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Interview With Michael Reagan

Aired June 23, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The intimate memories of an oldest son.

MICHAEL REAGAN, SON OF PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: You all loved him as president. I loved him as my dad.

ZAHN: Growing up in a family divided.

M. REAGAN: I had never said, dad, I love you.

ZAHN: And the long goodbye that finally brought them together.

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All in all, not bad, not bad at all.

M. REAGAN: I think he lasted so long so that the family could finally be together at the end.

ZAHN: Tonight, a moving conversation with Michael Reagan.


ZAHN: Good evening. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

Ronald Reagan's death 17 days ago triggered a week-long national tribute to our 40th president. We witnessed all of it on television, all of it except the private moments of grief within the family. Now, two and a half weeks later, the Reagan family is beginning to emerge from its mourning. And we are beginning to get a glimpse of what they went through.

Tonight, my conversation with President Reagan's oldest son, Michael, who gave such a moving eulogy to his dad.


M. REAGAN: Good evening. I'm Mike Reagan. You knew my father as governor, as president. But I knew him as dad. I want to tell you a little bit about my dad.

ZAHN (voice-over): They were poignant words dramatically delivered at sunset by Michael, Ronald Reagan's oldest son.

Ronald Reagan adopted me into his family 1945. I was a chosen one. I was the lucky one. And all of his years, he never mentioned that I was adopted either behind my back or in front of me. I was his son, Michael Edward Reagan.

ZAHN: Ronald Reagan and his first wife, Jane Wyman, adopted Michael when he was an infant. Despite the seemingly perfect family portrait, Ron and Jane divorced just four years later. Wyman kept custody of the children. Reagan remarried soon after, in 1952, to Nancy Davis. They went on to have their own children.

Michael complained in his 1988 memoir that he and his sister Maureen were raised by maids and nannies.

M. REAGAN: I was an angry kid. I didn't spend much time with my parents when I was growing up. I was put away in boarding schools.

ZAHN: During his teens, Michael returned home to live with his family. Later, he would join his father on the campaign trail during his runs for governor and in the 1980s during his presidential bid.

But despite appearances, there was a distance within the family. Some years later, when his father was elected president, Michael rarely visited the White House. President Reagan did not even meet Michael's daughter, Ashley, until she was 18 months old. Over the years, there were reports that Michael was estranged from other members of his family, especially from his sister Maureen and stepmother Nancy.

M. REAGAN: We're back, everybody.

ZAHN: In the 1980s, Michael found his own success and his own audience as a conservative radio talk show host in Southern California. He also forged a new relationship with his father.

M. REAGAN: You know, I had always griped about, my dad had never hugged me, never told me he loved me or anything. And then one day I woke up and said, when was the last time I told him I loved him. When was the last time I hugged him? I never had.

ZAHN: Ronald Reagan once wrote to his eldest son: "Mike, you know better than many what an unhappy home is and what it can do to others. Now you have a chance to make it come out the way it should. There is no greater happiness for a man than approaching a door at the end of the day knowing someone on the other side of that door is waiting for the sound of his footsteps. Love, dad. P.S., you'll never get in trouble if you say I love at least once a day," a love that ultimately brought the Reagans together, as their patriarch was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, together, in his final moments, together, as they said goodbye.

M. REAGAN: I was so proud to have the Reagan name and to be Ronald Reagan's son. What a great honor.


ZAHN: And Michael Reagan joins us now.

Always good to see you. Welcome.

M. REAGAN: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: How you holding up?

M. REAGAN: Holding up pretty well.

It's as well as I think can be expected. It's easier to hold up, though, when, you know, you have the support of a lot of friends and what have you. The cards and letters that we've gotten at our homes has been tremendous. And so, we spent a lot of time going through all the cards that we've gotten. And that's kind of a nice support system.

Our friends, some have made dinner for us and come over to the house. And so we're not like there alone just kind of dwelling on it, that we're able to be with some friends. That's nice. You find out who your friends are at a time like this.

ZAHN: You certainly do.

If you would, reflect on the week of your father's state funeral and the commemorations that strung up all over the country. What stands out in your mind?

M. REAGAN: There's a couple things that stand out, other than just the outpouring of people, which was absolutely tremendous.

There was a father and son -- the son was probably 4 years old -- standing in the median of the freeway as we drove from the library out to Point Mugu on that Wednesday before we went back to Washington, D.C., and the father and son standing at attention. I thought, here's a little boy who, no more than 4 years old, 5 years old. The only thing he knows about my father is what has been told to him by his dad.

And there they were, you know, saluting. The fire trucks on the overpasses of the freeway, with the firemen standing at attention on their trucks as the American flag was unfurled between their ladders was so, so moving to us. And, of course, all the outpouring of people between point A and point B, wherever that might be, it was tremendous to be able to see it and it had such a great effect I think on my children that Cameron and Ashley were able to really understand maybe for the first time how wonderful a grandfather they had and how much he meant to the world.

ZAHN: Your father was much beloved. And yet did some of this outpouring of support come as a surprise to you?

M. REAGAN: Oh, yes.

You expect some. I don't think we expected, any of us, the literally hundreds of thousands of people that would show up. You don't -- maybe you hope for it. People say, you know, we want to remember. But the way it was, the national day of mourning that the president of the United States made on that Friday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know, as he always said, that America's best days are ahead of us. But with Ronald Reagan's passing, some very fine days are behind us. And that is worth our tears.


M. REAGAN: The people from the cathedral, the National Cathedral, going out to Andrews Air Force Base or from Point Mugu to the library, yes, it was tremendous. And it was a tremendous surprise in many ways to us.

But, at the same time, it was such a great support system to us to be able to see it and just see the outpouring. I know it was -- it meant so much to Nancy and to myself and Patti and Ron, too.

ZAHN: There's been so much talk about that week neither being a Democratic moment or a Republican moment, but an American moment. If you would, share your thoughts with us tonight about that.

M. REAGAN: It truly was. It was an American moment. We just -- we were able to honor one of our presidents who had passed away.

And my father is one of those people that -- the only reason he got elected governor twice and president twice was because he was able to really reach across party lines. He was respected on both sides. People argued and debated his policies all the time. They always do. But, at the end of the day, everybody respected Ronald Reagan.

He was able to make friends out of his enemies. The fact that, at the National Cathedral, sitting behind my daughter, Ashley, and my son, Cameron, was Mikhail Gorbachev, who would have ever thought of that back in the early 1980s, when my father was referring to it as the evil empire, that, here, Mikhail Gorbachev would be at my father's state funeral?

And to see that and to be part of it and to see how America can come together at points in time and show respect and show honor for one of their fallen presidents, I thought was tremendous, that the world was able to see that, with all the arguments that take place in America because of our freedom of speech, that we can at times come together. And I think it was good for everybody to see.

ZAHN: It's one thing as a son to see a nation honor your father's legacy. But it's another thing to have delivered the deeply personal eulogy you delivered at the library. As a son, what got to your core the most?

M. REAGAN: Oh, the eulogy, talking about that. You know, I thought about that all week.


M. REAGAN: You knew my father as governor, as president. But I knew him as dad. I want to tell you a little bit about my dad.


M. REAGAN: What do I say?

How do I take 59 years of my life with my dad and put it into four or five minutes that I have and then I'm going first? And my worry was, how do I get through it? And all week long, we'd heard about my father, the president, what he had accomplished, Margaret Thatcher and President Bush and the other President Bush, and Mikhail Gorbachev, Mulroney and those people.

And I thought, I've got to tell them about my dad. I've just got to tell them about my dad, because you all loved him as president. I loved him as my dad. And I just wanted to get part of that out there, so people could see, with all the things that have been said about our family, how we have never been together, that we've gone apart or whatever, you know, there's one thing that's been consistent in this family. And you know it, Paula. We all love Ronald Reagan.

And I wanted to just bring that to the table and just tell you a little bit about him. And I was glad I was just able to get through it and be able to share it with the American people, my deep love for my father and what he had done for me and what he had given me that maybe I didn't see when I was younger, but I certainly saw and respected as I got older.

ZAHN: You told this beautiful story about one family turning into two when your parents got divorced and the sense of anticipation you would have on weekends when you could see your father, Ronald Reagan, rounding the corner to come spend time with you.

M. REAGAN: Interesting enough, it's not more than a half a mile from where he was living when he passed away, just down Beverly Glen. And I was boarding at school. When I was 5 1/2 years old, I started boarding school.

My sister was already in boarding school before me. And I missed my mom and my dad. I missed my dad terribly, because my mom and dad broke up when I was 3. But, on Saturdays, that was the day I got to be with my dad. And, you know, and I would just sit there on the curb at 333 South Beverly Glen and wait for that station wagon to turn the corner and wait for him to pull up with a smile on his face and tell me to get in the car.

And Maureen and I would pile into the car. And we'd play a game called beaver, going out to the ranch and coming back. And beaver was, any station wagon that had wood sides. Back in the 1950s, there was woodies. And so, if it had a wood side, it was beaver, beaver. And dad always kept count in his head. And by the time we got almost to the ranch or almost home, he'd figure out who was ahead, who was behind, and he would play on -- whoever was behind, he would play on their team.

And whenever we ended the trip, it would be a tie. It would just end up to be a tie. And that was the games we played, you know, in the car going to and from the ranch. And, of course, we'd get out to the ranch and swim and ride horses or just, as I said, sit and watch him. But Saturdays was the day to be with my dad. And, boy, I loved it.

ZAHN: Well, we all could learn parental lessons from your father. Always ended in a tie.

Michael, if you wouldn't mind standing by, we're going to take a short break here and continue our conversation.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Welcome back.

We continue my conversation now with Michael Reagan.

Michael, you mentioned one thing before we went to the break. And you talked about some of the friction that has existed in your family over the years. And you said, there was one unifying factor in your family. And that was the love of your father. Help us better understand the journey your family took to get to that point.

M. REAGAN: Well, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that he had a terrible disease, Alzheimer's disease, incapacitated, not able to be the father to us that he once was, not able to maybe recognize it, since he wasn't able to recognize us at the very end.

And we all watched him go through this. And, you know, all of a sudden, he was the child and we were the parent. It puts a new perspective on things. And that was important to all of us. And seeing Nancy, who, you know, we've all kind of, you know, had our relationships, been with her, been against her over the years, who, you know, in many ways was reaching out and taking care of dad as she was, you know, 24 hours a day and having the nurses and the doctors there.

I was so lucky and so happy, Paula, that I was able to, before dad got so deep into the Alzheimer's, to get our relationship really where it should have been. You heard me talk about the hugs. And, certainly, those hugs just meant a whole lot to both of us in his final years, and me, as even I kissed and hugged him in his casket there at the library, the Rotunda, and back at the library here a couple of weeks ago.

Patti was able to finally find her way back into the fold and have that relationship with Nancy and finally build a relationship, even though dad was in Alzheimer's, with her dad and understand who he was and what he was and how important he was. And that was just wonderful to see, so that I think dad would have wanted it the way it ended.

He would have asked and said, gosh, who are all these people out here for, and been surprised at the outpouring of love for him, because he never patted himself on the back. But I think he would have been proud and smiling -- and I think he was -- when we laid him to rest, because his family was together, his wife, his Nancy, his daughter, Patti, his son Ron and his other son, Michael.

I think that would have made him so proud. And I think that was a -- I think that was a great gift to be able to give dad at the end, send him off having the kids all together, all loving him, and all surrounding Nancy there at the casket.

ZAHN: Given the amount of tension you described over the years, were you surprised you were able to get to that point? A lot of families don't. They don't heal that way.

M. REAGAN: I think because a lot of families, Paula, wait for somebody else to make the first move. They sit back so often and say, well, I'm right. They're wrong. They owe me a phone call.

I felt that same way. That's why I can say that. And I remember, it was back in early 1990s, '91, I was feeling the same way, and my dad, who never told me he loved me or that he really cared about me. I knew he did, but he never said it. And I needed it voiced to me. And one day, literally, I was praying about it. And it was like God spoke to me and said, Michael, when was the last time you told your dad you loved him?

And I realized, in my whole life, until 1991, Paula, I had never told my dad I loved him.

ZAHN: Really?

M. REAGAN: He knew I loved him, but I had never said, dad, I love you.

ZAHN: Why do you think that is, Michael?

M. REAGAN: I don't know. Maybe because he never said it to me, so I never learned to say it back to him.

ZAHN: Now, why don't you think he told you he loved you?

M. REAGAN: I think he comes from a generation where it's hard for a guy to tell another guy, I love you. I think that's tough for his generation sometimes.

And so I swore, the next time I saw him, I would give him a hug and tell him I love him. And he came down to my radio show in San Diego, KSDO. And he came in to be interviewed by me for his book, "An American Life." And when he walked into the green room, I got up and I went in there to greet him. And I put my arms around him for the first time and I gave him a hug. And I said, dad, I love you.

And the first time in my life, he said to me, and I love you, too. And I began the process of hugging him. Every time I saw him, I would hug him and tell him I love him. And then, Paula, as he went deeper and deeper into Alzheimer's, he could no longer voice my name. He would recognize me with his eyes. I was the man -- when he saw me, I was the guy that hugged him. And he would open his arms to me, waiting for that hug hello or the hug goodbye.

And one time, as I left the house with my wife, Colleen, and I was almost to the car, Colleen said to me, Michael, you forgot something. I said, what? She said, turn and look at the doorway. And I turned to look at the door of the house there in Bel Air. And he had followed me all the way from the den, not able to voice my name.

Here he is. And he's all the way. And he had followed me. And here he was standing in the doorway of his house with his arms opened up, waiting for that hug I had forgotten. And I ran back. And I just gave him the hug. It was such a blessing.

And it was me that looked inward and said, what can I do to change the dynamic, instead of saying what should he do to change the dynamic. And once I made the decision that I was going to change, everything changed.

ZAHN: And because you were able to get to this point where there was a reconciliation or at least the acceptance of each other's love, what is it, then, that you will miss the most about your father?

M. REAGAN: Stories, the great stories he used to tell us all, just life stories about, you know, whatever it was, tell us how a watch was made, or a simple little story when I was a kid, Paula.

He took a cube of sugar one day, and he opened up a cube of sugar and he said, you see this little tear in the paper? And I said, yes. He says, do you know that when they originally started putting paper around cubed sugar, it would disintegrate within the paper. And some guy came along and said, you have to put a slit in the paper to allow air to get to it and that way it will stay in solid form.

You know, that happened to me about the time I was 5. To this day, I open up every cube of sugar paper and I look to see if there's a tear in the paper. And you know, most of the time...

ZAHN: Who knew? Ronald Reagan, the scientist.

M. REAGAN: Most of the time, there is.

But he would jest tell us stories about so many things, about life, a story -- he sat Maureen and I down, Maureen, who you knew -- he sat Maureen and I down when we were 12 years old, her 12, and four years later, me, and said, let me tell you about smoking and drinking. It's a bad, terrible thing for you. But I'm willing to do this for you, kids. When you turn 21, if you haven't smoked or drank, I'll give you $500. Well, that was a lot of money.

ZAHN: Sure.


ZAHN: A windfall.

M. REAGAN: Maureen thought, $500. So I think Maureen made it to like 13 or 14.


M. REAGAN: I don't know.

ZAHN: And how about you, Michael? Did you make it to 14 or 15?

M. REAGAN: I made it until 18.

ZAHN: Good.

M. REAGAN: But I felt the lesson was, he never was going to have to write the check. However, he figured that the more mature we were when we started, the better we would be able to handle it.

So, I did the same thing with my kids, but I raised the ante, figuring, with inflation, you never have to write the check. I just wrote a check to my daughter for $5,000 on her 21st birthday because she didn't smoke or drink. And so...

ZAHN: Way to go, dad.

M. REAGAN: ... the beat goes on. And, yes, I had to write the check. She took the check, too. And she didn't smoke or drink until she was 21, which is great.

Now, I don't know if the story had anything to do with it, but the fact, she didn't. But it was something my dad handed to me. And I said, that's a great story.

ZAHN: Michael, if you wouldn't mind standing by, we're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll talk about a controversy the Reagan family is right in the middle of, the heated stem cell debate.


ZAHN: Welcome back, as we continue my conversation now with Michael Reagan.

Michael, let's talk about Nancy Reagan for a moment. There's a lot of speculation that she will become actively involved in the battle to push for stem cell research. What kind of a role do you think she'll play, particularly when there is such a tough balancing act with where the Republican Party stands on this issue?

M. REAGAN: Well, she'll be a lightning rod because of who she is. I mean, she'll be a lightning rod, as people are already, you know, finding out.


NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: We can't share the wonderful memories of our 52 years together, and I think that's probably the hardest part. And because of this, I'm determined to do what I can to save other families from this pain. (END VIDEO CLIP)

M. REAGAN: She took care of her husband for 10 years. She knows what it is to deal with someone who has this disease. So, you know, give her the leeway.

And I think people trying to play politics are doing a disservice to everybody. Understand where she's coming from. And you have to be there.

ZAHN: Sure.

M. REAGAN: You have to have been there and had to deal with this 24 hours a day to understand where she's coming from. So, now is not the time to play politics with it. It's time to say, hey, Nancy, we understand.

ZAHN: So, basically, Michael, what you're telling us tonight is, she's willing to take the risk in alienating other Republicans to push for what she thinks so is the right thing?

M. REAGAN: To her, it's not a Republican-Democrat issue. It's a life issue. That's exactly, you know, what it is. And, listen, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to go up to Nancy and say, gosh, you're absolutely wrong. You've got to take a political stand on this.

No, that's -- I'm not going to ask her to do this. Listen, she took enough political stands during her life, being married to the 40th president of the United States of America. I think they've proven their worth to the world, to America, that we live in. It's a better place, you know, because of it. I'll be the one that takes political stands. I'll do that and enjoy doing it and understand both sides at the same time.

ZAHN: And, finally, your family had to endure so much as you basically watched your father so slowly disintegrate in front of you. Just a thought to the audience -- many of our audience members are confronting this disease as well -- as what the hardest part was for you to confront of all this.

M. REAGAN: Just watching someone you love go through it, that's the hardest part, somebody so vibrant, so alive, a little bit of that person going away each and every day. That's very tough to be able to watch.

And you do. You find yourself praying that, you know, it's time to go. You can leave now. And you sit back and say, why did he last so long? And I think he lasted so long, so that the family could finally be together at the end.

ZAHN: Well, Michael, thank you very much for sharing your time with us tonight. It's always a pleasure to see you. And best of luck to you, as your family tries to understand the enormity of what's happened to you over the last 10 years.

M. REAGAN: Thank you so much. ZAHN: Thanks, Michael. Take care.

M. REAGAN: Bye-bye.

ZAHN: We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Suspected Iraqi terrorists may be targeting interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Today through a Web based audio message a voice claiming to be insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi threatens to assassinate the prime minister. Messages like this one, as well as videotapes of kidnap victims who were eventually murdered have been getting a lot of airplay lately.

Bruce Burkhardt takes a look at whether they're getting too much attention.


BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a question that dogs journalists every time terrorists do what they do. What should be reported and shown, and what shouldn't?

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We are now being told that this man that was abducted last week has been killed.

BURKHARDT: The basic problem that no journalist can escape is this. Terrorism is only as effective as the number of people who are aware of it. By reporting an act of terrorism, do we further the terrorists' objectives?

MARVIN KALB, PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: The journalist is in a sense trapped in the modern world of journalism. He's got to do his job, but at the same time, he knows, she knows, that she is being used. Journalists have been used forever and a day. This is not new.

BURKHARDT: Starting with the beheading of Daniel Pearl and continuing with Nicholas Berg and Paul Johnson and most recently the South Korean, the intention is to shock and horrify. It worked.

HOWARD KURTZ, MEDIA CRITIC, "WASHINGTON POST": I've been grappling with this question for weeks. Obviously, these brutal killings have to be covered.

But I wonder when cable goes wall-to-wall and we all run the pictures on the front pages and do the interviews with the families, whether we're not somehow playing into the terrorists' hands, whether we're not giving them what they want, which is helping them to spread a message of fear.

BURKHARDT: It's a problem that haunts all forms of media, but now that terrorists have begun to exploit video, the dilemma is especially acute for TV news, even more so for 24/7 news operations like CNN. The impact of moving pictures and sound is so much greater than a newspaper story or photo.

KALB: You come out with news on cable television every hour, every minute, all day long, so repetition, which is part of the business of 24/7 news, adds to the impact that the terrorist is having.

BURKHARDT: The public's right to know versus being used by terrorists. Competitive pressures versus professional and ethical choices. In these difficult times, issues that every news organization is wrestling with.


ZAHN: That was Bruce Burkhart.

So, should the media show images of terrorist beheadings and other propaganda? Joining us now from Tampa to discuss this, Bob Steele of the Poynter Institute. He is the institute's senior faculty in ethics, and has ethics and critical thinking workshops for more than 75 newspapers, television stations, and other media groups.

Welcome, Bob. Good to see you.


ZAHN: First of all, would you agree it is our obligation to talk to the public about the consequences of war, both positive and negative?

STEELE: Journalists have a duty to help the public understand as best as possible those issues and events that have to do with war and terrorism. We should tell stories about heroism.

We should tell stories about the horror, and we should tell the stories about the consequences of war, when there's success, when there's failure, when there are things that are so painful that it's difficult to stomach.

But we need to be able to tell those stories for citizens to understand and for the citizens to then hold their government accountable.

ZAHN: Does that mean, then, if you feel it's our obligation to share with the public things that are difficult to stomach, then we should be showing these beheadings publicly?

STEELE: There are a number of ways in which we can tell the stories about these beheadings. They are particularly barbaric and gruesome. I don't believe that it's necessary to show the act itself of the beheading or the immediate consequences of it. I think that virtually anyone can envision what takes place at that moment.

I think there are ways with words and other images that we can set the scene, and we can describe what happened so that viewers and readers, listeners across the country, around the world, can understand without having to see the moment itself, because I think the moment is so gruesome it would be overwhelming. It would also be distracting and keep people from understanding the fuller context of the story.

ZAHN: I would think most people in our audience probably agree with you on that point, and yet there are a number of web sites that you can log onto today and you can still witness Daniel Pearl's killings, Nicholas Berg's and of course, the killing we believe happened earlier this week.

Do you think the Internet should be held to the same standard as broadcast organizations and newspapers?

STEELE: I think all journalists should be held to the same professional and ethical standards. There are choices that are made in terms of not only what we provide in terms of content but also the method of delivery.

The Internet provides some different options, because individuals have to search in different ways. They don't get hit in the face with something as they do on television. They don't get hit in the face as they do with a newspaper.

That said, I think those who produce anything to go on the Internet should recognize the weight of those images and make sure that they are not using those images for reasons that are not substantive journalistically and not using them in ways that would cause profound harm to vulnerable people.

ZAHN: But do you think they are exercising that power responsibly? You know, you could go onto the Drudge Report; there are any number of web sites where you can log on and see this horror.

STEELE: Well, that is true and I think many of these individuals who run these web sites are not journalists in a traditional sense. They don't carry out their work in the same way that journalists have for decades. They do not produce and present the information with the same standards that those of us who work in mainstream journalism would.

It doesn't mean that there is zero value in what these individuals do, but as citizens, we have to recognize that those who present information on these web sites are not driven by the same purposes, by the same duty, and by the same standards as journalists traditionally have used to guide them.

ZAHN: What are they driven by, then?

STEELE: Well, I think in some cases, they're driven by their own personal egos, in some cases by their own motivations, in some cases ideological bent may drive them to do it. In some cases they may be prurient in their own particular interests. In some cases they may not even be thinking at all, and they may just do it because they're robots.

ZAHN: So what kind of judgment do you make of people who log on to specifically see someone being beheaded? STEELE: Well, I think that before anybody makes that choice, you should ask very hard questions of yourself about why you're doing it, what your personal motivation is, and what the weight would be of seeing that. It has emotional and psychological weight that is often profound.

I can imagine there may be some that would do it. Some of my colleagues in journalism have looked at those sites in order to assess what they can see, in order to make a better determination of whether there is any legitimacy in using that image or those video images.

I think that's a reasonable choice, but I think there are very few other reasons why anybody would want to do it legitimately.

ZAHN: Well, I think we have made the informed choice here at CNN not to show those graphic images. And I think what you said earlier is true, that you can tell these stories graphically through some pretty pointed words.

Bob Steele, thanks for your insights tonight.

STEELE: You're welcome, Paula.

ZAHN: Appreciate it.

And when we come back, compassionate politics. The Bush campaign rolls out the familiar scenes. And politics, Hollywood style, feeling the heat from "Fahrenheit 9/11."


ZAHN: President Bush and Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry are trying to convince you that they care a whole lot, and today each candidate campaigned on opposite coasts.

Senator Kerry was in California to tout his health care plan, and during his speech in San Francisco, he criticized President Bush's health care agenda and promised to fight for stronger patients' rights.

Kerry also took aim at a Supreme Court decision Monday that limits patients' lawsuits against HMOs.

This week President Bush's campaign has been promoting his so- called "compassionate agenda."

In Philadelphia today Mr. Bush proposed an increase in funding to fight AIDS. He says he will ask for $17.5 billion in AIDS-related spending for the next fiscal year.

Joining us now to discuss the campaign trail from Washington, "TIME" magazine columnist and regular contributor Joe Klein, Judy Woodruff, anchor of CNN's "INSIDE POLITICS," and congressional correspondent Ed Henry.

Glad to have all of you with us tonight. So, Judy, we know how effective this conservative or compassionate conservative agenda was in the year 2000. What is going to work this time around?

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": Well, you're right, it worked for George W. Bush in 2000. None other than Bill Clinton complimented him on it this week.

In the book, the Clinton book, he says, "When I heard George W. Bush talking about compassionate conservatism, I knew he had found something that was going to be successful for him."

George W. Bush is doing very well right now with his conservative base. The voters he has got to work on, though, are the moderates, those folks in the middle who swing back and forth from one election to the next.

They have heard some things in recent weeks, they're concerned about. Iraq has not been going well; his position on stem cell research, a hard-line position on that, on banning gay marriage.

All of those things, I think, raises doubts in the votes of some moderates and he's doing everything he can, I think, to try to turn them around.

ZAHN: So just how effective do you think that strategy will be, Joe Klein, to go after the middle here?

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, I think that that's obviously what they're trying not only with the compassionate agenda, but also with his appearance with Bill Clinton last week in the White House where he lavished praise on him.

The problem here is, and I have to say that this was one of the first ways that I got to know George W. Bush, because he was really interested in faith-based social programs and was doing them very successful in Texas.

There were a lot of people in the faith community who hoped that he was going to use that and make those programs prominent when he became president. It just hasn't worked out that way. And in fact Bush has cut funding for a lot of the social policy inner city sorts of programs that are the compassionate agenda.

So I think that it's going to be a much tougher sell this time, and, you know, it's a kind of fool me twice, shame on me, situation for him.

ZAHN: Sure. And let's talk now, Judy, about the president's not-so-secret weapon in his wife, Laura Bush, who will be making some campaign swings through swing states, along potentially with her daughters campaigning in critical areas.

WOODRUFF: That's right. And, Paula, I think before you say anything about Laura Bush, and you're right, not-so-secret weapon, she's a very effective campaigner for her husband, especially when you consider the fact that when she started out in his political career, she was not looking forward to public speaking. She has become a very effective public speaker.

What you see when you look at the polls right now is a gender gap. More women are supporting John Kerry, more men are supporting George W. Bush. And part of the Bush campaign's effort to reach out to women is to use Laura Bush.

Not only to reach out to women voters but, frankly, to soften the president's image with moderate voters overall, the group of voters we were just talking about. Having her with him softens him up.

ZAHN: Let's talk, Joe Klein, now about what John Kerry has to do as he trots out his health care plan, promising affordable health care for all Americans.

How will he try to hold on to this traditional Democratic base when it comes to the issue of compassionate?

KLEIN: Well, I think that, you know, he's just going to sell his health care plan, and point out to the fact that President Bush, aside from prescription drugs for the elderly, which is in itself a controversial program, the president hasn't done anything to expand the number of Americans who have access to affordable health care.

The stuff that he's doing this week is nothing new. He's done it in the past. But one thing viewers of CNN will see is that there a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Kerry health care ads on right now, which tells me that the Kerry advisers feel that this is very fertile ground for them in their contest against the president.

ZAHN: Of course, the one big variable in all of this is whether Ralph Nader will, in fact, live up to his promise to run.

Ed Henry, there have been some heated meetings over the last week or so, and one in particular yesterday where some Democrats have tried to convince Ralph Nader to get out. Bring us up to date on that.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Democrats feel that they were asleep at the switch in 2000. They got a wake-up call when Ralph Nader may have tipped the election to George W. Bush.

So what we're seeing now is traditional allies of Nader are saying they're not going to let it happen again. And that meeting you mentioned yesterday, the Congressional Black Caucus, a lot of members in that caucus, traditional friends of Ralph Nader, called him in last night, and reporters outside the room could hear screaming and shouting literally from these Black Caucus members saying, "Get out."

In fact, one Black Caucus member put it in very colorful language I probably shouldn't repeat on the air but basically said, "Get your rear end out of this race."

And so you're seeing other allies, as well, like trial lawyers, who have been on some of the consumer crusades of Ralph Nader also privately putting heavy pressure on Nader and some of his campaign team.

At least that's what Democratic leaders up here are telling us. These trial lawyers are putting maybe even some of their money behind these anti-Nader efforts and putting a lot of pressure on Nader to get out, because they realize he could be the factor that determines some of these battleground states like Arizona, Florida, once again in 2004.

ZAHN: All of that may be true, Ed Henry, but let's go to Judy now. Judy, you've interviewed Ralph Nader, as I have; so has Joe Klein. And he says under no circumstances will he get out of the race.

Do you think this effort on behalf of congressional Democrats and trial lawyers will work?

WOODRUFF: Every time I talk to Ralph Nader, he looks me in the eye as I'm sure he's looked you in the eye, and he says, "I'm in this race until the finish."

He argues vigorously that his candidacy is all about something different, that it's not about hurting John Kerry, that he is out there to hurt George Bush as much as anybody.

Clearly a lot of Democrats don't believe that, they want him out of the race, as you just heard Ed reporting. But I don't see any indication that Ralph Nader is getting out and that's why I think Democrats are really worried.

ZAHN: Joe Klein, you get the last word tonight, briefly. Do you think absolutely he'll run?

KLEIN: I think that he probably will. I think that Democrats are worried that his votes will tip one or two states. Doesn't take very many votes to do that.

The key thing here is, aside from his running mate, I haven't heard anybody but Republicans tell Ralph Nader they want him to run. No Democrat has, no liberal has, not even his allies in magazines like "The Nation" and other kind of left-liberal publications.

ZAHN: Very good point. Joe Klein, Judy Woodruff, Ed Henry, thank you all. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, from the campaign trail to the multiplex, the political firestorm set off by Michael Moore's new film "Fahrenheit 9/11."


ZAHN: Provoking people and creating controversy are filmmaker Michael Moore's specialties, and he's managed to do both with his latest documentary, which opened today in New York City and opens across the country on Friday.

"Fahrenheit 9/11" is a scathing look at the Bush administration's war on terror and the war in Iraq.

Jason Carroll reports.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's got all the hype of a summer blockbuster. Kudos at Cannes, celeb arrivals in Los Angeles and New York, voices on the left and right strutting the same red carpet.

All for a documentary? You bet.

Michael Moore is back, taking aim at President Bush and his administration in "Fahrenheit 9/11."

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: You're going to laugh a lot. You're going to cry. And you're going to leave I think feeling that, damn it, you know, this is a great country and it's ours and we should do something about it.

Trying to get members of Congress to get their kids to enlist in the Army, and go over to Iraq.

CARROLL: Its premise: the United States is led by an incompetent president who led the country into a war that should not have been fought.

So controversial, Disney backed off from distributing it and made Miramax do the same.

It's R-rated, despite a personal plea from former New York governor Mario Cuomo for a more appealing PG-13.

MOORE: I encourage teenagers everywhere to sneak in and see this movie.

CARROLL: Challenging with biting humor. It's more style, and there's plenty of it in "Fahrenheit 9/11."

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers.

Thank you. Now watch this drive.

CARROLL: Famed Sci Fi author Ray Bradbury isn't laughing upset the film's title borrows from his classic book about book burning, "Fahrenheit 451."

RAY BRADBURY, AUTHOR: It's very simple; I'd like him to return my title.

CARROLL: Critics say the documentary is less about facts, more about politics, but ultimately audiences will decide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Moore presents himself in a very one- sided way. CARROLL (on camera): Did the film change anyone's opinion after seeing it? Did you go in -- Did anyone here go in...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't a question of changing. It revealed the truth...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd love to see more theaters show what he has to say about it. I would love that.

CARROLL: A spokesman for the president called it typical Hollywood, and in response's Moore's hope his film will sway the election, he says, "The voters want fact not fiction when they cast their ballots."

Another controversial filmmaker put it in perspective.

SPIKE LEE, FILMMAKER: It's not that you have to agree with everything that's in the film. That's not the point. The point is that issues are raised, and people come out of the theater talking and discussing about what they just saw.

CARROLL: Plenty of that going on already.


ZAHN: And that was Jason Carroll. Well, love him or hate him, Michael Moore will probably get a pretty good audience this weekend.

We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us this evening. Thanks so much for being with us tonight.

Tomorrow, the story of a terrified American worker who wants to leave Saudi Arabia. Even though the U.S. says he should, his employer wants to penalize him. He will tell his story tomorrow.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Again, thanks for dropping by tonight. Good night.


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