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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN

Bush Releases Military Records; National Guardsman Accused of Helping al Qaeda

Aired February 13, 2004 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone.
Here is the question of the night. At what point, if at any point, does rumor become news? There are three ways to answer this I've learned in the last day. If the rumor is about your guy it never becomes news. If the rumor is about the other guy it's news right away. If you're a reporter or an editor the answer is when you feel like it.

Yesterday, the net was abuzz about a rumor involving John Kerry, a nasty rumor at that. We didn't get near it. It wasn't news. It lacked facts but it was all over the net. Millions of people read it and hear it. Conservative talk radio ate it up all day and today the story moved. Mr. Kerry denied it on a national radio program.

So, does that denial make it news? Is it fair to take the denial and use it to spread the rumor because that's what's happening? And, while I feel comfortable about how we're going to deal with this all tonight, I also know that we are pushing up against an uncomfortable line in day when facts and fiction can spread far too fast. That's later in the program.

Other matters first, starting tonight with the president's military records, hundreds of pages of it given out at the White House, which meant a lot of reading for White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux who starts us off with a headline.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, document dumps like this one, of course, were so common in the Clinton administration. Reporters used to refer to it as Friday night follies. This certainly counts as one of those nights, the administration certainly hoping that they're going to put questions about President Bush's military record to rest.

BROWN: Thank you, Suzanne. We'll get to you at the top tonight.

Also tonight the presidential campaign which got a whole lot rougher today, Kelly Wallace in Las Vegas, Nevada tonight, Kelly a headline.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, John Kerry has not officially clinched the Democratic nomination but the Bush reelection team is already unveiling its first ad targeting the frontrunner and John Kerry is fighting back with some new ammunition -- Aaron. BROWN: Kelly, thank you.

To Fort Lewis, Washington, around Tacoma, and the saga of a National Guardsman accused of trying to help al Qaeda, CNN's Katharine Barrett working the story, Katharine a headline.

KATHARINE BARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Special Ryan Anderson's neighbors call him a good guy and a gun love. Seattle's Muslim leaders call him misguided. We'll give you a glimpse into Specialist Ryan Anderson's past.

BROWN: Thank you.

And finally, the Pentagon, and a change in policy where the detainees at Guantanamo are concerned the headline from CNN's Barbara Starr.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The Pentagon is setting up a parole board for al Qaeda detainees paving the way for more of them to be released. That may satisfy the critics who say Guantanamo Bay is a legal black hole but just how hard will it be to be voted off the island -- Aaron?

BROWN: Barbara, back to you and the rest shortly.

Also ahead on the program on this Friday night with all the noise about whether gays can marry or not, we'll take a look at just marriage is legally and how it got that way, a Valentine's story from us.

In Segment 7 tonight, you meet Violet Palmer, the only female referee in the NBA, in all of major sport in fact. Hers is a great little story and, although shunned by those picking the players for the NBA All Star game.

The rooster will be here, which means your morning papers for Saturday will be too and this being Friday, and it is Friday, we'll throw in a tabloid or two as well, all of that and more in the hour ahead.

We begin with the paper trail to President Bush' past. The payroll stubs and the dental records were just a trickle. Tonight, the White House released hundreds of pages of Mr. Bush's military records from his days of service in the Air National Guard, a veritable avalanche meant to put to rest all the questions, the when's and the where's and the how's of Mr. Bush's military service during the Vietnam Era.

We begin at the White House and CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): President Bush said to his staff put it all out and, with that, his entire military file from 1968 to 1973 was released Friday night. JOEL JOHNSON, CLINTON SENIOR ADVISER: It's a time-honored White House tactic. It's Friday night, time to take out the garbage. What you're trying to accomplish is one bad ugly story on a Saturday rather than seven, eight, nine stories the following week.

MALVEAUX: The nearly 400 pages show much of what was already known. Mr. Bush enlisted in the Texas Air National Guard in 1968, transferred to serve in Alabama while he worked on a political campaign, was suspended from flying in 1972 when he failed to take a physical and was honorably discharged in October of 1973, eight months early to attend business school.

As for the period in Alabama, critics charge the president failed to show up for duty. The documents show check-ins for at least five of those months.

Mr. Bush's medical records, which reporters were given 20 minutes to examine in the Roosevelt Room but were not released revealed Mr. Bush was fit for flying. They were open to counter speculation Mr. Bush skipped his physical to avoid reveal damaging information. While some of the records are very detailed, down to descriptions of Mr. Bush's boots, others have gaps.

A spokesman from the Democratic National Committee said in a statement: "Each revelation of material from the Bush White House has raised more questions than it has answered. It remains to be seen if these newest documents will provide any answers."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Now, White House advisers tell us that President Bush has been watching the briefings this past week, that he thinks that they are silly, that he made his decision in the Oval Office this afternoon after getting his complete military record. Advisers say that he is essentially trying to stop the impression that he was trying to hide something -- Aaron.

BROWN: Two things, two questions, one on this and one on something else. You got these documents and there are literally, as you said, hundreds of pages about what time tonight?

MALVEAUX: I would say perhaps three, four hours ago.

BROWN: So, is it fair to say that we have not been able to read every page and go through every detail at this point?

MALVEAUX: Absolutely, that's fair. I mean this is a question that is not going to be answered for some time. It's a matter of credibility. Democrats, as well as the White House, say it depends on what you believe. The White House says we've released all of this. You should take our word for it and this is the evidence.

Democrats say there are holes that we don't see, particular service at these days or these times, that it lacks the kind of evidence that they're looking for and so they're saying give us more. BROWN: All right and just on another matter, the White House made a decision on how it will deal with the president's "testimony" to the 9/11 commission today.

MALVEAUX: Well, that's right. The president was actually asked to be interviewed by the 9/11 commission formally today. The president has agreed that he will sit down for a private interview, discussions with the chair and the co-chair of the 9/11 commission to tell what the administration knew before those attacks, whether or not there was anything that could be done, whether or not that's revealing. What we have learned as well, Aaron, is that the president in all likelihood is not going to publicly testify but he will sit down and answer questions.

BROWN: Do we know when that will happen?

MALVEAUX: It has to happen before the deadline of the commission's report. That deadline is in the summer, so sometime within the next three or four months.

BROWN: Suzanne, thank you. You've had a very busy night, Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

The White House gave up more information on another front as well today or the administration did at least. In Miami, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described what kind of intelligence the government is getting from the men held at Guantanamo Bay, at least generally speaking.

Six hundred and fifty detainees who have not been charged with any crime or tried, though in most cases they were found on the battlefield and we also learned, at least procedurally, what will happen to them next.

From the Pentagon CNN's Barbara Starr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): For the first time, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld detailed the critical intelligence the U.S. is getting from interrogation of suspected Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay have revealed al Qaeda leadership structures, operatives, funding mechanisms, communication methods, training and selection programs.

STARR: That disclosure was designed to demonstrate that the 650 detainees are being held because they are dangerous but the Bush administration also responding to international criticism that detainees are in legal limbo with no assurances about their future.

The International Committee of the Red Cross in January saying that: "U.S. authorities have placed the internees in Guantanamo beyond the law. The internees still have no idea about their fate and no means of recourse through any legal mechanism." The Pentagon says there will now be a parole board, each detainee's case to be reviewed annually to determine if they are still a threat or if they can be released.

The U.S. wants to return more than 100 detainees to their home country for either continued detention or release. Nearly 90 have already left Guantanamo Bay. Still, the Pentagon says some of the most lethal al Qaeda operatives are being held.

PAUL BUTLER, DEPUTY ASST. SEC. OF DEFENSE: There's an individual who served as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and escorted him to Tora Bora, Afghanistan following the fall of Jalalabad.

STARR: The secretary making it clear the U.S. believes the detainees have plenty to tell their interrogators.

RUMSFELD: They have provided information on al Qaeda front companies and on bank accounts, on surface-to-air missiles, improvised explosive devices and tactics that are used by terrorist elements.

STARR (on camera): But a note of worry. U.S. officials believe at least one of the released detainees may have already returned to the battlefield, so the process for any future releases will be a cautious one.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: On now to a U.S. soldier suspected of trying to help terrorists. A sting involving the Justice Department and the FBI has led to the arrest of a Washington State National Guardsman, the young man stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Military and federal officials believe the 26-year-old soldier, a convert to Islam, was trying to provide information to al Qaeda, reporting the story for us tonight, CNN's Katharine Barrett.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARRETT (voice-over): Specialist Ryan Anderson grew up in this quiet neighborhood abloom with flags. Long time neighbors of his father and stepmother say they are shocked by his arrest.

TOM WARREN, ANDERSON FAMILY NEIGHBOR: They've been a solid family. You know they wash their car like we do. They fly the flag, visit with the neighbors and nothing that ever made them stand out.

BARRETT: Nothing except the incident in 1998 when Anderson strolled these streets shouldering a rifle and bayonet.

WARREN: My wife and I passed by him that day and he was just walking along carrying it and he was just proud of it I thought.

BARRETT: For the past six months when not training at Fort Lewis, Anderson and his wife lived in this apartment. His next door neighbor calls Anderson a very nice good guy who likes Japanese anime and guns.

JACK ROBERTS, ANDERSON NEIGHBOR: Yes, he'd go to shooting ranges sometimes, yes. He went with a neighbor here to local areas shooting guns.

BARRETT: Almost two years ago, Ryan Anderson first contacted Seattle's Islamic community joining an e-mail group under the name Abdul Rahid (ph) a.k.a. gunfighter. Local Muslim leaders were immediately suspicious.

AZIZ JUNEJO, SEATTLE MUSLIM LEADER: His e-mails right away turned to that he was a marksman shooter and thought that he should get together a group of Muslims from the area, men and women, and teach them how to shoot and we should have a group that goes out and shoots and this was completely against the norms of what we think is correct or right.

BARRETT: Junejo says he and Anderson exchanged harsh e-mails. Anderson left the chat group but Junejo says he then showed up at a local mosque trying to recruit shooters.

Anderson's wife and family are not speaking publicly about his arrest. In a written statement to the Associated Press they said: "They place their faith and trust in the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice to provide Ryan a fair trial before rendering any decision."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BARRETT: Anderson's wife Erin (ph) is shaken up and as shocked as anyone by all of this, according to her next door neighbor. Specialist Anderson remains in military custody here at Fort Lewis tonight awaiting charges -- Aaron.

BROWN: Was he scheduled to be deployed?

BARRETT: He was scheduled to be deployed within days to Iraq and there's some suggestion that the reason that he was arrested as swiftly as he was, was that they wanted to detain him before he went overseas.

BROWN: Katharine, thank you very much, Katharine Barrett out in Seattle out west.

BARRETT: My pleasure.

BROWN: Still more military news of alleged misconduct in the ranks, criminal misconduct. The "Denver Post" first broke this story reporting that more than two dozen women stationed at Shepherd Air Force Base in North Texas had sought help at a civilian rape crisis center over a year's time.

Five of the cases involve gang rapes. The victims' alleged attackers fellow airmen at the base. The story and the allegations, as you can imagine, have triggered an outcry and an investigation.

Here's CNN's Ed Lavandera. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN DALLAS BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Training missions carve through the sky over Shepherd Air Force Base. It might seem like business as usual but this base is now the latest military installation dealing with widespread allegations of sexual misconduct.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: We need to find out what the magnitude of the problem is. We need to see how people have been treated, if people have been willing to come forward and we need to solve this very important problem as quickly as possible.

LAVANDERA: To do that, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has asked the Air Force to investigate what she calls "an unacceptable number of alleged sexual assaults against some two dozen women at this base."

The Senator believes the attacks happened in the last year. As many as 40 airmen are being accused. Air Force officials say an investigative team is on its way.

They stress there must be a swift and compassionate way of dealing with victims but they won't talk about the specific treatment the women in these cases received. These latest allegations also come at a time when the Pentagon has called for a review of how the military handles complaints of sexual misconduct.

(on camera): The investigative team will arrive here at Shepherd Air Force Base next Monday. Their work is expected to take about two weeks. What happens after that will depend on what they find.

Ed Lavandera CNN, Wichita Falls, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Still ahead on the program tonight, rumor and fact on the campaign trail as the Democratic frontrunner nails down another endorsement from a former competitor.

And later, the lady who is in charge of the court, we'll introduce you to Violet Palmer, the only woman who is a referee in the NBA or in all of major sport, that and more as NEWSNIGHT continues from New York.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Politics now. The next few days may well seal the deal for John Kerry. Some would argue it is already sealed. The White House seems to think so. The Bush campaign ran its first ad of the year, an anti-Kerry ad. Some people think of presidential politics like a heavyweight fight. This one is shaping up more like professional wrestling.

Here's CNN's Kelly Wallace.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sir, permission to come aboard. The Army is here.

WALLACE (voice-over): A Wisconsin photo op that makes the Kerry camp smile, the retired four-star general backing the decorated Vietnam Veteran and putting the GOP on notice.

CLARK: John Kerry has been the kind of leader America needs. He'll stand up to the Republican attack dogs and send them home licking their wounds.

WALLACE: Things are already getting nasty. The Bush reelection team e-mailed this ad last night to six million supporters targeting the Democratic frontrunner.

ANNOUNCER: More special interest money than any other Senator? How much?

WALLACE: A response, Bush campaign aides say, to John Kerry's attacks. Not so says the Senator from Massachusetts.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I noticed the first advertisement they're running is a negative one.

WALLACE: Kerry's rivals, looking for some traction here in Wisconsin, try to focus on the positive. John Edwards, who said he courted Clark for an endorsement says the general's backing of Kerry won't hurt his own campaign.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think most presidential primary voters are making their own independent decisions.

WALLACE: Howard Dean, who has appealed for Clark supporters to go to him, was asked if he would look like a sore loser if he stays in the race without winning any states.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And there's an enormous amount of people who do want to continue. Now, whether it's enough to win the nomination or not we'll have to see.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALLACE: And it's going to get a little loud in a few moments. Mariachi bands here in Las Vegas where Senator Kerry will be speaking shortly ahead of tomorrow's caucuses here in Nevada.

Then he heads back to Wisconsin this weekend. There Howard Dean and John Edwards are hoping to try and change the dynamics of this race, a poll last night showing that John Kerry is leading by nearly 40 points in the state of Wisconsin -- Aaron.

BROWN: Kelly, we're not going to compete with the band. Thank you, Kelly Wallace in Las Vegas. Be careful out there tonight.

Now to the elephant in the room, on his (unintelligible) today, Andrew Sullivan writes about his appearance he taped this afternoon for CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." It was a roundtable in which, as he put it, we had to discuss why we won't mention the story that we weren't discussing.

The story concerns a rumor. The rumor involves John Kerry and an intern. Twice today the Senator denied it, which makes it news barely. But sometimes in the post Bill Clinton, post Matt Drudge world, barely is just enough and pretty soon you're looking at an elephant.

In a moment the ramifications, first the mechanics, here's CNN's Jeff Greenfield.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST (voice-over): There was not a word about it on last night's network newscasts and in another time that would have been enough to keep the story well underground.

But this is a new time when a rumor goes from a much trafficked Web site, where the Clinton-Monica story first surfaced, to a radio show with millions of listeners, to widespread discussion on Web sites, to a story in a British paper that in turn is linked to the same Drudge site that started the whole thing. And by Friday morning the target of the rumors was confronted by the story on another radio show with millions of listeners.

DON IMUS, "IMUS IN THE MORNING": Well, but people are talking about it.

KERRY: Well, there's nothing to report so there's nothing to talk about. I'm not worried about it, no. The answer is no.

GREENFIELD: Let's be clear about what this is not. This is not Gary Hart in 1987.

GARY HART, FORMER SENATOR: I want to get together with my family.

GREENFIELD: With reporters trailing a woman to his townhouse and with photos that, to put it mildly, could be considered compromising.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Watch "60 Minutes."

GREENFIELD: This is not what Bill Clinton faced in 1992 when his alleged paramour went public with her accusations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is absolutely lying.

GREENFIELD: Taped phone calls and all.

CLINTON: I did not...

GREENFIELD: And this is decidedly not what President Clinton faced in 1998 with an independent counsel and forensic evidence proving what the president denied. And here is a reporter's dilemma.

If we run these images to show you what this story is not do we wind up suggesting that this story somehow belongs with those others? In fact, this seems closest to rumors about the first President Bush, rumors with no supporting evidence, rumors that forced Democratic Strategist Donna Brazile off the Dukakis campaign when she raised them with reporters. Those same rumors resurfaced when Bush was president and were promptly slapped down by a sternly indignant Bush.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm outraged but nevertheless in this kind of screwy climate we're in why I expect it but I don't like it and I'm not going to respond other than to say it's a lie.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: In another time the press would know what to do with this kind of story, run it down, check it out, try to find out who is spreading the rumor and why, maybe even ask if it is true does it matter?

But this is our time and in this brave new world of instant communications, literally tens of millions of people will know about the story no matter what the networks and top tier newspapers do.

The press loves to talk about its gatekeeper function, separating fact from rumor from falsehood but the truth is this role of the media has been effectively wiped out. As this and countless other stories demonstrate, Aaron, there is no more gate.

BROWN: There aren't many editors out there either. Why don't you hang around? We've got some other folks to join in on the conversation. We'll take a break first and sort through all of this.

NEWSNIGHT continues in a moment from New York.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: A few moments ago, Jeff Greenfield did a terrific job of laying out what the Kerry story is and what it isn't and how it got that way. Jeff is with us. He's in Los Angeles.

In Washington with us tonight, Eric Dezenhall, who is a damage control consultant, which is one of the great titles of all time and also worked in the Reagan White House.

Chuck Todd edits "Hotline" which is pretty much the political gospel in Washington and, in Philadelphia tonight, Ellen Foley who is the managing editor of the "Philadelphia Daily News" one of just a couple of major papers by our reckoning that ran the story in today's or this morning's edition before the Kerry denial. We welcome all of you.

Ellen, let me start with you. What did you see in all of this that most of us honestly did not see yesterday?

ELLEN FOLEY, "PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS": Well, we believe that we are in the era of the smart reader and we believe that our readers can figure out what is going on and need the context of what they are hearing and seeing on the web, on the radio, and so we felt that we needed to go out with a story that went straight down the middle and gave our readers context.

BROWN: Did you advance the essential story at all? Were you able to advance that at all?

FOLEY: No.

BROWN: So, whatever Drudge had you went with?

GREENFIELD: Aaron, I don't hear Ellen.

BROWN: OK, I'll get you Jeff in a second. Hang on. You were not able to advance the Drudge part of the story at all?

FOLEY: No. As a matter of fact, the Drudge report was exactly what we were giving context to for our readers. We knew that many of them had seen it, had talked to their coworkers about it and we at one point referred to it as a breathless report, so that was really what we were doing.

BROWN: OK. Jeff, I'm not sure if you could hear Ellen so let me just paraphrase briefly what she said, which is it was out there. People were talking about it. We tried to give it, we at the newspaper tried to give it context. In your view is that good enough? OK, we lost Jeff. We'll see if we can get him back.

Chuck, let me go to you. As a political story here was there any way not to run it?

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR, "THE HOTLINE": It answers a professional audience. It's the media. It's people that practice politics. I do think it was kind of add for the people covering, for instance the Kerry campaign yesterday and this morning, how to not report on the fact that we know the Kerry campaign was in damage control mode yesterday.

So it was sort of this disconnect that people were reporting about the Kerry juggernaut rolling along picking up the Wesley Clark endorsement, which was all factually correct but, at the same time, we all know the Kerry campaign yesterday was in damage control mode trying to figure out where did this story come from? Why is it happening? You know for all sorts of reasons trying to figure out how to deal with this story.

BROWN: Should they have reported -- Chuck should they have reported that?

TODD: I would argue that you could have figured out a way. I think in this new media that the mainstream media may now have to take on an ombudsman role the way you have a regular ombudsman at newspapers, may have to take on this ombudsman role and say, OK, look this gossip is wrong.

And now because so many -- talk radio just repeats this stuff, you know six straight hours. If you have Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, six straight hours on the radio here in Washington this story was talked about on one of the biggest talk radio stations in town.

So, it's probably the responsibility of the mainstream media to debunk a story if it's not true when millions of people are hearing this stuff. It's probably some sort of new convergence that we have to figure out.

BROWN: Actually, I think the situations we found ourselves in yesterday is we couldn't debunk it and we couldn't prove it. We couldn't do anything. It was a rumor.

Jeff, I think you're back. Tell me you're back.

GREENFIELD: Yes.

BROWN: OK. Are we allowing by default in a sense the lowest common denominator of medial, the news business, to wag the larger dog, if you will?

GREENFIELD: We're allowing it because I don't think we know what to do.

And I think Chuck is on to something. I can remember a story a few years ago when people were spreading a vicious rumor about then House Speaker Tom Foley. And what the press did was to expose the leaker. And, actually, I think he wound up getting in a lot of trouble. In this case, since nobody really knows where the story is coming from -- or at least those who know won't say -- it puts the press in a very odd position.

The people who got the story may even know who the leaker is. But the press has a belief that you don't burn your sources. So, some of these people are in a position of kind of fooling around with the story or reporting that there is a rumor and not saying, and, by the way, here's the person we learned it from.

It gets very complicated. But what I think is, as I said, there is no gate. This stuff is out there. And whether we touch it or not, millions and millions of people know the story. And I think Chuck is right. We have to rethink this notion that we can somehow keep a story like this from getting out and instead try to run it to ground and find out why it is out there, is it true, and, if it's not, what is the motive, who is doing it.

BROWN: This logically then leads us to Eric.

Eric, what is on the table here is the notion, it seems to me, that, one way or another, we are going -- whether we run it or not, it is out there. And, at some point, the campaign has to respond to it. How do they respond to it?

ERIC DEZENHALL, AUTHOR: Well, we live in an age where alleging is believing.

Something doesn't have to be true. It simply has to be plausible. And, as Abraham Lincoln once said when he was considered with a rumor about him, for people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they will like. And we define democracy right now as -- and we always really have -- as our right to tear you down. And we want to see how well you take your beating.

In terms of what a clinician such as myself does, the first thing, general rule of thumb, is, if you are guilty, repent, if you are innocent, attack. And all crises are not created equal. The biggest cliche is that, if you are accused of something, you should just apologize and admit it. And I can tell you, in 20 years, I have never seen that really to be true.

In many cases, if you look at what happened to George W. Bush several years ago, where there was a very serious rumor that he had cocaine use when he was younger and it could bring down his presidency, all of the pundits said, he should just fess up. That is exactly what he did not do, and it worked.

BROWN: Yes.

DEZENHALL: What he ended up doing was simply saying, I am not going to go over every single chapter of my life. And if you don't like it, don't vote for me. And it did, indeed, go away.

BROWN: I'm curious if you think that that tactic worked because it took place in the context of the post-Lewinsky period?

DEZENHALL: I think that the reason why it worked is that there was really no body, OK?

And when you look at what has been called the bimbo eruption, you could have two type of bimbos. You could have a Gennifer Flowers type, who very much wants to be a rock star and who wants to dive in front of the camera, or you can have the kind of woman such as the one who came forward last year, who was exposed as having an affair with President Kennedy 40 years ago, who, by all accounts, was a very low- key person who led a private life.

When you are dealing with a classier personality, it's much easier to operate, because this person doesn't want to be a rock star. What is much harder is when you have people diving in front of the cameras. So, if I had someone like Kerry as a client, one of the first questions I would ask, in addition to, is it true or not -- and it may not be true at all -- is, what kind of personality are we dealing with, a rock star personality or somebody who wants to be private? Because the latter is better.

BROWN: One more question. I want to try and touch at least three of you, if I can, on this.

Jeff, let me start with you. Should it be news, in any case? Let's just hypothetically say there is a story about a politician having an extramarital affair. That is the story. There's no perjury. There's none of that nonsense that we dealt with in the Clinton years, just sex. Should we report it?

GREENFIELD: There is no -- as I said, who is the we?

BROWN: All right.

GREENFIELD: You know, as a former president once said, it depends on what the meaning of we is.

We don't have that role anymore. So it's going to be out there. And I think we have to figure out what to do in this world. If we don't report it, the other we will. And that's just the terrain on which politics and public policy and rumor is carried out right now. I just think that's the way it is, if I can quote Walter Cronkite.

BROWN: You can on this program any time.

Ellen, do you agree with that, that, even if it is not news-news, it's out there and we're going to report it any way?

FOLEY: Well, I think we have a very serious situation here.

We have a presidential candidate who -- we have a very small window here in which we can help the voters of America decide who gets to run for president. And if we're not out there pushing the story tomorrow, we do name this woman, who happens to be a journalist -- and she should come forward and tell us -- tell her story and to help us make the right decision in this country.

Of course we need to report this. Of course we need to help our smart readers figure out how to run the country.

BROWN: I'm not sure she has a responsibility to come -- just my opinion -- come forward and say anything. That would be entirely up to her.

Chuck, let me give you the last word here. Do you get the feeling that we are at the beginning of a campaign that we're going to remember for its nastiness and sordidness before it is all over?

TODD: Well, what is remarkable is, remember, two weeks ago, we were talking about how tame the Democratic primary was, how nobody was attacking each other.

All of a sudden, this week, we have, at the beginning of the week, a White House press secretary under siege and having to release dental records of the president about National Guard footage. And then now we have this with John Kerry. If this is what February is like, God only knows what the next eight months are going to be like.

BROWN: I'm with you on that.

All of you, thank you, interesting conversation. And I thank you very much. I have a feeling we'll be back with this at some point.

A few quick other notes before we head to break. In San Francisco, four men pleaded not guilty today to charges they illegal supplied steroids to big-name athletes, the attorney for one defendant calling it outrageous that none of the athlete have been charged, a question we raised yesterday. In Florida, new developments today in the case of Terri Schiavo. The appeals court in Florida has overturned a judge's decision in a lawsuit considering whether she should say on life support. This is a kind of an interim ruling. The rule, though, was a victory for Ms. Schiavo's parents, who very much want to keep her alive.

Sources say federal prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against Jeffrey Skilling. He's the former CEO of Enron -- "The Houston Chronicle" reporting, a grand jury could hand up indictments as early as next week.

Still to come on NEWSNIGHT, the M-word. Just what does marriage mean and how did it get that way?

For a Friday, around the world, this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: In San Francisco, for the second day in a row, dozens of gay couples lined up in front of City Hall to do what state law forbids them to do, get married.

Conservative groups tried to block that move, the marriage, with legal steps, another day in the bitter culture wars, but not by far the first such battle, just the latest on the battlefield. Who should be able to marry is a question asked and debated since this country's earliest days. Over time, the answer has changed and so did the notion of marriage itself.

We know you weren't expecting a sugary sweet valentine from us, instead a look at the union that designates two as one, and, in doing so, has the power to divide millions.

Here is NEWSNIGHT's Beth Nissen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Throughout America's history, marriage has been a paradox, a private statement of love and commitment, yet a public institution rooted in Christian tradition, regulated and encouraged by civil authorities.

Harvard professor Nancy Cott is the author of a comprehensive history of marriage in America.

NANCY COTT, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: When the English settled colonies in America, some of the very first laws these colonies established were about forming marriage, how marriage was to be solemnized, who could marry.

NISSEN: Who could marry and who could not marry. Throughout American history, those determinations have been made, debated, revised, changed over time by state governments.

COTT: States have limited access to marriage for a long time. Initially, it was mainly on the basis of age and how close a relative one was. Then, in the late 1800s, states started adding more reasons one couldn't marry. There were some constraints by some states placed on the so-called feeble-minded, on drunkards.

NISSEN: And, infamously, on the basis of race. Before the Civil War, it was illegal for slaves to marry.

COTT: They did not have the power to consent. They did not have basic natural rights. Their masters' rights over them superseded that.

NISSEN: For years after the Civil War, it remained illegal in many states, in the West and Midwest, as well as the South, for people of color to marry whites, although they could marry each other.

COTT: In 1930, there were still 30 states that had such laws. And, even in 1967, which was the date when the U.S. Supreme Court declared these laws unconstitutional, there were still states that had laws preventing marriage between a white person and a person of color.

NISSEN: Even with federal constitutional amendments, state marriage laws have always been a diverse patchwork, reflecting different regional attitudes, mores. Historically, says Professor Cott, only one description of marriage has been near universal.

COTT: What we call marriage in American law is a monogamous union. And the essence of monogamy in American marriage can be seen in the tremendous campaign against Mormon polygamy in the 19th century.

NISSEN: That fundamental American belief in monogamy is also reflected in the 20th century acceptance and legal recognition of unmarried couples living together and, say, historians is part of the drive toward recognizing committed, monogamous relationships between same-sex couples.

COTT: The major change in the 20th century has been that marriage does not mark the line between what is sexually moral and immoral. Marriage has become much more defined by the partners themselves.

NISSEN: Cott and other historians foresee additional debate and change in the marriage laws of other states, beyond Vermont and Massachusetts.

COTT: Marriage has remained a central part of our society, central institution, because it has been flexible and changed over time, not because it has been unchanging. It has always been reinterpreted, has adjusted to the times.

NISSEN: The mark of a healthy democracy, of a thinking society, of a free nation.

Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Ahead on NEWSNIGHT, she is no shrinking violet. Violet Palmer is the only female referee in the NBA. Her story is segment seven, after the break.

This is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The NBA's annual All-Star Game is this weekend. Many of you knew that. This is a story about someone you may not know in the NBA, a power broker of sorts, someone who calls the shots and can stand the heat. Throw in a cliche or two just for fun. There are more than 60 referees on the NBA staff. Violet Palmer is unique among them, truly a pioneer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VIOLET PALMER, NBA REFEREE: Hey, honey.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMER: Oh, that's a cute outfit.

BROWN (voice-over): In the tiny kitchen of her parents' home, Violet Palmer is unwinding, gushing over her 4-year-old niece.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMER: How was school today?

BROWN: And tells her mother what every mother loves to hear.

PALMER: I need these two days at home. Wow.

BROWN: At 39, Violet Palmer needs her family to relax, because this is her other family for six months a year. She is the only female referee in the NBA. In fact, she is the only female official working in any of the top professional sports in the United States.

PALMER: I'm not a fan. It's more of -- it's work for me. It's a profession. I work very, very hard at my craft. We all do.

BROWN: She has been on the job for seven years now and is hardened, even dismissive, of the language and the taunting that comes with the territory.

PALMER: When I first started, I think people were a little edgy, you know, as far as not knowing what to say. And the first thing, of course, they are going to direct something as far as my gender. I think now, they would say the same thing to you, like they would say to me, male, female. It doesn't matter. That's a horrible call. You can't see. You are blind. You need glasses.

BROWN: But Violet Palmer thinks there is another reason, a reason far away from basketball, that NBA players listen to her, respond, and pay attention. PALMER: Just being a woman. And maybe a lot of them -- I'm sure a lot of players in the league have single mothers that raised them.

So I think their first reaction to me was, whoa, maybe -- I just don't know where she is coming from. And I think the more they got to know me and just seeing me, night in, night out, it's just to a point where they treat me just like they would treat any one of the guys.

BROWN: A notion that at least some players agree with.

RASHARD LEWIS, SEATTLE SUPERSONICS: Just because of the fact she is a lady, she is a lady. And you have respect your elders. And you have to respect grown women. And I think a guy will hold his tongue back before he will say something to Violet.

BROWN: Violet Palmer was one of two female referees to break the gender barrier in the NBA. That was back in 1997. The other has since left because the league says she didn't have court presence, the ability to control the high-speed game played by huge athletes and coaches under great pressure to win.

NATE MCMILLAN, HEAD COACH, SEATTLE SUPERSONICS: I have gone at her pretty hard. I really don't treat her any different than I do the male officials. As I said, she is a lady. I recognize that. And I do try to give respect to all the officials, but I'm well aware of who I'm talking to.

BROWN: Violet Palmer believes she is successful because she is confident and athletic and focused and because her parents, now married for 54 years, have always provided her with a strong foundation. But her mind is on the game. Her mind is always on the game.

PALMER: Working on your game just has to be constant. You can't say, OK, well I can take this night off and work hard this night. Impossible.

Every single night, you have to go out and work as hard as you possibly can. And, in our minds, we automatically are trying to get every single play right. There's no question.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: An NBA story for NEWSNIGHT.

We'll take a look at morning papers and the tabloids after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(ROOSTER CROWING)

BROWN: Okeydokey, time to check the morning papers from around the country. And it's Friday, so we'll throw in a tabloid or two, though, a viewer wrote in and said we had already gone tabloid, so we might as well do the whole segment that way. Come on. Give us a break here. We're hardworking people.

"The San Francisco Chronicle." "Mad Dash to Get Hitched at City Hall. Two Groups Trying to Halt Same-Sex Unions Must Wait Until Tuesday." Monday is a holiday. What I thought was interesting about this, actually, is the picture. I just wondered -- I don't know the answer to this. I just wondered if any newspaper outside of San Francisco would put that picture on the front page? It's a perfectly interesting picture, a couple with their -- two men with their twin daughters, I guess, but provocative, I'm sure, for some.

"Philadelphia Inquirer" leads with a great picture. "Burst Gas Main Sends Flames Soaring." It's probably not a front-page story, but it's a front-page picture. "Dubious Claims By Iraqi Exiles." This story going to get a lot of attention. Was U.S. intelligence misled by Iraqi exiles, who wanted more than anything for the administration to go in and throw out Saddam Hussein?

One minute already. Oh, my goodness. Forget that one, then. And forget that one, then.

Let's just go to the tabloids. What do you say? Because this is a pretty impressive story, by the way, in "The Weekly World News." You wonder what has been going on, on the rover, you know, up there? "Alien Skulls Found on Mars." First of all, if they are on Mars, are they alien skulls? Who knows. "Top Secret Nasa Report: Ancient Astronauts Were Our Ancestors," it turns out.

A couple of others that I found particularly frightening. For example this one. Come on, Aaron. "Drunk Pilots Form New Airline." You want to fly on that airline? I was flying today. I don't think so, right?

How much time, Terry (ph)? I bet I'm out of time. Fifteen seconds. Can I get one more in? I saw it and now I can't find it. Don't you hate when you are doing the morning papers at home and that happens to you? Ah, here it is.

"Saddam's Prison Lover Tells All. U.S. Troops Find Genie Lamp in Hussein's Palace and it Works." There's two stores for you, you never find reported in the mainstream, corporate media.

We'll wrap up the day in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Before we go, another look at our top story, the White House tonight releasing what it says is the complete inventory of documents pertaining to the president's military service during the Vietnam era, about 400 pages worth. The administration says this should lay the story to rest. Democrats say that remains to be seen.

Monday night on this program, a town in Arizona dominated by a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon church, a town that still practices polygamy. Along with the intrigue among the elders, there are allegations from young women. They say have been forced into marriages. Now the authorities, at long last, some say, have finally taken an interest. That's Monday on NEWSNIGHT.

Happy Valentine's Day. Hope your weekend is terrific. Good night for us.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



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