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Debate Over Gays in the Military Rekindled; Gerald Ford's Legacy

Aired January 2, 2007 - 20:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks to all of you for joining us. Paula is on assignment tonight.
Every night, we shine a light on America's hidden secrets, bringing intolerance out into the open -- tonight, a friend indeed, the seldom-told story about how President Gerald Ford overcame opposition to refugees from Vietnam. Will people fleeing Iraq today find a similar friend in the White House?

Also, still not asking why the war on terror is breaking down opposition to gays in the military.

And the eyes have it -- a shocking number of Asian-American women who are demanding cosmetic surgery to look more Western. Tonight, we're bringing those stories out in the open.

First, President Gerald Ford's funeral, it's the "Top Story" across America tonight, but thousands of our fellow citizens are remembering him for more than the post-Watergate era. They know that he literally stood up to intolerance and gave Vietnamese refugees a chance to live the American dream, at a time when many people didn't want them in this country at all.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): From the pulpit of the National Cathedral, President Bush praised Gerald Ford's decency and dignity.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Ford assumed office at a terrible time in our nation's history. Amid all the turmoil, Gerald Ford was a rock of stability.

O'BRIEN: While every tribute to the former president singles out his efforts to heal the wounds of the Watergate scandal, Vietnamese- Americans honored Gerald Ford for something more. When South Vietnam collapsed in 1975, President Ford made sure America's doors were open to a wave of 130,000 refugees, including Dan Huan.

DAN HUAN, FORMER REFUGEE: They put me in a university in Oklahoma. And I start my brand-new life at age of 28.

O'BRIEN: As a South Vietnamese naval officer, Huan would have ended up in a communist prison if he had stayed in Vietnam.

HUAN: I was one of the lucky guys. I was here because people here welcomed me.

O'BRIEN: Literally tens of thousands like Americans like Dan Huan are alive today because of President Ford's personal commitment to bring the Vietnamese to the United States, and his persistence in the face of public opposition and a Congress that didn't want to fund resettlement programs. Ford even made a point of visiting refugee camps in Florida and Arkansas.

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He presided over the agony of Indochina with dignity and wisdom.

O'BRIEN: For Vietnamese-Americans, the former president's most important legacy is his sense of responsibility to the Vietnamese who had helped the United States. And it could turn into a lesson, as a new president faces the fallout from a new war.

As Iraq's sectarian violence spirals out of control, civilians who cooperate with U.S. forces have become the targets of intimidation and death threats. But, so far, asylum seekers seem to be finding little welcome in Europe or America.

Today's "New York Times" reports that , while thousands of people flee Iraq every day, the U.S. had, until recently, planned to allow only 500 Iraqi refugees in this year.


O'BRIEN: Well, the number of Iraqis coming into the U.S. may well increase.

This afternoon, a senior State Department official told CNN that the effort to bring them in is being hampered by the United Nations' rules for evaluating refugees, and also by Congress, which needs to pass higher quotas.

President Ford put his political capital on the line back in the 1970s for people like the man you're about to meet. He was among the 130,000 Vietnamese refugees who made it here to America because of President Ford's courage.

Quang Pham came to the United States as a boy. He served as a U.S. Marine pilot in the Persian Gulf War, and wrote about his experiences in a book called "A Sense of Duty."

It's nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us.

QUANG PHAM, FORMER U.S. MARINE: Thanks for having me on, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You're most welcome.

You are one of 130,000 Vietnamese whose lives were -- were literally saved, in many respects, by -- by Gerald Ford. Tell me a little bit about what you remember, leaving Vietnam and then coming to the camps in America. PHAM: Well, Soledad, we were among the 1 percent, less than 1 percent, of South Vietnam's population. And I was a 10-year-old boy with three sisters and a mother. My father was a South Vietnamese pilot, and he had the foresight to know and to believe that the Americans would take care of us.

So, we were rousted out of bed one night, taken to Philippines, and Guam, and then Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, our -- the refugee camp. And we waited out our fate. And, when Saigon fell, we couldn't return to Vietnam.

O'BRIEN: What happened to your father? He was an officer in the South Vietnamese military. What happened to him?

PHAM: Well, my father stayed on his post and did his duty. He was sentenced to 12 years in the reeducation camps. Fortunately, under President Reagan, he was allowed to come here in the 1990s, and had to wait five more years for the paperwork to go through.

O'BRIEN: You were just 10 years old when you were living in this camp for a couple of months, until you -- your family resettled in California, I think.

What do you remember? What was it like? Was it scary? Was it an embracing attitude?

PHAM: Well, it was -- you know, we didn't speak any English. We were Buddhists. And, all the sudden, we were uprooted from our country. We had lost everything, our family, our friends, our country, our father, and our freedom.

And the next thing you know, we were in the military camp, which essentially was the refugee camp in Arkansas. And we weren't -- we didn't know if we were allowed to leave or where we were headed. And, so, there was a lot of uncertainty. And, for a kid that age, my friends and I, we were scared most of the time, until about the second month at the camps. And that's when we started to get visitors.

The Americans from the surrounding areas came in and brought us clothes, and they were very generous people, who taught us English. And, then, we were out by June of 1975.

O'BRIEN: That obviously was very important to you and made a big impression on you.

But, you know, for all the biographers of Ford that I have talked to over the last several days, and all the friends and all the colleagues, none of them mention this, frankly -- none. They mention Watergate. They mention reconciling a nation. They don't mention this.

Does that surprise you at all?

PHAM: It does surprise me, Soledad. But you have to remember, it affected Vietnamese-Americans, like I said, the 1 -- the less than 1 percent that got lucky, that got out. So, I felt it was my duty, when I discovered what President Ford did, his leadership, and inserting himself, and taking all the heat from Congress and the American public for accepting us. And shortly after he came to the camps, I believe, we were allowed to be resettled all across the country. And it's amazing, when I look back, that we were all resettled, all 130,000 of us, by Christmas of '75.

O'BRIEN: He said it was the saddest period of his life. He said that period, not losing the presidency, not even Watergate itself, but that period, trying to usher the Vietnamese people, even just 1 percent of the population, in was the saddest period of his life. That surprised me.

PHAM: Yes.

He -- he had added that to forget the South Vietnamese would be to add moral shame to humiliation. And he was a man of integrity. And when -- like I said, I didn't find out all of the facts until years later, when I wrote the book "A Sense of Duty."

But, when I found out, I felt strongly enough to -- to rewrite some of the -- some of the archives have all this material, as well, but it -- it affected the Vietnamese-Americans. And that's why I think a lot of the biographers have overlooked this fact.

O'BRIEN: Quang Pham, nice to talk to you. Thank you very much for talking with us this evening. We appreciate it.

PHAM: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: My pleasure.

From racial intolerance, we move to discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A stunning statement today from a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs is bringing the issue of gays in the military into the open again. And, if there ever was a divisive issue to get Americans fuming, well, this one is it.

Tonight, Kathleen Koch has the story for us.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a dramatic about-face: the officer who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the U.S. military in 1993 adopted the don't ask/don't tell policy now advocating that it be dropped.

In a "New York Times" editorial, General John Shalikashvili says -- quote -- "I now believe that, if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces."

DAVID HALL, FORMER AIR FORCE STAFF SERGEANT: I kind of felt, why didn't he -- you know, why don't he say this earlier? KOCH: David Hall served five years in the Air Force, before he was discharged under the don't ask/don't tell policy. He's one of 12 veterans suing the Defense Department to be reinstated.

HALL: For them to, you know, disenroll me for something so stupid, it just didn't make sense. So, I wanted the opportunity to voice my opinion and say, you know what, this is not right, and this is not the way that our country should be -- should be treating Americans.

KOCH: More than 11,000 service members have been discharged since the policy was put in place. Critics argue, these are valuable personnel the overstressed military can no longer afford to lose.

C. DIXON OSBURN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SERVICEMEMBERS LEGAL DEFENSE NET: They're just barely meeting their recruiting goals right now, and yet, they're kicking out qualified people just because they're gay. These are people that we need to help us defense against terrorism.

KOCH: General Shalikashvili's suggestion comes as the president is calling for an increase in the size of the armed forces.

The general cites a new Zogby poll of more than 500 service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Three-quarters said they were comfortable interacting with gay people.

Still, supporters of the policy warn, changing it will lower morale and hurt unit cohesion.

ANDREA LAFFERTY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TRADITIONAL VALUES COALITION: I think there will be a morale issue. We have got young men and young women overseas. We have got, you know, young men in foxholes. And it creates a very difficult, uncomfortable situation. Frankly, foxholes shouldn't be a place for dating.

(on camera): The Pentagon has consistently refused to comment on don't ask/don't tell since the policy law was put into law by Congress. But some acknowledge that an editorial from such a well- respected military leader could be just what it takes to start a new debate on ending an old and some say flawed policy.

Kathleen Koch, CNN, the Pentagon.


O'BRIEN: Retired Coast Guard Rear Admiral Alan Steinman served during the Clinton years. He was one of the first retired senior officers to come out as gay and also to condemn don't ask/don't tell. He joins us this evening.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks talking with us.

You resigned in 1997, I believe, but it wasn't until 2003, in an interview in "The New York Times," I guess, where -- where you came out pretty publicly in -- in this article. What do you make now of the general's change of heart?

REAR ADMIRAL ALAN STEINMAN (RET.), U.S. COAST GUARD: Well, I think it's hard to overestimate the importance of General Shalikashvili's opinion and editorial this morning.

Here's a man with the status and respect and stature, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who had to implement the policy. And General Shalikashvili, after considering the evidence and talking to a fairly large number of troops, including a number of gay troops who have served in Afghanistan, looking at the evidence, looking at the polling data -- I had the privilege of talking to the general myself -- changed his mind, and believes that the military is now ready, our society is ready to allow gays and lesbians to serve, and it will not be a detriment to unit morale, cohesion, or combat readiness.

O'BRIEN: You know, you talk about his status and his respect, certainly. But wasn't it all the more so when he was serving as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs?

I mean, some people might say, well, great to come to this decision, but years too late.

STEINMAN: Well, I don't think it's years too late.

I think, when -- when you talk to the general, and you read his words today, you find that he believed back then, as was the prevalent argument in the -- in the military, and among others as well, particularly in Congress, that gays and lesbians would undermine unit cohesion.

I disagreed with that at the time, but -- but General Shalikashvili accepted those arguments, and implemented the law, as -- as -- as passed by Congress. But now we are some 13 years later, 14 years later. Times have changed. Young Americans are far more comfortable working with gays and lesbians. They grow up with them. They see characters on MTV, on television, in the movies. They know them in high school. You have gay/straight alliances.

The Zogby polls shows the -- the level of comfort among the troops themselves working with gays and lesbians. So, they don't seem to see it as a problem.

O'BRIEN: You were with him on some of those tours. And, when he would ask service men and women about their gay colleagues, I mean, many would have to say: "Well, don't ask, don't tell. What gay colleagues? There are no gay colleagues in the military here," right?

STEINMAN: Well, there are. In fact, that's -- that's what's -- that is what I think most people need to understand.

There are lots of gays and lesbians serving relatively openly in the military now, serving with the knowledge of their peers, and sometimes even with the knowledge of their commands without a problem. In the Zogby poll, for example, 23 percent of the troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq said they know for certain that someone in their unit was -- was openly gay, and it wasn't a problem.

There's -- there's another piece of data that would be interesting to relate. And it's not been published, but I spoke to a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. And he queries his young officers, young naval and Marine Corps officers, on every class, and he finds that 75 percent of those young officers know somebody who is gay or lesbian on active duty, and they're not impacted. It doesn't result in in a -- in a negative impact on unit cohesion.

O'BRIEN: Admiral Alan Steinman joining thus evening -- nice to see you, sir. Thanks for your time.

STEINMAN: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: My pleasure.

Some amazing pictures to show you from New Orleans tonight. Take a look at this, an emotional show of support for cops accused in a deadly shooting. Has there been a miscarriage of justice, or is racial intolerance coming out into the open?

And, then, later: Oprah's groundbreaking new school. Why she's chosen South Africa, when the need is so great here in America.



More and more Asian-Americans are going under the knife to change the shape of their eyes. But critics say they're changing their identity in the process. I followed one woman right into the operating room to find out how it's done and why. I will have that story when PAULA ZAHN NOW continues.



O'BRIEN: A new light of promise shines tonight on a country that was once infamously known for government-regulated racism and intolerance.

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey today opened her $40 million Leadership Academy for over 150 girls in South Africa. But the Hollywood-like opening festivities also exposed the lack of a good education for so many other South African students.

CNN's Africa correspondent, Jeff Koinange, was exclusively at Oprah's side, as the lucky girls entered new lives of hope.


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": Hello, everybody. These are my girls. JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A dream come true for 1,502 very lucky girls, and also for one very famous talk show host. Oprah Winfrey cut the ribbon and helped raise the flag of her very own Leadership Academy for Girls just outside Johannesburg.

And she brought with her a host of Hollywood's finest in both the movie and music industries, from Mariah Carey to Tina Turner, from Chris Rock to Chris Tucker, and from Spike Lee to Sidney Poitier.

Originally, Oprah committed $10 million, but, as her vision grew, so did her contribution to $40 million. And there's no school like it here, a library with a fireplace, a dining room with marble tabletops, an audio-video center, a gym, a wellness center, dormitories, and tennis courts, and just 15 girls to a classroom -- that in a country in which more than a third of the children don't get a chance even to go to high school. And those who do often go to schools with few books, facilities or even bathrooms.

Winfrey aimed to help the poorest here. Only children from homes that earn less than $800 a month are eligible. Winfrey has worked to improve education in the U.S. She says she decided to build in South Africa because she found children here hungrier to learn.

"I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools," she said, "that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn't there. If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don't ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms, so they can go to school."

Oprah promised former President Nelson Mandela that she would build the academy six years ago, after she visited some of South Africa's poorest schools.

NELSON MANDELA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: This is unprecedented in South Africa. And we should thank her for providing these young girls with not only specialized education, but life skills. That will ensure that they become the best.

KOINANGE: In this once racially-divided country, it's not surprising that most of the students are black. But Oprah insists her school is open to everyone, as long as they qualify.

WINFREY: This school is open to all girls who are disadvantaged, all girls, all races who are disadvantaged.

KOINANGE: And from the girls themselves:

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel excited and happy and...

WINFREY: A little nervous?


WINFREY: A bit nervous.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel happy. And I feel like crying, and -- but crying of happiness. And I'm -- I'm a bit nervous, but not that much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More than a dream come true. I don't know. It's like a fairy tale.

KOINANGE: Jeff Koinange, CNN, Henley-on-Klip, South Africa.


O'BRIEN: Oh, those girls are so cute.

But Oprah's new school is also sparking a little controversy tonight.

Let's bring tonight's "Out in the Open" panel. John Liu is a New York City council member who is out in the open on racism issues. Karen Hunter is a Pulitzer Prize winner, teaches journalism at Hunter College in New York City. And Betty Cortina is the editorial director of "Latina" magazine.

Nice to see you all.


O'BRIEN: Let's get to -- you know, far be it from me to tell Oprah how to spend her money. And, hey, good for her that she is doing this.

But, at the same time, there are certainly plenty of people who said, you can't find some place in this country to give your 40 mil?

KAREN HUNTER, JOURNALISM PROFESSOR, HUNTER COLLEGE: Well, she makes a point. It's free here. Kids have an opportunity to have an education. They don't have that there. So, why not build a school where kids have to eat hot rocks at night and walk three miles barefoot to get to school? It's a priority for them.

BETTY CORTINA, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "LATINA": Not to mention the fact that Oprah is doing quite a bit in this country...

O'BRIEN: Well, no question.

CORTINA: ... already.

O'BRIEN: I mean, the woman gives tens of millions of dollars.

CORTINA: Absolutely.


O'BRIEN: Trust me, I'm not bashing my girl Oprah. Love Oprah.

At the same time, though... (LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: ... you know, you look at the -- the -- the -- and you, as a council member, certainly know better than maybe most people, even in New York City, just how dire some of our schools are.


O'BRIEN: They could use 40 million bucks.

HUNTER: They get eight billion. What -- I mean, how much more do they need?

JOHN LIU, NEW YORK CITY COUNCILMAN: In New York City, and even in the -- the rest of the country, there are institutions that are privately funded that are, shall we say, extravagant by some standards. And they're not faced with criticism. And I think that it's fine for Oprah to spend the money the way she wants to.


CORTINA: And the flap about it being too elegant, and too much of a school, I -- I loved her response, which was that she wasn't going build a school that looked like a chicken coop or looked like what people thought it...


O'BRIEN: There's a big difference between the yoga studio and the chicken coop, right? I mean, there's a world of difference between the two.

CORTINA: But she's doing -- she's building something that she would have wanted for herself.

O'BRIEN: Oh, no question. I mean, believe me...


O'BRIEN: Again, she has lots of money, and she can spend it any way she wants.


HUNTER: It's a little hypocritical, though.

In her magazine last month -- and, by the way, I have a subscription.

Hey, Oprah.

O'BRIEN: As do I, yes.

HUNTER: That I pay for.

O'BRIEN: And, no, you're not going to get it free. Good try, though.

HUNTER: I pay for it.

In her magazine article last month, she said that she adopted a family in Africa and she gave them everything, this -- this -- these group of kids. And she came back six months later, and they -- they had hair weaves. They weren't doing their homework. They were listening to iPods. And she...

O'BRIEN: There's a value in working...


HUNTER: Right. So, that is what she said. And she made a huge mistake. So, I'm wondering if she made a huge mistake here.

O'BRIEN: Well, you look at some of the details, yoga studio, theater inside, theater outside, 200-thread count, I mean, all fabulous.


CORTINA: But she's hand -- she's handpicking students that have already demonstrated leadership skills.

O'BRIEN: But isn't there an argument that would say, 152 students, handpicked -- get rid of the 200-thread count -- go for the 100-thread count -- you could make that 300 students. Get rid of the outdoor theater and just keep the indoor theater.

HUNTER: Do you really think that money is the issue here?


HUNTER: Do you -- Oprah has how many billions?

O'BRIEN: A lot. A lot of billions.


HUNTER: Does -- is -- is...

O'BRIEN: But why 152?

LIU: Yes, but, look, there's a -- there's a value here in giving people, in this case girls, all across the world some kind of hope, some kind of dream that they can pursue.

O'BRIEN: So, you're saying it's bigger than just literally the education for these 152...

LIU: Absolutely. You can't -- you can't do, like, how many -- how many kids or how many girls per dollar here. I mean this, is about pursuing a dream. And it's about setting a standard, a very high standard. And that's what Oprah's doing. O'BRIEN: You know what I thought was interesting? All the -- mostly black celebrities, I mean, at least everybody who I saw -- you had Chris Rock and Chris Tucker. And Mariah was there. And Tina Turner was there. I mean, every -- everybody was there.

CORTINA: Oprah's friends.


CORTINA: They're all Oprah's friends.

O'BRIEN: Yes, also, her -- all her close friends, a million of her closest friends.

But I thought it was -- and Spike Lee right there. You can see, you know, here's our celebrity video.

But I thought it was really interesting that she seems to also be imparting kind of a message, like, now go do as I have done. You all have some money, too. I mean, these are not poor folks. They could be writing checks and bailing out maybe a school in Africa, maybe a school here in New York City, maybe a school in Texas, maybe a school in Jersey City. I don't know.


HUNTER: What's -- what is our government for? You know, why do we pay taxes? Why -- why do we have an $11 billion school budget in New York City, if we're not going educate our kids? So, if Oprah is doing it in Africa, maybe we need to step up our game here.

O'BRIEN: Maybe that's her message to us as well.

LIU: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Could be. Maybe we will see that in the next issue of "O" magazine.


HUNTER: Step up your game.

O'BRIEN: Let me know when you get your copy.


O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. I am going to ask you guys, of course, to stick around, because you're our "Out in the Open" panel for the whole entire evening. And we have lots more to talk about tonight.

A familiar New Orleans landmark now has a kind of sinister reputation. Coming up, we will talk about what happened on the Danziger Bridge, and why it's now become a lightning rod for allegations of police racism and brutality, and now out in the open. Plus: Asian eyes, do you think they're attractive? Coming up, we will tell you why some Asian women think they're a handicap, and they are going to have surgery to change them.


O'BRIEN: We're about to bring a surprising side effect of intolerance into the open tonight, one that you might not even know exists. Millions of young Asian women have submitted to a startling form of plastic surgery, one that permanently alters the shape of their eyes, the better to be considered more attractive to many Americans.

Alina Cho followed one woman through the entire procedure to find out how it's done and why.


CHO (voice-over): Annie Cheng is 23 and beautiful. She doesn't think so -- yet.

(on camera): Do you think you're pretty?

ANNIE CHENG, EYELID SURGERY PATIENT: Not bad-looking. I wouldn't say like really pretty, because my standard is, pretty should be having big eyes.

CHO (voice-over): Annie's features are typically Asian. Her eyelids are very small, almost nonexistent, and that makes her eyes look small. But all of that is about to change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's very unique to Asians.

CHO: Soon, she will undergo surgery to make the folds, or creases, in her eyes bigger, to create what's known in the Asian community as double eyelids.

CHENG: In general, I think double eyelids makes you look prettier and make your eyes look bigger.

CHO: The man who will perform this surgery is Dr. Charles Lee. Lee is an expert in plastic surgery for Asians.

DR. CHARLES LEE, PLASTIC SURGEON: Well, this surgery is to Asians what breast augmentations are to mainland Americans.

CHO: To better understand it, we had Dr. Lee take a look at my face.

(on camera): First of all, I guess tell me how my features differ from Caucasian features.

LEE: Sure. The most common or most obvious thing is the upper eyelid.

CHO (voice-over): Lee says, my folds, or eyelids, are small. LEE: And some Asians have larger folds, which if you open your eyes, it might be something like that and this would be an Asian- appearing -- this would be an Asian with a larger fold than you have currently. Caucasians have a fold maybe way up here.

What I would recommend for your eyes is put some stitches and set your crease slightly higher and then relax your brow down. Set your crease a little bit higher so that you look -- your eyes look brighter.

CHO: By brighter, he means bigger which is exactly what Annie wants. She wants to look a little like the Asian actresses she sees on TV and on the Internet.

You notice the big eyes?

CHENG: Yes. I actually really pay attention to that part because whenever I see a big-eyed woman I feel she's really pretty.

CHO: Back at Dr. Lee's office, Annie is now getting prepped for surgery. First, she's sedated. Next, Dr. Lee measures her eyelids. The top line, eight millimeters above her natural fold, is where Annie wants her new crease to be.

LEE: I'm just making sure that the markings and everything are appropriate.

CHO: The surgery takes about 30 minutes. Basically, Dr. Lee is using stitches to force the skin to fold, creating a new, bigger eyelid and in turn, a bigger eye.

LEE: When I get this stitch buried in there, you'll see that I'm just attaching the internal structures a little higher up.

CHO: Creating the crease.

LEE: When you finish the operation, she's still going to look Asian and she'll be grateful that I kept her looking Asian.

CHO: Eyelid surgery was introduced in the 1950s after the Korean War when women wanted to look more Caucasian to impress American GIs. Critics of the surgery say Asian women who alter their eyelids are turning their back on their ethnic identity. Dr. Lee says that's impossible.

LEE: No one's going to mistake them for being Caucasian or African-American. They look Asian. So what we're trying to do is preserve ethnicity and the bigger question is whether the standard of beauty is changing, but that's a little bit different question than are you trying to change your race?

CHO: Two weeks after the surgery, we're back to see Annie again. The first thing we notice, besides her appearance is that she's happy and confident.

Her eyelids are clearly bigger and with her new eyes, she's doing things she couldn't before, like experiment with makeup.

CHENG: But now you can see two colors. I can even put three colors if I want.

CHO: Though she feels sexier and more feminine, Annie says she's still the same person she was before the surgery.

CHENG: I do still look Asian, but with the eyes now, the bigger eyes now I just feel I look better. It's kind of conceited to say that, but I just feel that way.


O'BRIEN: Alina is with us along with our Out in the Open panel tonight, John Liu and Karen Hunter and Betty Cortina.

Alina, let me ask you a question. Have you ever gotten pressure, I mean when you had the plastic surgeon going like this, instead of saying you look so great if I just did your eyes for you. Have you felt pressure to get your eyes done?

CHO: I would be lying if I didn't for a moment think wow, that looks pretty good. But having said that I grew up in a family that was and is staunchly anti-surgery. So it was never a consideration for me, but having said that, it is very popular. It is so popular these days that school-aged children, elementary school children get it done in Asia and in fact it's a popular gift that parents give to their kids for birthdays and graduation. So it is very, very popular.

O'BRIEN: Elementary schoolchildren?

CHO: Oh, as young as elementary school. Very popular among high schoolers.

O'BRIEN: Do you think, John, that it's turning your back on ethnicity on is it just, listen people feel better? You see that young women and her confidence really did, I mean in the camera, it showed through?

LIU: That's why it's been controversial in the past. We've had some high-profile Asian-Americans who have had the surgery and they've been criticized for trying to look less their race or their ethnicity. But today, surgery, cosmetic surgeries, there are so many types of them, I think from your eyes to your nose to your lips to other body parts.

O'BRIEN: Your boobs? Come on, I'll say it for you.

LIU: It's a personal choice.

O'BRIEN: Is it different?

HUNTER: I think it's different than a boob job, John, don't you think? You're changing what makes you look Asian.

O'BRIEN: But that girl looks Asian still. That young lady... HUNTER: ... But she doesn't want to.

LIU: But here's the thing. When you say that it changes what makes you look Asian, today Asian is not -- there's not a one particular look that says you're Asian. There are lots of people who have different kinds of eyes, noses, mouths and they're all Asian- American. I think the real issue here for these cosmetic surgeries is why is it that women or people in general aspire to this kind of standard and where does that standard come from? And I think the media has a lot to do with it. I think that is one reason why we have to have diversity in media and all parts of the world.

CORTINA: But I also think it's the fact that we don't actually talk about what happens in a surgery. I think people really of course people really think about before and -- you'd be grossed out.


O'BRIEN: But as bad as that woman's surgery may have been and yucky, two weeks later she looks like a million bucks. She's fine.

But why do you think she looks like a million bucks? Why does that look more acceptable?

O'BRIEN: No, I meant that she looks like she recovered well.

HUNTER: Why is that better looking than...

O'BRIEN: ... I stand corrected. I meant she looks like she's recovered well from her surgery, meaning that no matter how gory and gross and painful it may have been, two weeks later she's walking around pain-free.

CORTINA: And in an ideal world, we would all love all our bodies and all love perfectly, everything that we've been given. But that's not the world that we live in. We live in a world where we can go to extremes now.

O'BRIEN: But is there a difference between doing your eyes and your breasts?

CORTINA: I don't see it.

O'BRIEN: Well is there a -- as a black woman, you straighten your hair. Does that make you less black?

LIU: Or is there a difference between doing your eyes and your lips and your nose?

HUNTER: And I'm glad you brought up that because I contemplated. I actually have natural hair and I straighten it when I go on television because there's a standard. And when you're in corporate America, there's a standard. People want to meet a standard and who sets the standard? And that's what we need to talk about. Now if you let me come on TV looking the way I want to look, we'd ... O'BRIEN: ... I didn't have a say. You can come in your bath robe and your slippers if you want, if you're good TV, we'll put you on.

HUNTER: And you won't invite me back. Don't even start.

O'BRIEN: But in all seriousness then, buying into that then, what does that say, that you've decided, OK.

HUNTER: It says I want to make money. I want to be accepted. I want to be successful. It's all those things.

O'BRIEN: But no one's going to say, Karen's less black when she's on CNN because she straightens her hair. OK. Maybe some of your friends do say that, but we don't want to talk about them.

CORTINA: Take away from the fact that all women of all races have issues with their body and have things that they're looking to fix. I mean the real question is are you fixing something internal with -- by trying to address something externally? And the answer is if you're trying to do that, you're not going do it whether you're changing your eyes or you're getting breast implants or getting a butt implant.

CHO: Well I think an important point to make is eyelid surgery is not that common or well known in the United States and yet in Asia it is as common as breast augmentation.

HUNTER: is it because they want to look western. What is Western? What is that?

CHO: I think in the Asian community, you are raised -- I mean, I know I was raised sort of with the belief that beautiful women have bigger eyes. So whatever you can do to achieve that, it doesn't necessarily mean you want to be more western. I don't think women go into the surgery thinking "I'm going to look more western when I come out of this surgery." It's clear that you are still look Asian.

LIU: But I think there's definitely an influence from media. They glamorize certain aspects of a woman's face or any person's shape or body and I think it's, again, this is why we have to have diversity in media and in other places where people have a standard to aspire to. And it's not one single standard of a western face with certain kind of western features.

HUNTER: Well, let's start with the magazines and we'll start by having more representation on television.

O'BRIEN: And you can come in with your Afro on CNN and let me thank my panel. We're out of time for this. John Liu, and of course Alina, thank you, Karen Hunter, Betty Cortina as well. We're going to ask you to stay right there because we continue to talk in just a few moments.

Also, "LARRY KING LIVE" is coming up in just a few minutes as well. Hey, Larry, good evening. LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Soledad. Our night and day girl, huh?

O'BRIEN: All day, Larry.

KING: Anyway, we've got a special tribute tonight to President Gerald Ford. What a wonderful ceremony that was today. Bob Schieffer, Bob Woodward will be with us, so will Senator Alan Simpson and James Cannon. All were there. So was Henry Kissinger, who was one of the eulogists. He'll be with us. George McGovern, the former United States senator will be aboard. Plus, the Reverend Robert Certain, who presided over the services today.

That's all tonight right at the top of the hour, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right Larry, thanks, we'll see you right at 9:00 Eastern time.

In other news, in New Orleans today seven current and former police officers waded through an emotional crowd of supporters. They are charged in a deadly shooting, two black men died. But should we automatically assume it's racism? We're going to bring you the controversial and surprising details out in the open coming up next.


O'BRIEN: You're going want to stay with CNN for a special tribute to President Gerald Ford. At the top of the hour, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Watergate reporter Bob Woodward are among the guests on "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight.

Charges of racism, police brutality and injustice out in the open tonight in the case of deadly police shooting in New Orleans. Seven current and former police officers accused of killing two black men, wounding four others in the horrible days following Hurricane Katrina. But today, the seven indicted men arrived in a New Orleans jail to emotional applause. Sean Callebs is in New Orleans with details for us tonight.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A show of solidarity among New Orleans police officers. A show of support as the Danziger seven surrendered to authorities. And a show of how this highly-charged case is playing out more than 16 months after Katrina devastated the city.

Six current New Orleans officers and one former policeman turned themselves in, charged with murder or attempted murder in the shooting deaths of two men on the Danziger bridge in the chaotic aftermath of the hurricane. Four others were wounded.

Many who wear a badge think their brothers are being railroaded.

OFFICER BILLY MIMMS, CITY PARK POLICE: I'm with another department, but I'm glad to support these officers, because it could happen to one of us. It could happen to me.

CALLEBS: But others contend the cops are cold-blooded killers.

It was September 4th, 2005, just days after the levees gave way, unleashing a wave of looting and lawlessness. Police responded to a call that an officer was down near Danziger bridge. At that time, they shot and killed Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally retarded man. The coroner says he was hit seven times, five in the back. Nineteen-year-old James Brissette was also killed.

Police say they fired when Madison reached into his waistband. They also arrested his 50-year-old brother Lance, alleging he tossed a gun into the canal. He was later released, and Lance Madison contends the killings were unprovoked.

LANCE MADISON: The story they made up, alibis to cover theirself. I didn't have no weapon at all. My brother didn't have no weapon. We were just trying to get rescue.

CALLEBS: District Attorney Eddie Jordan is aggressively pursuing the case against the police, and said, quote, "we cannot allow our police officers to shoot and kill our citizens without justification like rabid dogs."

Attorneys for the officers charged in the killings say Jordan is just plain wrong.

FRANK DESALVO, POLICE ATTORNEY: I believe it's a political prosecution, that they're indicting these officers because the DA needs to make some headlines, some kind of way to try to recoup his otherwise miserable career as a DA.

CALLEBS: As if the case wasn't incendiary enough, both shooting victims were black.

The Reverend Al Sharpton, whose office is based in New York, is weighing in, saying "we see this as a race issue."

Laughable, say attorneys for the defendants.

DESALVO: Four of the seven officers are black. I mean, Reverend Sharpton can't counter, he can't see color.

CALLEBS: An attorney representing Lance Madison also says race is not a factor, and is urging what he calls "outside influences" to steer clear and let justice take its course.

Shortly after applause ended in front of the Orleans sheriff's office, one cop was already free on bail. Two others could make bail soon. The four facing first-degree murder charges will be arraigned Friday, along with the others.

Sean Callebs, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN: And one more thing. This past Friday, the New Orleans Police Department suspended the officers without pay, pending the outcome of the case.

In just a minute, our panel will wrestle with this difficult question. When a police shooting victim is black, should we automatically assume it's racist?


O'BRIEN: We're back talking more about the case of those seven New Orleans police officers now indicted for killing two black men and wounding four others in those chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina. The case is bringing accusations of racism out in the open tonight.

Let's get right back to our panel: John Liu, and Karen Hunter and Betty Cortina.

So if Al Sharpton says something is it a race incident, does it make it so?

HUNTER: George Bush doesn't care about black people. Just because Al Sharpton says doesn't make it so. But let me ask you. How many white people have been shot indiscriminately in this country 52 times, 41 times, shot while going over a bridge trying to escape a tragedy? How often does that happen?

I've watched people on TV with a machine gun and bombs connected to them who are white who are allowed to surrender. So if you can tell me when that happens and...

O'BRIEN: And how often does it happen where the victims' own attorney says, "It's not a racism, and frankly, we'd appreciate it if you outsiders, like Reverend Al Sharpton in New York, would, shut it."

CORTINA: And the fact that of the seven officers, four of them are black. Look, we're not -- I'm not saying that...

HUNTER: As if a black person can't be racist, as if the police force inherently isn't a racist entity. So whether you're black, Latino or white and you're on a police force...

CORTINA: I'm not saying there isn't racism. There is racism. Obviously there is racism. Whether it played a role in this incident or not, I don't know. What I do wish is that every time -- that I would see Al Sharpton, every time there is violence in our communities, within our communities, not necessarily from the police department but within our communities...

HUNTER: There's no money in that.


O'BRIEN: But at the same time, I mean, the question is: is it necessarily racist when there's a black victim. Do we all jump and say, "It must be race, black guy died, got shot"? LIU: But it's not necessarily not racist just because the officers were people of color. And so I don't think you can ignore the race element in these kinds of shootings. The fact is that, as Karen pointed out, the victims are almost always black men. Why is that? How could that be if race was not a part of this...

O'BRIEN: But why is race when the victim is saying -- one of the victims is saying, it's not a racism...

CORTINA: It's not.

O'BRIEN: ... and by the way, it's a victim who lost his brother.

CORTINA: Right. Exactly.


HUNTER: If there were seven white men traipsing across this bridge, do you think that they would have been shot that way? I just want to know.

O'BRIEN: You know what? In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, where there was a lot of chaos, the answer to that question might be maybe. Maybe. Seven people running across the bridge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the answer could be very well, possibly.


LIU: The question is not necessarily if this incident in particular was racist or racism played...

CORTINA: How could that not be the question? That is the question.

LIU: It is a question when incident after incident after incident occurs and the victims are always black men.

O'BRIEN: So are you saying that what Al Sharpton is doing, even if the attorneys for the victims don't necessarily want it, is sort of drawing...

HUNTER: That's his job. That's his job. You may not like it, but I'm going tell you right now, if something happens to me, God forbid, I'm calling him. OK?

And I'm going to tell you why: because he brings attention to things that people are afraid to talk about. And we can sit here and, you know, bandy about, but John's right on. He's spot on.

LIU: Let's not say there's no racism involved here. Let's confront it head-on.

CORTINA: It's not that there's no -- it's saying that there's no -- there isn't racism in police departments. There is. But you have to -- if you can't bring it into every single case. Otherwise, I think it does diminish it when it is there. And it absolutely is there in different cases.

O'BRIEN: And what would be the motivation of the attorney, of the victim, right, of the brother that killed -- shot five in the back by these officers. What would be his motivation?

You would think he'd be grabbing for absolutely everything and say, "You know what? Race! Wow! Could we win on that? Race, absolutely.

CORTINA: And Al Sharpton -- I think it was Al Sharpton or one of his buddies said that it was that they were following the master, the black police chief, the black mayor. I don't understand. It's not that black people can't be prejudiced or Hispanic people can't be prejudiced...

HUNTER: This is exactly why we need to have a discussion about race in this country, because it's such a -- it's not like, you know, black and white. It's not such a clear-cut issue where we can just sit here and say, "Aha, that's racism."

It's something so interwoven into the fabric of this country that we can't even have a healthy dialogue without people rolling their eyes, God forbid...

LIU: And the racism is not about those individual officers or the individuals involved. It's not even about just the police departments. It's about municipal government, government in general and what society...

O'BRIEN: Al Sharpton is saying, "OK, so then there's a balance..."

HUNTER: You have problem with Al Sharpton, don't you?

Let's just bring it out here, Soledad.


O'BRIEN: Never, never. I have interviewed him over a hundred times in the last five years alone probably.

But, you know, you see him for a lot of police brutality cases, a lot of police shootings. So maybe the Al Sharpton and people like Al Sharpton get up there to connect the dots, to say, even if the lawyers don't want him...

LIU: The pattern is undeniable...

HUNTER: Thank you.

LIU: ... and someone's got to say something about it.

HUNTER: There's only been one case in New York, Gideon Busch, and he had a hammer lunging at the police who got shot like that. Every other case has been unarmed. And these guys were unarmed. Correct? Unarmed black men.

LIU: Just like Sean Bell in New York.

HUNTER: Thank you. I like you, John.

O'BRIEN: I knew we'd find a little bit of love on this panel. That's not always the case.

What do you think...

LIU: It's a tough issue. And I think -- I mean, again, it's not necessarily racist just because the victim was black. It's not necessarily not racist just because the person who did the shooting was black also. It's about the institution that we're talking about here. And it's not just about the police department. It's about government and our society and where we are. And this is exactly why we have to talk about it.

CORTINA: And I agree with Karen. I think part of it is that people inherently feel uncomfortable even bringing it up, whether -- whatever side you're on...

O'BRIEN: She's trying to be your friend now.


O'BRIEN: Thank you for talking with us, our panel this evening.

We're just a couple of minutes away from the top of the hour. And, of course, that means a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE". He's honoring President Gerald Ford. Henry Kissinger and Bob Woodward are among Larry's guests.


O'BRIEN: That's it for tonight. Paula's back tomorrow with a story about racism out in the open and one of the nation's largest department. A black firefighter suing Los Angeles over racist harassment, even as the city swears in its first black fire chief.

I'll see you tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING".

And "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.


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