one of the ways that I thought that I could do it was to take this book that I'd written when I was 22, and kind of make it a little bit more reader-friendly. Because I was a writing seminar survivor at 22. You know, I'd been in college, and I had a lot of pretentious ideas about how stories were supposed to be told.

BROWN: And do you have -- have those ideas survived all these years?

KING: One or two...


KING: ... out of about 25, I think, have survived. But I believe now that the best stories are stories that are generous and welcome the reader in, and hopefully now that's what all these do. We're going to find out, anyway.

BROWN: Do you -- oh, I have so many things I want to ask you. Do you -- given all of the success, I mean, that -- the -- I said millions of copies of books that have been sold. When -- in a moment like this, do you worry about whether it will sell? Not because you need the dough, but because selling is the measure of your success.

KING: Your success.


KING: It's the way you keep score.


KING: Yes. Ordinarily, I don't. You know, one of the things -- a knock that's put on popular writers is, you do this for the money. But it's ridiculous. I haven't had to write for the money, you know, in probably 20 years. And if it were just an issue of money, I would have quit a long time ago and taken my family and moved to Aruba.

But these books are a little bit different. I want them to sell, because I worked very hard in the wake of this accident that I had...


KING: ... to finish the series. I got an idea after that accident about how really fragile life is, and how quickly that thread I was just talking about can be snapped. So I wanted to finish them. I didn't want it to end up in the file with "Canterbury Tales" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood."

But because the last three books, starting with "Wolves of the Kallah (ph)," finished this long, long tale that's probably 4,000 pages long, in order to get people to read the last three, I've got to go back and say, Here's where the story begins.


KING: So they're in the stores now, and hopefully people will buy them. But ordinarily, I wouldn't go out and flog the books this outrageously.

BROWN: No, you don't, you don't, you don't do this very often. So it's all right, we are very pleased.

Do you -- I would think that people who really have found you, when word of the accident came out, you were banged up pretty good.

KING: Yes.

BROWN: I mean, beyond the obvious (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is he going to make it or not, at some point started to think, I wonder if he's going to write any more, I wonder how this is going to change his life. And I wonder if he's ever going to fear -- finish that series. And there's a bunch of questions there.


BROWN: Did you ever ask yourself if you'd write again?

KING: Yes, I did. I wondered if I could. And I discovered, in the wake of the accident, that it was the best medicine that I could possibly have, because your mind and your imagination turns to the work, and it kind of divorces from your body. So that I found that those hours -- well, they weren't hours. To begin with, in the wake of the accident, I started writing again about 12 days after the accident.


KING: And I was still bedridden at that point. But my wife knew it was time for me to start...


KING: ... and ordinarily, she's the one who says, Slow down. But I discovered that I could kind of get away for a period of 45 minutes, 50 minutes, or something like that. And it was really worthwhile.

BROWN: Best of luck with the books, for all the reasons that you want them to be successful. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as you said, you -- it's been a long time since you needed the money, so...

KING: Yes.

BROWN: ... I hope that something that started so long ago proves fulfilling. And it's...

KING: I had two guys at an autographing session in Michigan who got to the head of the line and just said, We looked at each other and said, He's never going to finish that thing now. But I did, so...

BROWN: Good for you. Nice to meet you.

KING: Same here. Thank you very much.

BROWN: I hope you'll come back when, you know, you are in the mood. I know you don't get in the mood often, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

KING: Just ask me, I'll come back.

BROWN: You got a...

KING: I'm a fan.

BROWN: You got a deal. Thank you. Nice to meet you. Stephen King.

We'll take a break, we'll be right back.


BROWN: Well, we're guessing that if what they wanted was coconut shrimp and pasta, they could have gotten it a whole lot cheaper at the Olive Garden. That was the -- reported to be the menu last night at a $2,000-a-head fund raiser here in New York City with President Bush.

But, of course, the food isn't what the supporters are craving. The Bush administration, or the Bush campaign, more correctly -- don't want the lawyers to call again -- raised $4 million at that event last night. The goal is to raise at least $170 million over the next year, and scare the pants off the Democratic contenders in the process.

A lot of cash for someone who doesn't even face a challenge for the GOP nomination. We'll talk about money and politics, which is hardly just a Republican issue.

Arianna Huffington joins us tonight from Los Angeles.

It's nice to see you. I think it was Warren Buffett who said it -- that giving to campaigns is the best return on investment you can make. He knows something about both, I guess. So maybe we should start there.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, the point that it's not cyclical, it doesn't go up and down with the market. Politicians always deliver.

And you're absolutely right. It's not just the Republicans, although the Republicans now have the advantage. Democrats have Terry McAuliffe at the head of the DNC, and after all, he was the chief fund-raiser, thereby putting at the head of the party a man whose entire rationale is about raising money.

BROWN: Do you think that -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- I'm going to talk a bit about why it's so hard to do anything about it.

But let's just talk about what it is first. Is it inherently a shakedown? I mean, it's a kind of subtle shakedown, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in some cases, by the way, not so subtle. But do you see it as a shakedown, that these corporations know if they don't give money, they will not get from whoever has power?

HUFFINGTON: Yes, they will not get access. They will not get the kind of tax breaks they want. They will not get the substance they want. Just look at fund raiser in New York. The co-chairs were the head of Goldman Sachs, the head of Lehman Brothers, is actually the general chairman, the head of Credit Suisse. These are all companies that have problems with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In fact, all these guys have actually been subpoenaed. Their e- mails have been subpoenaed. And they are part of the global agreement that Elliot Spitzer, the attorney general of New York, has made. But there are still more problems ahead for them.

So it makes a lot of business sense to be on the right side of the Republicans, who are, after all, in charge of the SEC, and in charge of the kind of policies that could affect the future of their companies.

BROWN: Why don't you think -- why is it, do you think, that Americans -- and you may disagree with the premise here -- that Americans aren't all that concerned about it? There's nothing new about this. Big money has been driving campaigns for a long time. We spend years talking about campaign finance reform, which may or may not survive court challenge.

But very few people believe that it is a voting issue, if you will, for people.

HUFFINGTON: Actually, I think that there is something new, Aaron. What is new is that we've seen the damage being done when public policy is on the auction block.

All the corporate scandals we've had would have been prevented had it not been for the fact that the accounting and finance industries had given so much money in the last election cycle that all of the kind of obvious reforms, some of which have now been enacted, like separating accounting from consulting, did not pass.

And we still have many reforms, like expensing stock options, which have a major impact on the economy, a major impact on people's lives and their pensions, on their ability to send their kids to college.

So what those of us who care about this issue need to do more effectively than we are doing is make the connection between people's daily lives and the kind of fund-raising orgies that are going on in New York and Washington before, and will be going on between now and November 2004.

BROWN: Here's an easy solution to all of this. I so rarely come up with a solution to anything. Let's just publicly fund the campaigns. Let's use tax dollars.

HUFFINGTON: I'm all in favor of that. There's a great group called Public Campaign that is working on this issue, there's growing support for this issue.

But unfortunately, the Democratic Party is also embedded with the kind of special interests that give the big money. It's going to take more populist groups than candidates, who can rely on small donations until we can clean up the system.

And there is a tremendous potential that a group like, that has 1.6 million Internet subscribers, has proven that there is tremendous fund-raising potential if you go directly to the people. They have raised millions of dollars. They have pulled in a lot of the antiwar ads, the ads that you may have seen in "The New York Times" last week about Bush's misstatements.

So there is that potential. But for the time being, the two parties seem to be locked in this kind of arms race for the big corporate donors.

BROWN: And just in literally 10 seconds or less, do you think, in the next four years, anything will change?

HUFFINGTON: Well, first of all, between now and 2004, which is less than four years, I don't think anything will change.

BROWN: Right.

HUFFINGTON: We've seen that among, for example, very quickly, the main groups that we mentioned were involved in the New York fund- raiser, many of them are also giving to the Democrats. Goldman Sachs, for example, is the biggest fund-raiser for the Democratic nominees, and was a big fund-raiser for the Republicans.

So this is not exactly about politics or principle. It's about buying access and buying public policy.

BROWN: Good to see you. Nice to have you on the program.

HUFFINGTON: Good to see you.

BROWN: Always nice. Thank you very much.

I'll take a break, and it must be time for the morning papers, huh? Morning papers when NEWSNIGHT continues around the world.


BROWN: Well, my, oh, my, that's cheesier than most of our things, isn't it?

I guess that means it's time for morning papers. Okey-dokey, around the country and around the world, here we go. And we'll start around the world. I could have left my glasses on for this one.

"The Guardian," British paper. "Six British Soldiers Dead, Eight Hurt as Fragile Peace Fractures." A pretty tough headline. A very big story in Britain, as you can imagine. Down at the bottom, and perhaps not unrelated, you know, indirectly, at least, "Voters Losing Faith in Labour" Party, "Labour on Education, Poll Says." This is a -- not an easy time for the government of Tony Blair.

We are glad to have the "Times Herald Record" of upstate New York, the Catskills, because this is a great story. Actually we should have done this story today, but we ran out of time. There you go. "Regents Erased, In Stunning Reversal, State Calls Math Test Unfair." Kids have to take regents' exams, as they do in many parts of the country, and apparently the test was too hard, kids were flunking all over the place, so they told them, Forget it, you don't have to worry about it.

I like this story because I like this issue. "Anti... " This is "The Washington Times," the -- we never get the other paper. What's that big paper in -- I guess "The Post." We never see that one. Down at the bottom here, "Antispam Group Hails Schumer Legislation." This is an occasional series of theirs on the problem of spam. Maybe it's not the biggest problem facing the country, but it's annoying.

How are we doing on time, please?


BROWN: Twenty? You got to be joking.


BROWN: We need more (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- we need more time.


BROWN: Thank you. He's padding his part. The new graphic, the whole thing.

It's good to see you again. We'll see you tomorrow. Good night for all of us at NEWSNIGHT.


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