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Swift Boat Veterans For Truth Release New Ad; New Film Turns Up Heat on Michael Moore

Aired September 22, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome to PRIME TIME POLITICS. Thanks for joining us tonight. I'm Paula Zahn.
Tonight, truth vs. spin, another one of those controversial swift boat ads. We're going to look at the latest accusations muddying the campaign waters.

Well, they say, in politics, turnabout is fair play. So a conservative film turns up the heat on Michael Moore and the liberals.

Plus, a PRIME TIME POLITICS exclusive look at two critical battleground states, the changing numbers in the must-win states of Nevada and West Virginia.

But we begin tonight with a political firestorm that still seems to be burning out of control. It is the scandal over the CBS story questioning President Bush's National Guard service.

As we all know, that report was based on documents that now, at best, our disputed. Also, the Bush campaign accuses the Kerry campaign of somehow having a hand in the whole mess. Today, CBS asked former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Associated Press president Louis Boccardi to conduct an independent review of how the report was prepared.

I spoke exclusively with Louis Boccardi on the phone just a short time ago.


ZAHN: Good of you to join us, sir. I don't know whether...



ZAHN: And welcome back. If you thought there for a moment something was wrong with your television set, there was not. We are having some technical problems tonight. And we apologize for that.

But what I was trying to bring you up to date on is the CBS story. And today, CBS made it official that there now is a panel that will be convened to investigate how the story was reported, why so many questions now are being asked about the source of the documents and why so many believe the documents are, in fact, not authentic. And I exclusively interviewed one of the men on the panel. And that is the former president of the Associated Press, Louis Boccardi. Here is that conversation now, I hope.


ZAHN: Good of you to join us, sir. I don't know whether to congratulate you or offer my condolences. Your reaction to this post?


ZAHN: How will this investigation work?

BOCCARDI: We're going to look at the journalism that's involved here, how the story was gathered, how it was aired, and what happened after it, all of which I think add up to a journalistic question. And that's what we're going to try to look at.

ZAHN: Who are you going to be allowed to talk to?

BOCCARDI: We're going to talk to anybody we think that can contribute to answering the questions that the event raised.

ZAHN: Do you expect CBS to cooperate fully?

BOCCARDI: They've said that absolutely they'd do so.

ZAHN: That means you're expected to be able to talk with people involved with the gathering of the news process all the way up to Dan Rather and his boss Andrew Heyward?

BOCCARDI: I don't want to single out now that we're going to talk to this headline person or that one. I think that would be sort of premature.

ZAHN: Do you plan to talk with Kerry campaign officials?

BOCCARDI: If you mean Lockhart and some of those folks, if our inquiry takes us in that direction, then we would want to ask them what contact they had and, you know, how it unfolded.

ZAHN: How important to this investigation is it to find out whether these documents are authentic or not?

BOCCARDI: Well, that's certainly not a trivial piece of the overall event. But we've been asked to look at the journalism that was committed here, the gathering of this story, the airing of it, and then subsequently some days later an admission that it could not be authenticated. We're looking at how the story was reported.

ZAHN: And, as a journalist who's taken his craft very seriously for the last 30-odd years, what has been your reaction to this story as it has unfolded?

BOCCARDI: I am chagrined that the situation we've been asked to investigate, that that situation exists.

And if I can use that word, I'm chagrined, you can understand without my belaboring it how the folks at CBS feel. I'm sorry for journalism that we have got this issue to deal with. But here it is. And I think you help it by trying to explain it and looking at how you can prevent it in the future.

ZAHN: Well, Mr. Boccardi, we really appreciate your time this evening. Thank you for shedding light on this very tough task ahead for you. Good luck to you, sir.

BOCCARDI: You're very welcome.


ZAHN: And that was former Associated Press president Louis Boccardi. CBS has asked him, along with former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, to conduct an independent review on its report on President Bush's National Guard service.

Our Jeanne Meserve has also been following the developments in the CBS story. She joins us now from Washington.

Good to see you, Jeanne.


ZAHN: I understand that Mary Mapes, the producer who was involved with the production of this story, is at the center of this investigation. What have we learned about her today?

MESERVE: Well, we do know that Mapes is at the center of this, because she is the one who put Joe Lockhart in touch with the Kerry campaign and she is one who researched this story for five years. Her name is very closely associated with all of this. Clearly, this panel is going to looking very closely at her.

But it's probably not going to stop there. Traditionally, these sorts of investigations have looked at standards and practices and newsroom culture. In other instances, you have seen not only producers affected, but reporters and management. So even though she is the focus, clearly, there could be a broader impact.

ZAHN: And another man at the center of this controversy is Bill Burkett, the man of course who received these documents. What do we know about his situation from his attorney today?

MESERVE: Well, there's been some anticipation that perhaps Bill Burkett might take some legal action against CBS News. We don't know whether he will or not. There was a statement from his attorney today which was inconclusive.

And we know -- we talked yesterday to his former attorney, David Van Os. He was very explicit with us in saying that he felt that CBS had broken its agreement with Bill Burkett in two respects. One, they promised they would authenticate those documents. And, two, they also told him that they would protect his anonymity, something that clearly has not happened.

But whether there will be legal action or not, we aren't sure, though it's very interesting of course that at this point in time Burkett has changed lawyers, apparently because Van Os was a witness to that last interview with Dan Rather.

ZAHN: What else do we know about his relationship, Bill Burkett, with Mary Mapes?

MESERVE: We just know that it had gone on for quite some time. When I talked yesterday with David Van Os, he didn't have any specifics on the length of time they've been talking, but he felt that it was quite a considerable length of time indeed.

ZAHN: Both the RNC and the DNC talked about this a lot today. Share with us some of the charges and countercharges that hit the airwaves today.

MESERVE: Well, because we know that Mary Mapes did put Joe Lockhart in touch with Bill Burkett, CBS finds itself really in the middle of a very intense political hurricane.

The Republican National Committee today laid out a timeline of events beginning with Internet postings of Burkett's in which he claims to have talked with Kerry campaign seniors and giving them information with which to counterattack Bush. The Republicans also note the timing of Kerry's statements and advertisements about President Bush's National Guard service.

RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie says it raises serious questions about whether the Kerry campaign was coordinating with CBS. But the Democrats, of course, don't agree. While they acknowledge that Burkett talked to both former Democratic Senator Max Cleland and with Joe Lockhart, they say no one in the party or the campaign had specific knowledge of the documents and they say the Democrats really didn't need that to focus their attention on Bush's Guard service -- Paula.

ZAHN: Jeanne Meserve, a lot of territory to cover there tonight. And thank you for cutting through some pretty dense detail there. Thanks.


ZAHN (voice-over): Tonight, another swift boat ad attack on John Kerry.


NARRATOR: Can America trust a man who betrayed his country?


ZAHN: But this time, a swift response. We'll sort out fact from fiction. The campaign and your money. Is the economy really that important this year? A revealing look at voters in booming Nevada and weary West Virginia.

Plus, tonight's voting booth question. Are the president's and Senator Kerry's military service fair game in the election, yes or no? Go to and tell us what you think.



ZAHN: The hazards of a political campaign. John Kerry has a cold and he sounds like it. He has bowed out of tomorrow's scheduled events in Iowa and he's sending in John Edwards instead.

However, Kerry went ahead with an appearance today in the all- important state of Florida. Meanwhile, President Bush has wrapped up his agenda at the United Nations and refocused on the presidential race. Here is our daily wrap up of the events on the campaign trail.


ZAHN (voice-over): President Bush started his day with a round of diplomatic meetings in New York talking about fighting terrorism with a key ally, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Later, it was back on the campaign trail. In Pennsylvania, the first lady came along.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: My husband, George Bush.

ZAHN: The president's focus was supposed to be education, but the gruesome beheadings in Iraq came up as well.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These people cannot beat us militarily. And so they use the only tool at their disposal, which is beheadings and death, to try to shake our will.

ZAHN: The president also got a bird's-eye view of Pennsylvania flood damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan.

John Kerry is making up for lost time in Florida, where he hadn't been able to campaign because of Hurricanes Ivan, Frances and Charley. Today, Kerry's voice sounded as if it had been hit by a hurricane.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yesterday, I was in Orlando, right next to Fantasyland. And the difference between George Bush and me is, I drove by it. He lives in it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And where do you stand on having...

ZAHN: The issue of reinstating the draft also came up at Kerry's town meeting.

KERRY: If George Bush were to be reelected, given the way he has gone about this war and given his avoidance of responsibility in North Korea and Iran and other places, it is possible. I can't tell you. I will tell you this. I will not reinstate the draft.


ZAHN: The Bush campaign called that irresponsible.

Senator John Edwards also campaigned in Florida today. Once again, the topic was Iraq.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But the truth is, Iraq's a mess. And it's a mess because of two people, George Bush and Dick Cheney. That's why it's a mess.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vice president of the United States.

ZAHN: Vice President Dick Cheney stayed in Washington to meet with congressional leaders, but that didn't stop him from hitting back.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John Kerry gives every indication that his repeated efforts to cast and recast and redefine the war on terror and our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan of someone who lacks the resolve, the determination and the conviction to prevail in this conflict.


ZAHN: Also today, we're releasing the results of our latest polling in two other crucial battleground states. President Bush leads by just two points, 48-46 percent, among all registered voters in Nevada. However, when we narrow things down to the all-important group of people most likely to vote, the president's lead increases to nine points, 52-43.

In West Virginia, the president has a 51-42 percent lead among registered voters, but it's a little bit tighter among likely voters, where Ralph Nader's support evaporates and Senator Kerry moves up.

Joining me now to talk politics and polls are Bush campaign strategist Matthew Dowd and Kerry campaign strategist Tad Devine.

Good to see both of you, gentlemen. Welcome.


ZAHN: My pleasure.

So, Tad, let's talk about what appears to be a shrinking number of battleground states. We should make it clear George Bush won both of those states, but doesn't the senator need to be closing in with some better numbers?

TAD DEVINE, SENIOR JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, I think he is, Paula. We saw three national polls today, one the ARG poll, a one-point difference, the second, Democracy Corps, a two-point difference, "The Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll, a three-point difference. I think this race has closed up. The president got his pounce bounce. He expanded it. Some of the polls had it 10 or 12 points. Now it's back to a one- or two-point race. And I think this race is closing in the battlegrounds as well.

I think the president is in deep trouble. Those are two states he won last time. He hasn't put them away. He hasn't put any states away for that matter. So we feel we're going into the debates in very strong shape.

ZAHN: Matthew, should the president put away both of those states this far in advance of the campaign?

MATTHEW DOWD, BUSH CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: The interesting thing about this is that we knew this was going to be a limited number of states that were going to be close. And what has happened in the last month is the Kerry campaign has pulled out a number of key battleground states. They have pulled out of Arizona. They have pulled out of Missouri. They have now pulled out of Louisiana. They have pulled out of Arkansas. They have pulled out of Virginia.

So, all the states that Bush carried, Kerry is no longer competing in. And he's competing now in more Gore states than Bush states, and it puts him in a very problematic situation.


ZAHN: A quick response, Tad, because I want to move on to the ad wars.

DEVINE: Paula, we haven't pulled out of any of those places. We will be on television. We back-loaded our media buy. We're going to have a strong-paid media presence all through the battlegrounds. and George Bush right now is defending territory that he won last time. And that's a big reason he's going to lose this election.

ZAHN: OK, on to the political ad wars. We're going to share part of an ad that came out today showing John Kerry windsurfing. Let's all watch together.


NARRATOR: In which direction would John Kerry lead? Kerry voted for the Iraq war, opposed it, supported it, and now opposes it again. He bragged about voting for the $87 billion to support our troops before he voted against it.


ZAHN: And the Kerry campaign immediately responded with this ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NARRATOR: One thousand U.S. casualties, two Americans beheaded just this week. The Pentagon admits terrorists are pouring into Iraq. In the face of the Iraq quagmire, George Bush's answer is to run a juvenile and tasteless attack ad.


ZAHN: Matthew, does that windsurfing ad show disrespect for our troops on the ground in Iraq?

DOWD: Of course not. This is a political campaign. There's nothing factually incorrect in that ad. The Kerry campaign hasn't disputed one part of that ad in its factual basis.

ZAHN: Do you think it's tasteful?

DOWD: I think it's totally tasteful. And the American public is going to be fine with it. This is a hobby that John Kerry picked as something that he enjoys, that he does throughout the campaign.

We put it in a background of how he shifts his positions throughout this campaign. It's what he's done. It's who he is. And I don't think the American public is going to have any problem with it.

ZAHN: Yes, but Tad Devine certainly does.

DEVINE: Paula, the president and his campaign are living in a fantasy world. Right now this week in Iraq this country is not confronting not catastrophic success, which the president said we were, but instead catastrophic failure.

The president seems oblivious to what is happening in Iraq. Our troops are dying. Every month for the last three months, it's gotten worse and worse. And while this is happening, this president has chosen instead to run these fantasy land ads. The American people I think are sick and tried of a president who doesn't seem to know what is happening in Iraq or in America.


ZAHN: All right, Matthew, it's not only Tad Devine that is beating your president up on the issue of Iraq. You've got members of your own party, Senator John McCain, Senator Hagel, Senator Hagel saying he doesn't believe the war is being won in Iraq. Do you not take this criticism seriously?

DOWD: We're a country at war. This president in his convention speech and for the last two years has talked about the difficulties that we face and how the most painful decision that he made in his presidency was sending young men and young women into battle.

It pains him. He understands the difficulties and how hard it is over there fighting terrorism. But let's keep our eye on the ball.

(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: All right, you don't think he's guilty of painting a rosy picture right now?

DOWD: Of course not.

ZAHN: Which even some Republicans are alleging.

DOWD: The president understands more than anybody else what it takes to fight terrorism. Let's keep in mind one thing. As John Edwards and John Kerry say, who they want to blame on this is not the terrorists. They want to blame the president and vice president.

ZAHN: All right. Matthew, even before that, the Republicans are blaming this administration. Are these Republicans wrong?

DOWD: Let's see who the Republicans are. John McCain gave a speech at the convention. He supports the president and he said this is the right man at the right time in this war to lead the country. Chuck Hagel chairs the president's campaign in Nebraska and thinks the president is the right person to lead this country.

ZAHN: But that's a separate issue. They have very specific criticisms of his policies in Iraq.

DOWD: But those two senators both have important things to say and this president obviously listens to a lot of people, but he mainly listens to the generals on the ground that advice him about what he needs to do and how we need to win this war.

ZAHN: All right.

DOWD: The president pays attention to that and he talks about it every day.

ZAHN: And, Tad Devine, your candidate doesn't get off the hook here either. Even prominent Democrats are saying John Kerry has been inconsistent on the issue of Iraq. A much-quoted opinion, editorial piece in the weekend paper said, you know, from Leon Panetta, the guy who used to help Bill Clinton, find a message, any message. Stick with it.

DEVINE: Paula, let me tell you the message of this campaign. John Kerry believes America needs to move in a new direction. The policies that have been pursued by this president have resulted in disaster, a disaster in Iraq today where 1,000 or more of our troops have died, a disaster which cost our nation $200 billion and counting, an economy which is in freefall.

ZAHN: Come back to your candidate's record on Iraq. Even his colleagues say he's been inconsistent and his positions are confusing to the American public.

DEVINE: Paula, earlier this week, John Kerry gave a comprehensive speech on Iraq where he laid out a detailed plan to move this nation ahead. Until the president of the United States understands that we cannot win the war against terror until America unites with our allies and America leads strong alliances in the world, the American people and American troops will continue to bear the burden almost alone. That's the problem with this president. He invaded unilaterally and now we're bearing the burden for his disastrous choices.


ZAHN: We got to leave it there. Matthew Dowd, Tad Devine, thank you for both of your perspectives tonight.

DOWD: Glad to be here, Paula.

DEVINE: Thank you.

ZAHN: My pleasure.

And if the latest flurry of ads between the campaigns didn't cause enough discord today, now there is another political flashback from John Kerry's Vietnam years. How much truth is behind the new ad from Swift Boat Veterans For Truth? Right after this.

But, the buzz about the CBS story today from talk radio's right and left.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The idea that CBS has to even point an independent commission, what does that say about them? Stop and think of that. CBS is admitting that we can't trust them to investigate themselves.



ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The righties are using this Rather story, and, of course, Rather handed them the gun. You have got to admit that. They have made serious mistakes at CBS. But they're just carrying that out, carrying this out and trying to milk this for everything it's worth.



ZAHN: Now we turn to the political ad wars and one particular ad the John Kerry campaign is calling junkyard politics.

The anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans For Truth has a new commercial out, this time accusing him of secretly meeting with enemy leaders during the Vietnam era.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has seen it and checked the facts behind its claims.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The Swift Boat Veterans are hitting Kerry again.


NARRATOR: Even before Jane Fonda went to Hanoi to meet with the enemy and mock America, John Kerry secretly met with enemy leaders in Paris, though we were still at war and Americans were being held in North Vietnamese prison camps.


SCHNEIDER: Allegation: Kerry met with north Vietnamese and Viet Cong representatives in Paris. The Kerry campaign says Kerry did have such a meeting in Paris in 1970 during the Paris peace talks, he says, to discuss the status of U.S. prisoners of war.

Allegation: a secret meeting. His accusers claim the meeting was secret until Kerry disclosed it in his Senate testimony nearly a year later, but it has not been a secret for the past 33 years.

Allegation: What Kerry did was comparable to what Jane Fonda did.

STANLEY KARNOW, VIETNAM WAR HISTORIAN: I think what she did in Hanoi is reprehensible, you know, sitting on an anti-aircraft canon making disparaging remarks about POWs.

SCHNEIDER: John O'Neill believes what Kerry did was worse.

JOHN O'NEILL, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH: First, it was earlier. Second, he was a military officer. Jane Fonda was not.

SCHNEIDER: Kerry says he use the meeting to test what he called the lay of the land for releasing U.S. prisoners, not to give aid and encouragement to the enemy, as Fonda did.



NARRATOR: Then he returned and accused American troops of committing war crimes on a daily basis.


SCHNEIDER: Kerry did cite testimony of U.S. atrocities at the 1971 Senate hearing. Investigations, including one for which "The Toledo Blade" won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004, have documented such atrocities.

O'NEILL: Where John Kerry went beyond way anyone else is he claimed that these were occurring as a matter of policy, that they were on a day-to-day basis and that they were being directed from the top.

SCHNEIDER: True. Kerry says he was not blaming the soldiers, but the policy makers.



NARRATOR: In a time of war, can America trust a man who betrayed his country?


SCHNEIDER: Kerry's critics feel he betrayed them.

O'NEILL: We consider it a tremendous betrayal -- I do -- of our unit and of the people he served with.

SCHNEIDER: But it's a big leap from feeling personally betrayed, which the Swift Boat Veterans clearly did, to charging betrayal of the country.


ZAHN: That was senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

And there is more news tonight from a couple of other fronts on the campaign ad wars. The Associated Press has revealed that President Bush's political team has found a way to get around campaign spending limits and take control of millions of dollars in Republican Party funds. They're doing it by simply inserting the phrase "our leaders in Congress" into certain ads.

Well, also today, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to crack down on unlimited spending by so-called independent political organizations that are known as 527s, groups like, which I'm sure you've heard of, and the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth.

One of the co-sponsors is Connecticut Republican Congressman Christopher Shays, who joins me from Washington tonight.

Good to see you, Congressman. Welcome.


ZAHN: I can't believe that the swift boat ads and some of these other ads directed against the president are what you had in mind when you pushed for McCain/Feingold. Is this a slap in the face to you?

SHAYS: Oh, it's not a slap in the face. We first wanted to make sure that corporations and labor unions and individuals didn't provide unlimited sums to campaigns. We wanted to enforce the 1907 law banding corporate money and the 1947 law money banning union dues money and the 1974 law banning unlimited sums from individuals.

Five twenty-sevens are breaking the 1974 law.

ZAHN: So why are they still on the air? If -- if both the Republican and Democratic Party really wanted these ads off the air, wouldn't they be off the air right now?

SHAYS: The problem is that elections commission is comprised of anarchists. They're basically people who don't believe in the law. And so what they did is simply refuse to rewrite regulations telling these 527s that they needed to register.

The law is clear. If you're trying to defeat or elect a candidate, you come under the campaign law.

Now, what's interesting to me, Paula, is $60 million, give or take, was spent by the Media Fund and ACT and, and then what happened was the swift boat ads came -- now, that's the Republican side -- spent about less than $3 million and then the press is paying attention.

I'm happy they are, but you've seen a real disparity in terms of what money has been spent.

ZAHN: Yes, well, some will argue the Republicans were a lot smarter and got luckier when it came to press attention. Folks have -- want to move you on to the issue about Iraq.

SHAYS: You're missing the point. No, you're missing the point. The Democrats for -- spent $16 million on these 527s.

ZAHN: Right.

SHAYS: And there really wasn't any complaint. The administration was willing to abide by the law, but, finally, you saw Republicans say, "We've got to counter it."

ZAHN: Right. But the argument being made is that the Republicans got a bigger bang for their buck because of all the media attention focus...

SHAYS: They sure did.

ZAHN: ... on the swift boat ads.

On to the issue of Iraq. You might have heard a Bush operative just saying that he doesn't think the president is guilty of painting too rosy of a picture in Iraq.

But when you've got key members of your party, like Senator Hagel, saying we are in trouble in Iraq, we are not winning. Someone's got to be listening to that.

Do you take his complaints seriously?

SHAYS: Well, I don't think the president has painted a rosy picture. I think this is very serious what we're doing. He's just saying we have made progress in a lot of different areas. The transfer of power was progress.

I've been to Iraq six times in the last 17 months, four times outside the umbrella of the military. And I've met with Allawi. These are good signs that are happening, but then we have the problem.

We never should have disbanded the army. We never should have disbanded the police, and we never should have disbanded the government. And we're paying a price for that.

ZAHN: Do you think we'll see an effort to crush the insurgency happen after the election?

SHAYS: Oh, I think you'll see it begin to happen before. And I think, ultimately, you'll see more Iraqi in the army, a bigger police force of Iraqis. And they will take on a lot of the heavy lifting.

ZAHN: Congressman Shays, thank you for covering a couple subjects for us this evening. Really good to see you.

There is much more stirring the political pot tonight. Which campaign is getting it right and which is getting it wrong? Ahead, insight from two veteran political strategists.

And remember tonight's "Voting Booth" question: "Are Bush and Kerry's military service fair game in the election?" Yes or no. Vote at We will have the results for you at the end of the hour.


ZAHN: Well, earlier we heard from strategists for the Bush and Kerry campaigns, but at this point Democrats and Republicans alike are watching and second-guessing every single move the campaigns make. Who's doing the right thing? Who is ignoring the obvious?

Well, to answer those questions and more we are bringing in our own pair of strategists. We'd like to welcome the PAULA ZAHN NOW team, Democrat Bill Carrick and Republican Mike Murphy.

How fitting that you two should be on the left and the right hand of the screen with your blue and red state ties. Lovely touch, gentlemen, and the matching beard.


ZAHN: Yes, exactly. I want to start off talking about the CBS controversy. And one of the ironies, it seems to me, Bill, is in spite of the fact that these documents have been -- were brought to CBS by an avowed Bush hater, they have not helped John Kerry at all, have they?

BILL CARRICK, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, this is an incredible mess. And of course, Kerry has been the victim in the whole thing. It raises an issue that he probably didn't want to see raised.

And of course, the fact that it got all messed up and -- and the documents turned out to be very, very suspicious has left Kerry looking like somehow they engineered this when they may have had nothing at all to do with it. ZAHN: Bill, has it raised any questions, you think, in the public's mind about the trustworthiness of the president? His truthfulness?

MURPHY: Well, I think -- I think most of the polling shows that about half the Americans think the president got out of Vietnam through political influence in getting in the Guard and about half don't, which is about how America feels on George Bush on almost every issue. Half like him, half don't. So, another Rorschach test.

ZAHN: There have been a lot of those Rorschach tests in this campaign.

Mike, the Democrats are really coming down on the Republicans for keeping this controversy stoked, because they say it allows the president to be distracted and not talk about what's really important, like the issue of Iraq.

Are the Republicans guilty of stirring the pot here?

MURPHY: No, I think these are crocodile tears from the Democrats. I mean, what we know now -- the story is -- I agree with Bill, it's a mess. And it's growing because it's gone from a story about a charge about the president to a process story about how CBS News got it so wrong. And what Joe Lockhart, a top aide at the Kerry campaign, was doing on the phone to the source, the avowed Bush hater, and to a CBS News producer.

So I think now the investigation is going to be the Democrats can claim it's a Republican set-up, but the intended victim was George Bush and the weird collusion of factors here between CBS News, Bush haters and campaign staffers at the Kerry campaign is historic.

CARRICK: Mike, we have no evidence that Joe Lockhart did anything but talk to this guy, who apparently has got everybody in America on speed dial on his phone. So I don't think there's any real evidence that Joe Lockhart did a thing here.

MURPHY: Well, we don't know, Bill.

CARRICK: Basically, Dan Rather and his producer found this whole story up, and somehow John Kerry got left holding the bag.

MURPHY: Well, the only facts we know is that there was a smeared document and a bunch of suspicious phone calls between a partisan campaign and a CBS News corruption team.

ZAHN: All right. But Mike, hang on a second. You know what Joe Lockhart has said about that call. He said the call lasted three to four minutes and they did not even specifically talk about the document. So...

MURPHY: He's a friend of mine, but I'm suspicious, being a Republican, dealing with liberal media all the time, when CBS News runs a half-baked story and the producer's on the phone to avowed Bush haters and Kerry campaign staff. I want a little more explanation. CARRICK: Well, there's no question that the producer has spent five years fishing on this story and obviously didn't do a very good job. This Joe Lockhart is just an after thought in this story. This has been going on a long, long time.

ZAHN: On to the issue of Iraq. Bill, I'm going to come back to you for a moment. A lot of criticism from within the Democratic Party that John Kerry has waited too long to come out and aggressively attack the president's policy. Do you agree?

CARRICK: I think there's an awful lot of second-guessing going on in the Democratic Party by people who ought to learn how to keep their mouths shut.

But the truth is John Kerry is making a pretty -- pretty strong case against the president right now. And he's got the focus on Iraq.

The president did a brilliant job at his convention of compressing Iraq, 9/11 and the war on terrorism all together. John Kerry now has to separate them back out and examine -- make the American people examine his leadership and the management of the Iraq war.

ZAHN: Mike, how vulnerable do you think the president is on the issue of Iraq, when he's getting creamed by members of his own party who say that the post-war plan was flawed and it is an absolute disaster over there?

MURPHY: I don't think he's vulnerable at all. Every day, John McCain, my good friend, also says if you want a better outcome in Iraq vote for George Bush, not John Kerry.

CARRICK: That was three weeks ago, not now.

MURPHY: No, nice try, Bill.

ZAHN: But wait a minute, Mike. You can't be satisfied or pleased with what's going on in Iraq right now as it relates to the campaign.

MURPHY: I'm satisfied that the Kerry campaign wants to debate Iraq. I think there's room for improvement in Iraq, no doubt about it. I know it will get worse if John Kerry was president.

And the big question I have -- I'm really bemused by this -- I think the Kerry campaign has made a huge strategic bet to put the campaign into a debate on Iraq. They ought to call somebody who worked on the McGovern campaign and find out what happened. Because wars don't have to be popular to be necessary.

And the Bush campaign -- and they're right about this -- want the debate of the campaign to be about Iraq, not the economy. And I think the Kerry campaign is falling right into their strategic trap.

ZAHN: Bill, you get the last word tonight. You said you wish some of your colleagues within the Democratic Party might have kept their mouth shut over the last couple weeks about the lack of direction in John Kerry's campaign.

Do you think his message has been consistent on Iraq?

CARRICK: I think -- I think John Kerry has got to get the focus on the present situation in Iraq and the future and who's got a plan for dealing with Iraq and getting the focus away from whatever happened in the past.

Because I don't think the American people want to spend all their time thinking about who voted for what months ago or years ago. They want to know what you're going to do about Iraq now.

ZAHN: OK, Mike, quick thought.

MURPHY: I have a question for Bill. If you were running the Kerry campaign, because you're a smart guy...

ZAHN: You're not allowed to ask questions. You're only supposed to answer them, Mike.

MURPHY: Would you put the campaign on the Iraq or on the economy?

ZAHN: Give him a one-word answer there, Bill.

CARRICK: I would try to get the -- the campaign on Iraq and the economy.

ZAHN: See, you skirted it. Well, delighted to have you join our team, Bill Carrick, Mike Murphy. You can come back as long as you always promise to wear the blue and the red ties for the blue or the red states.


ZAHN: Thank you.

With all of the shouting about attack ads, flip-flopping and Vietnam era service, it's important to remember one basic truth. Americans are putting their lives on the line in Iraq. What they're up against when we come back.


ZAHN: On now to what's happening on the ground in Iraq. There has been some progress, but there also has been a tremendous cost in lives and political stability. Take a look at this from senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers in Baghdad.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some here believe the Bush administration's Iraqi experiment in democracy uncorked a dangerous genie.

SA'AD NAJI JAWAD, IRAQI ANALYST: This is the chaotic situation, the American occupation created in Iraq. And this is the thing which is dividing and splitting Iraq into small areas (ph) and principalities.

RODGERS: Each of these Iraqi cities has at one time slipped into or out of coalition control, leaving much of the country in the hands of militias.

Among the Sunni Muslims, similar tribal fragmenting, warring militias united only in the fight to kill Americans.

The general dislike of the American installed Iraqi government is a unifying force. This man said, "They're all traitors and spies brought here by the Americans and Jews on their tanks."


ZAHN: And that was just some of what you'll see a little bit later on on "NEWSNIGHT" at 10 p.m. Eastern Time.

And guess who's here? The guy that anchors that show, Aaron Brown. We'll have a 10-hour special (ph). Yes, he walked 50 yards to get over here.

So, you have a series of pieces on Iraq tonight. If -- if you look at them all collectively, do you get any better sense of what a potential exit strategy might look like?

AARON BROWN, HOST, "NEWSNIGHT": Well, one of the things I think people will get tonight and I think in the days ahead from us is we devote lots of time to Iraq and we're going to, are a lot of people's views on how to get out.

As we've all come to understand, it's a very complicated landscape there. Walt's piece will set it up. And we'll look at military -- excuse me. Military strategies, political strategies, all sorts of strategies.

But over the course of the next few days and weeks you'll hear from a range of people on how we get out of there. We spend all this time talking about how we got in.

ZAHN: Is there a particular military strategy that seems to make sense or where there's a consensus built around it that it might -- might work?

BROWN: I think there's a consensus today that the next months you're going to see a much more aggressive American military operation in Iraq.

ZAHN: Well, some are saying two days after the election.

BROWN: Well, you know, I think in some respects you've already seen it. The more aggressive air attacks in Fallujah, for example. The battle that went on today that cost an American his life in Sadr City. Three Americans died -- three American soldiers died in Iraq today. So there's a ramping up of the military operation and shifting money from the reconstruction to the military, because they know that unless there is security, there is nothing.

ZAHN: Well, we will be watching the rest of your show tonight. Thanks for dropping by.

BROWN: Thank you.

ZAHN: Next time you can run over. Fifty yards from studio to studio here.

Again, you can see the "NEWSNIGHT" special at 10 p.m. Aaron Brown, thanks again.

Well, if you think political movies are the sole property of left this year, think again. Move over "Fahrenheit 9/11." This film is coming out of right field. Right after break.


ZAHN: No one expected Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" to earn $120 million at the box office. After all, it's a documentary.

Maybe more predictable, a Republican response to the movie. Next Tuesday in Washington the film "Celsius 41.11" will have its premier paid for by a conservative group called Citizens United. It takes its title from the temperature at which the brain breaks down from heat.

The filmmakers use footage contrasting the position of the presidential candidates sprinkled with interviews with big name Republicans to make their case.

Here's a look.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Time is not on our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as parallel draws closer and closer. The war on terror will not be won on the defensive.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response.

BUSH: If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.


ZAHN: And joining us now from Los Angeles, the executive producer of "Celsius 41.11" and executive director of Citizens United, David Bossie, hello. And along with his producer, Lionel Chetwynd on the right. Welcome, gentlemen.

So David, I think I've got to be honest with the audience that you only provided the trailer to this film for us and in what little I saw it seemed to me that perhaps you were more interested in attacking Michael Moore than bringing down John Kerry.

How would you describe what you were trying to achieve here?

DAVID BOSSIE, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "CELSIUS 41.11": Oh, I don't think that at all, Paula. I think our movie is an incredibly balanced look at John Kerry. It's an incredibly balanced look at the lies and propaganda of Michael Moore's movie.

So I think what we do is try to provide the American people with the -- the information that they can have, they need, to make better decisions November 2nd.

ZAHN: Lionel, though, you have seen some of what the Democrats have said about your partner in this film, David Bossie. They called him a Republican dirty trickster. They called him a guy who has achieved celebrity status by twisting evidence to vilify Democratic politicians.

Is he guilty of that, Lionel?

LIONEL CHETWYND, PRODUCER, "CELSIUS 41.11": Look, I'm filmmaker. I've made over two dozen films and over two dozen documentaries.

There are a number of people who approached me to make this film. It's a short list of people in Hollywood who would make a film from this point of view. Dave Bossie was the most forthright, most direct person amongst them who was the most prepared to let us make the film that we wanted to make.

ZAHN: Lionel, what's your goal with this film? You want people to vote for George Bush?

CHETWYND: My goal is -- My goal -- certainly, I'm a supporter of George Bush. But the goal of the film is not to stoke the fire. The name of the film is to deepen the debate. This is not a red meat film. It's very easy to do what Michael Moore does.

And I would dispute, actually, your description with a lot of heavyweight Republicans. In fact, that isn't what the film is. The narrative of the film -- the narrative of the film is strung together from a number of people who could be characterized, many of them Democrats, in fact.

And it's supported by scholarship and scholarship and when you make documentaries is by finding -- going out and finding the clips, the quotes, the actual moments captured on video of the various people seeing it themselves. They're like the footnotes of a proper thesis.


ZAHN: David...

CHETWYND: ... it's a balanced film. It's not -- whatever is said about Mr. Bossie. And I'll say this of Dave Bossie. I'd rather be -- I'd rather be in business with him than George Soros or Dan Rather.

ZAHN: I'm not surprised to hear you say that.

David, a final word on whether you think this film will have any impact on election day.

BOSSIE: I absolutely do. I'm excited about this film. People can get a chance to see it, I hope, by mid-October in their theaters locally, as well as we're going to have it available on DVD shortly after that.

ZAHN: I knew there had to be a DVD sales pitch in there some place.

David Bossie, Lionel Chetwynd, thanks to both of you. Appreciate you spending some time with us tonight.

Tomorrow night, we'll another look at another documentary. This one features photographs by a man who has known John Kerry for decades and who has captured many touching, as well as controversial events in the candidate's life. That's tomorrow.

And we'll be back in a moment with the results of our PRIME TIME POLITICS "Voting Booth" poll.


ZAHN: Now, it's time for the moment you've all been waiting for, the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question. We asked, "Are Bush and Kerry's military service fair game in this election?"

Here's how you sounded off. Seventy-three percent of you said yes; 27 percent of you said no. Once again, this is not a scientific survey but just a psychology of all of your opinions out there. Keep them coming. We're going to ask you a question every night.

And that wraps it up for all of us tonight. Thanks again for joining us. Tomorrow, I'll join you from the nation's capitol, and we'll look at the whirlwind politics of Florida. We will take an exclusive look at the first polls in that decisive battleground after three punishing hurricanes.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Senator John Edwards will be his guest. Again, thanks for dropping by here tonight. Good night.


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