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Lebanese Cabinet Minister Gunned Down; Imams Removed From Plane

Aired November 21, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everybody. Thank you for joining us tonight.
There's important news coming in to CNN all the time. Tonight, we are choosing these top stories for a more in-depth look.

The "Top Story" in the Iraq war: New political moves by Iran and Syria raise some suspicions about a new version of the old axis of evil.

On to the "Top Story" in homeland security: imams grounded. The outrage is growing, after six Muslim clerics are kicked off a jet.

On to the "Top Story" in travel: Bye-bye, luggage. Before your baggage joins the 30 million pieces the airlines lose every year, see why the problem is only getting worse, and what you can do to keep your bags from going away, too.

Tonight's "Top Story," of course, is the Iraq war.

Amid the spiraling of violence, some troubling political changes -- Iran's president is inviting his Iraqi counterpart to Tehran for talks, even though the U.S. suspects Iran of funding some of the death squads in Iraq -- another major surprise, the handshake between officials from Iraq and Syria, restoring diplomatic ties for the first time since 1982.

But a prominent critic of Syria was gunned down today in Beirut. Pierre Gemayel, the son of a former Lebanese president, was in Lebanon's Cabinet. Tonight, despite strong denials from Damascus, some Lebanese blame Syria for that assassination.

So, if Iraq is getting cozy with Syria and Iran, is the U.S. looking at some big trouble?

Our in-depth coverage starts tonight with Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Jamie, what do you got for us tonight?


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the U.S. military is looking for an explanation for the rising violence in Iraq, it often points the finger directly at two of Iraq's neighbors. GENERAL GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IN IRAQ: Both Iran and Syria continue to be decidedly unhelpful by providing support to the different extremist and terrorist groups operating inside Iraq.

MCINTYRE: In testimony before the Senate last week, CIA Director General Michael Hayden cited what he called the Iranian hand as a formidable obstacle to peace in Iraq.

GENERAL MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR: It appears to be growing, and Iranian ambitions in Iraq seem to be expanding. With regard to Syria, it's sometimes hard to judge the distinction between incompetence and malevolence with regard to what goes on in Syria that may affect the situation in Iraq.

MCINTYRE: The United States claims between 70 and 100 foreign fighters cross the Syrian borders each month to join insurgents. And U.S. commanders tell CNN's Barbara Starr, now traveling in the region, that a rogue element of as many as 10,000 Shia militia fighters are being funded by Iran.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Officials here say that they now believe that breakaway element is largely influenced by Iran, which is providing weapons, money and training inside of Iraq. It's something that is a matter of great concern here.

MCINTYRE: So, why are Iran and Syria signaling they might be willing to take steps, such as tightening their borders or cracking down on al Qaeda terrorists? While it's in both countries' long-term interests to have a stable Iraq, analysts say Iran's power play is aimed at diminishing U.S. influence and making it look like the regional superpower.

VALI NASR, AUTHOR, "THE SHIA REVIVAL": But the whole point of this exercise is for Iran and Syria to show that they do not need U.S.' approval for approaching the Iraqi government or for having their own peace plan and stability plan for Iraq.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. recognizes, Iraq needs good relations with its neighbors, and says the proof will be if both countries stop funding terrorists and fomenting anti-U.S. and Iraqi violence.

NICHOLAS BURNS, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: The challenge really is to the leadership of Tehran and Damascus to demonstrate that they have good faith here. It's not just a remark about meetings. It's to see some substantive change, policy change, on the ground. That's what everyone is looking for.

MCINTYRE (on camera): It remains to be seen how much influence Iran can exert over factions it supports in Iraq, and how willing or able Syria is to stop the flow of foreign fighters across its border. But perhaps the bigger question is what might those countries want from Iraq in return -- Paula.


ZAHN: And that's something we are going to ask our man on the ground in Baghdad about. Jamie McIntyre, thanks so much.

Let's turn to Michael Ware, who joins us now from that country's capital.

So, what is it, Michael, these countries expect from Iraq, and what does Iraq get out of these new diplomatic relations?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, I mean, certainly, in the short term, there's very little to be gained for -- for either side.

However, the normalization of diplomatic relations with Iraq's neighbors has always been a stated goal, not just of the Iraqi government, but also of the U.S. mission here. Realistic that Iraq has to fit in within its neighborhood.

Now, what Iraq is looking for is some security guarantees from Syria, for example, that the flow of these fighters will stop. As the Americans say, between 50 to 70 foreign fighters cross the Syrian border. The question is, how much involvement is there with the Syrian government in this?

The U.S. military says it doesn't know. But one thing that is clear is that they are not doing enough to stop it. From Iran, it is money, weapons and training for Shia militias. Iraq would like to see all of this stop. The likelihood of any of that is very little. It's -- there is no -- no incentive for any of these regional players to give up the ghost here in Iraq -- Paula.

ZAHN: Michael though, tell us about some of the skepticism that some Iraqi citizens have about Syria, in spite of these new contacts that have been made, particularly now that there's an accusation that the Syrians killed this interior minister of Lebanon today.

WARE: Well, that doesn't really play into the ground here at all, as far as anyone can tell, Paula.

I mean, Syria, particularly for Iraq's Sunni minority, that feels right now it is under siege, an ethnic minority that shares its kingship with many parts of Syria -- indeed, I have spent a lot of time up on the Syrian-Iraqi border. And, up there, to the tribes, to the families, that border means nothing.

There is also long historical connections between Iraqi Baath and Syrian Baath. So, while the Iraqi government severed contacts way back in the '80s, when Syria sided with Iran in the bloody Iran-Iraq War, generally, the population with that -- within that part of the country very much welcomes Syrian involvement.

The Shia, however, will be much more suspicious -- Paula.

ZAHN: Michael Ware, thanks so much for the update. We appreciate it.

A "Top Story" panel is waiting over by our NEWSROOM right now. I am going to walk over to them to join them and introduce you to all of them.


Journalist Matt Taibbi writes "The Low Post," a weekly column for "Rolling Stone" magazine, and spent part of this summer reporting from Iraq. Rachel Maddow is with the Air America Radio Network. And Niger Innis is a Republican strategist, as well as national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality.

Glad to have all of you with us.


ZAHN: So, Rachel, why this flurry of diplomacy now?

RACHEL MADDOW, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, it is interesting.

In the Iran-Iraq War, as Michael said, Syria sided with Iran. And Syria right now is facing a very different Middle East. Since we have toppled the Sunni minority dictator of Iraq, Iraq seems like a much better ally, a much better option for Syria right now.

So, Syria is assessing how we have changed that region, decided that they would rather cozy up with both Iran and Iraq at this point. How that advances American interests is hard for me to see. I do hope that we will talk with anybody, even the bad guys in the region. But this can't have been what the neocons envisioned when they thought about toppling the Saddam government.

ZAHN: What about that, Niger?



ZAHN: What is the best thing that could be hoped for out of this relationship?

INNIS: Well, there's -- you know, there's no doubt that the Shia populations in the countries creates a bond between the countries.

But the fact that Iraq is a burgeoning free and open democracy, vs. dictatorships, that is where there is a potential clash. And that's why you have a situation where you have Iran and Syria that are interfering and undermining, to a large degree, a -- a growing democracy within Iraq.

And I see firmly it is within the interests of the Iraq government to go to Syria and to go to Iran, and say, we need stability here. We don't want you guys caught being mischievous in our country as we are growing as a burgeoning democracy.

ZAHN: Burgeoning democracy, Matt?

MATT TAIBBI, "ROLLING STONE": Yes, I don't know about a burgeoning democracy.

But I do think that this is sort of a comic ending, or at least the beginning of a comic ending to our adventure in Iraq. I -- I can't imagine the neocons imagined that reuniting the Baath Party was a -- a consequence of their Iraq adventure. I can't imagine that this was something they ever thought was going to happen. And the fact that it is happening now has to be considered a nightmare to somebody who -- who planned this war.


ZAHN: How does it affect the advancement, or lack thereof, with the United States and anything that -- that we had hoped for over there?


INNIS: Well, look, there are going to be times -- and it is healthy that Iraq's interests, the Iraq -- democratically elected government of Iraq's interests are not necessarily going to be parallel with the United States' interest.

But that's the way it goes in a democracy, and with democracies that are not supposed to be satellites of another country. Now, this is not...


ZAHN: ... democracy certainly that the United States wanted to shape in a more powerful way than is happening now.


INNIS: And, if you have a stable -- if you have a stable Iraq democracy that is policing itself, with the -- let's say, the step back of American soldiers and American military, then, I think that's healthy for the Middle East.


ZAHN: that's a long time before that is going to happen, if it happens at all, right?


MADDOW: The neocon fantasy was that Iraq would turn into Wisconsin, right, that it would be a beacon of Jeffersonian democracy...

TAIBBI: I don't know about that.


MADDOW: ... and would be an American ally in the region, that would then become this new balance of power for us in the Middle East.

ZAHN: Matt, quick final thought before we move on.

TAIBBI: Yes. I just -- I can't imagine that -- that -- that this -- this is what they hoped for, in the end, was try and have a -- having a situation where the -- an American-backed government was deciding whether to jump into bed with Iran or whether to jump into bed with Syria.


TAIBBI: This is the ultimate nightmare for the United States government.

ZAHN: All right, trio, we got to leave that there, but we are going to have Matt, Rachel, and Niger hang around, because I am going to check back with you throughout the hour.

Now we are moving on to tonight's "Top Story" in homeland security. Six Muslim clerics on their way home from a national conference suddenly found themselves left behind at the airport. Were they targeted and arrested because of their religion? We will see the growing outrage to what happened.

And, if you are heading to the airport before Thanksgiving, our "Top Story" in travel could save you lots of time and some headaches.

Please, stay with us. We're not going anywhere, are we? We're staying right here.


ZAHN: On to our "Top Story" in homeland security tonight, the growing outrage over why six Muslim clergymen were kicked off a jet Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. It has Muslim-American advocates really enraged. And it has the Department of Homeland Security and the airline on the defensive.

Dan Simon now has the latest on that story tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm asking you to please leave our ticket counter right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. I have given you a number that you can contact.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It had the look and feel of a reality television show...

SHAHIN: This is obvious discrimination. Nobody can argue with me on that.

SIMON: ... as this Muslim leaders clashes with a U.S. Airways ticket agent, less than 24 hours after being pulled off a plane. News cameras were there as the clerics demanded answers.

SHAHIN: We are American. Our loyalty to this country. And they are -- discriminate us.

SIMON: The trouble started in Minneapolis last night, when a passenger passed a note to a flight attendant, expressing concern about the behavior of six Muslim clerics bound for Phoenix.

The clerics were in town for a meeting of the North American Imams Federation. Police boarded the plan prior to takeoff, and took them into custody. The men say they were handcuffed and humiliated.

SHAHIN: They make us stand there for 45 minutes, have no right to talk, no -- don't do this. Don't do that. And they brought dogs to search for -- if we have anything suspicious.

SIMON: The imams say the only thing they could have done to draw attention was conduct their normal evening prayers in the terminal prior to boarding, and, today, say they are victims of blatant religious discrimination.

SHAHIN: It's worst moment in my life, when I see six imams being taken off the plane without any reason, any. There is no reason to do that.

SIMON: But the Department of Homeland Security tells CNN, the concerned passenger claimed to have heard the group making anti-U.S. statements. All six imams said they simply did nothing wrong.

MOHAMMED ABUHANNOUD, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: They were humiliated, and in the view of other passengers, which is very, very inappropriate, to treat religious leaders that way.

SIMON: The Council on American-Islamic Relations called for congressional hearings on religious and ethnic profiling in the wake of the incident.

BUSHRA KHAN, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: We are concerned that crew members, passengers, and security personnel may have succumb to fear and prejudice, based on stereotyping of Muslims and Islam.

SIMON: U.S. Airways released a statement, saying -- quote -- "We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and will continue to exhaust our internal investigation, until we know the facts of this case and can provide answers for the employees and customers involved in this incident."

As for imams, they eventually got home to Phoenix today on another airline. Surrounded by friends and family, they say we haven't heard the last of them.

SHAHIN: I will never allow ignorance to destroy my beloved America.

SIMON: Although they say it is no consolation, the group says they have been promised a refund from U.S. Airways.


ZAHN: So, Dan, besides the passengers slipping one of the flight attendants a note, what else aroused the suspicion of authorities?

SIMON: Well, Paula, first of all, we are at the Tempe mosque where these clerics pray.

And, yes, we're getting a better understanding, in terms of why the airline did what it did. The Associated Press got its hands on a police report. And that report says that three of the clerics had one-way tickets to Phoenix, and had no checked luggage.

It also says that some of them asked for seat belt extensions, and the flight attendant felt like that wasn't necessary. So, that gives you a greater understanding, in terms of the airline's position. But, clearly, these clerics feel like they were wronged, and may take legal action -- Paula.

ZAHN: Dan Simon, thanks so much.

And, right now, we are going to go back to our "Top Story" panel, Matt Taibbi of "Rolling Stone," Air America radio host Rachel Maddow, and Niger Innis, a Republican strategist and spokesman for CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality.

Is there any doubt in your mind, Niger, that these men were targeted either because of their ethnicity or their religion?

INNIS: Yes, there is doubt.

I believe that the personnel, the flight crew, the passenger that slipped the note to the flight crew, and the pilot, who is within his right to ask for police or ask for particular passengers to be removed, that they were following procedure. I think where...

ZAHN: No overreaction here at all?

INNIS: Look, we're in a different world, you know, than 10 years ago. We're a country at war with people that intend to kill us, and -- and believe that targeting civilians, innocent civilians, is a legitimate military tactic. So, I...

ZAHN: Have you ever been targeted because of your skin color?

SIMON: I -- I -- I could very well have been. Yes. The answer is yes, absolutely.

But, you know, I had no fear, because I didn't do anything wrong. And, as long as the police officer or security agent that I'm going through operates in a professional manner, I have got no issue, because I have got nothing to hide.

I think where U.S. Airways was wrong is, after these individuals went through a particular procedure, and they were cleared, a couple of times...

ZAHN: They weren't re-ticketed.

SIMON: ... they still didn't offer them tickets.

Not only -- they should have put them up in a hotel. And they should have gotten them out on the first flight the next morning. And I think it is because of that, that these guys might have a case.

ZAHN: All right.

So, he said they weren't discriminated against the first time, but they certainly were the second time. Do you think the authorities overreacted here?

MADDOW: I -- what I think is really interesting about this case is how it's -- how it all happened, with the passenger handing over a note.

I feel like Americans have so little confidence in what the government is doing, in terms of airline security right now, that we, as regular Americans, are freelance amateur racial profiling now. We're making decision about who think ought to be kept off planes, because we don't believe that the security works. We don't have confidence in it.


ZAHN: Well, interestingly enough, what these passengers -- one passenger thought she had heard was anti-American rhetoric, when, in fact, another witness said they were Muslim prayers she was listening to.


ZAHN: What about that, Matt?

INNIS: Or -- or both.

TAIBBI: I just don't think anyone who isn't absolutely white should be allowed on an airplane.



INNIS: I guess it's trains -- I guess it's trains for me from now on, huh?


TAIBBI: I don't know. I mean, I think -- I think it's -- it's a dicey issue.

Clearly, they made -- the -- the airline made some terrible mistakes after the incident. And I think that contributed to some of the hysteria. But, you know, there's -- there's -- there's an obvious fine line that has to be walked here, and people aren't always going to walk it straight. And, so, these things are going to happen.


INNIS: I really believe, in this era, that, when it comes to security, and when it comes to airline security, we should not be subject to political correctness.

ZAHN: All right.

INNIS: And I...

ZAHN: But -- but you -- there is talk of congressional hearings being held on the whole issue of racial profiling. Are you saying that is a waste of time?

INNIS: I think we have had a variety of racial profiling hearings and statements and discussions.

I think that the Department of Homeland Security and I think the airline agencies can come -- should come out and publicize what their procedures are, and what reasons they would have for pulling a particular passenger off the plane.

You know, of course, there's an investigation going on. It is alleged that these passengers refused to get off the plane voluntarily. And that's why the police were called in.

MADDOW: If somebody told me, "I saw you praying; I, therefore, think you want to kill me, and I want you off this plane," I would probably be mad, too. I probably would be mad and probably do something inappropriate, much more than these guys did.

I thought they comported themselves with a lot of dignity, in the face of a huge insult.

ZAHN: All right.

Matt Taibbi, Rachel Maddow, Niger Innis, thanks. We will see you again a little bit later on in this hour.

If you are one of the millions who will be having a very close encounter with airport security in the next few days, stay with us. If you aren't a frequent flier, be forewarned. Things have changed a lot. Next, we are going to have some hints for you to make your trip through the airport as painless as possible.

Plus, consumer reporter Greg Hunter will show us why the airlines are losing track of thousands of pieces of luggage every day.

We will be right back.


ZAHN: Welcome back. Our "Top Story" tonight in travel: Thirty-eight million of us will be on the move over Thanksgiving, most of us driving, and thankful that gas prices finally have come down a little, certainly lower than this time last year. But a huge number of us, about five million of us, will be flying.

And Ted Rowlands has a look ahead at the airport security headaches you need to be ready for if you are among those millions.

Let's watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and may be carried through the screening checkpoints.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Matt (ph), Annie (ph), and 4-year-old Charlotte Otis (ph) were at the airport in plenty of time to catch their flight from Los Angeles to Baltimore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're heading to D.C. to have Thanksgiving with family.

ROWLANDS: The Otis (ph) family travels enough to know about the new rules concerning liquids on board.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have some saline solution. We have some apple juice.

ROWLANDS: As they get ready to check their bags, they think they will be all right, although, as they will soon find out, it is not entirely in their hands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Remove all liquids for you carry-on bags, please.

ROWLANDS: The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, is hoping an information campaign is getting the word out about the new liquid gels ban that went into effect after a liquid explosive terrorist plot was uncovered in London.

(on camera): The key to things running smoothly this holiday season could come down to the baggy.

This is Nico Melendez with the TSA.

Explain once again the rules with the three-one-one.

NICO MELENDEZ, SPOKESMAN, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: Three-one-one: one quart-size baggy, one baggy per person, and each liquid inside it needs to be in a container of three ounces or less.

ROWLANDS: Any liquid has to be in a small container. It has to be in this baggy. Otherwise, you...

(CROSSTALK) MELENDEZ: We will find it. And we will ask passengers either to get rid of it, or go put it in their check bag.

ROWLANDS: Put it in your check bag.

Just this morning, at LAX -- take a look at this -- all of this confiscated, people trying to get on the airplane with all of these items.

Is the message really getting across? I mean, someone tried to bring salsa on, liquor.

MELENDEZ: We're doing everything we can to get the message across. We -- we have -- we have talked to everybody. We're public. A public education campaign has been going on for six weeks. And we're working with the airlines and the airports to inform the passengers. But we have to remember, a lot of people are traveling this holiday season that haven't traveled in a very long time.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): The Otis (ph) family made it to the front of the security checkpoint line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the big moment.

ROWLANDS: But, after Annie (ph) and Charlotte (ph) made it through, there was a security threat.



ROWLANDS: A code green means the security checkpoint must be immediately shut down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ma'am, you need to step back against the Plexiglas.

ROWLANDS: The person in front of the Otis (ph) family appeared to have bullets inside a carry-on bag.

The delay turned out to be relatively short. The bullets were actually this strange-looking set of keys. Meanwhile, a TSA agent found the saline solution in the Otis (ph) family's luggage. According to the TSA, it is classified as a medical product, so, it was allowed on board. And, despite the unexpected delay, the Otis (ph) family made their flight.


ZAHN: Any other advice for the traveling public tonight, Ted?

ROWLANDS: Well, it's going to be all hands on deck for TSA employees.

But, as you see in this -- in this case, it is really out of your control. Even if you do everything right, you can be delayed by something unforeseen. So, you know, they always say it. Bring your patience to the airport, and expect delays. If you don't have any, well, you're that much better off.

ZAHN: Yes. Then you will be cheering mightily.

Ted, thanks. We are going to see you a little bit later on, when you will be filling in for "LARRY KING LIVE." See you then.

ROWLANDS: Yes. OK. Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: And we are going to continue our in-depth look at our "Top Story" in travel right now.

Security isn't the only challenge you will face if you are flying this week. Cross your fingers that your luggage will be with you when you actually get where you are going. This year, the rate of lost bags is up dramatically.

Here's consumer correspondent Greg Hunter.


GREG HUNTER, CNN CONSUMER CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Going home for the holiday? Time to relax and celebrate with family and friends. But getting there may be a stressful experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the bags which has mostly everything is not here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My wedding ring was in my bag. And, right before we checked on, I was like, oh, my gosh. I have got to go grab it, because what if they lost my bag?

HUNTER: Fears about lost luggage run high this time of year. And it's no wonder. Some 25 million travelers will toss banned liquids...


HUNTER: ... check extra bags, and cram into American airports this busy holiday season.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It makes me think about packing things that I'm willing to lose.

HUNTER: With some two million passengers expected to fly each day this week, baggage handlers and security screeners are confronting a massive challenge. The airline industry insists it is prepared to handle the extra luggage.

DAVID CASTELVETER, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: You're going to see approximately two million passengers a day through Monday or Tuesday following the holiday. And we are working very hard as an airline industry as well as the Transportation Security Administration to make sure that Thanksgiving travel is as seamless as possible. HUNTER: But despite the assurances, a new Department of Transportation report says more passengers are getting to their destinations without their luggage. Take a look at what happened after the Transportation Security Administration banned liquids on all carry-on bag this is summer. In August, 107,000 more flyers lost their checked bags than the year before, an average of nearly 14,000 a day. And in September, that number increased to more than 183,000, nearly double the number from 2005.


HUNTER: Airline consultant Barbara Beyer says the airlines should upgrade the technology they use to track lost luggage.

BARBARA BEYER, AVIATION CONSULTANT: I think it is more or less Neanderthal. You're still relying very, very heavily on old technology. You are relying on paper. You are heavily relying on individual initiative.

HUNTER: Every bag lost cost the airline as lot of money, but upgrading the technology also carries a big price tag. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas decided to make that investment. Bags there get tagged and tracked using radio frequency technology. Other airports are looking at similar equipment.

(on camera): At Philadelphia International Airport, some people get downright worried looks on their faces, especially at the U.S. Airways luggage carousel. And they may have good reason. You see, according to the government, U.S. Airways has one of the worst records for mishandled baggage right here.

(voice-over): U.S. Airways insists that baggage handling is a top priority and tells CNN it recently hired 60 new r supervisors and more than 200 airport employees in addition to investing millions of dollars in new equipment to improve its performance in Philadelphia.

U.S. Airways and other airlines will be under increased scrutiny this season from travelers taking their gripes global on the popular video sharing Web site YouTube.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After sending numerous letters...

HUNTER: Despite the challenges and the headaches, it's not all bad news. All but one percent of lost luggage makes it back to its owner.


HUNTER: Hi, Greg Hunter here live at LaGuardia Airport and look down here. Nice and quiet. Well that's the calm before the storm. Forget about it, tomorrow's going to be a madhouse. Now travel experts tell me there are some things you can do to make sure you and your bags arrive at the same time.

And No. 1, get there early, at least two hours ahead of time. They tell me that the longer baggage handlers have with your bags, the more likely your bags and you get on the airplane at the same time.

The second thing is make sure you mark your bags well. Put that address and cell phone number on the outside. Also get a copy of your itinerary and slide it into the bag along with that cell phone number and finally, fly direct. Too late now to make any plans for Thanksgiving, but experts say try to cut down on the layovers and stops and if do you that, your bags and you are more likely to get to the destination at the same time. Back to you guys in the studio.

ZAHN: Hey Greg, I didn't have to worry about any of that this year. I wasn't invited anywhere. So I'm staying home, no luggage, no hassle. How easy is that?

HUNTER: That means you've got to cook.

ZAHN: That's right, that's a less punishment than losing my luggage. Thanks Greg, have a good holiday.

Another top story tonight is the controversial book you won't be reading after Thanksgiving. Glenn Beck of "Headline Prime" joins me next to sound off about O.J. Simpson's attempt to throw his book at us. And tonight's top story in entertainment, the aftershocks from Michael Richards racist on-stage tirade. I will be talking with comedian Paul Rodriguez, who was there when it happened. Does he buy Richards' apology? We'll see.


ZAHN: Iran, Iraq, O.J. Simpson and his book, or would-be book. Plenty of top story to talk about today with "Headline Prime's" outspoken and controversial talk show host Glenn Beck, who's with me now. He would just like to see himself as honest.

GLENN BECK, CNN HOST: Not controversial, honest.

ZAHN: Let's talk about FOX dumping this O.J. deal. Did it have anything to do at all with the thousands and thousands of e-mails and complaints or at the core of this is it all about money?

BECK: Oh, it's all about heart, it's all about heart. Money. It all came down to money. I think it came down to viewers and Americans speaking out and I think it came to not being able to sell that. Would you want your product advertised on that?

ZAHN: I wouldn't and I wouldn't have watched the program either.

BECK: I wouldn't either.

ZAHN: And now we're learning more about Judith Regan, the woman who would have published this book. She is in a way tying her own personal story of abuse to what she said was a confession.

BECK: This story doesn't stop to amaze me ever. From FOX all of a sudden discovering that maybe this was bad idea to O.J. Simpson being willing to do this on television and just destroy the lives of his children again. To now Judith Regan actually having the cahones to say this is closure for me because I was abused. My gosh what an insult to abused women. So wait a minute, you're going to help a guy complete the cycle of abuse on his kids by making money off of this and that's closure for you? Come on.

ZAHN: No closure this time around.

BECK: No closure.

ZAHN: It will be interesting to see if anybody ever published that book. Let's talk about what's going on in the Middle East right now. You now have Iraq and Syria re-establishing a diplomatic relationship after 25 years. What is it going to yield? Deliver?

BECK: Bad news. This is really, really bad stuff. What I think America is missing is the story has never been about Iraq. And I have a little bit of credibility on this because I was saying that when we said we were going in for weapons of mass destruction on my radio show.

No no no, we're not. We're going in for Iran. That's the head of the snake. We're now seeing it. This is the center of evil. This is, as Benjamin Netanyahu pointed out on my program on Friday, this is a guy who has an Armageddon, doomsday, apocalyptic view of the world. And he is now flexing his muscles. The assassination in Lebanon today wasn't a shock to me that this is coming. Shouldn't be a shock to anybody. This is Iran saying, there's a vacuum about to happen in the Middle East and I am going to plow across this continent and I'm taking it.

ZAHN: But to be perfectly fair, we don't know who murdered this guy.

BECK: Yes.

ZAHN: You are saying it has Iranian and Syrian fingerprints all over it?

BECK: Oh, I'm not.


Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Hezbollah. The war that happened over the summer, that was absolutely orchestrated by Syria and Iran. You will see that this is also orchestrated by Syria and Iran.

ZAHN: A lot of politicians are recommending that we should be talking to both Iran and Syria. Whether -- maybe not at the top diplomatic levels but at some level. You say no way?

BECK: No way.

I mean, they're evil. Ahmadinejad is absolutely evil and you cannot -- these guys do not want to co-exist. They sense this as weakness. In the Middle East with these kinds of people, when you say, you know what, why don't we just all live together, that's when they think they can cut your head off. You cannot negotiate with these people. We're facing something that the world has never seen before and may never see again. It is the biggest struggle, possibly in planetary history. We must not negotiate.

ZAHN: Glenn Beck, always good to see you.

BECK: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thanks for dropping by tonight. Appreciate your time.

BECK: Good to see you, Paula.

ZAHN: And we're going to move on to tonight's top story in entertainment. Michael Richards isn't the first Hollywood icon to lose control of his mouth this year.

Next, a look at what's behind the hatred in Hollywood.

Plus, a comedian who was in the room for Richards' tirade. Is Paul Rodriguez satisfied with his apology? I'll ask him.


ZAHN: Hate in Hollywood is our choice for tonight's top story in entertainment. Michael Richards' barrage of racial slurs in an L.A. comedy club continues to outrage people and tonight, many folks inside and outside Hollywood feel Richards' apology on the "Letterman Show" last night doesn't even come close to being enough.

But sadly, this isn't the first time that we've learned about celebrities and bigoted outburst.

Here's entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson.


BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Michael Richards' racist rant is the last high-profile outburst turning the spotlight on hate in Hollywood.

RABBI MARVIN HIER, DIR. SIMON WEISENTHAL CENTER: Famous people, cultural icons, are trying to push the envelope, and it's the wrong time period of history to do this. We live in a dangerous world today.

ANDERSON: Rabbi Marvin Hier founded the Simon Weisenthal Center in Los Angeles to confront bigotry and educate the public about tolerance.

HIER: Hollywood is not made up of superhuman beings. You know, they're normal human beings that are confronted with the same human frailties that we have in the rest of the society and we're just seeing it.

ANDERSON: We certainly are. During his infamous DUI arrest in July, Mel Gibson spouted anti-Semitic slurs, saying, quote, "F***king Jews... Jews are responsible for all of the wars in the world."

And last month, actor Isaiah Washington made a public apology after it was reported that he hurled a homophobic slur at a cast mate on the set of "Grey's Anatomy." He said he was sorry for his, quote, "unfortunate use of words."

So why do they do it?

HIER: They think that, you know, you can get away with it because I, after all, I'm a star in Hollywood. And I think the public has to say, no, you're not going to get away with it.

ANDERSON: But the fact is, a celebrity who causes serious offense also puts his or her career in serious jeopardy. In these circumstances, a press release apology just won't do, according to comedian Paul Mooney.

PAUL MOONEY, COMEDIAN: To get back into good graces, when you do some deadly stuff, you got to do something just as dramatic to get back in.

ANDERSON: So you have Michael Richards' apology on the "Letterman Show." Isaiah Washington and Mel Gibson apologized, all in very dramatic fashion. After all, drama is Hollywood's stock and trade, but many skeptics still find those performances less than convincing.

Brook Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


ZAHN: Comedian Paul Rodriguez was at the Laugh Factory during Michael Richards' performance on Friday. He joins me now from Los Angeles.

Paul, always good to see you. Welcome.


ZAHN: So I want to start off tonight by replaying a small part of Michael Richards' apology last night on "David Letterman". Let's listen together.


MICHAEL RICHARDS, COMEDIAN: I'm very, very sorry to those people in the audience, the blacks, the Hispanics, the whites, everyone that was there that took the brunt of that anger and hate and rage and how it came through. And I'm concerned about more hate and more rage and more anger coming through.


ZAHN: So Paul, do you buy Richards' apology?

RODRIGUEZ: I do. I met him enough to know that he's in a terrible place right now. No punishment that anyone could give him is going to be harder on him than he himself.

ZAHN: In spite of the fact of what you're saying, though, there were some people so outraged by the language he used, I think they would say no apology will ever be enough. What do you have to say to those folks?

RODRIGUEZ: What's there to gain? What's there to gain?

You know, odd word, racism -- and I'm not saying that this it is one way or another. I'd rather have that. I'd rather have you come to me and tell me, you this, you that. I know where you're coming from.

America has never really sat down and had a national forum, but if there's a silver lining to this tragedy, and it's something we can hope for, is that maybe, maybe it's putting us here, discussing something that we should have talked about a long, long time ago.

ZAHN: Paul, you say you have spent time with Michael Richards before. Do you think, at his core, he's as racist?

RODRIGUEZ: I know Michael professionally, but Michael's an introvert. When Michael hops on stage, he becomes another person. I've never seen anybody so -- outside he is a shy and docile man. It almost...

ZAHN: Have you ever heard him say anything racist before?

RODRIGUEZ: Paula, I have never heard Michael say a cross word to anyone. This is a shock to me. Just when you think it couldn't get any worse, it got worse than that. What happened...

ZAHN: But didn't what he say have to come from a very ugly place inside of him?

RODRIGUEZ: You know, there's no way that that could have just been something that just accidentally came out. It was too well- delivered. It was absolutely wrong but are we to sum a man's life by one day? One lousy day?

I feel on the one hand we can throw out his whole body of work. We can't just discard him to the side -- as racist, as horrible as it was, we can't do that. There has to be requiem. America is a country -- maybe it's too soon, I grant you.

I don't know how long the time period is, but I'm telling you, America is about second chances. This man deserves at least an opportunity to, in person, to address his wrongs. There's a lot more work to be done but at the end of this trail, there should be requiem.

ZAHN: Paul Rodriguez, thank you so much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate your time.

RODRIGUEZ: You're welcome.

ZAHN: And right now we're going to move on to take a quick "Biz Break."


ZAHN: Well, my top story panel has been waiting patiently. In a minute, I'm going to walk over and ask them about a provocative new poll that compares President George W. Bush with his father.

And at the top of the hour, on "LARRY KING LIVE," coverage of today's confrontation between a former child bride and polygamist Warren Jeffs. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: And welcome back. We're back now with our top story panel. They have been oh so patient tonight, and I want to get their take on something that caught my eye today and that is a new CNN/Opinion Research Poll that shows just 25 percent of Americans think President George W. Bush has done a better job in office than his father, while 61 percent say the elder Mr. Bush, who served from 1989 to 1993, was the better chief executive officer.

So how about that, Rachel? I guess, that shouldn't surprise anybody based on the approval polls that we're looking at now.

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA: I think this is less about Bush's dad and having some resurgence of popularity for Bush's dad than it is about Bush Jr. I think if you had put Warren G. Harding or Nixon or a piece of cheese or anything on the other side of who do you like better than George W. Bush, the cheese would win. At this point, anybody looks better than George W., even his dad.

ZAHN: I saw you wince when Rachel said that, Niger. Do you like the father? Do you like the son? Who do you like better?

NIGER INNIS, CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY: I like them both. And it is not unprecedented that they would have a different world view and different point of view. I think it is ironic that one of the reasons that George Bush was popular, of course, it was the economy, stupid. But it was also because a lot of people blamed him for not doing enough to support insurgent forces in Iraq after he had pulled Iraq back from Kuwait.

And I think it's ironic now that there's this nostalgia, I'm sure that Herbert Walker and George -- President Herbert Walker Bush is saying where were you guys in 1992, November of 1992, when I needed you?

ZAHN: Sure. There really is an interesting reversal of fortune, isn't there not, when it comes to the issue of economy and how that played in both of these men's presidency, and then the flipside of Iraq. The first President Bush came off Desert Storm with 92 percent approval ratings, and then it was the economy that killed him and then the other way around, this has been switched for the son.

(CROSSTALK) MATT TAIBBI, "ROLLING STONE": Right and then doesn't go into Baghdad and then he's heavily criticized for that and then exactly the reverse happens here. I think it is very ironic.

MADDOW: I think it is a little bit weird after the elections that we got the cover of "Newsweek" that had Bush's dad with that kind of odd photo of Junior Bush flying out of his pocket kind of. And we have this, now this CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll about who do you like better, Bush or his dad? I feel like the mainstream media in a lot of ways is really trying to find a Republican who they can say won the midterm elections.

ZAHN: Excuse me?


MADDOW: They don't want to say Democrats won. They want to say that a Republican won, so they've decided we all voted for Bush's dad.

ZAHN: Well, that's a very unusual take on what the American public has just showed us.

INNIS: Lord knows you cannot find any Democrats in the American media.


MADDOW: But why is the resurgence of Bush's dad? Why is the popularity contest?

INNIS: They're trying to use the dad as a jab against the son. I think it's pretty simple.

TAIBBI: Yes, I think actually it's the other way around. I think that a lot of the people in the media are looking for a way to tweak the president a little bit, and they know he's extremely sensitive on the issue of his dad. I mean, he always has been and to...

ZAHN: But, come on, let's be perfectly fair here. You're seeing so many players that were active in the father's administration now coming back to try to reshape this presidency. So what does that tell us? What does that mean?

INNIS: It tells us that the president saw the midterm elections. He's a wise person that is exercising options, but that his strategy -- his overall strategy of supporting and forwarding democracy internationally as a geopolitical strategy, I think, is still something that he believes strongly in. And I think history may or may not prove him right.

ZAHN: So whether he believes it strongly or living in the shadow of his father by bringing back all of dad's old players.

TAIBBI: Yes, it's hard to say. I'm sure it's a very difficult thing for him to accept psychologically either way, that he has to bring all these people back. He made a point of not doing that the first time around, and I think the fact that he has to now has to be very difficult for him.

ZAHN: Rachel, you get the last 14 seconds. Go, girl, go.

MADDOW: I think essentially what's happening is that Bush is letting the adults take over again, the way he's always done when he's in trouble. And it's got to be embarrassing for him, but we're probably better off as a country for it.

INNIS: He's still the president.

MADDOW: Yes, tiny, little president flying out of his dad's pocket on the cover of "Newsweek."

ZAHN: Oh, ouch.

INNIS: He's got a little bit of power, though. Just a little bit of power, right, I think.

ZAHN: All right, well, happy Thanksgiving to you all.

INNIS: Happy Thanksgiving.

ZAHN: I appreciate your dropping by before the holiday. That wraps it up for all of us here. really appreciate your being with us tonight. We'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night. Until then, have a great night. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.


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