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The Embed Debate; Religion and Politics

Aired November 18, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome.
Tonight on PRIME TIME POLITICS, war as it has never been seen before. Embedded reporters brought the invasion of Iraq into American homes as it happened. That was a first. But they've always captured moments like this, the apparent fatal shooting of an already wounded prisoner by a U.S. Marine. Tonight, the politics of the embed process, the media, and the military.

And we'll be looking at the role of religion in the race for the White House. Even the IRS thinks the legal line may have been crossed between politics and the pulpit.

Then, an extraordinary, if rain-soaked honor. Three former presidents shower former President Clinton with praise at the dedication of his presidential library. I should make that clear, that Mr. Bush is the current president.

We start tonight with some incredible pictures, though, out of Iraq. Today, in Fallujah, U.S. Army troops found what appears to be a suicide car bomb factory. There was a brand new SUV from, of all places, Texas. There were also bags of chemicals for explosives. And then look at this, also in Falluja, on the wall of a bombed-out house, the symbol of al Qaeda. In that same house, the soldiers found letters to and from the insurgent leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

These pictures come from reporters and photographers embedded with U.S. troops, the same source for the infamous video showing the shooting of a wounded enemy combatant. And that brings us to a disturbing question, one that's being raised in the halls of Congress. When it comes to embedded reporters, how close is too close?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... that corner building.

ZAHN (voice-over): It's often said the first casualty in war is truth. But since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, television viewers have gotten an unprecedented look at what really happens in war, the moments of exhilaration.


ZAHN: The intensity of combat and, as we all know from this past week, the ugliness and confusion of a combat zone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's (EXPLETIVE DELETED) faking he's dead. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he's breathing.



ZAHN: All of these scenes are the result of a program the Pentagon started in late 2002, embedding reporters with combat troops. Reporters hadn't traveled this closely with U.S. troops in combat zones since Vietnam.

Access to the battlefields of the 1991 Gulf War was severely restricted, but for the past two years, embedded reporters have brought the battle for Iraq into our living rooms. At times, it hasn't been an easy adjustment for the military, nor for the media.

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They've got their rules, and I think we go into it with our rules. Our rules are that, if we witness it, if we capture it, we're allowed to send it back. As long as it doesn't jeopardize the mission, which is their rule, then we should be able to report it.

ZAHN: Last Saturday's video of a U.S. Marine shooting and killing a wounded insurgent in Falluja is raising questions about what embedded reporters should show. Even though the camera is this close, it can't show you the intense pressure on the troops, walking through an unfamiliar place, where every object could conceal a sniper and every person could be hiding a bomb.

BELLINI: You're going without sleep. You're in a very stressful situation. And the Marines are seeing their buddies being injured, being killed. And I think that a bit of paranoia can creep in.

ZAHN: Last Saturday in Falluja, the man behind the camera was Kevin Sites, a freelance journalist whose stories and pictures about the battle are posted on his Web site. But there is apprehension. Is getting this close too close?

At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, one lawmaker called on the military to abandon the idea of embedded reporters in combat.

REP. SILVESTRE REYES (D), TEXAS: I don't think it's a good idea to have embedded reporters in combat to the extent we have them, and I hope we abandon that, not that we want to keep anything secret, but having had the experience of combat, it's an ugly situation.

ZAHN: But the commandant of the U.S. Marines defended the program.

GEN. MICHAEL HAGEE, COMMANDANT, U.S. MARINE CORPS: In my personal opinion, embedded reporters have actually worked very well. They inform the American public about what these great young Americans are doing over there, and the large, large majority are doing, as you have, as the members here have already articulated, are doing a tremendous job. And the American press is an important part of getting that information out. ZAHN: In a free society, how much freedom is prudent? And how much should embedded reporters show us?


ZAHN: And with me now is former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, one of the architects of the embedded reporter program. She's now a CNN contributor, and she's with us here in person for a change.


ZAHN: Great to see you.

CLARKE: It's great to be here.

ZAHN: A real person exists behind that camera.


ZAHN: I wanted to start off tonight by watching that controversial piece of videotape with you one more time.

CLARKE: Got it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not dead. He is moving.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he's breathing.




ZAHN: Torie, people have a lot of different reactions when they watch that tape. Why isn't this American embed shot tape a propaganda coup for Al-Jazeera?

CLARKE: Oh, I don't think it's a coup. Al-Jazeera gets up every day and tries to figure out, how many different ways can they can lie and deceive and use deceptive tactics. They're going to do that anyhow.

ZAHN: But you can't really draw any conclusions about the performance of this Marine, can you, from this tape?

CLARKE: You can't. It's only a few seconds.

What you can draw conclusions from, interestingly enough, is, because of these embedded reporters, over the last 10 days or so, we have seen these Marines doing phenomenal things in Falluja. A year or two, you remember people saying U.S. forces can't do urban combat. They can't do it. Well, they have proven they can. They've done extraordinary things in that city over the last 10 days. And we've seen a lot of that, which is a very good thing. We want the American people to see. We want the people around the world to see it.


ZAHN: But do you want the American people to see the ambiguity of what we see on this tape?

CLARKE: That's reality. That's the truth.

That is part of war. Some things are ambiguous. In the information era, in which information does and can travel around the world at the speed of light, the more of a spotlight you put on things, the better off you'll be. You can either embrace transparency or you're going to get run over by it.

ZAHN: But you can't tell me the Pentagon isn't worried about the kind of reaction that videotape will inspire among Iraqis? These are Iraqis who are distrustful of U.S. forces.


CLARKE: Well, some of the Iraqis are. A lot of the Iraqis aren't. And poll after poll after poll has demonstrated the Iraqi people don't like to be occupied. Nobody does. But they're glad we're there. They're glad we're doing the job we're doing. They don't want us to leave until the job is done.

We could not have gone into a place like Falluja if residents of that city weren't sick and tired of what the insurgents were doing, slaughtering innocent citizens, mowing down Iraqis who had signed up as policemen. They were sick of it, too, and wanted those people driven out.

ZAHN: It seems to me, the biggest struggle the Pentagon has with this one is providing the balance and helping the American audience understand that we have seen Iraqis wave white flags of surrender to try to ambush American soldiers.


CLARKE: Right. Blow up dead bodies, those sorts of things.

What I found fascinating in the last few days, as so many people have been talking about this, is, you don't have too many people going to the knee-jerk reaction. Sure, Al-Jazeera is. But people in this country, thoughtful people, saying, you know, you need to have more of the facts. You really have to know what happened the day before, that that particular Marine got shot in the face.

He saw one of his buddies being killed in an ambush kind of situation. ZAHN: The investigation goes on.

CLARKE: It does.

ZAHN: What do you suspect will happen to this Marine?

CLARKE: I don't know, because I don't know all the circumstances before, during, and after.

Now, if track record means anything, over the last several months, last couple of years, there have been incidents in which there were similar incidents to what occurred with this Marine, and nobody deals with those incidents more harshly and more seriously than the U.S. military.

ZAHN: Based on what you just told me, what is your reaction to the criticism, the broad criticism that the Pentagon put this embed system into place -- it was your idea -- to sell the war to the American public?

CLARKE: It's more complex than that.

ZAHN: Is that in part true?

CLARKE: No. A tiny piece of it is true.

The embedding program was because of several things. It was a recognition that this is the right thing to do. The more information you give people about the military, the more you let them see just how incredible these young people are and how they perform so well under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, the better off we'll all be.


CLARKE: It is also reality. You know what? It is reality. In this information era in which stuff can just rocket around, rumors including, can rocket around at lightspeed, you want the eyes and ears of the news media there as much as possible, to point out the good things, for sure, but also be the eyes and ears on the bad things.

ZAHN: The accusation during the war was the embedded reporters got too cozy with Pentagon officials, and they were showing the American public a varnished look at the war. Why can't they go around on their own?

CLARKE: You know what? I've heard that before, that criticism.

And it tends to come from academics. It tends to come from those media analysts -- god help us, people actually have that as a job -- who weren't there. And whenever they would say it, I would say it, show me the story that demonstrates that. Show me the TV piece. Show me the print piece that demonstrates that, that reporters got too cozy.

And they can never produce anything, because the reality is, things were moving so fast. The access was so unlimited. The volume of reporting being done was so great. It was one of the most factual accounting of events that we have ever seen in the history of military conflict, and bad things happen. People forget this, but bad things happen.

There was a horrible scene where a van full of innocent people got shot up because they ran a checkpoint. It was an accident, but it happened. It was covered. There was a general early in the war who was saying, boy, oh, boy, this isn't the enemy we really trained against. That got covered, as well as all the incredibly positive things that happened.

ZAHN: But you can't discount the fact that reporters whose very lives were saved -- and we know this happened in combat situations -- by the soldiers and Marines they were covering, that that doesn't seep into the reporting.

CLARKE: Well, we can talk about Walt Rodgers, who was phenomenal. We can talk about Ted Koppel, who did some extraordinary reporting. People like that weren't pulling any punches. They were calling them like they saw it. They don't have to go with the U.S. forces. They can go on their own, and they did.

ZAHN: How many are really doing that?

CLARKE: Oh, I think some of them are, just as they were in Afghanistan, just as they were in the early days of Iraq.

ZAHN: Without any official approval from the Pentagon?

CLARKE: Oh, sure. Absolutely. They can go wherever they want. We can't control it.

Now, a lot of them have chosen to go with the U.S. forces, for lots of different reasons. But, again, history will be the best judge of this. But I think what history will say is that, in this information era, putting as much transparency as possible against a highly complex situation like military combat is the absolute best approach, from the U.S. government's perspective and from the media's perspective.

ZAHN: Torie Clarke, thanks for coming up north for us.

CLARKE: Great to see you. Thank you.

ZAHN: There's more on the embed issue, the military and the media coming up, along with the historic event that brought together four American presidents.


ZAHN (voice-over): The gathering at Little Rock, four presidents, lots of rain, lots of dry humor.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Clinton were the Titanic, the iceberg would sink.

ZAHN: Tonight, a salute to a rock 'n' roll president.

And did some preachers cross the line, blessing some candidates, condemning others? Now the IRS wants to know. Nonprofits, politics, and taxes.

And tonight's voting booth question: Should churches be allowed to endorse political candidates? Cast your vote at The results and much more tonight on PRIME TIME POLITICS.



ZAHN: And welcome back.

We are talking about the impact of embedding reporters with U.S. combat troops. A Pew poll conducted during major combat operations in Iraq last year found 58 percent of Americans felt it was a good thing to have reporters submitting dispatches from combat areas; 34 percent called it a bad thing.

I'm joined tonight by three experienced reporters who have been embedded with U.S. forces. In Washington tonight is "Christian Science Monitor" Pentagon correspondent Ann Scott Tyson, CNN correspondent Ryan Chilcote, who joins us from Moscow, and our national international correspondent Walt Rodgers, who joins us from London. Last year, he was one of the first embedded reporters to reach Baghdad.

Good to see all three of you.

Welcome, Walt. I'm going to start with you this evening.

You have been covering wars as a journalist for 35 years. It strikes me, with this process, you're going to get hit from both sides. You put something on the air that makes American forces look bad, you're accused of aiding and abetting the enemy. You put something on TV that makes American forces look good, you've got folks out there accusing you of selling the war effort. Did you feel compromised during the war process?


Listen, embedded reporters don't win or lose wars. Wars are won and lost by soldiers and by politicians. That may be what we're seeing here in Iraq now. I was never compromised. I don't think any of the correspondents I was with were compromised. I think this is basically about the public's right to know.

That's guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. I was amazed to hear Texas Congressman Reyes, who took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, seemingly subverting the First Amendment by saying, well, we ought to start infringing war coverage. War is the most vital activity that any state engages in. The public has a right to know more about war than it does virtually any other aspect of government activity, because it's their sons and daughters, the public's sons and daughters, that are dying out there in Iraq now.

ZAHN: Walt, did you think you had access to everything you needed to as you covered this war in Iraq?

RODGERS: Torie Clarke is a genius when she created the embedding system.

Yes, I had access to more probably than any other reporter, but I had a very fine relationship, which just fell into place, with the colonel of the 7th Cavalry, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, Colonel Terry Ferrell. He knew that the Pentagon wanted embedding to work, and he said, Walt, here it is. Check it. And we would be looking at his maps with him. We'd be on the hood, the bonnet, of a Humvee, as he had his junior officers around. We would talk about going into battle.

I could raise my hand and say, well, Colonel Ferrell, do you think this is a good idea, or will we have CAS, close air support? We were deeply involved in all of this to the extent that we could ask any questions we wanted. And the only thing that really governed the way we reported the news was common sense. And, from my point of view was, I didn't want to get myself killed, so I was not going to violate the Pentagon's rules.

And by killed, I mean, if I broke the rules, I would be betraying the unit's position, and that would get soldiers killed, and it could very easily get me and my crew killed. You don't do that. It was easy.

ZAHN: Sure. And I was on the air with you some 12 hours a day during that war, and I should say, as a footnote, you were very judicious about the kind of information put out. Obviously, you didn't want to subject the troops to increased danger.

Ann, were you ever asked by any of the military superiors you were covering to hold back information from your readers?


Of course, the ground rules do make statements about specific troop numbers, locations, all the basic ingredients of operational security that, you know, reporters should not give away. I think that's basically understood. And I think that the real dilemmas come in gray areas more, when there are things that happen that are unfortunate civilian casualties, mistakes or incompetence. And it's those gray areas that get debated.

ZAHN: Ryan, we want to share with our audience one of those gray areas now. We should say you were involved in embedded missions both in Iraq and Afghanistan over a year period.

And what we're about to show our audience is a graphic piece of video with some coarse language that raises an awful lot of questions.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, quit filming. Stop filming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, roger. He's down.







ZAHN: Ryan, what happened after that point? Did this little boy live?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wow, Paula, it feels like it was just yesterday. At that point, we did stop filming. It was a very complicated situation. We were out in the middle of the field with the soldier who had just shot this boy.

He had fired from about a couple hundred meters away, a couple hundred yards away, and he didn't realize at the time, at least according to him, that he was shooting an unarmed boy. And he immediately started giving that boy medical attention. And both the cameraman, Alexey Belov, and I, were on the scene right there. And what we didn't want to create was a situation where we would distract that soldier because we were challenging him, forcing the issue by saying, no, we're going to shoot right now as you treat this kid.

We didn't want to distract him from saving that little boy's life. Now, some people might disagree with this, but I also myself got involved with helping the boy. In a short time, we had our own security adviser on the scene. There was about six more soldiers. And for the next 2 1/2 hours, everybody worked very hard to keep this kid alive. And it's, quite frankly, a miracle that he did survive.


CHILCOTE: About two, three times over the course of that period, he almost lost it. But we did resume shooting a little bit later, and we switched tapes, and we -- with the tape with the actual shooting on it. That's why you see that there.


CHILCOTE: The military, of course, didn't want us to show you that.


ZAHN: I was going to ask you about that. Sorry about the delay in the signal here.

But is it true that, when you went to report that story, your military superiors that you were covering weren't very happy about that and they actually curtailed your access?

CHILCOTE: Well, what they tried to do was very interesting. You know, we'd been out on this embed in Afghanistan for about a week and a half at that point. And we were very good friends with everybody in the unit. How couldn't you be? After all, you're riding around in jeeps with them and spending every single hour of the day.

As soon as we filmed or taped that incident, of course, everybody kind of became distant, if you will. It was like being the estranged relative all of a sudden, and nobody wanted to talk to us. But I will say that the commander with whom I spoke with about 40 minutes after the incident understood that we were going to play that video. And I spent the next three days, because we had no good means of transmitting that image right away, to convince these soldiers that they should talk to me and explain their feelings about what took place.

And it took two days, but they warmed up, and they shared what they thought about that incident. And I think that that gave our viewers a much more rounded picture about what took place, not just the fact that a U.S. soldier mistakenly shot a kid, but the fact that they didn't want to do that and they felt bad about it, Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Walt, I need a brief final answer to wrap up the segment tonight about the lessons to be learned about the situations you, as embeds, are subjected to.

RODGERS: Most important thing, I think, in the embed situation is this. The reporter has an obligation to bring wisdom, integrity, and intelligence to the story.

And if the reporter does his job bringing those qualities to the story, then the embedding process will be a success. And almost every Army officer I ever saw would agree with that statement in its totality. You must have the high qualities of journalism bought to the embed process, and then the Army will say, OK, we made a mistake, but at least you're fair and honest with us. And that's what counts.

ZAHN: Walter Rodgers, Ann Scott Tyson, Ryan Chilcote, thank you for all three of your opinions tonight. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, we move from the media in wartime to what some see as the war on the media. He is facing prison time for keeping his sources a secret, the fine line between breaking news and breaking the law -- when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: Before the break, we were talking with three correspondents about the risk they faced while embedded with U.S. forces in Iraq.

But there are different risks for journalists here at home. They sometimes face a painful choice, break a promise of confidentiality to your source or go to jail. In Providence, Rhode Island, today, a TV reporter was convicted of criminal contempt for his choice.

Here's Deborah Feyerick.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Calling the guilty verdict an assault on journalistic freedom, investigative reporter Jim Taricani said he'd continue protecting the identity of his source.

JIM TARICANI, WJAR REPORTER: I made a promise to my source, which I intend to keep.

FEYERICK: A federal judge finding that promise directly defies a court order, one requiring the reporter to divulge who gave him a copy of an FBI surveillance tape.

TARICANI: But, when people are afraid, a promise of confidentiality may be the only way to get the information to the public.

FEYERICK: The tape shows a top aide to the former Providence, Rhode Island, mayor taking a cash bribe inside City Hall. Both men would later be found guilty of corruption. But at the time the tape aired on the local NBC station, everyone involved in the case was under a gag order, the judge saying he didn't object to airing the tape. He objected that someone had broken the law by giving it to the reporter in the first place.

Rhode Island legal expert Edward Roy (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is extremely rare, I think, for someone to have defied a court order, as Mr. Taricani did, although I think the difference in this context is, from what I understand, his argument is that he was basing it on his First Amendment rights as a journalist.

FEYERICK: Taricani is one of a dozen reporters around the country risking fines or prison for not revealing sources. Others are under investigation for source leaks concerning former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee and outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. Free speech experts say prosecuting journalists could have a chilling effect.

JOSEPH CAVANAGH, FIRST AMENDMENT ATTORNEY: There's an important element of the First Amendment that's being infringed, and that is the ability to gather information.

FEYERICK (on camera): Taricani has paid $85,000 in fines. Those fines and his legal fees are being covered by his network. He faces up to six months in prison when he's sentenced in December and is now deciding whether to appeal. Because he received a heart transplant several years ago, his big concern is the impact prison might have on his health.


ZAHN: That was Deborah reporting.

Joining me now from Houston is someone who knows firsthand what Jim Taricani is going through. Vanessa Leggett is a freelance writer who spent 168 days in jail for refusing to reveal a source who gave her information about a murder case.

Welcome back to our broadcast.

So, Vanessa, we heard what Jim Taricani is accused of, defying a court order. Do you think he did anything wrong?

VANESSA LEGGETT, WRITER JAILED FOR CONTEMPT: Not at all. I think he's just doing his job.

ZAHN: But it could end up winding him in jail.

LEGGETT: Yes. And you see this happening more and more, especially since -- after September 11.

It's just an unfortunate situation, but he's doing the right thing. I'm just -- I'm surprised that the judge in this case is enforcing criminal contempt after sanctioning him with daily fines. I find that unusual.

ZAHN: Now, your case was a little bit different, because yours ended up being in civil contempt, correct?

LEGGETT: That's right.

ZAHN: So, why was it worth it to you to spend 168 days in jail instead of just very simply revealing your sources?

LEGGETT: Well, I really didn't feel like I had a choice. I made promises to my sources. And I interviewed a number of people. And in my case, I was incarcerated pursuant to a grand jury. And the federal government was asking for all of my information, including interviews I had with FBI agents and other government members. They wanted not only my interviews with those people, but any and all copies, originals. I just saw it as overreaching, and a major violation.

ZAHN: Overreaching is one issue, but you had to be intimidated in part of this process. Did you ever feel pressure to give up these sources knowing you were facing the possibility of facing a bunch of time in jail?

LEGGETT: I did feel pressure. I didn't hesitate on protecting my sources. I did have a couple of sources call me before I went to jail and say, look, if it's my stuff that you're withholding, go ahead and hand it over. But, you know, when you start doing that, it's a slippery slope. And I had to protect all of my sources, and I promised a number of them confidentiality.

And some of the people whom I promised confidentiality talked about crimes potentially on tape unrelated to the murder investigation that the government was convening a grand jury on. And I didn't want those people who were just trying to help me with my research become casualties of an investigation that was supposed to target someone else.

ZAHN: What could have happened to them?


ZAHN: Well, to those people whose confidence you didn't violate. What would have been the consequences of sharing those sources with officials?

LEGGETT: Well, you know, it ranged. I know from my sources that some of the people I interviewed also testified before the grand jury. Now, it's very apparent that what someone might say to a grand jury under oath could vary from what they will volunteer during an interview with a journalist. If what they told me on tape were to differ from perhaps what they testified to under oath, they could find themselves in some serious trouble.

And, you know, some of the people I interviewed a couple of years before they were called before the grand jury, and memories change, and I was, you know, concerned that some of them might be possibly indicted for perjury. It went from that end of the spectrum to some people actually feared for their lives.

And the government, the subpoena, the named people in the subpoena were attorneys, FBI agents -- well, that's not a violation of any privilege there. But in other words, the government was trying to circumvent privileges that they were coming up against. In other words, they would have loved to have known what the target of their investigation's attorneys told me or said at all and they couldn't ask them themselves. But if they could get my interviews, they would be able to potentially discover that information.

ZAHN: Well, it is a very complicated picture.


ZAHN: And a picture worth understanding. Vanessa Leggett, thank you for your time tonight.

LEGGETT: Thank you.

ZAHN: Good luck to you.

LEGGETT: Thanks.

ZAHN: There's another group coming under government scrutiny, religious leaders who preach politics as well as their faith. They may have played a decisive role in this year's election. I'll look at that next.

And remember, you can vote on this issue. Just click on to


ZAHN: Welcome back. Tonight, it looks like Senator Arlen Specter will become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. His fellow Republicans on the committee gave him their support today despite a campaign by some GOP Senators and abortion opponents to keep him from getting the job. They were alarmed by Specter's statement that anti-abortion judges would have a tough time during the Senate confirmation process.

Well today, the Senator issued a carefully worded statement of support for President Bush's judicial nominees. And then he explained himself some more.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: You've heard me say that I don't have a litmus test. You heard me talk about Rehnquist and Scalia again and again and again, back with all the president's nominees. Everything I've said, I've said again.


ZAHN: If specter was the first post-election moral values battle, another may be on the way. It pits the IRS against religious groups. Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On any given Sunday in southern Ohio, Alan Temple is alive with praise. But a few weeks ago, Reverend Donald Jordan did something surprising when John Edwards came to call.

REV. DONALD JORDAN, ALAN TEMPLE: John Edwards is going to be the president of the United States.

FOREMAN: The reverend backed Edwards, despite the fact that churches, as tax-free charities, are prohibited from endorsing political candidates.

JORDAN: We ask your support of him. I'm not worried about a 501c-3 document. We're asking you to support him.

FOREMAN: 501c-3 is a portion of the tax code that bans churches from supporting candidates. The IRS has been tipped off about Reverend Jordan. And now he is lashing at those who suggest he broke the law.

JORDAN: What I want to say to them, you can't put on camera. There's another side of me that they haven't met. Tell them to call me at my office, and I'll tell them what I would say.

FOREMAN: He may get the chance. The IRS is investigating 60 nonprofits for possible illegal political activity, and CNN has learned that a third are religious organizations. Barry Lynn is the head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. He filed 10 complaints, including one against Reverend Jordan.

BARRY LYNN, AMERICANS FOR SEP. OF CHURCH & STATE: It's a clear violation when somebody says ignore the laws of the country that I don't like, including the tax laws I don't like, and I'm going to endorse candidate A or candidate B. And I hope some of those churches, Democrat and Republican, get in trouble for doing it.

FOREMAN: The IRS tax guide for churches says religious organizations may not intervene in political campaigns. And attorneys who specialize in this area say the law is black and white.

KEN GROSS, ATTORNEY: The preacher, the rabbi can't stand at the podium and say vote for candidate X, cannot use the facilities of the church, cannot use a publication or organ of the church to advocate the election of one candidate over the other.

FOREMAN: But the law gets gray when church members work for a campaign. Look at what the Bush-Cheney team was asking supporters. Send your church directory to your state headquarters. Host a party for the president with church members. Spend time calling pro-Bush members of your church.

(on camera): And there is another catch, tax law says church leaders and their congregations may campaign on a limited basis for or against ballot issues such as gay marriage.

JORDAN: We are the largest single special interest group in America. There is no reason for our values to be trampled under feet.

FOREMAN: Reverend Rod Parsley's congregation of 15,000 helped collect a half million signatures to get a gay marriage ban onto the ballot in Ohio. Then, they made 250,000 phone calls and mailed nearly as many letters to win -- all legal even though political analysts say one candidate clearly benefited from the conservative turnout.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The church produced momentum. We initiated momentum. We shined the spotlight on moral issues. And when people in the heartland of America saw what was actually going on, they stood up.

FOREMAN: There is a movement to change tax law and let churches endorse candidates. But for now, the law stands. And in the fever over this past election, tax authorities are asking whether some pastors bent the law up to the breaking point and perhaps beyond.


ZAHN: That was our Tom Foreman reporting for us tonight.

Coming up next, a debate with two religious leaders on opposite sides of the issue. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And joining me now from Washington to debate whether religious groups should be allowed to endorse candidates, the Reverend Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition. He says the government is dictating to churches what they may say or even how to pray.

And the Reverend C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance. He believes religious organizations should stay out of partisan politics altogether.

This leads for a great debate this evening. Welcome, gentlemen.


ZAHN: Thank you.

Reverend Mahoney, I'm going to start with you this evening.


ZAHN: We mentioned before that churches are considered tax-free charities, and it is prohibited for them to endorse candidates from the pulpit. Why then shouldn't ministers who do just that from the pulpit be punished?

MAHONEY: Well, first of all, Paula, that law was only put in in 1954. So it's only 50 years old.

To say for the IRS or for the government to tell any pastor, any priest, any elder what they are to preach from the pulpit or how they are to pray is rank censorship. Any minister, regardless of what their views and values are, the First Amendment protects freedom of religion.

And you know what, Paula? I hear the term all the time, separation of church and state. We hear how you should not now say one nation under God in the Pledge or post the Ten Commandments.

So we hear religion, or faith, should not encroach on the public square, but yet for the last 50 years, we've had the government telling organizations how they are to preach, how they are to pray. That's not the role of government, Paula.

ZAHN: But the very narrow issue we're addressing here is you're basically telling me, then, the First Amendment trumps any IRS code?

MAHONEY: Of course it does, Paula.

ZAHN: OK. Dr. Gaddy?

MAHONEY: That IRS code was only added in 1954. ZAHN: All right. Your opponent in the debate, Dr. Gaddy, is basically saying the IRS code is irrelevant. It's the First Amendment that should count here.

REV. C. WELTON GADDY, THE INTERFAITH ALLIANCE: The government is not telling houses of worship, what they can say from their pulpits or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or lecterns. That federal government is saying you have a choice.

If you want to be a house of worship and enjoy tax-free status, then you don't get into partisan politics in your house of worship. If, however, you want to get into the business of endorsing partisan candidates for office, you can do that, but you give up your identity.

So a church has the right to choose whether it wants to be identified as a house of worship, a place of spiritual resources and prayer, or whether it wants to be a political action group.

ZAHN: OK. But Reverend Mahoney, you're telling me you want to have it both ways.

MAHONEY: No. And I disagree with Dr. Gaddy's characterization. As clergy, as ministers, we have a biblical and prophetic role to speak up against injustice, to feed the poor, to reach out to the needy, and to deal with the body politic. It should not be the role of government to tell churches how they are to preach.

GADDY: Government doesn't do that, though.

MAHONEY: Yes, it does, Dr. Gaddy.

ZAHN: Hang on. Rev. Mahoney -- Rev. Mahoney, answer this question, though. Basically, Dr. Gaddy is saying, you can do that, but you're going to have to give up your tax-free status.

MAHONEY: Well, Paula, that's -- we have a word for that. It's called censorship, and that's why we are working on the House of Worship Freedom of Speech Restoration Act to undo this justice that happened in 1954.

ZAHN: OK. Dr. Gaddy, Reverend Mahoney is saying -- he's saying it's a false choice, because what he's being asked to do is censor what he preaches from the pulpit.

GADDY: It's not censorship. And let me say that my -- my opposition to Reverend Mahoney's position is not just based on legality. It's based on what I think is best for the integrity of worship.

In history, any time we have seen a fusion of spiritual authority and political authority, we have seen a compromise in the integrity of religion, and we have seen democracy -- democracy's vitality blunted.

MAHONEY: You mean like the civil rights workers? You mean like Dr. Luther King?

GADDY: That's very different.

MAHONEY: No, it isn't.

GADDY: Yes, it is. That's an issue.

MAHONEY: You may disagree with my view, and I understand that. That's wonderful. We live in a pluralistic, open society. But my faith teaches me that I have a biblical responsibility to address these public issues from behind the pulpit.


MAHONEY: The fact that you disagree is wonderful.

GADDY: My point is...

ZAHN: Dr. Gaddy, you get the last word tonight.

GADDY: Yes. Well, Paula, our nation is deeply and bitterly divided enough. We don't need religion getting into partisan politics and, in the name of God, trying to divide people further by suggesting that there is a divine right to the presidency in this nation.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, I'm sure you've sparked many a debate now in homes all across America. Thank you both for joining us tonight.

MAHONEY: Thank you.

ZAHN: Good luck to both of you.

GADDY: Thanks.

ZAHN: And it's not often the former presidents and one-time bitter rivals get together, but it happened today under very dreary Arkansas skies. It was all smiles with the political jab now and then.

The dedication of the Clinton presidential library and a look at the legacy of the man from Hope. Next.



ZAHN: Well, it is not every day that we see four American presidents in the same place at the same time. George Herbert Walker Bush, Jimmy Carter, President Clinton, and George W. Bush walking in side by side today for the dedication of President Clinton's presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

About 30,000 guests stood in the rain to hear the fraternity of presidents, including the current one, pay tribute to President Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Visitors to this place will be reminded of the great promise of our country and the dreams that came true in the life of our 42nd president.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library is a gift to the future by a man who always believed in the future. And today we thank him for loving and serving America. God bless.


ZAHN: It was also a chance for former President Clinton to try some post-election healing.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Am I the only person in the entire United States of America who likes both George W. Bush and John Kerry? Who believes they're both good people, who believes they both love our country and they just see the world differently?

What should our shared values be? Everybody counts. Everybody deserves a chance. Everybody's got a responsibility to fulfill. We all do better when we work together.

Our differences do matter. But our common humanity matters more.


ZAHN: Today's dedication was also a chance for Judy Woodruff to look back on the highs and lows of Bill Clinton's eight years in the White House.



JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": Tremendously inspiring.

CLINTON: It depends upon what the meaning of the word "is" is.

WOODRUFF: Tremendously disappointing, too.

A bona fide cultural icon.

CLINTON: Usually briefs.

WOODRUFF: Whose greatest hits still trip off the tongue.

CLINTON: I feel your pain.

I still believe in a place called Hope.

I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

CLINTON: Like songs that stay in your head and you just can't shake, he brought us together while dividing us, elevating indelible characters onto the world stage.

This woman.

CLINTON: Two for the price of one.

WOODRUFF: And that one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Monica, just stop and let us get a picture.

WOODRUFF: Bill Clinton is the quintessential American, supersized.

CLINTON: I just couldn't resist.

WOODRUFF: Dreaming big. Flying, sometimes too close to the sun. Falling hard and coming back strong.

CLINTON: From time to time, I have been called the Comeback Kid.

WOODRUFF: And so he's stuck around like those songs you'll never forget. Brilliant and captivating, sometimes foolish and weak. Forever a promise not quite fulfilled, a legacy still to be determined.


ZAHN: And that was Judy Woodruff reporting for us tonight. Congratulations, President Clinton.

We'll be right back with the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question right after this.


ZAHN: Tonight we've looked at some of the risks religious leaders run when they speak out in support of political candidates. Now let's see how one late night comic deals with the delicate issues surrounding the separation of church and state.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": For an update on the "Goddening" of America, we turn to "Faith the Nation."

We begin in South Carolina's fundamentalist Bob Jones University, whose president miraculously, also named Bob Jones. He's published an open letter on the school's web site to President Bush reading in part, "In your re-election, God has graciously granted America, though she doesn't deserve it, a reprieve from the agenda of paganism."

Dude, pagans don't have an agenda. They're pagans. Organizational skills, not their strong suit.

"Dude, I thought you brought the goat's blood."

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: And here are the results of our "Voting Booth" question tonight, "Should churches be allowed to endorse political candidates." Thirteen percent said yes; 87 percent said no. Not a terribly scientific poll, just a sampling of those of you who logged on to our web site.

And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Tomorrow night, conservatives are now looking at the bastion of liberalism, the college faculty, Republicans knocking at the ivy-covered gates. That's tomorrow night.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next with Monaco's Prince Albert. Thanks again for joining us tonight. Have a good night.


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