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Hare Krishna Sect Uncovered; Is America Ready For Cowboys in Love?; Proposed New Immigration Law Triggers Heated Debate

Aired December 13, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us.
Tonight, it's controversial and divisive: millions of people who have no right to be here spilling across our borders. Is there a better way to deal with this problem?


ZAHN (voice-over): American birthright: children born in the U.S. after their parents came here illegally -- now a proposed law that would strip their citizenship triggers a heated debate.

PROFESSOR JOHN EASTMAN, CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: This is providing a massive incentive for illegal immigration.

CARL SHUSTERMAN, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: It's really a shame that the level of intolerance has grown so much.

ZAHN: With an unprecedented wave of immigration, is it an outrage or a necessity?

Tonight's "Eye Opener," stolen childhoods -- child abuse, in the name of religion?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just remember walking down a hallway and having this horrible experience of hearing a bloodcurdling scream of a child.

ZAHN: The secret lives of children raised in the Hare Krishna sect, secrets that were never meant to be exposed.

JOE FOURNIER, VICTIM: Fondled, raped, you know, stuff like that. Yes, pretty bad.

ZAHN: "Brokeback Mountain," you have never seen a Western like this. The critics rave about Oscar potential, but is America ready for young cowboys in love?


ZAHN: We start tonight with an eye-opening segment. It used to be you couldn't go into any airport without seeing group of Hare Krishna followers in robes chanting and begging. It might not occur to you that some of them had children and sent those children to boarding schools run by the Hare Krishna movement. Well, now of the people who went to those schools are coming forward with some frightening stories of abuse.

A warning: You may want to send your kids out of the room.

Here's investigative correspondent Drew Griffin with tonight's "Eye Opener."


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anya Pourchot says she escaped the Hare Krishnas at 17. It's been 20 years, but she says she still gets physically sick the moment she hears the chanting.

ANYA POURCHOT, VICTIM: I usually have to just run, so that I can keep myself together.

GRIFFIN: Joe Fournier, who was brought into the Krishnas at the age of 7, says it's taken years for him to be able to talk about what happened.

JOE FOURNIER, VICTIM: Very painful, yes. I have gone through years of therapy to come out of it, yes, to survive.

GRIFFIN: What they and hundreds of other survived were childhoods inside a movement that in the 1960 and '70s attracted thousands of youthful seekers.

Followers were expected to devote their lives to pure living, pleasing God and chanting praise. But, behind the saffron robes, shaved heads and happy songs, many Hare Krishnas were hiding a dark secret, a secret kept inside the Krishna boarding schools, where the children of devotees were sent for training.

This lawsuit, filed in Texas in 2001, pulled back the veil from Krishna society, and, according to the attorney who filed it, exposed a movement plagued by violence, abuse and sexual exploitation of children.

WINDLE TURLEY, ATTORNEY: This is the worst case of abuse of children I have ever seen.

GRIFFIN: Dallas attorney Windle Turley sued the International Society of Krishnas on behalf of 92 people, who complained of years of emotional and physical abuse.

TURLEY: When you take a little 6-year-old girl who has not behaved, and, for her punishment, she is locked in a dark closet, told that it's filled with rats, and that the rats will eat her if she whimpers, and she's told to stand on this wooden crate and not cry, and stay there for hours, that kind of terrorizing as a way of enforcing discipline is just beyond the thought of anything civil.

POURCHOT: I just remember walking down a hallway and having this horrible experience of -- of hearing the bloodcurdling scream of a child, and all the other children shuffling around like it was just -- you know, something that happened every day and...

GRIFFIN (on camera): Did it happen every day?

POURCHOT: Oh, yes.

GRIFFIN: And it happened to you?

POURCHOT: Oh, yes.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Anya Pourchot was 4 when her parents joined the movement, whose teachings discouraged family life and parental affection. Anya was sent to a Krishna boarding school. By 16, she found herself promised to a 32-year-old man she didn't know.

(on camera): He raped you?

POURCHOT: yes. He convinced -- well, he convinced me to masturbate him. And it was not a very nice experience.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The lawsuit details the claims made by the Krishna children, beatings, children forced to live and sleep in filth, to eat garbage, children denied medical care, and some tied up and placed in trash barrels, and, according to Fournier, constant sexual abuse.

FOURNIER: Fondled, raped, you know, stuff like that, yes. Pretty bad.

GRIFFIN: Fournier was just 9 years old when he was sent to a Krishna boarding school in Dallas. Within a month of his arrival, he says, the nightly visits began.

FOURNIER: You would have to pretend you weren't awake or conscious or something just to survive it, you know.

GRIFFIN: The International Society of Krishna Consciousness admits, no one was looking out for the children. During the 1970s and '80s, when most of the abuse is alleged, children were sent away to boarding schools, so parents could focus on begging and recruiting other converts.

TURLEY: And they were literally asked to give up all parental control over their children. And that -- great efforts were made to sever the parental relationship.

GRIFFIN (on camera): With their parents out of the way or off raising money, the children were sent to boarding schools, like the one run here in Dallas. The victims say this is where some of the worst abuse took place.

(voice-over): In what the organization now admits was a horrible lapse in judgment, the Krishna converts unfit for other duty were the ones assigned to watch the children.

ANUTTAMA DASA, INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS: Too many of them were former hippies and people that were trying to get away from social restraints, and things like that, and were looking for an opportunity to kind of find maybe some easy solutions to some of the problems that they faced.

GRIFFIN: What sets this story apart from so many other lawsuits involving religious organizations and abuse is what the Krishnas decided to do this past spring.

Krishna communications director Anuttama Dasa says the society admits it was wrong, admits the abuse took place in many of its schools, and has agreed to pay compensation for the horrible abuse. The society is also begging for forgiveness.

DASA: This is really part of an ongoing healing process. We're organizing meetings around the country, and, later in Europe, and probably in India, with people in leadership positions within the organization, to meet with the young people, to hear more about what else we need to do to try to help them, to offer our own personal genuine apologies to them for the suffering that they have undergone.

GRIFFIN: Fearing the impact of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit, six temples of the Krishnas declared bankruptcy. In the reorganization, nearly $10 million will be set aside for victims. More is being sought from insurance companies. And, across the globe, Krishna temples are collecting even more money.

The Krishnas have opened the door to anyone with claims of abuse. Since the original lawsuit, more than 500 former Krishna children have come forward, and, says Windle Turley, the Krishnas have done what no other religious organization charged with sexual abuse has done, at least not to this extent: The Krishnas, he says, have truly apologized.

TURLEY: We were wrong. You were entrusted to our care. We didn't take care of you. We are to blame, and we're profoundly sorry. That was a real apology. And to many of these children, that was just as important as the amount of money they're going to recover in this settlement.

GRIFFIN: Joe Fournier says the apology has helped, but insists the true abusers and predators of his childhood have gotten away.

Anya Pourchot says no apology will ever be enough. Her childhood is lost forever. She struggles to retrieve what she can for a book she is writing. It's titled "Traded for Cattle." It's a reference to how the Krishnas handed her into an abuser's arms for the promise of a cow.

POURCHOT: I hope that this never happens to anyone else again.

GRIFFIN: The Hare Krishnas say they have that same hope, and a new vow to make sure it doesn't.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Dallas.


ZAHN: And there's more on this story.

There's been a $9.5 million settlement in this case, but, so far, none of the victims has received payment. They're expected to get between $2,500 and $50,000 each.

We're going to move on now to a developing story tonight out of Southern California. Former President Gerald Ford is still in a hospital there. He's 92 years old and checked in for tests earlier today.

Let's get the very latest now on his condition from Chris Lawrence Rancho Mirage.

What are doctors telling you tonight, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, they're saying that the tests were routine and they were scheduled.

Now, he has been suffering from what a spokesperson calls a pretty nasty cold. But that had nothing to do with the reason for these tests. Now, he is basically, as they say, in as good a health as any 92-year-old man. Out of privacy, they won't talk about exactly what kind of tests that he's in for, but he is expected to go home tomorrow.

Now, that's not say that the former president hasn't had a few health scares. He suffered a mild stroke during the 2000 Republican National Convention. And, two years ago, he was hospitalized when he had a bout of severe dizziness. But that was while he was playing golf in 92-degree heat.

Just last year, he was not able to travel to Arkansas for the dedication of President Clinton's library -- Paula.

ZAHN: And, as you said, he has always been a very active man. Besides playing golf, what else has he been up to, when he hasn't been dealing with some of these health challenges?

LAWRENCE: Well, you're talking about a man, going way back, this is a man who played college football; this is a man who was an avid golfer and swimmer most of his life.

Just this past Sunday, he and his wife, Betty, attended church services here. And people who were there say that, although he did need the help of an usher, he was able to receive the Eucharist. He's held numerous events at the local lodge here with his wife, including one in June that was attended by Vice President Dick Cheney.

So, he seems to be keeping a fairly active lifestyle for, again, someone who is 92 years old.

ZAHN: We should all live that long and healthily. And, of course, we all want him to physically walk out of there tomorrow, as the doctors say they're hoping he will be released.

LAWRENCE: Yes. ZAHN: Chris Lawrence, thanks so much.

Still ahead tonight, we are going to dive into one of the most contentious debates in the country raging right now over the millions of people who come here and have no legal right to stay.

And, a little bit later on, the new movie controversy -- critics love it -- at least the Golden Globe nominations -- but are you ready for a movie about gay cowboys?


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Deborah Feyerick in Rochester, New York, where a massive criminal roundup is taking place just in time for the holidays -- that coming up on PAULA ZAHN NOW.



ZAHN: As you all know, illegal immigration is a big challenge for this country. A new report out says there are nine to 13 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. right now.

Congress is struggling with what to do about that. And what some lawmakers want to do is actually get rid of the automatic citizenship for babies born here in the U.S. to illegal immigrant parents.

Critics of birthright citizenship say it just encourages illegal immigrants to have children here. But, if you ask many illegal immigrants, they say that's ridiculous.

Here's Thelma Gutierrez.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the end of a long day at the Flores home. Joshua (ph), Joseph (ph) and Eric (ph) finish their homework under the watchful eyes of their parents, Manuel Flores and Maria Hernandez.

MARIA HERNANDEZ, IMMIGRANT: Put them on the table.

GUTIERREZ: Both work full-time. They own their own home and say they're living the American dream.

(on camera): Do you have feelings for this country?

HERNANDEZ: Absolutely.


HERNANDEZ: I love this country.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): When they were teenagers, Maria and Manuel came to California from Mexico with their families. Their kids, Joshua (ph), Eric (ph) and Joseph (ph), were born here in the United States. And because of that, they are American citizens, but their parents are not. In fact, when the boys were born, Maria and Manuel were here illegally. Manuel and Maria are trying to become citizens.

She's close, but Manuel says, because he went to Mexico without permission, he could be deported. And the Flores kids, like millions of other children of illegal immigrants, are now in the middle of a heated national political debate about whether birthright citizenship should be abolished.

HERNANDEZ: I don't want to think it's just me, but I feel it's so personal that it hurts. It really hurts my -- my feelings that I have for this country, and as well as my pride.

PROFESSOR JOHN EASTMAN, CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: To claim something by virtue of an illegal act as the very first step you take is not only un-American, but it's actually fairly dangerous, because it means our immigration policy means nothing.

GUTIERREZ: Constitutional law professor John Eastman says birthright citizenship, under the 14th Amendment, is unconstitutional. And he and a group of conservative lawmakers want it revoked.

CARL SHUSTERMAN, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: I think it's really a shame that the level of intolerance has grown so much that people are actually taking this kind of stuff seriously.

GUTIERREZ: Carl Shusterman is a former agent with the Immigration Service, now an immigration attorney. He says the 14th Amendment is the cornerstone of the Constitution.

SHUSTERMAN: The 14th Amendment gives freedom of speech, freedom of religion. It's one of those things you don't want to mess with, unless there is a huge emergency.

EASTMAN: They're still making a claim to get their children be deemed citizens and all the benefits of U.S. citizenship.

FLORES: I'm not taking any advantage of this country, such as getting supported by -- by, like, welfare, Medi-Cal, or any -- any -- any of those programs.

GUTIERREZ: Manuel Flores, who works as a special education teacher's assistant, says his employee health insurance paid for the births of his funds, that he has never used public assistance.

(on camera): Taxpayers are paying for your kids to be in public schools.

FLORES: I'm also paying my taxes. I know I am illegal, but I am contributing to this country, working really hard, and, like I said, paying my taxes. I donate a lot of my time helping the community.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Eastman says, people like Flores, who come here illegally and have babies, American babies, do so to legalize their status. They call children like Josh (ph), Joseph (ph) and Eric (ph) -- quote -- "anchor babies."

EASTMAN: This is providing a massive incentive for illegal immigration, because it is a draw. That U.S. citizenship is the -- you know, the most -- the -- the most touted citizenship in the world.

SHUSTERMAN: I have never had a case where somebody had one of these anchor babies that it resulted in them becoming permanent residents of the United States.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): Never?

SHUSTERMAN: Never, not a single case. And, I mean, I have had thousands, thousands of clients.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Shusterman says that's because Flores' kids would have to turn 21 before petitioning for their parents. Because Flores is illegal, he would be penalized an additional 10 years before he could become a legal resident.

SHUSTERMAN: A 31-year wait? I don't -- I don't think anybody would do that.

GUTIERREZ: As part of the bigger debate on reforming immigration, these children are now an issue in Washington.

FLORES: This is a -- a country of freedom. This is a country of opportunities. And I'm just seeking those rights. I just want to be with my family here.

GUTIERREZ: Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.


ZAHN: And we go straight to the heart of the battleground.

Right now, in Washington, Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado, who supports stronger immigration controls and wants to end birthright citizenship, and Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Immigration. She is against changing that same birthright measure.

Good to have both of you with us.



ZAHN: Congressman Tancredo, I am are going to start with you tonight.


ZAHN: We have made it very clear you don't think it's a good idea to allow children born of illegal immigrants to automatically get U.S. citizenship. But doesn't the -- the Constitution guarantee that?

TANCREDO: Well, I -- I don't think it does.

And I think there are a lot of scholars who would agree with me, that the 14th Amendment was -- was put there -- we -- we adopted the 14th Amendment to overturn the Dred Scott decision. It is an amendment dealing with the children of slaves and ex-slaves. That's why it was put into the Constitution, had nothing to do, absolutely nothing to do with providing -- providing citizenship to people who were in the country illegally.

It has been -- it's sort of been the habit and custom that we have developed. But what I certainly think we can do is to legislatively change that. Now, I admit, certainly, that if we pass any measure that does that, it will immediately be challenged, of course. I know that. It will go to court. And there will be a determination as to whether or not it is a constitutional change, and it was...

ZAHN: All right.


TANCREDO: ... it will be allowed constitutionally.

ZAHN: So, Representative Lee -- Jackson -- and let me just ask you this. Do you agree with the idea that birthright citizenship provides a massive incentive for illegal immigration?

JACKSON LEE: Oh, I absolutely do not.

And I think, if you ask most Americans, they want lawmakers to be responsible in their response to the crisis of immigration and illegal immigration. They want, first of all, strong border security, which my rapid response border protection bill does. And they want to respect the Constitution.

My good friend is absolutely wrong. And whatever scholars would interpret the 14th Amendment in the way that he has interpreted it is wrong as well.

I would argue that slavery was illegal. And, therefore, even the 14th Amendment, under his interpretation, would make me an illegal immigrant, an illegal citizen, at least as one who had ancestors that were slaves.

Frankly, the 14th Amendment says that, if you are born or naturalized under the -- in the United States and you're under its jurisdiction, you are a United States citizen.

ZAHN: All right.

JACKSON LEE: And, just as your report indicated, who would wait 31 years?

ZAHN: So, Representative Lee, how...

JACKSON LEE: We are known... ZAHN: How would you change this picture? Or -- or -- or do you think it's a positive thing, that at least 100,000 babies are born to illegals every year in the United States and they're automatically given citizenship?


ZAHN: Do you think that's a good thing?

JACKSON LEE: Absolutely -- absolutely not, in terms of the impact, that people would perceive it to be negative, that we are affirming illegal immigration.

What I would argue for is a comprehensive answer of comprehensive reform. That is additional Border patrol agents and detention beds and recognize and explain to Americans that we're not suggesting that undocumented individuals get in line of those who are standing in line for a legal process. We are not suggesting that we are affirming illegal immigration.

But we are saying that, under the Constitution, if you're born in the United States, you do have a birthright.


Representative Tancredo...


JACKSON LEE: What we should do is be securing the borders.

ZAHN: Let me let him jump in here.

There are some Republicans who agree with what the congresswoman just had to say. Why don't you think guest worker programs, why don't you think better enforcement of laws at the borders would -- would help correct this problem?

TANCREDO: Well, of course, better enforcement of laws at the border would. Who is arguing that?

I mean, the one nice thing that has happened in the last several months is that we have gotten a shift, a dramatic shift, in the debate. It is moving in our direction, in the direction of real immigration reform. We are going to be looking at true comprehensive legislation.

I'm all for it. And I -- all I'm saying to you is that part of that comprehensive legislation seems to me to be dealing with the issue of birthright citizenship, because I believe it is absolutely a -- a -- you know, a definable problem in this country, when you have -- it's closer to 300,000 people coming here every year to have their children, and coming here illegally...


TANCREDO: ... illegally, I might mention.

And that's the part nobody keeps -- I don't know why we don't really focus on that. The people who have come into this country, even those nice folks that you showed in your -- in the -- in the lead-up to this particular discussion, I mean, they're wonderful people. Nobody's arguing that.

But the problem is, Paula, they broke the law. They are here illegally. And for -- and because of that...


JACKSON LEE: They met each other here in the United States. And I think Congressman Tancredo wants to be provocative.


JACKSON LEE: ... scapegoat some of these issues of immigration.

ZAHN: You have given us all an awful lot to digest tonight.

JACKSON LEE: We need comprehensive reform.

ZAHN: We have got to move on here.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Representative Tom Tancredo...

TANCREDO: All right.

ZAHN: ... thank you for bringing us up to date on where the debate lies. Appreciate it.

We are going to take a short break here.

Still ahead tonight, we are going to take you inside a dramatic manhunt on the dangerous streets of one American city where police are trying to rid the town of hundreds of fugitives.

And a little bit later on, the controversial movie coming to a theater near you, a Western love story about gay cowboys.


ZAHN: You're about to get an amazing behind-the-scenes look at what law enforcement is up to in many cities across the country.

Take the city of Rochester, New York ,for example. Police there know where some of the hundreds of murderers, rapists and robbers are hiding. But, incredibly, they don't have the resources themselves to arrest them. So, they have actually come up with a new tactic, joining forces with other agencies to round up suspected criminals on the run from the law.

Deborah Feyerick had exclusive access during a five-day sweep that just ended today. She's back tonight and filed this dramatic report. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK (voice-over): On the streets of Rochester, New York, just in time for the holidays:


FEYERICK: A massive police sweep is under way.


FEYERICK: It's called Operation Rolling Thunder, federal, state and local police teaming up to cast a much wider net together than they can by themselves. They know more than 1,000 fugitives live in the area. They're after the 350 worst offenders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police. Come to the door, please.

FEYERICK: The most dangerous are wanted for murder, rape, robbery, assault. Some have jumped bail. Others have violated parole. In some cases, they have simply escaped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're with me.

FEYERICK: They divide the caseload into six teams, one of them headed by Charles Salina.

(on camera): These guys are obviously fugitive. What makes them think that they can get away with it?

CHARLES SALINA, U.S. MARSHAL: Well, you know, some people hide for months. Some people hide for days. It's -- you know, they -- a lot of people have family that -- that protect them.

FEYERICK: Even the district attorney for Monroe County is thinking what you're thinking.

MIKE GREEN, MONROE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: A lot of these folks, I don't think, should have been out on the street in the first place.

FEYERICK: But like most places in the United States, Rochester normally doesn't have the resources to round up all its criminals.

FEYERICK (on camera): How do you describe the crime in Rochester?

CEDRIC ALEXANDER, ROCHESTER POLICE CHIEF: Moderate. We have our challenges, as most cities. We have our challenges. We're urban. We're an urban city with urban issues.

FEYERICK (voice over): The crimes range from harassment to homicide. Police Chief Cedric Alexander hand-picked the most dangerous criminals.

ALEXANDER: I think it's not just going to have an impact during the holiday season, I think it's going to have an impact period, throughout the upcoming year, as well, too.

FEYERICK: During the five day sweep, state and local police are deputized by federal agents so they can cross jurisdictions. They're split into ten man teams combining resources and talent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good luck tomorrow, god bless everybody. Be safe.

FEYERICK: Local police know the roads and players.


FEYERICK: The sheriff's office helps pull the warrants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a federal parole.

FEYERICK: Charles Salina is a supervisor with the US marshals in upstate New York.

CHARLES SALINA, U.S. MARSHAL: The murderers and bank robbers are difficult to catch and you have to spend more time investigating them and developing leads.

FEYERICK: The teams work their sources and investigate leads. At the first stop they get the guy they're looking for. Sometimes, however, the suspect is one step ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't look like he had been there for a day but security had the key.

FEYERICK: A convicted bank robber not home early on this snowy Rochester morning. The team moves on, house after house after house. It's a game of cat and mouse.

Salina and his officers come upon another team surrounding this home. Some suspects, like the guy here, prepare to run. Most surrender, especially when they realize they're outnumbered ten to one.

On really rare occasions, the most violent criminals might try to shoot their way out. Not so today.

SALINA: Some people, when you catch them, they're kind of relieved and tell you, I'm glad it's over depends how long you've been looking for them. Others, I've had some individuals tell me you'll never catch me again the next time.

FEYERICK: Peter Lawrence is the U.S. Marshall overseeing the operation.

FEYERICK (on camera): Do you think the criminals care or do you think they see it as a game?

PETER LAWRENCE, U.S. MARSHAL: Good question. I think everybody sees -- I say everybody, I think the criminals the people we're looking for, for the most part, see it somewhat as a game until they get caught.

FEYERICK (voice over): In this environment it's easier to hide than you might think.

FEYERICK (on camera): When somebody says they have no idea where this person might be, do you believe them?

LAWRENCE: A percentage, usually, nine times out of ten they're not truthful with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She goes, that's my dad. I haven't seen him in years. Tell him Christmas is coming.

FEYERICK (voice over): On the first day the team makes 25 arrests.

SALINA: You have to be persistent, you can't give up, you got to just get your case file and develop more leads, keep checking the addresses that you've gone to. They will return to the addresses. A lot of it is timing.

FEYERICK: If not today, then tomorrow. Debra Feyerick, CNN, Rochester, New York.


ZAHN: Boy, did Deborah get that right. This one just in. Only hours ago, U.S. Marshal Charles Salina caught that bank robber. So far, the Rochester sweep has netted a total of 118 suspects.

Coming up next, we turn our attention to the movies. Is America ready for a film about gay cowboys?


JAKE GYLLENHAAL, "JACK TWIST": I fell in love with this story. I thought it was a beautiful love story. Whether or not it was about two guys or about a guy and a girl. To me, the idea behind it was what was most powerful.


ZAHN: The controversy over "Brokeback Mountain" when we come back.


ZAHN: The great American western is crossing a new frontier in just a few days. "Brokeback Mountain," a movie as controversial as it is acclaimed will show up in movie theaters all over the country.

With seven Golden Globe nominations today and plenty of Oscar buzz, "Brokeback Mountain" has gotten some amazing reviews, especially for its performances. Here's where the controversy comes in. Are Americans ready for a serious movie about love between gay cowboys? Ready or not, here's Sibila Vargas. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: John Wayne's 1939 classic "Stagecoach" is part of a beloved cinematic tradition, the gunslinging horse riding western. But there's a new film breaking the unspoken rules of this classic American genre.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, it could be like this, just like this always.

VARGAS: The cowboys in "Brokeback Mountain" don't shoot at each other, they embrace each other. In fact the film shows the two men in a decades long love affair, complete with intense love scenes.

GYLLENHAAL: I fell in love with this story. I thought it was a beautiful love story, whether or not it was about two guys or guy and a girl.

MARK WAHLBERG, ACTOR: Best motion picture drama, "Brokeback Mountain." Ang Lee. "Brokeback Mountain." Heath Ledger, "Brokeback Mountain."

VARGAS: Now, the film is nominated for seven Golden Globes, more than any other movie. It's already won accolades from several major critics associations, and during last week's limited release in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, "Brokeback" earned more than half a million dollars, earning it the highest per screen average of any live action film in history.

ANG LEE, DIRECTOR "BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN": It's the kind of movie that sinking with the audience, and they have to process it afterwards. The movie has a magic.

VARGAS: Of course, not everyone is feeling the magic of gay themes in "Brokeback Mountain."

TOM O'NEIL, THEENVELOPE.COM: A lot of conservative groups are going to be gunning for this western because it challenges the core American values in this very American western film that redefines what we should think about these social issues?

VARGAS: Steven Bennett, a self-proclaimed former gay man and host of Straight Talk Radio is concerned.

STEVEN BENNETT, STRAIGHT TALK RADIO: "Brokeback Mountain" has taken the level of marketing homosexuality to America another step further. Basically, what they are trying to do is trying to sell it. That's what we believe. They're basically trying to normalize it, saying that gay is OK. Again, as someone who has come out of the homosexual lifestyle, I can tell you I am a survivor of "Brokeback Mountain." I've lived "Brokeback Mountain," and I've overcome it.

VARGAS: Neil Guliano, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, disagrees.

NEIL GULIANO, GLAAD PRESIDENT: I didn't get the memo about the agenda. We have an Academy Award-winning director who's telling a compelling, moving love story that happens to be about two men. And anyone who wants to attack that or criticize that, I think that's really telling us a little bit more about their own level of intolerance than it does about any particular agenda. It's a wonderful love story that everyone is really going to be moved by.

VARGAS: In the end, "Brokeback's" fate, like all movies, will be determined by its audience.

Sibila Vargas, CNN, Los Angeles.


ZAHN: So by now if you're thinking that gay cowboys are a complete Hollywood fiction, meet our next guest. Gaither Pennington is president of the Atlantic States Gay Rodeo Association. It's just one of the many groups that promotes the sport of rodeo and Western lifestyle in the gay and lesbian community.

Good to see you. Welcome.


ZAHN: So do you think America is ready to see two men fall in love and make love in a highly acclaimed movie?

PENNINGTON: I think America is ready to see the world as it really is, yes.

ZAHN: And yet you already see the critics out there, suggesting this is nothing more than Hollywood liberals pushing their agenda?

PENNINGTON: Well, I really can't -- I can't address who's pushing anybody's agenda. But you know, stereotypes rob and blind us of the true diversity and beauty in life. Gay men and women are part of the fabric of this country. We're lawyers and doctors, nurses, dentists, vets. We're the guy or the gal next door. We are part of this country. And to the extent that movies, literature, film can show life as it truly is for all of us, I think we're all much better for it.

ZAHN: So do you think that gay lifestyle has been underrepresented onscreen and perhaps America would be surprised to learn how many gay cowboys there are out there?

PENNINGTON: America would be surprised. I can't really say whether we've been underrepresented or not.

ZAHN: So what do you say to folks tonight who find this material so offensive they are going to encourage other folks simply not to go see this movie?

PENNINGTON: Well, I'm really not in a position to place value judgments on other folks. People shouldn't really have to see something that they don't want to see, and of course they can exercise their right not to go. But at the same time, I also think it's very important for people to understand that no one should ever have to apologize for who they are.

ZAHN: Gather Pennington. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

PENNINGTON: It's a pleasure.

ZAHN: Appreciate your perspective.

PENNINGTON: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Time now to find out what two critics think of the film. Joining us from Seattle, talk radio host Michael Medved, who thinks America isn't ready for cowboys kissing on the big screen. Here in New York with me, "Us Weekly's" Bradley Jacobs, who believes it's a movie whose time has come.

Welcome to both of you.

So, Michael, do you really think this movie is marketing homosexuality?

MICHAEL MEDVED, MOVIE CRITIC AND TALK SHOW HOST: I wouldn't say that, but I think that what we're doing here in this whole conversation is profoundly dishonest, and it troubles me. Because...

ZAHN: Well, what is dishonest about this conversation?

MEDVED: This whole idea that this is a beautiful love story, it's an uplifting love story. It's an adulterous love story. Both of these guys are married. They have children. And they carry on an affair for some 20 years that eventually wrecks the marriages of both of them.

Now, most American people accept the idea I think that what people do in private is their own business, but it's not just your own business if what you're doing is breaking apart two families.

Now, it's a very fine movie, and the movie shows some of the pain involved with that. But I don't think that in talking about the movie, we should negate or ignore the very sad aspects of the story that it tells.

ZAHN: What about that, Brad?

BRADLEY JACOBS, MOVIE CRITIC, US WEEKLY: Yeah. Michael, I think you're missing the point. The point is, the movie takes place in Wyoming and in Texas, in the 1960s and the 1970s. To call it a story of adultery is not accurate, because these men were tortured by the fact that they were gay, but they were in relationships with women and they couldn't accept the fact that they were gay, and they couldn't fully look at each other in the face and even use that word.

So, it's really not about adultery. It's a love story like any other. It's almost Romeo and Juliet, if you will, or Romeo and Romeo. These two men cannot be together, and they're tortured by that. That is the beauty of this film, and I do think America is ready for it.

ZAHN: Will America embrace this theme of Romeo and Romeo, Michael?

MEDVED: I don't think so. I think it will be very much embraced by critics and by liberal Hollywood. And of course, there is an attempt to create controversy about it. I think that part of...

ZAHN: But you're saying it's a good film?

MEDVED: It's a very fine film, there is no question about it.

ZAHN: With some good performances.

MEDVED: Beautifully written, gorgeously shot, outstanding performances. See, last year there was controversy regarding "Million Dollar Baby," which was a film that I thought got praised because of its message. It didn't deserve the praise.

This deserves the praise that it's getting artistically, but I think it has to come together with some reservation.

Now, concerning what was just said about these are two guys who are gay -- the implication in the film -- first of all, they're fictional characters. One of them is clearly gay. The other doesn't appear to have any interest in any other man other than this one other man that he goes fishing and hunting with, supposedly several times a year over 20 years.

And the idea that this is somebody who is completely blameless for lying to and cheating on his wife just because it happens to be another man -- if you're willing to say the same thing about people who do that with other women, OK, but that's an issue in the film.

ZAHN: So do you -- can see that that's an issue at all?

JACOBS: Yeah. But that's just a small issue, and I just think it's inaccurate to spend a lot of time focusing on the adultery with that. I'm here to say that I believe as a critic and a pop culture commentator, that it's been 11 years since Tom Hanks won the Oscar for "Philadelphia," it's been eight years since Ellen Degeneres announced that she was a lesbian on the cover of "Time" magazine, "Will & Grace" has been a hot show, in the top 10, for seven years. We are now seeing the most natural progression, a big screen love story between two men. And it's not the most positive story. These men, as I said before, are tortured by it. It takes place a while back, and it's a societal study as well.

ZAHN: Michael, I'll give you 10 seconds. Is this progression or is this an agenda?

MEDVED: Well, there's an agenda, and the agenda has gotten progressively intense. I think people are going to find some of the physical love between the two men difficult to watch on screen.

ZAHN: And do you concede that? You have five seconds for that. JACOBS: If it's -- if it's an agenda, Ang Lee, the director, the screenwriter, Larry McMurtry, and Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, the straight stars, if their agenda is to get people to see gay people in a more tolerant light, then yes, it's an agenda.

ZAHN: All right, gentlemen, we have got to leave it there. Michael Medved, Bradley Jacobs, thank you both for joining us tonight. Appreciate it.

Still ahead, something really different. A Navy wife and her new stand-in while her husband's away at sea. Please stay with us.


ZAHN: We're back, moving up on just about 10 minutes before the hour. Time to check in with Larry King, who will be doing us in 10 minutes from now. Who will be joining you tonight, Lar?

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: First, you look fantastic.

ZAHN: Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.

KING: You look great. We're going to deal with the missing George Smith. Remember the guy who went on a cruise and disappeared. His whole family will be on tonight.

And we'll meet Hedda Nussbaum, the former book editor, the battered woman, whose live-in lover Joel Steinberg killed their daughter. Steinberg is out of jail, she's got a new life, and she's written a new book, the great title, "Surviving Intimate Terrorism." That's all ahead.

ZAHN: She is one courageous woman.

KING: She sure is. Go gets them, Paula.

ZAHN: I will in the nine minutes I have left. Have a good show tonight.


ZAHN: Still ahead tonight. So you're husband's in the Navy and has to ship out. What does a young wife do?


I just bid on him on eBay. When he came, I said, he looks like my husband.

ZAHN: $200 a real bargain, the story behind this substitute husband when we come back.


ZAHN: Now, we're back to today. What do you do when your husband's in the Navy and he gets shipped out to sea? You go get yourself another husband.

As Jeanne Moos shows us, finding a replacement is actually pretty easy, especially if you like the strong silent type.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Only a dummy would think this are a couple of gals helping out a drunken sailor.


MOOS: But he is a real ringer for Suzy Walker's husband who's in the Navy off at sea, and this is his $200 stand in.

WALKER: I saw a sailor for sale. I just bid on him on eBay. I said, he looks like my husband.

MOOS: Especially once she added the moustache.

WALKER: It helps me pass the time while he is gone.

MOOS: Suzy is a newlywed and this is her husband's first deployment from Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia, since their marriage.


WALKER: Thank you. He is very well behaved, isn't he?

MOOS: True, he doesn't have the moves of other mannequins we've met, like Lupita (ph) the New York street performer. And he doesn't save lives by being a training tool like Rescue Randy, Surgical Annie or Geriatric Jerry, but Suzy has been taking him to movies, and restaurants and stores, snapping photos to make an album for her husband who only just found out about his substitute.

WALKER: He said, what in the world are you doing?

MOOS: No, Suzy doesn't sleep with him, he's not like the Japanese product, The Boyfriend's Arm, meant to substitute for a warm body. The sailor sleeps on the couch.

Suzy's recruited a friend to help her lug him around, although she's gotten good at tossing him in the car. Take it from those crash test dummies.

She may be a two-timer, but in this case, it's his double or nothing.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: I bet you want to know what Suzy's husband thinks of all of this. He is currently being deployed on a submarine and he says his stand-in is providing a lot of entertainment for him and his crew, but adds that that other guy needs a haircut. That's it for all of us tonight. Thanks so much for being with us. We'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next.


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