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Big Mac Attack

Aired December 15, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: A major hospital launches a Big Mac attack, deciding it wants McDonald's fast food out of the building. Is it a push to get healthier food into a health care facility or just another example of the P.C. police telling people what's bad for them? We'll have both sides over the fight over fast food today on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

One of the nation's preeminent heart hospitals wants McDonald's to hit the road. One heart surgeon there says he is tired of patients asking him if they can have fries with their angioplasty.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Oh, please. Do not let the rhetoric fool you. This is not an argument about food. It's a theological debate to food police. To the obsessives, being fat is not just unhealthy. It's evil, a sin. And they won't stop fighting until you are eating exactly what they want to you eat.

In a minute, we'll debate their latest jihad, but, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

BEGALA: Well, President Bush met today with a group of overfed, overpaid Bush/Cheney toadies at a so-called economic conference. Only certified throne sniffers were allowed to participate, although a few ring kissers and apple polishers were also scene in attendance.

Now, the overprivileged spent the day debating whether the American economy is swell or merely peachy keen. The fat cats plan to meet again tomorrow and then adjourn, presumably to foreclose on widows' mortgages.

Meanwhile, here on planet Earth, the government today reported that the trade deficit jumped to a record $55.5 billion. The budget deficit, too, is at a record level, but President Bush wants more than $3 trillion in new borrowing to pay for his Social Security privatization and tax cuts for the rich.

So, who's going to lend us these extra trillions of dollars? Well, the same folks who brought you Tiananmen Square, the communist dictators of the People's Republic of China. But don't think our creditors are simply heartless commies. It may be better to think of communist China as the ultimate red state.



CARLSON: You know, there are so many foolish things in that, I don't know where to begin.


CARLSON: But I will just ask you a simple -- the most macro of the macroeconomic questions. Who do you think creates jobs? Where do they come? They come from businesses.


BEGALA: No, they come from people, consumers.

CARLSON: Actually, that's not true.


BEGALA: We have a demand-driven economy, Tucker.

CARLSON: Actually, companies create jobs, Paul. Not everyone who runs a company is evil. I'm sorry.


BEGALA: They respond to demand. Consumers create jobs. Companies are not out there just creating jobs out of the goodness of their heart. They're soulless...


CARLSON: It's the DMV. It's the DMV. I agree.

BEGALA: No, people do. People.


CARLSON: Well, Howard Dean spent more than a year trying to deliver a message to the Democratic Party bosses here in Washington. It was this. You are out of touch. You don't understand the concerns of ordinary people. Unless you change your ways, you're going to lose. Howard Dean of course was right. Democrats did lose badly, thanks in no small part to the stubbornness of the party's Washington- based politburo, a collection of interest groups marionettes who see the world as if it were still 1982, if not 1972. Almost nothing has changed. Dean is still spreading his message. Democratic leaders are still trying to cling to power by getting Howard Dean to shut up. Last night, it was revealed that party heavyweights have convinced former Congressman Tim Roemer to challenge Dean for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, just as they backed John Kerry against Dean in the primaries last year.

It will probably work again, and again the result will be failure for the Democratic Party, not that I care. It's just fascinating to watch this.

BEGALA: Oh, yes.


BEGALA: So, who are these -- who are these dark forces? Because I've been a Democrat all my life.

CARLSON: Actually, I'll tell you exactly who they are.

BEGALA: Tell me.

CARLSON: Nancy Pelosi, your leader in the House, among others.

BEGALA: Really? She's one of the forces of retrograde.


CARLSON: I'm saying she is -- no, no. She is a Washington -- you know this even better than I do. She's a Washington-based Democrat. They are out of touch. That's why you lost.


BEGALA: She's from your home state of California.

CARLSON: That's why you lost.


BEGALA: She actually grew up as the daughter of the mayor of Baltimore. So she's a conspirator here?

CARLSON: You're missing the point. Howard Dean -- you need new ideas in your party. Howard Dean has the support of the grassroots of your party.


CARLSON: You're going to throw him aside for some party guy again and you're going to lose again.

BEGALA: No. I always enjoy seeing you analyze the Democratic Party.

CARLSON: You know that I'm right. BEGALA: It's a lot of fun.

CARLSON: That's why you're not arguing with me.

BEGALA: Well, critics of disgraced homeland security nominee Bernard Kerik are, as often they do, focusing on the wrong thing. Sure, he had a wife and a mistress and another mistress at the same time.

But, look, if he were the best man to get the terrorists, I wouldn't care if he had an entire harem, although it is a little creepy that he staged his trysts, reportedly, in an apartment for rescue workers overlooking ground zero. But, look, if it takes looking into the scene of mass carnage to get a Republican in the mood, so be it. None of my business.


BEGALA: And who cares if he was getting payments from figures who are alleged to have alleged connections to alleged mafia figures? It doesn't matter to me.

Here's the outrageous part of the story. Mr. Kerik received classified security briefings from the Bush administration, even though he failed to fill out the disclosure forms and did not have a top-secret security clearance. Maybe he got the briefings anyway because Mr. Bush found Mr. Kerik to be his kind of red state, trustworthy, family values kind of guy.


CARLSON: First of all, I will say, you have no idea how many mistresses Bernie Kerik has, had, or may have had.

BEGALA: Good point.

CARLSON: None of us have any idea.

BEGALA: Don't want to know.

CARLSON: Second, second...


BEGALA: Well, why are they giving him security briefings?

CARLSON: Or that he had any at all, and nor is it relevant to his security briefing, as far as I'm concerned. Further, the suggestion...

BEGALA: It's not relevant that he did not have a security clearance?


CARLSON: No, to his security clearance, to seeing classified briefings, if he had mistresses or not.

BEGALA: Right.

CARLSON: Second, the suggestion that he was turned on by the smoking rubble of 9/11 and the World Trade Center, that's so -- it's disgusting you would even suggest that.

BEGALA: It's creepy.


CARLSON: There's no evidence that that's true, and it's a horrible thing to say about somebody.

BEGALA: Why didn't he have a security clearance?

CARLSON: Well, this morning, as part of its coverage of former Homeland Security candidate Bernard Kerik, "The New York Times" ran the following headline -- quote -- "Apartment Said to Have Been Scene of a Kerik Affair."

The story, which relied entirely upon anonymous sources, claimed that Kerik had sex with a woman in an apartment he rented in New York City. That's it. There were no allegations that Kerik broke or even stretched the law. The sum total of the piece, Bernard Kerik is an adulterer.

And he may be an adulterer, but just how exactly is that newsworthy? Kerik is not on the public payroll and does not plan to be on the public payroll. He is not running for anything. Why is it OK to write about Bernard Kerik's sex life. Since it is apparently OK, according to the editors of "The New York Times," why not take a closer look at the sex lives of reporters and editors at that same paper, "The New York Times"?

Why not? That's a group with at least as much power as Bernard Kerik ever had. Talk to their friends, their co-workers. Interview their neighbors. Maybe sit down with a disgruntled former girlfriend or two. It could be interesting copy. Let's hope "The Washington Post" decides to do it right away. It's disgusting.

BEGALA: Well, "The Washington Post" certainly decided to do that to Bill Clinton. And I didn't hear any of my friends on the conservative side of the aisle complaining about that.

CARLSON: It always goes back to Clinton. Then why...



BEGALA: I agree with you today. I do agree. I just said a moment ago...

CARLSON: Then why were you attacking him for his affairs a minute ago? BEGALA: I didn't. I said I don't care how many trysts he had.

CARLSON: Then you did you bring it up? You have no idea how many trysts he had.

BEGALA: I don't care, because the point was, they're focusing on the wrong thing. Nobody except "The Times..."

CARLSON: You're repeating a rumor about his sex life. Why?

BEGALA: ... has reported -- nobody but "The Times" has reported he was getting security briefings without a security clearance. That's an outrage.



BEGALA: And that goes to the president's judgment. That's what I want to know about.



CARLSON: On this program, you just repeated a rumor, unsubstantiated, about the guy's sex life.

BEGALA: Yes. I said I don't care about it.

CARLSON: If you hate that, then why did you repeat it?


BEGALA: ... critics are focusing on the wrong things.

CARLSON: I don't know Bernard Kerik. I'm not on his side. I think it's outrageous they're bringing his sex life into it.

BEGALA: You and everybody else in the media were happy to talk about Clinton's sex life. And I'm consistent. I didn't like it then. I don't like it now. Stay out of all that stuff.

CARLSON: Obviously, you do like it, because you just brought it up again.

BEGALA: No. Stay out of it.

CARLSON: Well, the food police want you to stick with strained peas and arugula, whatever that is.

Just ahead, we'll debate the latest attack on your freedom to eat whatever you want wherever you want to eat it. Back off, food police. That's our message.

And the president's dog Barney takes us behind the scenes at the White House for some holiday scene stealing later on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Well, how's this for depressing? The heart surgeon in charge at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic Hospital doesn't think having a McDonald's in the lobby is a very good idea. He's worried that having burgers and fries for sale in a health care facility, the new name for a hospital, doesn't set a good example. Patients, meanwhile, are desperately anxious for an alternative to the wilted green beans and rubbery Jell-O they're having at their bedsides.

So, which is it, an example of doctors trying to set a healthy course for their staff and patients or is it the P.C. police trying to take over your diet? It is, of course, the latter.

We'll debate it, nonetheless, today in the CROSSFIRE with Michael Jacobson, founder of the Center For Science in the Public Interest, and also Rick Berman, executive director of the Center For Consumer Freedom.


BEGALA: Guys, good to see you again.


BEGALA: Rick, thank you for coming and taking the time.

First, I want to get to some of these delightful entrees we have out here. You don't actually have to eat them yourself. But just -- the Center for Consumer Freedom is actually funded by industry, right? I saw a report here from Mike's groups that says that...


BEGALA: ... that you were started by Philip Morris, who believes in consumer freedom to die. In fact, they're the great merchants of death from the cigarette industry, right?

CARLSON: Oh, come on. Come on.

BEGALA: Just so we know who's who here.

BERMAN: Well, you might understand that there are still a lot of people in this country who smoke and there are a lot of people who don't. And there's a lot of people...

BEGALA: Right. And Philip Morris makes money off of them until they die.


BERMAN: And a lot of people eat foods that have more calories and people eat food with less calories. And there is quite a strain of sympathy in this country for people having personal choices.

BEGALA: Well, let's talk about some of those choices, then. Here is one, this is kind of my favorite one, the Monster Thickburger. It's getting a lot of free publicity from CNN and the rest. But here it is.

Let me see if I can just even pick it up. My hand is going to have a heart attack just holding it.


BEGALA: This has 107 grams of fat. Now, I have to say, this is not a McDonald's product. It's not at the Cleveland Clinic. But, I mean, this is a monstrosity, is it not? That is a disgusting thing?

BERMAN: It's definitely a hamburger for two people.


BEGALA: For two people you hate, I guess.


BEGALA: Really, are you defending this?

BERMAN: I'm not defending anything except people's choices. If people want to buy that -- and they're selling a lot of them. And they obviously know it's a big hamburger.

BEGALA: Right.

BERMAN: They should be entitled to buy it. And if they want to drink a diet soda, they should be able to drink a diet soda. I don't see anything wrong with giving people choices, as long as it's obvious to them that they are eating a big meal.


MICHAEL JACOBSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST: But you are opposing informed choices. You are opposing...


BERMAN: I don't think that there is any lack of information here.


CARLSON: Before you lecture Mr. Berman, I want to ask you a question really quickly here.

"The Washington Post" piece that precipitated this whole conversation contains a quote that I think is fascinating from someone who actually works at the Cleveland Clinic. She's a nurse named Donna Wilkison. And she makes this point, which I think is pretty thoughtful.

And I wonder to know what you think of it -- quote -- "What they have in the cafeteria here at the hospital is not a lot better and certainly not affordable, as compared to McDonald's."

And the point of course is, in a world of finite choice, McDonald's is not always the worst choice. People have got to eat. Maybe you don't prefer McDonald's, but why not let people who want to eat McDonald's eat McDonald's?

JACOBSON: I think the hospital has every right to try to improve the quality of foods. They should improve it in their cafeteria. And if they want to kick out McDonald's, fine. If they want to limit McDonald's to just healthy items. McDonald's does sell salads, fruit and yogurt parfait. They have some healthful foods. And the hospital should be setting a good example.


CARLSON: Well, that may be right, Mr. Jacobson, but the fact is, you're not coming on this program to argue for better cafeteria food, because you know that won't get you the publicity you and your group so crave.


CARLSON: So you go after McDonald's, who is a multinational corporation.

Hold on.


CARLSON: I would like -- why don't you, as someone who is acting on the public's behalf, stage a campaign to improve cafeteria food? And while you're at it, why not improve hospital food? And while you're at it, why not dormitory food for colleges and boarding schools? Why not?


JACOBSON: We actually do a lot of lot.

CARLSON: Oh, you do? Because I haven't seen that. I see you beating up on McDonald's and other big companies that trial lawyers like to sue.

BEGALA: Well, vulnerable McDonald's.

JACOBSON: We try to get better foods in hospitals, in schools, in government cafeterias, the works. And one thing we want...

CARLSON: Better or tastier?

JACOBSON: One thing we want is legislation that would provide, when you go into McDonald's and other chain restaurants, right up on the menu board, it would say how many calories, so people not only have a choice, but an informed choice, just like with packaged foods.

And the representative from the restaurant industry, Mr. Berman, has been opposing that. It's the center for corporate freedom, not for informed consumers.

BERMAN: Well, you know, you can say it's the center for corporate freedom. We like to say it's the center for junk science in the public interest.

The fact is that Lester Crawford, the acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, has said that labels don't matter, that people don't read labels.

BEGALA: This is the Bush administration's Food and Drug Administration.

BERMAN: Well, Lester Crawford, I think even Michael would agree, is a pretty legit scientist.


BERMAN: And the fact that there have been lots of labels on lots of packaged goods over the last 10, 15 years. And yet the people who are constantly lobbying for more labels, like Michael, will have to acknowledge that the country has gotten heavier.

So, clearly, more information is not the problem. And you yourself, Paul, said that it's pretty obvious on its face that there's a lot of calories in that...


BEGALA: It is. But I think you have just argued against your own point. Your point is, people should be able to make their own decisions. Fine. Give them the information on which they can base it.


BERMAN: I'll give you the information with one caveat, that you put in every piece of legislation that Michael is putting forward that there will be no basis for lawsuits if in fact the grams of fat...

BEGALA: Oh, so you can go and hurt people and not be held accountable? No, I believe in accountability.


BERMAN: You see, the problem is, is that this is all being sponsored by lawyers who want to set companies up with calorie grams -- calories, fat grams.


BEGALA: So it's lawyers here and the tobacco companies, cigarette companies, merchants of death there. Both sides have their failings, but I guess I would take the lawyers over...


BERMAN: The fact is lawyers, lawyers are in fact, terribly invested in legislation today. And they are looking for laws that do provide them with platforms for lawsuits. And nobody who's got a room temperature above -- excuse me -- an I.Q. above room temperature -- would make that mistake. They understand that the trial lawyers are very much involved in this.

JACOBSON: The thing I love about you, Rick, is just you make things up.

BERMAN: I don't make things up.

JACOBSON: It's the not the trial lawyers. It's the surgeon general of the United States saying we should...


CARLSON: Do you take money from trial lawyers, Mr. Jacobson?


CARLSON: Do you take any money from trial lawyers?

JACOBSON: No, we haven't.


JACOBSON: But I don't mind taking money from trial lawyers. I think they are fighting for the public good. They're helping.

BERMAN: Aren't you hooked up with trial lawyers? Aren't you hooked up with the trial lawyers, yes or no?

JACOBSON: In what way? In what way? Please tell me. Please tell me.


BERMAN: I've seen you co-sign letters with John Banzhaf, who is probably one of the bigger...


BEGALA: That is a far cry from taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from cigarette companies, which is what your group does.


BEGALA: So let's just -- let's get beyond that and talk about the Cleveland Clinic.

BERMAN: I don't take any money from cigarette companies.

BEGALA: Your group was started by a $300,000 grant from Philip Morris, which is a merchant of death. They're the scummiest people in the world. I'm sorry. I hate Philip Morris. They're the scum of the earth.


CARLSON: Will you stop attacking people personally and saying you hate this person; they're scum of the earth?


BEGALA: Philip Morris. They're not people. They're not people They're a corporation.


By the way, Philip Morris makes Kraft, makes beer. They don't just make cigarettes. So -- and I don't take any money from Philip Morris.

JACOBSON: But you do from Wendy's, from Outback Steakhouse.


JACOBSON: And how many other restaurant...


BERMAN: I get money from over 1,000 consumers every year.

BEGALA: Let me come back to one of those consumers. And it's Toby Cosgrove. He's a physician, a cardi -- a cardio -- cardi -- I don't know how to say it. Heart surgeon

BERMAN: Cardiologist.


BEGALA: Thank you. But he's a surgeon.

And he's the head of the Cleveland Clinic, which is consistently rated as the very top heart center in America. And they're consumers as well, right? They set up their operations as to who can sell products in their lobby.

And here's what he says: "We have to set an example with the food we serve our patients and employees. In a way, McDonald's was symbolic as much as anything else. It is not associated with heart- healthy food. And neither is Pizza Hut."

What's wrong with them as consumers, the Cleveland Clinic, saying, we don't want the P.R. or the health hazards of being associated with a company we don't approve of?

BERMAN: Well, I'll tell you what is wrong with it.

No. 1 they entered into a contract with McDonald's to serve food. They entered into a contract 10 years ago. Michael Jacobson has been doing this for 30 years, so somebody obviously -- Michael, anyway -- had a beef against McDonald's a long time ago. These guys had a contract with McDonald's 10 years ago. And most recently, they were in a conversation with McDonald's to co-brand with McDonald's on the bags to Cleveland Clinic and McDonald's. This is about money. This is not...

BEGALA: So they would be making less money by kicking them out, though.

CARLSON: I want to get Mr. Jacobson in here really quickly.

BERMAN: No, because they want to get their cafeteria to have the sole source for food.

CARLSON: Now, Mr. Jacobson, we're almost out of time, so I can't read you the whole quote. But the director for the Center For Weight and Health at U.C. Berkeley is quoted in "The Post" recently as saying there isn't necessarily a correlation between weight and health. Some people are naturally heavier. Yes, America is getting fatter. It doesn't necessarily mean it's getting less healthy.

Isn't it true that you and people like you just find fat people unattractive, unfashionable?


CARLSON: I'm dead serious, though, that being fat is fact, to a lot of well-educated people who live on the coast, a sin. And that's your real problem with it. And that's why you're staging this religious crusade against them?


JACOBSON: The bottom line is health.

The surgeon general, the American Heart Association, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, maybe not you, agree that obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, they are all related to the foods we're eating. How are we going to improve the diet and get people exercising more? Exercise is a consideration.


BEGALA: President Bush firing his top economist because was fat.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: Larry Lindsey was Bush's top economist. The president, who's a health nut, which I admire about him, fired his top economist for being fat.

CARLSON: I don't think he fired him because he was fat. Come on. That is ludicrous.


CARLSON: We're going to take a quick -- we're going to take a quick commercial break. And I hope -- and I hope it's a commercial for a fattening food.

Next, in "Rapid Fire," is bad hospital food really better for you than fast food? Of course not, but we'll ask our guests anyway.

And just ahead, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on the tense standoff between authorities and two gunmen who have hijacked a commuter bus.

We'll be right back.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, surprising speculation about the most-wanted men in Iraq. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may actually be in Baghdad right now.

A half-dozen terrorized passengers remain aboard a hijacked bus in Greece. And the hijackers are demanding a million-dollar ransom.

President Bush launches his ambitious economic proposals, proposals that could change all of our lives. We'll talk about that with the White House communications director, Dan Bartlett.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf. We look forward to your update.

But here at CROSSFIRE now, time for the political equivalent of fast food, our "Rapid Fire" segment. Joining us in the CROSSFIRE, Rick Berman. He's the executive director of the Center For Consumer Freedom. And Michael Jacobson, he's the founder of the Center For Science in the Public Interest.

CARLSON: Mr. Jacobson, I don't know when you were in the hospital was, but you can't tell me that the average hospital fare, what you get when you're lying in bed, which is mostly revolting and bad for you, is any worse than the things you can get at McDonald's, such as this salad, which doesn't look too good, but I bet it's not that bad for you.

JACOBSON: That's not an argument to keep McDonald's in the hospital.

CARLSON: Of course it is.

JACOBSON: It's an argument to improve the hospital food.

CARLSON: I wish you would make that argument more often.

BEGALA: A fair point.

Rick, one of your reports was titled "The Epic of Obesity Myths." Well, with the government reporting 400,000 people a year dying because they're too fat, is that really a myth?

BERMAN: Yes, it is.

As a matter of fact, the Center for Disease Control just came out and said that it's a myth. They said that the number has been overstated by approximately half. And, in fact, one of the reasons that all of those myths, how much money we're spending on obesity, how many people are dying from obesity, are myths, is because the drug companies have been funding all sorts of studies to prove that we're fatter than we are, so that they can have their diet pills paid for by Medicare.

CARLSON: Mr. Jacobson, you have just argued that people shouldn't be allowed to eat fatty food, that they shouldn't be allowed to gain too much weight.

JACOBSON: I didn't argue that at all.

CARLSON: Or that we ought to regulate food, that people ought to exercise more.

Tell us quickly -- I know -- I'm sure it's a long list -- all the other things you think people ought to have to do.


CARLSON: Get up early. Brush their teeth.

JACOBSON: Those weren't any of the things I said.


CARLSON: No, no.


CARLSON: Tell me some of the requirements you think would a better world.

JACOBSON: I think we need to have better labeled food, higher quality food; 650,000 people die, from the government statistics that have not been botched, of cardiovascular disease. That's something we need to try to improve.


BEGALA: That's the last word.

Michael Jacobson, thank you very much, from the Center For Science in the Public Interest.

JACOBSON: Thanks for having me on.

BERMAN: Thank you, Paul.

BEGALA: Rick Berman from the Center For Consumer Freedom.

Thank you both very much for a meaty debate, if I may.


BEGALA: Well, some people send lengthy family updates at Christmastime. Others send a fruitcake. But Barney, the presidential pet, has a video holiday card that exposes our president talking to animals.

Stay with us.



BEGALA: Well, it has become one of the more charming fixtures of life in the Bush White House, the annual Christmas video featuring Barney, the presidential pooch.

Well, the Barney cam video out today follows the president's Scottish terrier through the White House as he looks for Miss Beazley, the president's new puppy, who joined the first family this year. Barney gets the job from President Bush after finding out he won't be getting a Cabinet post.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Barney, I know you wanted to be in my Cabinet, but I've already given you an important job. Your job is to take care of Miss Beazley.



BEGALA: You know, I don't support President Bush, but I love a man who loves his dog.


BEGALA: Good for him. I love the Barney cam.

CARLSON: He does loves his dog. Good for him.

BEGALA: It's a great dog.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow, Thursday, for yet more CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. Have a great night.



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