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Troubles For President Bush?; Should Government Study Sex?

Aired January 30, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm Paula Zahn.
The world, the news, the names, the faces, and where we go from here on this Friday, January 30, 2004.


ZAHN (voice-over): No weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, a continuing investigation of September 11. Could the president's growing problems be an issue on Election Day?

The National Institutes of Health. Studying sex on the taxpayers' dime has conservatives in an uproar. Should the sex studies be stopped, or are they in the interest of public health?

And a harrowing tale of two climbers trapped, both hanging from a rope. One badly injured, the other man cuts the line to save himself and his friend plummets and survives. Tonight, I'll talk with the man who survived the fall and comes to his friend's defense.


ZAHN: Well, we begin tonight with breaking news about a possible new terrorist threat.

CNN's Kelli Arena joins us now live from Washington with the latest on that -- hi, Kelli.


Well, government officials say that new intelligence that has come in in, in the past 48 hours again suggests that terrorists may target aircraft flying into the United States. Sources say that there are some specifics. First, two airlines were mentioned, British Airways and Air France. And at least one flight path was mentioned, from London to the Washington, D.C. area.

Multiple dates were also mentioned. Officials say that they fall within the next couple of weeks, but they will not elaborate. And at least one flight number came up, British Airways Flight 224. Does that sound familiar? Well, that is the same flight that was mentioned in intercepts leading into the Christmas holiday.

Now, the information is very similar to the information that came in at that time, but officials are not as concerned as they were the last time around. Paula, it's important to note that there's no specific information suggesting what will occur on those flights, whether they'll be used as aircraft was on September 11 or in some other capacity -- back to you.

ZAHN: It's important to keep that all into context. Kelli Arena, thanks so much for that report.

In other news tonight, a construction worker trapped for five hours -- check this out -- in a water-filled pit in southern Florida was rescued just a short time ago. The man had been pinned between a boulder and a culvert. Divers gave him oxygen as the water reached his chin.

The nation's economy appears to be simmering from its red-hot pace. The gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 4 percent in the last quarter in 2003. That is slowly than the previous three months, but analysts say the new figures indicate the recovery is on solid ground.

"In Focus" tonight, dramatic new developments that could affect the president's campaign for reelection. This week alone, he has taken fire even from fellow Republicans about his immigration policy, the exploding deficit, and for underestimating the cost of his Medicare drug plan. Also, the commission investigating the government's role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks wants to delay its report until summer. That would fall right smack in the middle of his reelection campaign.

And the White House may be bowing to pressure for an independent investigation into why U.S. intelligence agencies fumbled on weapons of mass destruction information in Iraq. Could this all be an election nightmare in the making for the president?

Well, joining us now from Washington, former Pentagon spokeswoman and frequent contributor Victoria Clarke, and, in Columbia, South Carolina, Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times."

Welcome to both of you.



ZAHN: Fine, thanks.

So you heard us outline some of these issues that are of some concern to political strategists. How much resonance do they have with American voters, Torie?

CLARKE: I picked up the word nightmare. It's not a nightmare. It's a reality.

This presidential election this year is going to be very tough, whoever the Democratic candidate is. And, at the end of the day, I don't think it's going to be about individual issues per se or stories that we're reading about in January of '04. I think it's going to come down to some fundamental questions for people. Probably for the first time in 30 or 40 years, people are going to be saying, who do I really believe could keep me safer than the other guy? And how do I feel about my prospects, in terms of my job, in terms of my financial security? Can I put my kids through school, those sorts of things. So I think it comes down to those fundamentals, not individual stories we may be focused on right now.

ZAHN: So, Torie, you're saying, the federal deficit isn't up there among the top list of concerns on the mind of American voters? It's just not registering?


CLARKE: You know what? I have yet to meet a real person -- and real people live outside Washington and outside New York -- who gets up on any given day and says, I'm so worried about the deficit.

They worry about more fundamental things. They don't use words like deficit, first of all. They worry about, can I put my kid through school? I just got a job, which is a good thing, but I'm worried because my cousin lost his. It's more personal than that. They do not wake up and worry about the federal deficit, per se.

ZAHN: So, Ron, under what circumstances will the issue of the federal deficit and some of these other issues surrounding 9/11 and the weapons of mass destruction report actually bother American voters?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think -- Paula, I think the key is the backdrop. And I think Torie's memory is a little short on the deficit because of that.

Look, the question of whether these will be an irritant to the president or a serious problem I think totally depends on the context, both in Iraq and domestically on the deficit. If the economy is good and people are feeling confident, I agree with Torie. They're not going to single out the deficit as a problem. But the lesson of 1992 and the first President Bush is that, when the economy is not doing well and people are anxious, the deficit does become potentially a potent symbol of mismanagement in Washington.

The same thing with Iraq. The polling, I think, has been very clear that the American public did not support the war solely on the grounds of there being weapons of mass destruction. So the fact that they're not found is not necessarily, I think, sort of a killer issue for President Bush, if things are going well, if people see the mission as succeeding. But if it is not, if the violence continues, if it does seem to be not stabilizing, I do think, against that backdrop, it does become a question of whether we were brought into the war on false pretenses.

So I think context is all on both these issues, because I agree. People vote on the broad terrain of how we're doing at home and abroad. But if they are dissatisfied, some of these specifics can become problems.

ZAHN: So, Torie, late word out of the White House tonight they are exploring options on an independent WMD probe.

CLARKE: Right.

ZAHN: So can you honestly tell me tonight that voters won't care if it turns out that the American public was misled about the overarching reason to go to war, which was to rid that country of weapons of mass destruction?

CLARKE: Oh, it certainly could be a factor with some people.

What they ought to want and what they ought to be looking for from their leadership in government is, let's take a hard look at our intel capabilities in the 21st century, with these very weird, very horrible threats that we face, and do we have the right people? Do we have the right organization? Do we have the right resources to tackle the problems we face right now?

That's what they ought to be looking at, not just one particular piece of it. So, hopefully -- I for one hope, going forward, what we do is not focus on one aspect of it, but we take a hard look at our intel capabilities across the board and say, why did we seemingly -- we don't know everything yet, but why did we seemingly overestimate Iraq's capabilities over the last few years, underestimate Libya's? Why did we underestimate Iraq 12 years ago?

Those are some pretty serious issues that ought to be addressed.

ZAHN: Victoria Clarke, Ron Brownstein, thank you for both of your perspectives.

CLARKE: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: My pleasure.


HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Kerry is the front-runner, and I mean him no insult, but in 19 years in the Senate, Senator Kerry sponsored nine -- 11 bills that had anything to do with health care, and not one of them passed.

WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here's what John Kerry said in 1992 about affirmative action. He said it was inherently limited and divisive. It fostered a culture of dependency. Even the "Boston Globe" newspaper took him to task for it. They said, he was using code words. Now John Kerry says he supports affirmative action. OK, that's fine. But he should acknowledge what he said in the past and take responsibility for it.


ZAHN: So, as you can see, now that Senator John Kerry is the actual delegate leader in the Democratic race, he has become the main target of attacks from fellow Democrats.

So what has Kerry accomplished after nearly two decades in the Senate? Let's call in on our truth squad. In Washington, Rich Cohen is chief congressional correspondent for "The National Journal." And CNN political analyst Carlos Watson joins me here in New York.

Welcome, gentlemen.



ZAHN: All right, Rich, let's explore this with you.

Critics say Kerry has a thin record on legislative accomplishments. Is that true?

COHEN: Well, if you look at the record, he's served 19 years in the Senate. There is no Kerry bill that's been enacted, no Kerry initiative. He hasn't been a leader in the Senate on a particular set of issues. So that could be interpreted as a thin record.

On the other hand, Senator Kerry and his supporters have said and will continue to say, I think the message will be, if he becomes a nominee, that he's played an important role among -- working with other Senate Democrats to establish the party position on a whole series of issues.

ZAHN: Can you pigeonhole him with a label based on his voting record in the Senate?

COHEN: Well, certainly, the Republicans will attempt to pigeonhole him, and they've already begun, as just another Massachusetts liberal.

And, in many respects, various vote ratings, including ones that we've done in "National Journal" over the years, show that he has been among the most liberal members of the Senate in his 19 years. On the other hand, he can point out and has pointed out that, on occasion, he kind of strays from or shows a little bit of independence. He doesn't always go with the party dogma.

For example, in the late '90s, he showed some interest and support in school vouchers, which many conservatives have talked about. He's talked about certain tax cuts, including capital gains cuts, which had been anathema to other Democrats.

Lately, frankly, during this campaign, he's become more conventional again as a Democrat. But if he were to become the nominee, I think perhaps we might see him trying to reach out to centrists and be something other than a conventional liberal Democrat.

ZAHN: On the issue of affirmative action, where is Senator Kerry? Backpedaling a little recently on some stuff he has said in the past.

WATSON: He is. And he's very fortunate to have in his camp the only African American member of the House of Representatives from South Carolina, Jim Clyburn. And so that will provide a little bit of protection, a little bit of inoculation.

But, unequivocally, a dozen years ago in a speech at Yale, he offered some comments which could be seen as slightly controversial. Now, the real question...

ZAHN: And, just in a nutshell, he said?

WATSON: Questioning whether or not affirmative action bred dependence and offering some doubt about whether or not he would continue to support it going forward.

Now, what Senator Kerry has said is, I was always with President Clinton. I was in favor of, mend it, don't end it. I said at the beginning of the speech -- this is what he said last night -- I said at the beginning of the speech, I support affirmative action, and I said at the end of the speech, I support affirmative action. I may have raised some questions in between, but, fundamentally, I was a supporter.

ZAHN: Is this true, or do you see that as a change of position?

WATSON: Well, whether or not it's true, I think the reality is, it's unlikely to hurt him significantly during the primary. And I think the reality is, coming this February 3, if Senator Kerry is able to win four, five, or six of these seven contests, I think the conversation is very quickly going to shift to a general election conversation.

And it will be a conversation between the president and Senator Kerry. Now, here's what I think's really interesting, Paula. Not only do I think the president is going to attack him as a Kennedy liberal, a "raise tax in favor of gay rights," Massachusetts senator, but I think, in order to be a wedge issue among independent voters, I believe that the president -- this is a massive departure -- I believe, on civil rights, so affirmative action, on education and on Social Security, he's going to go after the Democratic base.

He's going to try and divide and conquer. He's going to say that Senator Kerry isn't liberal enough, interestingly enough, on those issues.

ZAHN: Let's come back to that for a moment, Rich, with a final thought on how some of his positions are so nuanced, it might make it difficult for a direct attack from the Republicans.

COHEN: Well, of course, in politics, in the heat of the battle, and as my colleague was saying here a moment ago, sometimes, the nuances get lost in the back and forth gets pretty sharp. And that's going to start right away.

And if Kerry becomes the presumptive nominee in a week or two weeks, three weeks, I think we can expect that the attack on him from the Republicans is going to start very quickly and he's going to have to be ready for it. And it's going to be a long campaign.

ZAHN: Rich Cohen, Carlos Watson, thank you for your analysis. After "Finding Nemo," Pixar is parting ways with Disney. Will their breakup cost Michael Eisner his job?

And should taxpayers cover the costs of controversial sex studies? We're going to debate the merits of such research that you pay for.

Also, a mountain climber joins us with one of the most incredible stories of survival that you will ever hear.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't know whether I was one foot or five feet off the ground. He knew he was 300 foot and he would die. And this isn't Hollywood. This is real.



ZAHN: Is that the swan song for Michael Eisner? He went from "Finding Nemo" to losing him and perhaps much more. Pixar, the reigning king of animated movies, is ending its long partnership with Disney. It is a stunning breakup, one that some believe may cost Mr. Eisner his job, potentially.

Fred Katayama reports.



ALBERT BROOKS, ACTOR: Look, it's not funny. And I know funny. I'm a clown fish.


FRED KATAYAMA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nemo may be losing a parent again.

The companies behind that hit film, Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney, are ending talks about extending their partnership that produced a string of blockbusters. Pixar CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement: "We're moving on. It's a shame that Disney won't be participating in Pixar's future successes."

And what a monstrous success. Their five films together took in $2.5 billion at the box office. Pixar produced them. Disney distributed them. The pair split the profits. Analysts say Pixar wanted full ownership of future films and have Disney distribute them. Disney says that would have cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.

PETER MIRSKY, OPPENHEIMER & CO.: You look at Disney and say, financially, it's a material hit. Pixar contributed about 50 percent of their film's studio profits over the last five years or so.

KATAYAMA: Pixar can easily find a new partner. Fox, Sony, MGM and Warner Brothers have expressed interest in hooking up.

Fred Katayama, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: So what are the ramifications of this apparent divorce between Pixar and Disney? Joining us from Los Angeles is "Variety" business editor Carl DiOrio.

CARL, welcome.


ZAHN: Before we talk about what this means management wise at Disney, what does this mean to the average movie-goer?

DIORIO: Well, the way Hollywood industry people are analyzing it is strictly in its business ramifications. There's just no question that Pixar will continue to make very excellent movies that movie- goers are sure to enjoy, much as in the past.

ZAHN: And what is the impact on Mr. Eisner?

DIORIO: Well, Disney too has a huge animation division that will continue to make movies. And I'm sure some number of those will be successful as well.

But this very high-profile breakup with Pixar comes at the most inconvenient of times for Mr. Eisner, because March 3, in Philadelphia, he's got an annual shareholders meeting. And very recently, Roy Disney, who had been his vice chairman on the Disney board, left the board, saying that he no longer had confidence in Mr. Eisner's leadership.

ZAHN: Let me ask you this. I talked with a couple people in the industry who suggested that maybe Pixar is walking away from a deal they can't match by any of these other film companies Fred just mentioned. Maybe they're walking away from the best deal they could get.

DIORIO: Yes, you know, there is some sentiment that Steve Jobs, if he sticks to what he's saying at this point, could be cutting off his nose to spite his face. I say that for a couple reasons.

It's no secret that there's something of a personality clash between Mr. Eisner and Mr. Jobs. And so, if that enters into his thinking at all, it would be unfortunate for both parties, because I understand that Disney was willing to give Pixar exactly the deal terms they wanted in all future movies. But where it broke down was how they would treat the next two movies, which are covered by the current contract. And while Disney was willing to be flexible on those movies, they wouldn't give them quite the same terms as they would on future movies.

So now Pixar, because they've pushed themselves away from the negotiating table, are, yes, going to find another partner to distribute their movies. But they're locked into exactly the same terms on "The Incredibles" and "Cars," the 2004 and 2005 movies that Disney will distribute for Pixar.

ZAHN: Carl DiOrio from "Variety," thanks so much for stopping by tonight.

DIORIO: My pleasure, Paula.

ZAHN: And we look back at the one-year anniversary of the Columbia tragedy. Can NASA make the space shuttle program safe?

And should honor rolls be banned? Why one state is telling its schools not to single out their top students.

That story is coming up.


ZAHN: The one-year anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia disaster, seven crew members killed when the spacecraft broke up over Texas.

Miles O'Brien looks back on that sad day and what changes NASA has been putting into effect to make the shuttles safer.


JON CLARK, WIDOWER OF NASA ASTRONAUT: Oh, what a gorgeous day. Did you play outside today at recess?


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One year later, Jon Clark is dealing with equal parts of grief and guilt.

JON CLARK, HUSBAND OF SHUTTLE ASTRONAUT: I'm as much responsible as anyone else.

O'BRIEN: A NASA neurologist, Clark is part of the space shuttle medical team. He was in Houston's mission control while Columbia, carrying Laurel, his wife, was in orbit. And he is haunted by what he and his colleagues did not do for the crew once they saw foam hit Columbia's wing on launch.

J. CLARK: There were things that could have turned this into a heroic Apollo-13 style rescue and success. We'd snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Instead, we just let it go.

O'BRIEN: It haunts the space shuttle program as well. NASA veteran Wayne Hale became the No. 2 man in the shuttle program after the accident.

WAYNE HALE, DEPUTY SHUTTLE PROGRAM MANAGER: When you become confronted with a life-changing event -- and really, for many of us, Columbia was a life-changing event -- then you have to go back to the basics and say, what have we got to change to make sure that we don't make this mistake again?

O'BRIEN: The independent team that investigated the crash offered 15 specific recommendations.

NASA engineers clearly have embraced the technical tasks, fixing tiles and foam and heat shielding carbon panels. But progress on perhaps the most important prescript, changing the way decisions are made, is much harder to measure.

ADM. HAL GEHMAN, CHAIRMAN, COLUMBIA ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION BOARD: We built a fairly high mountain for NASA to climb, and they are still working at it.

O'BRIEN: Retired Admiral Hal Gehman led the inquest that concluded, the shuttle program talked about safety, but put tremendous pressure on the team to meet a budget and build a space station on a tight schedule.

GEHMAN: And people who bring up reasons to slow down the process or make the process more expensive are not very welcome. And therein is the problem.

O'BRIEN: That is why no one bothered to conduct a test like this before the accident. They assumed falling foam was harmless. It is also why managers blew off e-mails from the engineering trenches expressing concern for Columbia during the mission.

HALE: We still see people coming to work that exhibit the old way of doing business. And you have to get them by the shoulder and say, now, look, this is a new world. We're going to operate in a different and better way.

GEHMAN: We are quite confident that, at least at the very top of NASA, that they do get it. That puts a tremendous burden on the top two or three levels of management to instill that new philosophy and new culture into the entire organization.

O'BRIEN: But people inside the shuttle program say, pangs of collective guilt and remorse have done more to change the thinking here than any edict from on high. There's a lot more honest talk now. But that happened after Challenger as well. And, eventually, old habits took root once again.

CLARK: So you see that complacency and even to a point arrogance in how we were doing things. That has emerged. And now, in the aftermath of it, wow, geez, what were we thinking?

O'BRIEN (on camera): In the wake of Columbia, there are many who wonder if the shuttle can be flown safely at all. But Hal Gehman is not among them. He believes NASA can safely return to flight by the fall, as it plans. But he worries about what can happen over time, as memory fades and complacency takes root.

Miles O'Brien, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: Prostitutes and truckers are the focus of sex studies that the government says is worth spending $1 million for. What do you think?

And a climber cut loose from a safety rope is here to tell his incredible story of survival after a huge fall.

Monday, with seven states at stake, we are live with the final day of campaigning before Tuesday's primaries.


ZAHN: Here are some of the headlines you need to know right now.

It is time for the Patriots and Panthers to start getting their games faces on. Super Bowl XXXVII is less than 48 hours away.

CNN Sports reporter Josie Burke joins us now with a live report from Houston -- hi, Josie.

JOSIE BURKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, Houston has not hosted a Super Bowl in 30 years. So, in the next couple of days, they are really going to make up for lost time by doing what the Super Bowl is all about, and that is partying as much as humanly possible.

That means tonight everyone trying to gain access to the very exclusive Maxim party. It's just the kind of place you might expect to find New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Now, Tom Brady is the 26-year-old guy. You might recognize him from the audience of the president's State of the Union Address a couple of weeks ago. He shows up in the strangest places, including the gossip columns of the newspapers in Boston, where they refer to him as the QB/QT.


TOM BRADY, QUARTERBACK NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: I'm reading about where I'm at places that I'm not really there, but sometimes they're right, sometimes they're a little off base. You got to roll with the punches, though.


BURKE: You probably won't catch Tom Brady in the gossip columns tomorrow morning, because, of course, there is a game after all to be played on Sunday in the building behind me. In case you're interested, the New England Patriots are favored by a touchdown over the Carolina Panthers -- Paula.

ZAHN: Hey Josie, I'll see you Sunday. I get to see my first Super Bowl ever in person this week, and I am so psyched. I'll be looking for you.

BURKE: Enjoy it, Paula. It's so much fun. ZAHN: There is no doubt that how we behave can affect our health: smoking, drinking, and unsafe sex, for example. Well, the government has been studying unusual aspects of sexual behavior. Sexual dysfunction, in older men and truckers who use prostitutes for example.

Well conservatives have attacked the studies as an absolute waste of taxpayer dollars, but defenders say there's actually information that you could end up with that could save lives.

Let's debate that with our next guest, Andrea Lafferty is executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition in Washington. We're also joined from New Orleans by Gloria Felt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, welcome.

So, Andrea, what is the biggest problem you have with this study that you feel taxpayers are funding unfairly?

ANDREA LAFFERTY, TRADITIONAL VALUES COALITION: Thanks for asking, Paula. First of all, we're not opposed to research. The issue here is National Institutes of Health is a sacred cow, and no one is allowed to ask any questions or challenge what they do.

For a number of years since the '90s, we've been looking into spending by the NIH, and we found just in a two to three-year period $100 million of things that are in question. You were referring to a letter that the director sent justifying why this money is being well spent, but there's a lot of grants that he didn't address like...

ZAHN: Come back to the very specific issue of the one we just mentioned. So you're saying there's no scientific value in looking at sexual dysfunction in older men and truckers that solicit prostitutes.

LAFFERTY: Well, Paula, we weren't the one that brought that up. That's the one I call the Viagra study. What we've been talking about is studies like Irish fertility at the turn of the century. Or one that the director didn't try to justify, was where they hook up female genitalia and let them watch erotic video.

Now, maybe that's important to some people, but I'll tell you, that doesn't solve juvenile diabetes or colon cancer. Research dollars are scarce, and the American taxpayers know it. What we're saying is let's use those dollars a little more wisely.

ZAHN: Gloria, you heard the specific programs that Andrea mentioned. Do you have problems with those programs or think that is money wisely spent?

GLORIA FELDT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Paula, I'm not a scientist, and I haven't read the proposals for those particular studies.

ZAHN: Just based on the surface, does it make sense to you? Would you rather see the money spent on diabetes or...

FELDT: What does make sense to me, what does make sense to me is that one of our major public health institutions, the National Institutes for Health, should use the science, should stick with guaranteeing the credibility of the scientists for which they have a great reputation. And I think that what we have seen is that there has been a right wing attack on many aspects of science. They've been trying to insert or zealotry about certain issues they feel very strongly about into the scientific process.

ZAHN: Andrea, respond to that.

FELDT: Studying a behavior -- just let me finish one sentence, if I may. Studying a behavior is not the same thing as sanctioning a behavior. And it's really important to be able to study the behavioral aspects.

LAFFERTY: But tax dollars are scarce. There are a lot of critical issues out in the research realm. Why don't we take -- this is not a religious right issue only, by the way. We should go pass the hat in a bar in Staten Island or in Omaha or even in Manhattan and say give me $100, and we're going to study lot lizards, prostitutes at truck stops, or give me $100 so we can study Irish fertility at the turn of the century. That doesn't pass the straight face test.

The American people know better. The problem is NIH is extremely arrogant. Their attitude is that the rest of us are mere mortals and we don't know better. That is not true. We know when tax dollars are being misspent.

ZAHN: In reality, Gloria, the taxpayers have very little impact on that process, right?

LAFFERTY: That is right.

FELDT: It's important for scientific institutions to be run by people who have the scientific credibilities. And, again, I don't know anything -- I haven't read the proposals for these specific studies, but I do think it's admirable that the head of the NIH is standing up to these kinds of attacks right now, because I will tell you that scientists have been told to sensor their proposals, to take words out of their proposals that have to do with issues that organizations like Andrea disapprove of and that the Bush administration is allowing this censorship to go on, and that's just wrong. It's not good science.

ZAHN: Let's talk about that. Andrea, is -- you're essentially saying it's bad policy, and, Gloria, if I'm hearing what you're saying correctly, you're saying it's more an issue of bad PR.

LAFFERTY: No. It is bad policy. When you've got little Susie, who's got juvenile diabetes in Tupola or wherever, in Manhattan and we're not spending enough money to deal with juvenile diabetes, and we're hooking up female genitalia so that they can monitor it while these women are watching erotic video or studying Irish fertility..

FELDT: Look, let me give you...

ZAHN: Gloria, we need a final thought, and we need to move on. FELDT: Let me give you an example of research that has helped us have better birth control. And you had to study people's behaviors in order to make this happen. When I first started taking birth control, you got 21 pills in a little bottle. Today you get a wheel that tells you what day of the week, and it has 28 pills so that you know -- so that you never stop taking pills and you don't have to remember when to start again. That's because they studied the human behavior related to the usage of birth control. And now in order to make it...

ZAHN: We got to end the debate there. Andrea, Gloria, thank you both for joining us tonight with very different opinions here this evening.

Under fire, school honor rolls. Why academic excellence cannot be recognized in one state right now.

And a new movie tells the harrowing true story of a mountain climbing disaster. Meet the man who lived to tell the tale.


JOE SIMPSON, MOUNTAINEER: When you got absolutely no choice and you're going to die, you can actually tolerate quite a lot. It doesn't mean it wasn't excruciatingly painful, it was agony, but I somehow managed to endure it.



ZAHN: Controversy erupted in Tennessee schools earlier this month. Education officials responding to complaints from two parents, ruled that school administrators have to hold off on publicizing honor rolls. The list rewards students, but some say they do more harm than good. Brian Cabell reports.


BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Principal Teresa Dennis of Percy Priest Elementary is ready to send out honor roll certificates to her students, those who received all As and Bs, but she can't, not yet. An obscure Tennessee law protect protecting the confidentiality of student records forbids the publicizing of academic performance such as the honor roll unless the parents explicitly allow it.

CABELL: Does it feel kind of silly holding off on honor roll certificates for deserving kids?

TERESA DENNIS, PRINCIPAL, PERCY PRIEST ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: It does to me, feels very silly. This is my 30th year in education. It's the first time I've ever been told not to honor a student publicly.

CABELL: The change was actually instigated not by a concern for privacy but because a couple of parents in Nashville complained the honor roll damaged the self esteem of kids who didn't make it. Sue King agrees. She teaches at a Nashville school, Julia Green Elementary, that doesn't have an honor roll.

SUE KING, TEACHER: What it does in my opinion to those children who haven't made it, it gives them a sense of not being worthy.

CABELL: Her school decided a year and a half ago to do away with the honor roll. Instead it acknowledges high achieving students through private conversations and notes. But principal Dennis says her school wants it because it motivates the students. Now she's awaiting the return of the parents' permission letters so the students can finally get the awards they've earned. Brian Cabell, CNN, Nashville.


ZAHN: Hanging by a thread. The choice one mountain climber makes to save his own life and then risk the death of another. Also, Michael Jackson's family comes to his defense as a new magazine article levels new accusations against him.


ZAHN: In 1985, two mountain climbers faced a cold, lonely, and terrifying situation atop a four-mile-high peak in the Peruvian Andes. One man helpless, his leg broken, dangled from a rope over an abyss in the middle of a storm. The other man, barely able to hold him, faces a choice. Cut loose his friend or risk being dragged to his own death with him. Their incredible story for survival is told by the men themselves in a new movie shot on the very same mountain. It is called "Touching the Void."


There was no way that I could have -- I couldn't maintain where I was. Sooner or later, I was going to be pulled from the mountain. I went to unzip the top pocket with one hand to get the pen knife out.


ZAHN: Climber Joe Simpson should not have survived that fall, but he and his fellow climber eventually struggled to safety despite the tremendous odds. Joining me now from Boston, mountaineer Joe Simpson, and from London, Kevin Macdonald, director of "Touching the Void." Welcome, gentlemen.

Just in that one short scene, I felt like I was there with you. Joe, isn't it a miracle you survived at all?

SIMPSON: Well, I don't believe in miracles, but it was a very close run thing. When Simon cut the rope, I found myself deep in a crevasse. By the morning, I knew he thought I was dead. My leg was very badly broken. My lower leg had been driven through my knee joint. So trying to crawl out of there and crawl through the best part of four days, it was a very, very hard thing to do. I weighed about 85 pounds when I got to Simon on the morning of the fifth day, and I was probably dying.

ZAHN: Was there a point in that process where you thought you just couldn't take it for another minute?

SIMPSON: Many times, in fact. The crevasse was most frightening. I thought I would be trapped in there. You don't die of a broken leg. It would take you three or four days to die. And then trying to come down these horrendous rocks, it was so painful and I was getting so weak and tired. There were a number of times I nearly just give up, but luckily I didn't.

ZAHN: How did you control the pain? I've broken my leg but I wasn't in the middle of nowhere. There were people to help me. What did you do with your mind to have your body pull through this?

SIMPSON: I think, you know, obviously, if I'd got that injury here in the car park of this studio, I wouldn't let anybody touch me unless they injected me with morphine, but when you've got absolutely no choice and you're going to die, you can actually tolerate quite a lot. It doesn't mean it wasn't excruciatingly painful, it was agony. But I somehow managed to endure it. In the end, I stopped swearing every time I fell over, and I just used to breathe and breathe and try and control my breathing. I don't know. To this day, I don't know how I managed to tolerate it.

ZAHN: Now that you've gone back to Peru and tried to relive some of what you went through, what have you learned about how you were able to endure?

SIMPSON: Well, if you'd asked me before this happened if I could have done this, I would have laughed and said not in any way. So I suppose I've learned that you can be much stronger mentally and physically than you ever believed possible. I think also that I'm not exceptional to survive. I did what everyone will do. We do not die easily. And we do not let go easily. And so I suppose I learned that friends of yours can do extraordinary things for you and that you, your mind and your body, can go way beyond the limits of what you think's possible.

ZAHN: Kevin, this must have been a highly emotional experience for you and the crew to witness what these true, indeed, very strong men went through. Describe to us what it was like to become part of their story.

KEVIN MACDONALD, DIRECTOR, "TOUCHING THE VOID": It was arduous enough for me and the crew just to go up to the mountain in Peru. We went really just to the very base of it. We went about 18,000 feet, which is 4,000 feet lower than they were on the summit. And that was extremely hard. And even shooting in the Alps, where we shot in the real storms and spent nights in tents and that sort of thing, it was very, very hard work. We got some taste, I think, of what it's like to be up in the mountains, but obviously nothing at all anywhere near what they went through.

ZAHN: I guess the one thing, Joe, that would be impossible for any of the rest of us to understand is how it was Simon made the decision he did when he felt his life was in danger as well to cut you loose, thinking you weren't going to survive or you were dead already.

SIMPSON: I mean, you have to remember that, before Simon cut the rope, he spent 11 hours lowering me single-handedly 3,000 foot down the mountain. And most people would have actually left me at the point where I broke my leg at 20,000 feet. So he'd done an incredibly brave and selfless thing, and then was forced into this appalling situation.

You have to remember, he didn't know whether I was one foot or five feet off the ground. He knew he was 300 foot and he would die. This isn't Hollywood, this is real. You know, you're looking at your imminent death.

And when I realized he'd cut the rope, I was pleased that my friend was still alive and that he could help me. And then when he went down thinking I was dead, well, that was understandable. In fact, the first thing I said to Simon when I got down was I thanked him for cutting the rope. It was only when we got home where all these experts in the nice warmth of a pub with the pint in their hand all began criticizing Simon. And I would never have written the book "Touching the Void" if they hadn't criticized him so badly for cutting the rope. And of course, the book and now the film completely exonerates him. And it's been a wonderful success.

ZAHN: But in spite of that, Joe, Simon is not involved in the movie anymore. As I understand it, he's not talking to you, he's not talking to Kevin. Why the falling out?

SIMPSON: Well, that's quite ironic, really, because, you know, in '85 we came back from this sort of dreadful experience as friends. I think the filming put a lot of pressure on Simon, not because of the film, people or of me, but because of personal tragedies were happening in his life with the miscarriage and the loss of his children, and I think that, you know, in the end, a film is not very important when things like that are happening to you. And I think he's in a very bad place at the moment. I'm just hoping that in six months or a year, he'll come around and realize this is a film to be proud of.

ZAHN: Finally tonight, Joe, we all when we hear inspiring stories such as yours, try to learn something personally from it. One of the things I was intrigued by was what you had to say about the intense loneliness you felt and how at some point in that five-day struggle if someone could have just touched you physically, it would have made a world of difference.

SIMPSON: Well, yes. I mean, it's interesting, you know. You can't remember pain. I mean, when you broke your leg skiing, you can remember it was a bad time, but you cannot recall that agony that you went through. And I can't. I know I was in terrible pain for days and days, and I can't remember that. I mean, your brain is very good like that. Otherwise, if we couldn't do that, we'd all have one-child families.

But I mean, my memory is not of fear or pain, it's of this dreadful loneliness. And I realize now what it was the business of dying alone. And I to this day can remember the sensation of Simon grabbing my shoulders, because I think I kept crawling because I wanted someone to hold me, which sounds a bit wet (ph), but it was a desperately slow, tortuous, and lonely way to die.

ZAHN: Well, I'll tell you one thing, "Touching the Void" takes you to someplace altogether different in a way most films don't. Joe Simpson, Kevin Macdonald, thank you for sharing your story with us this evening.

SIMPSON: Thank you.


ZAHN: And we'll be right back.


ZAHN: The already scandalous accusations against Michael Jackson have been amplified by a story in the March issue of "Vanity Fair." It says the singer has a serious problem with drugs and alcohol and even served wine in soda cans to children. CNN has not substantiated these claims, but a friend of Jackson is vehemently denying the story. He is Firpo Carr, a spiritual adviser to Michael Jackson. He joins us now from Los Angeles. Welcome, sir.

I wanted to start off this evening by sharing some of Maureen Orth's other charges from "Vanity Fair." This comes from an interview she did earlier this morning with Bill Hemmer on "AMERICAN MORNING." Let's listen.


MAUREEN ORTH, VANITY FAIR: One of the allegations of the boy is that he was given wine, also shown pornography on the Internet and in magazines. And on two of the counts are about providing an intoxicating agent, and I have eyewitnesses saying that Michael Jackson regularly pours white wine into soda cans. That's Jesus juice. Red wine is called Jesus blood. And these boys were given this wine.


ZAHN: Firpo, have you ever heard Michael Jackson use those terms, Jesus juice, Jesus blood?

FIRPO CARR, JACKSON SPIRITUAL ADVISER: Absolutely not, and I would question -- and I'm so glad you qualified your statement by saying that CNN has not substantiated these claims. So right now, as far as we're concerned, the family, they're baseless terms, and they're outrageous. That's not Michael's style at all.

ZAHN: "Vanity Fair" gave us this statement on Maureen Orth's reporting. It says: "Vanity Fair' stands by Maureen Orth's Michael Jackson story. The article underwent rigorous fact-checking and legal vetting, as do all "Vanity Fair" articles prior to publication." CARR: To that, I say that -- I quote "USA Today" that states that these individuals or that article was unsubstantiated, and quoted from anonymous sources, and, if you take journalism 101, which you will know very well, you have to back things up. I'm a college professor. I require that my students give me their sources. And that did not happen here.

So what you have is just individuals, just ghosts out there, making alleged allegations, making statements, and you cannot really speak to them, because you don't know who they are.

ZAHN: Let's move on to what you admitted today, that Michael Jackson had had an addiction to painkillers. Could that have influenced his judgment, particularly when he's around children?

CARR: Well, first of all, of course that's called a leading question, Paula, but what I'll do is say this. There's no secret that Michael Jackson had a challenge overcoming the painkillers that he took for the incident that happened during the Pepsi commercial. That's not a secret. Of course, you never get over that once you are -- once you have this challenge, if you will. And what I'd like to say to anyone listening is that anyone, whether you are an alcoholic or an addict, you're always recovering even if you have been clean, if you will, for 20 years. You're still a recovering alcoholic.

So to say that he currently has a problem, I'd like to see some proof of that. I'm not saying that people don't have relapses, but I'd like to say that, no, he would never take anything like that, I am certain, around children. And it has nothing to do with children.

As you know, in some cases, many alcoholics, they are -- it's a secret sin, if you will. They're off somewhere by themselves drinking. I'm not saying that is at all the case with Michael. I'm just saying that the suggestion that he may have done something like this around children and it may have impaired his judgment in some way, shape, or form is outrageous.

ZAHN: Firpo Carr, we've got to leave it there, thank you much for joining us tonight.

CARR: Sure, Paula. Thanks for having me.

ZAHN: Appreciate your time.

And we want to thank you all for joining us tonight. That wraps it up for all of us here. Hope you all have a good evening. Monday, we're going to live on the final day of campaigning before Tuesday's presidential contests. We're going to be just about everywhere all over the country. We hope you join us then. Again, have a good weekend. Good night.



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