The Web      Powered by
powered by Yahoo!


Return to Transcripts main page


New Terror Alert Issued; Interview With NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly; Atlanta Woman is Voice Behind the Voicemail

Aired July 8, 2004 - 20:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Again, a nationwide terror warning.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Credible reporting now indicates that al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States.

WOODRUFF: Al Qaeda getting closer to a strike.

RIDGE: This is sobering information about those who wish to do us harm.

WOODRUFF: But no increase in the threat level, no hard information, and no details.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is scary. And I will take -- you know, I will watch the news more and pay attention to what's going on more.

WOODRUFF: The U.S., on alert and on edge again.


WOODRUFF (on camera): Good evening and thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff. Paula has the night off.

Americans have, once again, heard another disturbing warning from the administration about al Qaeda's determination to attack the U.S., about how it may be working to, quote, "disrupt the democratic process." A senior U.S. intelligence official has told CNN there is a, quote, "very strong body of intelligence indicating that al Qaeda wants to strike and strike soon."

But where and how? Today, the Department of Homeland Security offered few new details about al Qaeda's plans.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge raised renewed concerns today about a possible terror attack against the nation, but did not raise the color-coded threat level.

RIDGE: These are not conjectures or mythical statements we are making. These are pieces of information that we can trace comfortably to sources that we deem to be credible.

WOODRUFF: Information, Ridge says, that al Qaeda plans a major attack in the United States (AUDIO GAP) November's presidential election, evoking memories of Spain. The terrorist train bombing in Madrid earlier this year unleashed such strong sentiment that it swept Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar from office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The common consensus is that it altered the course of that election. Both conventions are directed ultimately to the election of the president of the United States. That seems to be a very opportune time to engage in that kind of activity.

WOODRUFF: But Secretary Ridge says he has no specific information about threats to the upcoming political conventions.

RIDGE: I've designated these events national special security events.

WOODRUFF: State and local security agencies have plans already in motion around the convention sites in New York and Boston. Manhole covers will be welded shut, mailboxes and trash cans removed, hotel ventilation systems monitored for chemicals. And the Coast Guard will patrol the harbors.

JIM WALSH, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Well, you know, I live in Boston, in greater Boston. And this is going to host -- our city is going to host one of the conventions. I think it probably sets people on edge, and it doesn't really tell them very much. I think that's the major problem with this sort of warning.

RAYMOND KELLY, NYC POLICE COMMISSIONER: I think the secretary was just carrying out his role in making certain that the public is -- continues to be focused on the issue.

WOODRUFF: There have been a number of warnings in the past, some quite controversial. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in May...

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Multiple sources indicates that al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. Now, this disturbing intelligence indicates al Qaeda's specific intention to hit the United States hard.

WOODRUFF: Despite the warning, the nation's color-coded threat was not raised, causing ordinary Americans to question the integrity of the system.

DAVID HEYMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think it confuses them and, frankly, angers them because they don't know what to expect from their government. What's the credible thing that they're supposed to be responding to?

WOODRUFF: Today's announcement, some terror experts say, is likely to create the same kind of confusion.

WALSH: I think we need to be clear here. We need to draw a distinction between vague warnings that don't give people much to go on and really giving them information.


WOODRUFF: And joining me now to talk about this latest terror warning is New York City's police commissioner, Raymond Kelly.

Commissioner Kelly, thank you for being with me.

KELLY: Good to be with you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, no specific credible evidence that the terrorists are targeting New York or Boston, no rise in the color- coded threat level, but credible reporting that al Qaeda is moving forward with a plan to carry out a large-scale attack before the election. Am I wrong to be confused?

KELLY: Well, I can understand some confusion, but I think all your statements are correct.

There is credible information from multiple sources about an intention on the part of al Qaeda to do something disruptive, to have an attack during the election season. But again, it lacks specificity. This has been the frustration that we've experienced since September 11th. With all of these warnings, we get no specific information. Certainly, a frustration for the public, I understand that, but one for law enforcement as well.

WOODRUFF: But if there is -- if there's no specificity, then what was the point of today's announcement?

KELLY: Well, I think Secretary Ridge wants to keep the public focused on the fact that there is a threat out there. As he said today, that the threat is certainly not diminished -- if anything, it has increased during this period leading up to the election.

But you know, because we haven't been attacked here since September 11th, there is a concern, I think, of complacency setting in. The secretary sees that as his role, I think, to make certain that we have the appropriate focus on the part of the public.

WOODRUFF: But again, if there's credible information that an attack is being planned, why not raise the color-coded threat level?

KELLY: Well, I think there are some issues with the color-coded levels, as your setup piece said. I think is there an intention on the part of Homeland Security or the federal government to put that in a more specific area, you might say, as far as the geographical locations in the country.

I think it's lost some of its benefit if you do it just for the nation as a whole. So, there is a -- you can see, a certain hesitancy on the part of the federal government to raise the threat level. We haven't had that done now in quite a while now.

WOODRUFF: Did I hear you correctly? You have or have not been contacted by Secretary Ridge or someone at Homeland Security today or yesterday?

KELLY: No, Secretary Ridge got the law enforcement community on a conference call last evening and put information out essentially stating what he's stated today. And no new information, but you know, this period of time is now compacting.

We got these threats in March. Now, the period of time is getting, as I say, compacted shorter, so it was the secretary's intention to just raise people's awareness of the fact that the threat is still very much out there and the election season is certainly upon us.

WOODRUFF: I gather you said today or recently that you need something like $76 million to make New York City safe for the convention. Are you going to have the resources you need to make the city safe?

KELLY: We're going to do everything that has to be done to make the convention and make the city safe. We'd like to have more federal money, certainly. But Mayor Bloomberg has certainly directed me to make certain that we do everything that's necessary to protect the city and the convention.

WOODRUFF: We mentioned some of the things you're doing -- locking down those manhole covers and things like that. Are there other things you're doing that you can talk about to make the skies, to make the ports safer?

KELLY: Well, we do a whole host of things. There certainly will be combat air patrols in the air during the convention. We utilize what we call critical response teams that are deployed throughout the city. We use as many as 100 police vehicles on particular operations to saturate particular areas of the city.

We've increased our uniform coverage, our plainclothes coverage in our transit system. We have heavily armed group of officers that move on an unannounced basis throughout the city. We're working closely with our federal partners, certainly with the Secret Service in planning for the convention, with the FBI on a daily basis with our joint terrorist task force. So, an awful lot is being done here in the city.

WOODRUFF: Commissioner Kelly, bottom line: Should Republicans and their supporters and friends still feel entirely comfortable about coming to New York City for their convention?

KELLY: Absolutely. We're doing everything we reasonably can do. I mean, our world has changed since 9/11. Everybody recognizes that. But New York, I think, certainly can do it as well or better than any other municipality in the world.

We have the best cops in the world. We're working closely with, as I say, our federal partners. I think they should feel very comfortable in coming to New York.

WOODRUFF: But you used the word frustration a couple of times. Are you frustrated?

KELLY: Well, we'd like to have more specific information. Everybody would, but that's just not what we're getting. Our intelligence community is not generating that type of information.

And certainly our enemy, they know that we're looking for information, so they compartmentalize as far as their disseminating of their information among their people. So, we may have one little piece of information that fits into a much bigger puzzle, but we don't see of course the whole picture. And I think that's pretty much what's happening.

When we say there is credible information out there, the information that we have is credible, but it doesn't give you the entire picture. And that's what leads to the frustration.

WOODRUFF: We hear you. Commissioner Ray Kelly, the Police Commissioner of New York City, thank you very much.

KELLY: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: It's always good to talk to you. We appreciate it.

When we return, the chief of counterterrorism for the City of Los Angeles.


WOODRUFF: Much of the concern about terrorist attacks focuses on places like Boston or New York, which will host the political conventions.

But other cities could be also targets, for instance, Los Angeles with its vast network of vulnerable freeways. The city is also close to Mexico with the danger of terrorists infiltration across the border. Los Angeles has also been a target before. A plot to attack the airport during the millennium celebrations was foiled when its mastermind was caught at the Canadian border with a carload of dynamite.

Joining me now to talk about these dangers and what we heard today, the top counterterrorist officer for the Los Angeles Police Department, John Miller. John Miller met Osama bin Laden, by the way, face-to-face, conducting a television interview back in 1998.

Thank you very much for being with us.


WOODRUFF: I want to start with the same question I began with Commissioner Kelly, and that is no new specific intelligence. The terror threat level, the color-coded threat level, has not been raised. And yet, Tom Ridge is saying there is credible reporting that al Qaeda is moving ahead with plans to stage a large-scale attack on the United States. Is there a contradiction here? MILLER: I think, if the Department of Homeland Security had their druthers, they would raise the threat level to orange. That's my feeling, and that's what people inside that organization have said to me.

I think the position they're in is, none of us, like Los Angeles or Chicago or Boston, could sustain financially what it takes to stay on orange, could sustain, in terms of personnel, meaning people working six and seven days a week and overtime around the clock, from now until the election. So, I think they're being very judicious by saying, "We're not going to put you on orange, but we're going to put you on a pretty dark shade of yellow."

And we've reacted to that. We're doing a lot more in this grade of yellow than we were doing before. We're very forward-leaning here. And if we had the resources of New York City, as Ray Kelly is even more forward-leaning, we would do so, too.

WOODRUFF: But it sounds to me as if you're saying, John Miller, that color-coded threat level doesn't really mean what we're told that it means.

MILLER: I think what it means is, it is meant for an orange, certainly for a red, to be about something specific. If you remember back in the holidays, we had information about a number of specific flights that were stopped from coming here that were interdicted when they got here.

We reacted very quickly to that. That was specific information that was targeted to something that we could react to. This time, I know they say -- and I review the intelligence, both classified and unclassified, and I tend to agree. I haven't seen anything go by my desk that says in this city, at this time, or at this place, there will be an attack, the kind of thing that standing up to orange for weeks on end would really be able to address.

WOODRUFF: But you can understand why there is confusion out there, can't you?

MILLER: I think there has always been confusion about the color- coding system, and I say, until we have a better system, it works for me.

I know, when we do go to a higher level, we get more calls to our hot lines. People are more alert. And when we have press statements like today's or the Director Mueller's a few months ago, we get a higher level of awareness from people. And we look for that from private security, from citizens, even from our own officers.

WOODRUFF: All right, Los Angeles is not a convention city this year. You're not hosting the Republicans or the Democrats, but you are the largest population center in the country. What does today's announcement mean to you?

MILLER: Well, what it means to us is the secretary and the FBI in their earlier statement are saying they believe al Qaeda operators are already on the ground here, that their plans for an attack in the United States are in the operational planning stage, that it's gone beyond the theory or the idea, that they have targets picked out that we don't know about, that they have a time frame picked out that we don't know about somewhere between now and the election.

And that means we have to do a number of things for Los Angeles. You look at the convention cities. Their threat level is obvious. Ray Kelly will tell you about that. But if you look at Los Angeles, al Qaeda has operated here before. And if you commit a terrorist attack, whether it's a Madrid bombing style scaled down attack, or a September 11th attack, against a major American city, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, during the conventions or before the elections, you're going to have the same effect.

You don't need to attack the actual convention to steal the headline from it. And I think al Qaeda is well aware of this.

WOODRUFF: You're saying it doesn't have to be in Boston or New York to have the desired effect. So, you feel that Los Angeles could be a target?

MILLER: Well, Los Angeles is a target. We know that because al Qaeda has operated here. Bin Laden's personal secretary lived here. His chief military planner lived in California. The man behind the Jordan plot lived just south of Los Angeles.

Al Qaeda has had a real presence here. They know the targets. They know the terrain. LAX was a target, as you referenced earlier during the break, with Ahmed Ressam for the millennium bombing. We are certainly on al Qaeda's radar screen. You saw the reports that said our tallest building downtown was to be targeted in a second wave to follow the September 11th attacks.

Al Qaeda surveillance films have locations in and around Los Angeles have been found in search warrants. We would be in denial to say we're not on their radar screen. Does that mean we are a target right now? We don't know what we don't know, so I maintain the posture, at the direction of Chief Bratton and Mayor Hahn, that we are a target, that we could be a target tomorrow and that we need to have a state of readiness that reflects that.

WOODRUFF: John Miller, chief of counterterrorism for the Los Angeles Police Department, we're going to ask you to stay right there.

And when we come back, we're going to look at this election season and the timing of this latest al Qaeda threat.

We'll be right back.


WOODRUFF: Al Qaeda's intentions to strike the U.S. again have been known for some time. And today, we were told that the terrorist network may be planning an attack before the November election. So, why would al Qaeda see the political season as an opportunity? Joining me now to talk about that, terrorism expert Ben Venzke. He's the founder and CEO of IntelCenter. And once again, LAPD Counterterrorist Commander John Miller.

Ben Venzke, let me start with you.

Do you think, from what you know, al Qaeda wants to disrupt this election? And if you think that, what makes you think so?

BEN VENZKE, FOUNDER & CEO, INTELCENTER: Well, there is a very great concern that that is in their intentions, because -- and we also may just be coming up upon an attack that they've been working on for some time.

But after they saw what happened in Madrid, they might see an extra benefit of trying to fit that in the election period, because they think it could have an extra impact on affecting our involvement in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: John Miller, you met Osama bin Laden. You interviewed him -- what -- back in 1998. Do you think he and the people around him believe they can disrupt the American elections with an attack?

MILLER: Well, I think al Qaeda looks no further than the Madrid bombings.

It was two days before the election. Arguably, it may have affected the election. People went to the polls with a lot more fear about Spain's involvement, supporting the U.S. in Iraq, than they did before 13 devices were targeted at a number of trains at the height of rush hour.

So, whether that was an independent cell operating for al Qaeda, but without communications to the mothership, if you will, or whether or not that was ordered from bin Laden himself, either way, al Qaeda's command could not have missed the lesson there.

What happened in Spain is, the day after the election, the new president pulled their troops out of Iraq and began to criticize the American president, as -- if terrorism is the use of fear and violence to affect political change and terrorist goals, Madrid was a pretty good example of what you can do with an election if you have the right kind or the wrong kind of terrorist attack.

WOODRUFF: So, Ben Venzke, is the lesson that Osama bin Laden or the people around him learned that they're going to get a better deal from a Democrat, from John Kerry in the White House?

VENZKE: Well, if you look at their writings and everything that they put up, we don't know exactly what they think is going to be the best deal for them, if they prefer have Bush in or Kerry.

But if they look back at the history in the United States with the Black Hawk down in Somalia, where we lost a number of soldiers and immediately pulled out, we have a history of, after a few soldiers die, we pull out and backed down. And Bush has sort of turned that on its head in the last year with the casualties we've suffered in Iraq.

They might think, perhaps wrongly, that with Kerry in the administration, we might be inclined to pull our forces out quicker, so they might try to do something to impact that.

WOODRUFF: Where do they get their information? John Miller, how do they get the information that they use to judge American politics?

MILLER: Well, I think they've spent a great deal of time here. First of all, they watch CNN. Second of all, they have access to the Internet and worldwide media. We know this from al Qaeda detainees.

Third of all, bin Laden's key staff members, many of whom were American citizens, like Wadih el Hage, like Ali Mohammed, like a key coterie of people who have been around him, spent a lot of time here and have a good sense of Americana. Yazid Sufaat lived in Sacramento. Another key operator lived in Anaheim near Disneyland. Several lived here in Hollywood.

I think they have a pretty good sense of Brooklyn, of New York City, of the West Coast and of the America psyche.

WOODRUFF: The war in Iraq, Ben Venzke, has that made them want more to attack the United States than they did before?

VENZKE: Well, we're talking a matter of degrees here. Certainly, things like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, our activities in Iraq are certainly things that -- it's further motivation for them. But if, on a scale of one to 10, how motivated they were to attack us, they were already at a 15. So, maybe it's at a 17 now. It really doesn't factor in as to whether or not they're going to attack us. But it does drive recruitment and some other aspects, fund-raising for their group.

WOODRUFF: And again, this notion of whether John Kerry would give them a better break, cut them more slack than George W. Bush, gut reaction or based on...

VENZKE: Well, the important thing to keep in mind here is not what we know to be the reality. I think we're all pretty set in the idea that, whether it's Kerry or Bush, we're still going to have a strong stance on terrorism. But it doesn't matter what we think. It matters what al Qaeda's perception is, which may be completely wrong, because that's what they're going to base their attack strategy on.

WOODRUFF: And in fact, John Kerry put out a statement today saying that he would be every bit as tough on the terrorists as this administration is.

John Miller, how does al Qaeda see announcements like the one today, or do they pay attention to this?

MILLER: Oh, I think they do pay attention to it. But how they see it, first of all, I think they read into that that more security will come from it. But I also think, to be completely candid, Judy, in the psychological warfare that is a lot of what goes on in terrorism and the theater aspect of it, absent an attack, they see they're getting a reaction from the United States that says, we think they're coming and we think it's going to be bad and we tell people to be watchful. I think that is part of their desire.

WOODRUFF: So, should the administration make fewer announcements like the one today?

MILLER: Well, the question is how much news do you get in those announcements? We had a similar announcement from the attorney general and from the FBI director back in May. We have this one today. There was nothing particularly new in it.

On the other hand -- and this is a balancing act. I have to be honest. You don't know what the effect is of these things. On the other hand, if it makes people more alert, if it gets them more focused on terrorism, that works for someone like me. I have 9,000 cops. Are they paying more attention this afternoon than they were before that announcement? Maybe they are. We have 49,000 private security guards in Los Angeles. Are they a little raised up more than they were yesterday? Maybe they are.

Then, we have four million people. They heard that on the news all day. It's made them more aware of the things around them. And that's a factor I'm in favor of.

WOODRUFF: Maybe something for the administration to think about when they make these announcements. Perhaps they do.

Ben Venzke, thank you, here in Washington, John Miller out in Los Angeles. Gentlemen, we appreciate it. Thank you both.

And coming up, the president's battle plan for the war on terror, just how different is it from John Kerry's?


WOODRUFF: In this political season, amid warnings about possible al Qaeda strikes, the president's anti-terror measures have come under criticism from his Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry.

But now, voters may be wondering what would Mr. Kerry do to protect Americans from future attacks?


WOODRUFF (voice-over): The war on terror: hard to fight; harder, still, to define.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixteen rounds! WOODRUFF: No ambivalence from the president. His two-pronged program, anchored by aggressive military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and expanded domestic intelligence through the Patriot Act.

His opponents, however, see major gaps.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John and I know how to fight a war on terror that doesn't create more terrorists, but makes America safer.

WOODRUFF: John Kerry charges the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have spread the military far too thin and that the key to combating terrorism is to internationalize the effort.

KERRY: The key to the war on terror is the thing these guys are worst at. It's called cooperating with other countries and with the rest of the world.

WOODRUFF: Kerry says the administration is also neglecting domestic security concerns by underfunding first responders and failing to protect the ports and other potential targets.

It's a theme the Democrat hammers on the trail and on the airwaves.

KERRY: We have to strengthen our homeland security, protect our trains and our ports. We shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down in our own communities.

WOODRUFF: The president and his allies counter that Kerry sees the effort as an exercise in law enforcement and not an all-out war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kerry's focus? Global crime, not terrorism. How can John Kerry win a war if he doesn't know the enemy?

WOODRUFF: Bush dismissed his rival's approach as small solutions to giant problems.

BUSH: It is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers.

WOODRUFF: And so far, most Americans support the president's handling of terrorism, and a wide majority feel he is better able than Kerry to continue the fight.

(on camera): And joining me here in Washington to talk about the candidates' approach to fighting the war on terror, regular contributor and "TIME" magazine columnist Joe Klein, along with Susan Page, chief editor for "USA Today."

Joe, to you first. I was just citing polls that show most Americans say they're more comfortable with President Bush's approach to terror. Does he deserve that kind of support by the American people, based on his policies?

JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, there haven't been any attacks on the homeland since 9/11, and I think that that's what's in people's minds.

But also, I don't think that they've had a chance to understand yet what John Kerry would do and how it would be different. In fact, Kerry hasn't really explained that very clearly at all yet.

WOODRUFF: Susan, is that because he hasn't had an opportunity or because Kerry doesn't have a plan?

SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": Well, he has some plan. And of course, the platform hearings the Democrats are going to be holding this weekend, the platform includes an unusual amount of discussion of national security, combating terrorism, homeland security and those kinds of post-9/11 issues.

I think John Kerry has had trouble breaking through on this issue and others and making the case of how he'd be different on terrorism, how he'd be different on Iraq. I think that's a task he needs to do, and I think they're looking to the convention at the end of this month to do that.

WOODRUFF: Is that going to be enough, Joe Klein? I mean, can John Kerry, between now and the election in November, persuade the American people that he has a better approach?

KLEIN: Well, I think that -- that the default position is do they trust President Bush? Do the American people trust the president?

And his numbers have been going down in terms of how he's been handling Iraq and this particular issue, especially after the 9/11 commission report.

So, it's going to be a question of whether Kerry can provide a plausible alternative to that. He places a lot of emphasis on homeland security and beefing that up. He places a lot more emphasis on the kind of police work that needs to be done to roll up terrorism cells, while the president has a more robust, dramatic and military sort of response.

WOODRUFF: Susan, today's update on the terror threat that we got from homeland security, Secretary Tom Ridge, does this automatically help the president just because it simply reminds everybody how insecure we are?

PAGE: I think in some ways it helps the president because it is his deepest advantage, the advantage he holds on handling terrorism. So, when people are reminded of the threat it probably does boost him.

It doesn't -- It's not a total good thing for President Bush, though, when you're looking at it politically. For one thing, it crowds out some good economic news that might be helping them.

But I do think that as long as he holds big advantage in polls on handling terrorism, the more people are aware of the terrorists, the better that is for President Bush. KLEIN: I disagree on that. I think that people are beginning to discount these sorts of threats. I mean, you had John Ashcroft out in late May, saying something very similar, and it was disputed by the Department of Homeland Security.

I think that until -- and unless there is a specific threat, these are going to -- these kind of press conferences are going to be discounted.

And the interesting thing here and the frightening thing is that in Madrid, there was no advance knowledge. The terrorists have really caught up with us in terms of technology.

WOODRUFF: Last question. If there were, God forbid, another terror event in this country -- and we have no way of knowing where it would be or how massive -- what would the effect be on President Bush and John Kerry, Joe?

KLEIN: I think it's impossible to predict that. It would depend on when it happened, where it happened, how it happened, how the president reacted, how John Kerry reacted.

I think that if part of the president's appeal is that he has protected us since 9/11, it might cut against him. It might cut for him. But it's kind of -- it's rough to speculate on these kind of things, because they're so dreadful.


PAGE: Of course, you hate to speculate about it, but I do think that if it's a terror attack that the administration should have been able to stop, that's one thing.

But if it's just another terror attack, remember, that the best thing Bush has going for him is the strong leadership he showed right after September 11. When you talk to voters, even Democrats cite that as something they liked about President Bush. So, I think it's got the potential to remind us about his strong leadership then and help him again.

WOODRUFF: A lot of speculation still at this point, but educated speculation. Susan Page and Joe Klein, thank you both.


Coming up next, the press and the president. Are reporters too willing to give George Bush a break?


WOODRUFF: The news media has long been regarded as the Fourth Estate, a defender of the public interest that keeps a keen eye on the government.

The press has also been criticized as being too liberal. Well, under that argument, a conservative President Bush, as George W. Bush, would likely face a tough White House press corps. But that may not necessarily be the case.


WOODRUFF (voice-over): The president under fire, the press firing away.

CAROLE COLEMAN, RTE REPORTER: But you didn't find the weapons of mass destruction.

BUSH: May I please -- may I finish?

WOODRUFF: It's the sort of face-off the American public rarely sees, but this was a reporter for Irish public television.

COLEMAN: But Mr. President, the world is a more dangerous place today. I don't know if you can see that or not.

BUSH: Why do you say that?

WOODRUFF: The U.S. press praised the confrontation with RTE reporter Carol Coleman on the eve of the president's trip to Europe. So, why don't the U.S. press go after the U.S. president just like that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How is your faith guiding you?

DANA MILBANK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It's been very common, common criticism that the White House Press Corps has been soft on the president, certainly in comparison to foreign media.

I think people have to understand that was probably true, certainly, immediately after September 11. The press did give the president a bit of a honeymoon there.

WOODRUFF: A poll by the Pew Research Center shows that 55 percent of the U.S. press believe they have not been critical enough of President Bush.

BOB DEANS, COX NEWSPAPERS: After 9/11, a lot of us recognized that the -- after 9/11, a lot of us recognized that the country was in uncharted waters. And we as reporters asked the questions as forthrightly and as aggressively as we knew how. But we also recognized that we hadn't been here either, as reporters or as a country.

And so, I think there was sort of a second honeymoon for this administration.

BUSH: I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time so I could have planned for it.

WOODRUFF: But some Washington reporters say it's not just a post-9/11 honeymoon.

SUSAN MILLIGAN, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": I have never seen a White House that is so on the same page and so disciplined about not leaking and disciplined about not criticizing the president.

WOODRUFF: President Bush has had 11 press conferences, fewer than any modern president. Instead, Bush takes questions on the road, mostly from wire reporters asking about the story of the day.

He prefers interviews with regional newspapers instead of the more aggressive national press. And "The New York Times" has not had one sit-down interview with President George W. Bush.

BUSH: King, John King.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In terms of formal press conferences in the East Room or in the White House briefing room opening it up to 20, 15, 30 questions, this president is way below his predecessors, including his father, including Bill Clinton, including Ronald Reagan.

BUSH: Did you have a question, or did I call upon you cold?

WOODRUFF: But some reporters fault their colleagues for not taking advantage of the opportunities they do get, particularly in the buildup to the war.

MILLIGAN: I think that the broadcast media was much less aggressive. They were bigger cheerleaders for the war. I was kind of -- and partly because some of them were embedded, and they were telling it quite literally from the perspective of the troops.

But there was very much a sense of we're all in this together, you know, during the beginning of the Iraq war.

WOODRUFF: Aggressiveness like Sam Donaldson's trademark probing of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s would hardly be anything new.

SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS: Does any of the blame belong to you?

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, because for many years, I was a Democrat.

WOODRUFF: Or even unusual.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": And what, if anything, you'd like to say to Monica Lewinsky at this minute?


WOODRUFF: But if President Bush's last press conference is any indication...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you explain to Americans how you got that so wrong?

WOODRUFF: ... the U.S. press may be ready to get tough again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never admit a mistake. Is that a fair criticism...

WOODRUFF (on camera): So, is the U.S. press going easy on President Bush? Joining me now to talk about this, Tom Rosenstiel is a director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and a former media critic. And Edwin Chen, White House correspondent for "The Los Angeles Times."

Ed, Tom, thank you both for being here.

Ed, let me begin with you. You cover the White House day in and day out. Has this White House press corps, set aside the larger press corps, gone easy on this president?

EDWIN CHEN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": It's been unusual not only because of 9/11, but remember, going back to the 2000 election and coming out of the acrimony out of the 36-day recount, there was a sense of that's over and let's put it behind, give the guy a honeymoon.

And I think we were seeing the honeymoon wear off when 9/11 hit, and Bush, I think, got a second honeymoon. So, there was a little bit of pulling back.

WOODRUFF: You think that -- How long is that honeymoon lasting?

CHEN: Not very long.

WOODRUFF: You think the press has gotten tougher?

CHEN: I do.

WOODRUFF: Tom Rosenstiel, you have a more objective viewpoint, because you -- you were a political reporter at one time in your life, but now you look at the press. What do you think?

TOM ROSENSTIEL, MEDIA ANALYST: Well, I think there's several things going on. One is in wartime there is a rallying effect.

Another is the press is on the defensive to some extent. It's less popular than it used to be. The Republican Party, and particularly this White House, likes to beat up on the press as being liberal, and that puts them on the defensive somewhat more.

And then, you've got the fact that journalism is a cultural artifact. It's produced in a certain country for a certain audience, and for better or for worse, and maybe for worse, when the president is popular, that influences the way that journalists ask questions.

It influences how abrasive they think they can be, particularly in a culture where the news gathering is online. You can see, when there are press conferences, the questions being asked, the sausage being made.

WOODRUFF: Ed Chen, I don't want to put you on the spot, because it's your job day in and day out. But do you think it is harder for reporters to ask tough, probing questions when the country is fighting a war on terror, when the president has been largely popular?

CHEN: I don't think so, Judy. Remember, leading up to the war, President Bush had a press conference, I think, in a few weeks before the war started in the East Room, one of his rare conferences, prime time.

There were pretty tough questions about his allegations of weapons of mass destruction. I remember personally I asked him, "What about the cost of this war? Are you going to be up front and tell the people what you think the war will cost?"

He didn't answer the question.

A lot of us think it is -- it is our job to ask the questions but not necessarily get in your face and beat this guy up and say, "You didn't answer my question."

I think it's important to let the president speak and let his answers stand on their own.

WOODRUFF: And in fact, Tom, do you think that's why this Irish television interview stood out so much, because it was more intrusive, if you will? She was interrupting him?

ROSENSTIEL: Yes, I think so. I think that a domestic press is always somewhat more respectful of its presidency than you are of another country's.

I've had friends at the BBC tell me because the British public is opposed to the war, that freed the BBC up somewhat to be more aggressive in its coverage of the war and the Blair government.

I think that, while they ask the tough questions, the ability to sort of come at you with a follow-up, to be abrasive in your style is inhibited by where the public consensus is.

You know, it's unfortunate. It doesn't mean that journalists don't do their job, but I do -- I think it makes it harder.

WOODRUFF: Ed Chen, how good is this Bush White House at -- I don't want to use the word orchestrating, but how good are they at keeping (AUDIO GAP) if you will, and controlling access?

CHEN: They're the best: at staging events, making events look good. And because they are, as we all know (AUDIO GAP), there's no room for a message to come out, other than what the White House wants.

I mean, we can count on the fingers of one hand when exceptions to that, but it's a very disciplined.

And partly when we do follow up our questions to the president, we have come to know that you're not going to get a different answer. Basically, it's the same talking points over and over again, which is fine for them because they're not talking to us, they're talking to the audiences who are watching television out there. They see us as an intrusion into that process. WOODRUFF: You're going to have to leave it at that. Tom Rosenstiel, Ed Chen -- gentlemen, thank you. You know this is a subject we're all interested in, because it's how we make a living.


WOODRUFF: Ed Chen and Tom Rosenstiel. And we're sorry about those blackouts during the interview. Some kind of gremlin has gotten hold of the line.

Finally, when we come back, you've never met her, but her voice rings a bell.



LIZ RAPHAEL HELGESEN, VOICE OF ANSWERING SERVICES: Sorry. We still didn't understand that.


WOODRUFF: Our own Bruce Burkhardt meets the angelic voice of voicemail hell next.


WOODRUFF: You wouldn't recognize her face, but her voice is unforgettable. She's the person who answers the phone when you're not at your desk, when your boss is away, or simply when all the operators are busy with other customers.

Bruce Burkhardt introduces us to the woman behind the voicemail.


HELGESEN: Please hold while we access your records.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): That voice! I keep hearing that voice over and over and over and over! We all do.

HELGESEN: For residential, press one.

Please enter your telephone number.

We are unable to locate your loan.

BURKHARDT (on camera): She's everywhere!

(voice-over): In this day and age, a phone call hardly ever gets through to a real person. Or does it?

(on camera): Are you a human being?

HELGESEN: Sorry. We still didn't understand that.

BURKHARDT: A likely story. It's time to peel back the curtain.

HELGESEN: Press four to replay the message, five to listen to message header. Press pound to skip to the next message.

BURKHARDT: Liz Raphael Helgesen is very much a real person -- a real successful person.

HELGESEN: This call may be monitored or recorded.

BURKHARDT: From a small recording studio in the basement of her suburban Atlanta home, Liz Helgesen talks to us.

HELGESEN: If that's not what you wanted, just say, "Go back."

BURKHARDT: She likes talking to us.

HELGESEN: It's about my passion to get a message across and to make sure that when you have ended your interaction with me, your experience with me, you've gotten what you needed.


BURKHARDT: From cell phone companies...

HELGESEN: Wachovia.

BURKHARDT: ... to banks...

HELGESEN: Charles Schwab.

BURKHARDT: ... to investment firms and even when you're not on the phone...

HELGESEN: The next station is Five Points.

BURKHARDT: ... it's hard to get through a day without hearing Liz.

HELGESEN: Catch it.

BURKHARDT: About 20 years ago, this one-time majorette was working in human resources for a telecommunications company, one of the first to offer voicemail products.

Someone around the office asked her if she wouldn't mind lending her voice. That was her start.

(on camera): This is where the voice emanates from?

HELGESEN: This is it. And this is our unfinished basement.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): With her voice insured by Lloyd's of London and an annual income above $200,000, Liz is now in a position to be both a stay-at-home mom with her four kids and one of the top voices in the business. (on camera): Have you, in your experience, ever been anxious -- you know, trying to call somebody, anxious to get through to a person and heard your own voice and "Damn it!"

HELGESEN: No, that's never happened. You know, I've heard my voice and I'll laugh. I mean, sometimes I'm just returning normal phone calls, administrative phone calls for myself or for my company or my family. And I'll come across myself and it's -- it's thrilling.

If you ever need help, knowing what you can say, just say help.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): For so long, this pleasant but disembodied voice has led us through the techno age, and now she's out of the closet.

HELGESEN: I don't want to be a secret. You know, these voices that you hear that guide you through your life are typically unknown. I'm the most popular person that no one has ever known. Well, I want the world to know me.

BURKHARDT (on camera): If I want to do a bank transaction over the phone, can I just call you up here at home and do it?



WOODRUFF: Now, we can put a face with that voice. That was our Bruce Burkhardt, lending his voice from Atlanta. We'll be right back.


WOODRUFF: Thank you for being with us tonight.

Tomorrow, bad information. No weapons of mass destruction. Why was intelligence so wrong about Iraq? A scathing report on America's spy agencies, tomorrow.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next with John Kerry and his wife, Teresa. Good night.


International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.