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CNN CROSSFIRE

Is "Newsweek" Doing Enough in Retracting Its Story?; House Ethics Questions Continue; Senator Frist in the Spotlight

Aired May 17, 2005 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: "CROSSFIRE." On the left, Donna Brazile; on the right, Bay Buchanan.
In the "CROSSFIRE," "Newsweek" retracts a controversial story, but the controversy surrounding it continues. The magazine says it can't support a report alleging religious desecration at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we've done is to lay out in as much detail as we can, as we've learned the facts, what mistakes we made, how we believe we made them.

ANNOUNCER: The original story sparked deadly riots fueling anti- American sentiment in other parts of the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This plays into a narrative where the United States is attacking the religion itself.

ANNOUNCER: Critics accuse "Newsweek" of trying to smear the military and the government. The magazine says it will investigate. Can it undo the damage that's already done? Today on "Crossfire."

Live from the George Washington University, Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan.

Welcome to "Crossfire." Controversial report and an apology and finally a retraction. "Newsweek" magazine retracted a story about a desecrated Koran at a military detention center at Guantanamo Bay but not before it led to violent anti-American riots in other countries.

BUCHANAN: Some of the riots were deadly. "Newsweek" says it's going to investigate. But does the seriousness of this matter require some kind of outside investigation to figure out where they went so wrong?

First, though, we've got the best political briefing in television our "Crossfire" political alert.

President Bush met today with two of his stalled nominees for the federal court: Justice Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is still fighting over whether these and other nominees are going to get an up-or-down vote. Compromise talks broke down early this morning.

With Democrats refusing to allow a vote, Republicans are moving somewhat closer to changing Senate rules that prevent the vote.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist plans to bring the nominations of both Owen and Brown to the floor this week. To justify their behavior, Democrats call these jurists extremists, but they are on the wrong side of the facts.

Owen is unanimously voted as well-qualified, the highest rating from the American Bar Association. And she has a terrific Democratic support from her home state.

While California Supreme Court Judge Janice Brown was returned to her current job with 76 percent of the state-wide vote, and she won nearly 80 percent of the vote in San Francisco. Hard to call these people extremists. Facts are facts.

Donna, it's time to give these women their due.

BRAZILE: Look, I have no problem elevating women to the highest courts in the land. But these women are extremist judges, they are activist judges. Let's go: No.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela was at the White House this morning. During his meeting with President Bush, Mandela asked for American help with the AIDS crisis that ravages Africa. He indicated he wanted to move past tensions in the war in Iraq since the former South African leader was one of the most blunt critics of the U.S.-led war.

One of the things Mandela has asked for from the U.S. and other Western countries, of course, is for African debt to be relieved and canceled. He wants help in paying for treatment of AIDS and other diseases. It's an important issue for Mr. Mandela for several reasons and a personal one because early this year he lost his son to AIDS.

I'm glad that President Bush took time out of his busy schedule to open his door to Nelson Mandela.

Now, Bay, needs to open up his wallet and show the generosity of the American people. The president had, of course, one line in the State of the Union address about the crisis and nothing happened.

But knowing the U.S. is willing to make an investment into their future would be an important message to the African people.

BUCHANAN: You know, Donna, President Bush has been said to be the best since Kennedy when it comes to the problem of AIDS in Africa; far, far better than Clinton who did a lot of talking about it, but very little action. This man put up $3 billion this year. He's asking for $3 billion...

BRAZILE: Bill Clinton's foundation is raising money for AIDS in Africa and he's paying for immunization. Bill Clinton is doing more than his share.

BUCHANAN: He did nothing as president, all talk. And that's from liberals, my friend -- from the liberals. New York Senator Hillary Clinton may not be so politically smart after all. In preparation for a political run, the liberal senator has impressed many by moving to the middle on a number of key issues such as abortion and immigration.

But it was just last year that the senator openly opposed illegal immigration. But then last week she expressed outrage that an immigration reform package was attached to the emergency legislation for military operations overseas, a bill that passed 100-0 in the Senate.

She is furious that the Real I.D. Act was attached to the bill. But this act is wildly popular in this country, virtually prohibiting illegals from obtaining driver's licenses and making it tougher to seek asylum in the U.S.

She says the Real I.D. Act is seriously flawed. I suggest it is her outrage that is flawed. For now, she can't even claim to be a moderate.

BRAZILE: She is a centrist. Let me just say that this is a basic issue of fairness. It undermines due process. We need comprehensive immigration reform. All of these little step-by-step bites here, bites there, we're not going to get at the real problem which is we need real immigration reform.

Real I.D. Act was right in the 9/11 recommendations which the president said he wanted through. And now it's through, and the American people are all for it.

BRAZILE: Well, Bay, I totally disagree. It may be time to end the free-riding Congress. Two members of the House Democrats, Marty Meehan and Rahm Emanuel, introduced a new bill today. The Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act of 2005 to make things that Tom DeLay got away with a thing of the past.

The bill would close loopholes and gaps in ethics rules on Capitol Hill, require members to fully disclose travel, making it easier for citizens to learn who is lobbying members of Congress and put the brakes on the resolving door between government and lobbying.

Partisanship aside, bay, it's time for a complete overhaul of our lobbying rules. While they're at it, why not ban gifts and other questionable practices on Capitol Hill. For too long Congress has had a free ride, a free lunch and free gifts. It's time to abide by the rules and lead by example.

BUCHANAN: Amen to all of that.

Let me ask you: Will you agree, though, that everybody who has violated the rules as they are now should indeed be investigated and prosecuted if it was flagrant?

BRAZILE: If Tom DeLay is at the top of the list, absolutely.

(LAUGHTER) BUCHANAN: Pelosi is right there behind.

BRAZILE: If Tom DeLay is at the top of the heap, let everyone else...

BUCHANAN: Pelosi and her staff will be right on the list. It will take us a couple months...

BRAZILE: She got her shoes back thanks to a nice Republican.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN: Has "Newsweek" done enough? Is there any way to repair the damage caused by the magazine's retracted report about alleged desecration of the Koran?

Later, does Senator Bill Frist secretly love life in the fast lane? We'll explain later on "Crossfire."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRAZILE: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

"Newsweek" magazine now says it is retracting the story that said a government report had uncovered the desecration of an Islamic holy book at Gauntanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center. The story had serious repercussions. People were killed during anti-American riots overseas. The magazine says it is looking into what happened, but does "Newsweek" need to do more?

In the CROSSFIRE today, Cliff May, former RNC communications director and currently the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Martin Walker, editor of the United Press International. Welcome, gentlemen.

BUCHANAN: Welcome both of you.

Martin, it seems to me, we have "Newsweek" now on the record as agreeing that they had one source only. It was an anonymous source. They thought they could rely on it. They did no other work. They didn't go for the second source to confirm this report. They went out with a report that was extremely sensitive, almost a tender -- a tinderbox out there when it comes to U.S.-Muslim relationships. They dropped it out there with absolute disregard for doing what would be standard in journalism, I believe, really, basic journalism and it resulted in 17 deaths so far. Is there not some cause for some serious accountability here?

MARTIN WALKER, EDITOR, UNITED PRESS INT'L: Absolutely, but it should have started a long time ago. It should have started back at Gitmo, back at Guantanamo, when we first had the release of, say, the British, the Australian detainees, who came out saying that they had seen copies of the Koran desecrated in front of them. We then had another -- the detainee, a man called Moran Koresh (ph). He's on record in "The New York Times" of last year, in October of last year, saying the Koran was desecrated in front of him. We've got a $10 million lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld in the D.C. district court, right now, alleging the same thing. The desecration story is an old, old one.

What made this one different is something else, Bay.

BUCHANAN: Yes.

WALKER: What made it different was the claim that an official of the administration was confirming it.

BUCHANAN: And, you know, something else made it different, because we know there's a reason why you all didn't make a big thing when detainees make accusations. There was no evidence. There was no proof. It was people who had a grudge, making an accusation, which was never been able to be confirmed and no evidence was ever been produced. And, so, then, have you somebody saying somebody on inside told us it happened. They ran it without, without any kind of confirmation of any facts, and they caused the death of 17. Isn't it time for "Newsweek" to take some responsibility for this awful mistake?

WALKER: I think it's time for the Western press as a whole to be much more aware of the difficulties of reporting in a world as wide and as close as we are. There was some more deaths the other day in some demonstrations in Pakistan, the result of a cartoon in the "Washington Times" which showed the arrest of one of the al Qaeda officials being carried back by a dog to U.S. soldier who was patting this dog, labeled Pakistan, on the head saying good dog, go get some more. Now, in Islam a dog is a pretty unclean animals. These sensitivities are dynamite in a world as tightly wired as we have today, and we've all got to understand that.

BRAZILE: Well, Cliff, let me ask you a question. Michael Isikoff, today, "The New York Times," he's a highly respected journalist, someone that everyone knows in this city. He said this, today, in "The New York Times," he said, "the Pentagon saw the item before it ran and then they don't move on us until 11 days afterwards. They were as caught off guard by the furor," as, of course, everyone else. Now, the White House is calling on "Newsweek" to do more. What more can "Newsweek" do?

CLIFF MAY, FMR RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I don't think it's just "Newsweek," by the way. I think it's the media in general. You had terrible scandals at "The New York Times," CBS, obviously, now "Newsweek." Any other profession in the world -- journeymen welders -- would be deep in self-examination if not self-criticism now but the media simply refused to do that. It's all somebody else's fault. They should've told us.

The media, I think, are in crisis right now and it's time the media started to look at what they were doing. This case was terrible reporting. One guy, his memory vague, source -- they showed something to somebody else. He didn't pick it up. They didn't say, is this right? We don't want to run it if it's not right. I think it's just -- I think -- look, I think it's dreadful on their part. By the way, I also have to say this, when the Taliban blew up the ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, Buddhists didn't go around killing people. When Maplethorpe did "Piss Christ," Christians didn't go around killing people. When we see American flags burned, we don't go around killing people. Most Muslims don't do this. Most -- and this is not part of the Islam but radical Islamism is constantly looking for a way to make people hate America.

And, by the way, of course the Pentagon should know that. Of course, the State Department should know that, and of course, "Newsweek" and the media should know that, and they should understand that's the environment they live in and not simply do what they do, which is say, this fits into our general narrative about this awful administration. We can go with it.

BRAZILE: But the last three general mobs (ph) ...

MARTIN: That -- you -- that dog won't hunt...

MAY: Don't talk about dogs today.

MARTIN: You can't -- you can't get away with saying a blanket condemnation of the media as being critical of the Bush administration when even "Le Monde" in France is saying was George Bush right? I mean, the whole narrative that I've been seeing in the world media over the last three months has been people saying, well, look at this -- elections in Iraq, elections in Afghanistan. Just this week in Kuwait, people voting to give women the vote, one of the first times in the Arab world. It looks as though a kind of avalanche of some kind is building out there.

MAY: What you're -- maybe what you are seeing...

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: ...if I may, people are swinging the pendulum but the media has to be wary of the pendulum going too far in this direction or too far in this direction, because that doesn't mean it's right here.

BUCHANAN: You know, Martin, this is my problem.

WALKER: It's not balanced.

BUCHANAN: My problem is this. You know, you all want to talk about these other things that might be related, but we have a situation here, where, if indeed "Newsweek" isn't challenged and really criticized by the rest of the media, then you are accepting the fact that you can just go with a story with one weak source who's anonymous, of all things. Isn't the standard of journalism -- shouldn't that be much, much higher if you wish to call yourselves professionals?

WALKER: Listen, I mean, the reporters who work for me would be delighted if people in the Pentagon and this administration would go on the record. We're only...

(APPLAUSE)

BUCHANAN: If you don't have it, you don't have it.

WALKER: We accept, reluctantly, off-the-record sources because that's what the politicians themselves rely upon.

BRAZILE: Dana Priest made that some observation today in "The Wall Street Journal" when she said, look, we're forced to go to anonymous sources, and the administration actually encourages us to do that, so you can't blame it...

MAY: But let me...

BRAZILE: ...on these reporters when the administration is basically saying, go off the record.

CLIFF: But reporters have to recognize, not all anonymous sources are created equal. You have to say, does this person know what he's talking about or not? Is this person telling me the truth or does this person have an agenda, and is this a fact I can check? Just because somebody from the administration tells you something, doesn't mean it's gospel truth.

BRAZILE: That's true. Look where we are now in those country. Look, but General Myers, last week...

MAY: Sometimes the media only believes the anonymous sources. If the president says it, they think it's a lie!

BRAZILE: Well, look, last week General Myers, and he's part of the administration -- he said that this recent wave of violence had nothing to do with this article. So, I mean, so who is right? Is this Scott McClellan who's saying that this caused the violence or is it General Myers who said, this is not the source of the violence right now?

MAY: It's not right to go with one anonymous source without any backing, and to say, look -- and after that, I don't care. If that were -- that is not good journalism, and it's worse (INAUDIBLE) to say if that is good journalism. They should say is, in this case, we didn't meet our standard.

WALKER: Gosh...(INAUDIBLE)

BRAZILE: Hold your thought. Hold your thought. We'll be right back.

WALKER: (INAUDIBLE) ...had followed that rule when they were going for Clinton...

BRAZILE: Oh, thank you, there we go. They broke the rules on that one, too.

When we come back, why one Congressman thinks the White House has no business being mad at "Newsweek."

And a British lawmaker lashes out at U.S. senators. Wolf Blitzer tells us right now, right after the break. Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour: In a blistering attack against U.S. senators rarely heard or seen on Capitol Hill, British lawmaker George Galloway appeared before a congressional committee to deny accusations linking him to the oil-for-food scandal.

My interview with George Galloway, that's coming up.

Israeli police accuse six Jewish men of plotting to bomb a Jerusalem holy site. We'll have details.

And you can find anything for sale on E-Bay these days, including maybe even your own property. Brian Todd looking into that story for us.

All those stories and much more only minutes away on "Wolf Blitzer Reports." Now back to "Crossfire."

BUCHANAN: It's going to take more than an angry letter to the editor to fix the mess that "Newsweek" is in. Still in the "Crossfire," Martin Walker, editor of United Press International, and Cliff May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

BRAZILE: Cliff, yesterday, Congressman Ney of Ohio basically said "Newsweek" perhaps did something criminal when they put this story out. Now John Conyers from Michigan put out a statement earlier today and sent the letter to the White House saying it is ironic that this administration can go around and claim that a newspaper is inciting violence when the White House, of course, led us to War in Iraq using faulty intelligence, error, misjudgments, et cetera.

I mean, is the White House overreaching in what they are trying to now do in setting a new standard of how you cover this administration?

CLIFF MAY, PRESIDENT, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Look, if they suggested that it was criminal behavior, I disagree. If anybody is suggesting the press be censored or restricted or manipulated, I don't want to see any of that sort of thing happen.

We also have to understand this sort of thing, that Al Qaeda trains its people that if you get captured, make allegations. Why? Because the allegations will be repeated. And those allegations will be published and broadcast. They will be broadcast here, Al Jazeera. And they will do damage.

Journalists should not be manipulated or let themselves be manipulated by the administration. Neither should they let themselves be manipulated by the terrorists. And that is happening. It's happening in this instance and happening in Iran and Iraq and other places.

BUCHANAN: Martin, you know, the First Amendment allows the press great power, and obviously responsibility goes with that.

And in the Second Amendment, we have a right to bear arms. If I have arms in my home, if I have guns in the home and I am irresponsible in taking precautions to keep them safe and 17 people die as a result, my response would be, "I obviously made some mistakes and I'm working on improvement," as was "Newsweek," wouldn't the press be all over this story as an outrage that this could have possibly happened?

MARTIN WALKER, EDITOR, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL: Bay, the difference is you can't call a bullet back. On the whole, you can do something about a story that is wrong. You can retract it. You can apologize. The press has to do that because we are human creatures. We aren't perfect.

The danger about this thing is to try to say that -- and this has been so knocked down by several Pentagon officials -- to try to say that there is a direct cause with this particular report and the demonstrations that took place.

I think what happened is that some people in Pakistan, in Saudi Arabia -- you're absolutely right: There are some very skillful Al Qaeda people, provocateurs who will take advantage of this thing. They will seize upon any kind of lever they can to exploit this.

BUCHANAN: But "Newsweek" was not careful in its reporting and that gave them the tool to do this.

BRAZILE: The story has been out for almost a year.

BUCHANAN: Not the same story. They have no evidence whatsoever. And "Newsweek" ran as if it was going to be in a military report confirming it.

WALKER: We had the story (inaudible) a single paragraph. They put it up to the guy in the Pentagon who took it around to one of his top sources who said: Yes, I have seen this. Now it then turns out that maybe he retracted it or said: Maybe I didn't see it.

MAY: "Yes, I have seen this," is not the same as "I know that it happened." Look, what "Newsweek" did what the media has been doing calls for self-criticism. But the only people responsible for the killing are the people who did the killing.

BRAZILE: OK. Well, thank you guys. Thank you all.

Next find out what Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist and the American Idols have in common.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK:

BRAZILE: Bill Frist is having a little trouble getting the Senate on track. But we should have -- he should have better luck in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the end of the month.

The Senate majority leader will serve as the honorary starter at the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, May 29, where the finalist of the hit show "American Idol" will be singing the national anthem.

Frist will be waving the green flag that starts the race. And as President Bush found out when he made a stop at the Daytona 500 last year, it's also a good chance for the potential presidential candidate to connect with NASCAR dads and other Red State voters.

BUCHANAN: It's called relating to Bubba.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: Bubba, six-pack and a lot of barbecue, too, must tell you.

BUCHANAN: You got that. This is presidential politics. I understand he beat out George Allen for the spot. Bill Frist and George Allen were looking for the spot.

BRAZILE: George Allen doesn't need a fast car. That guy is already in the fast lane to the presidency. If you are a Republican, you should take a good look at him.

BUCHANAN: Frist is going to try to beat him. Frist is right in there.

BRAZILE: Hillary is going to beat them both so it doesn't really matter.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN: Hillary will not be invited to NASCAR, I'll tell you that much.

BRAZILE: She should get invited to NASCAR. That woman knows how to drive.

BUCHANAN: They would be booing her from all over.

BRAZILE: From the left, I'm Donna Brazile. That's it for "CROSSFIRE."

BUCHANAN: And from the right, I'm Bay Buchanan.

Join us again next time for another edition of "CROSSFIRE."

WOLF BLITZER REPORTS starts right now.

END

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