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State of the Union Address Stokes Immigration Debate; Interview With Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo; Season of Hate?

Aired January 24, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everybody. Thanks so much for joining us.
Across America, racism and intolerance lurk just below the surface. Every night, we're finding and talking about these hidden secrets, bringing them right out in the open.

Tonight: Is it reform or amnesty? The bitter national debate over illegal immigration and intolerance is starting all over again. Will this new Congress do anything this time?

Also: Vice President Dick Cheney refuses to answer a question about his gay pregnant daughter. Is he right to call that question out of line?

Plus: holiday hatred. Here we are, a month after the holidays, but you won't believe still how much hate mail a rabbi received for asking that one menorah be put up at an airport full of Christmas trees.

We are starting with an issue that not only brought intolerance out into the open; it brought hundreds of thousands of demonstrators into the streets last year. Immigration reform is back. President Bush made sure of that in his State of the Union address last night.

But a prominent Republican is already dismissing the president's plan as -- quote -- "the same old pig with a slightly new shade of lipstick."


REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: Any plan, from my point of view, cannot include amnesty.

ZAHN (voice-over): Republican lawmakers, like Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, want an immigration reform bill that concentrates on sealing the U.S. border, then catching and deporting the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in this country.

But, with Democrats now controlling the House and the Senate, that seems unlikely.

TANCREDO: You know, the president worked hard to eventually get a Congress that would agree with him on this issue. He may have one now. I guess -- I guess he could be congratulated for that, for helping change the Congress of the United States from Republican to Democrat, so now that he can get his immigration bill through.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot fully secure the border...

ZAHN: Cameras caught Tancredo shaking his head no last night as the president asked Congress to approve his version of immigration reform.

In addition to border security, the president also wants to allow thousands of immigrants to enter the country temporarily as guest workers. And he wants Congress to come up with a way to let illegal immigrants earn their citizenship.

BUSH: Convictions run deep in this Capitol when it comes to immigration. Let us have a serious, civil, and conclusive debate so that you can pass -- and I can sign -- comprehensive immigration reform into law.


ZAHN: That may have gotten a standing ovation, but Tancredo and other Republicans say, the president's plan would reward people for breaking the law.

REP. ED ROYCE (R-CA), HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM AND NONPROLIFERATION CHAIRMAN: The president claims this is not amnesty, but the very definition of amnesty is changing somebody's position, changing their status from illegal to legal.

ZAHN: They're also concerned about the price tag.

REP. VIRGINIA FOXX (R), NORTH CAROLINA: We could reduce our spending in this country on health care and education tremendously if we simply sealed off the borders and stopped these illegals from coming in, and having children, and populating our schools.

ZAHN: While they disapprove of the president's approach, Tancredo and other critics admit, their own approach is not gaining widespread momentum.



ZAHN: And Representative Tom Tancredo joins me now.

Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

TANCREDO: It's a pleasure, Paula.

ZAHN: I want to start off by reading something you said last night, accusing the president of being tone deaf on the immigration issue.

You said, "The president and his new Democratic allies in Congress seem hell-bent on cramming this mass amnesty down the throats of the American people, whether they want it or not."

Are you conceding that you have lost the fight here and the president's going to win?

TANCREDO: No, I am not. I'm conceding the fact that they -- they are -- they have the momentum. We have lost it. We have lost control of both the House and the Senate.

I concede the fact that now we're playing defense. But I'm not conceding that they're going to make it. One reason, Paula, is that there are an awful lot of what's known around here as Blue Dog Democrats. These are -- these are conservative Democrats who ran in this last election and ran to the right of the Republicans that they were confronting on the issue of immigration.

They -- they ran with this absolutely no more illegal immigration; we're going to stop it; you know, we're going to secure our borders -- no amnesty.

ZAHN: Isn't it a positive thing, though, last night that the president announced that he's going to double the size of the Border Patrol at the border of the United States and Mexico, and that there will be stepped-up enforcement of these laws in the workplace?

TANCREDO: Paula, we had to bring him kicking and screaming to this.

The House -- the -- the Congress, the last Congress and the Congress before that, actually passed legislation doubling the size of the Border Patrol. The president essentially ignored it. We said -- we were to hire 2,000 a year for -- for five years. He sent us a budget request with 200.

So, this newfound commitment to border security, although I'm glad to hear it, is certainly not -- I can't believe it's coming from his heart.

ZAHN: Are -- are you then saying that, because you're accusing him of being Johnny-come-lately, that it's insincere, and this is more about appealing to the Hispanic vote for an upcoming presidential election?

TANCREDO: I don't think we lose Hispanics if we -- if we present our case, you know, I think in a careful manner to -- to tell them exactly what it is we're trying to accomplish, security on the borders.

This has nothing to do with race, nothing. That's the issue. And -- and I know how many ways people try to paint it into that corner. But it has got nothing to do with race.

ZAHN: Given the momentum you admit the president now has on this issue, with a Democratically controlled Congress...

TANCREDO: Yes. ZAHN: ... do you think there will be millions of illegal immigrants who will enjoy U.S. citizenship that you think never should have gotten it?

TANCREDO: I think the chances are 50/50. That's all I can tell you.

I mean, I cannot see that they have the votes now to accomplish that. But this place, things around here are quite fluid. And -- and who knows what happens on appropriations bills that nobody is paying a lot of attention to. And there's ways to get things done around here, as you know, Paula, that don't necessarily require the full light of day being shed on it.

So, I can't be sure that we will be able to stop them. All I can tell you is that I will try my best.

ZAHN: Representative Tom Tancredo, we have got to leave it there. Thank you...


ZAHN: ... as always, for joining us. Really appreciate your time.

TANCREDO: Thank you, Paula.


ZAHN: And time to bring in tonight's "Out in the Open" panel, Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez, Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, radio talk show host and columnist Steve Malzberg.

Good to see all of you.



ZAHN: You just heard Congressman Tancredo say this has nothing to do with race. Do you buy that, or is this all about brown people?

SANCHEZ: The reality is, Tancredo doesn't get it. There's a big disconnect between what he's saying and what he's trying to accomplish. And I think what...

ZAHN: But -- but that's not the question.


ZAHN: He's saying race has nothing to do with it.


ZAHN: You're talking about economic issues. He accuses the president of bowing to corporate pressure and wanting to have cheap labor.

SANCHEZ: You know, I think Tancredo is a one-hit wonder. He's not about conservative ideas. He's about immigration. And we already saw everybody -- look at his PAC. He supported nine candidates, and only one won on the immigration of alone.

ZAHN: But do you personally think -- you're a Latina yourself -- this is about race?

SANCHEZ: I don't want to go that far, because I can't speak what's in his heart.

I think -- I do know a couple of things. On the issue of immigration, he was right on one point. There are a lot of Hispanics who believe in supporting a wall, for example, along the southern border.

People are concerned about national security, regardless of the color of your skin. But the way he's going about it, and not understanding the plight of people who are here, and that you have to integrate them into the system, is where he's missing the boat.

And, I might add, to go to Miami and to say that people who speak Spanish are basically tied to a Third World country or some sort of underclass is never a way to do anything, other than race-bait.

ZAHN: What...

SIMMONS: This is absolute...

ZAHN: ... role does race play in that?

SIMMONS: This is absolutely about race.

ZAHN: And is he...

SIMMONS: It's absolutely about race, because nobody's complaining about the waitress who has overstayed her visa from Poland, you know, who's working in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. Nobody's complaining about -- I grew up in Detroit across the border from Canada.

Canadians come over into Michigan all the time. Nobody complains about them sticking around and going to school and doing whatever else it is they want to do.

People are complaining about Latin Americans, Hispanics who are crossing the border from the south, and whether -- and -- and the fact that they're in school with their children. That's the issue.


SIMMONS: This is about Mexican immigration.


SIMMONS: And, so, we should just call a spade a spade. It's about Mexican immigration.

MALZBERG: That -- that is such ridiculous nonsense.

Are there 12 million of those waitresses? Are there 12 million of the Canadians? Look, my callers, and I think most conservatives, agree, it doesn't matter what color their skin is, or where they're even from. It so happens the overwhelming millions of them are from Mexico.

You don't belong here, if you broke the law to get here. And you say you can't round up people and deport them. Well, we did it in California for show, I think. Over 760 of them were just rounded up and deported.

If you broke the law to get here, you don't belong here. And -- and they should be sent back to their home country first.


MALZBERG: It is amnesty. Anything else is amnesty.

SANCHEZ: That's just too hard-line an approach that's not realistic.

And I have to, you know, kind of disagree with my conservative friends on that stuff. And I think that's what the president is trying to say. You can't have 12 million people, put them on buss, and send them out of the country.

ZAHN: I know, but...

SANCHEZ: It's just not realistic.

ZAHN: But...




ZAHN: The administration denies this is amnesty.

SANCHEZ: There's a difference with...

ZAHN: Excuse me -- is not amnesty.



ZAHN: Sorry about that.

SANCHEZ: That is a message that's sold by many folks like Tancredo. You know, he is speaking to a certain constituency that really is concerned about race. There are individuals -- you can't deny -- that don't like brown people, black people, Asian people.

MALZBERG: Oh, come on.

SANCHEZ: No. You can't deny that that doesn't exist.

MALZBERG: The constituency that he's speaking to is concerned...


MALZBERG: ... about the national security of this country...

SANCHEZ: No, you can't say that entirely. That is -- no.


MALZBERG: ... and the fact that hospitals have closed, and schools have closed, and gangs come into this country.

And the -- and the overriding factor is that the -- the immigration factor and how the melting pot -- the president said, we're a melting pot. It used to be, you came to this country legally. Now you invade this country, and you're going to be rewarded by getting to stay. That's what they're against.


SIMMONS: I didn't realize that there were a lot of Mexican- American terrorists that were hijacking airplanes in this country.


MALZBERG: What has that got to do anything with anything? Who said anything about terrorism?

ZAHN: You're talking about the security...


SIMMONS: You said national security.




SIMMONS: You just said national security.


SANCHEZ: This is the point.

MALZBERG: You need borders. You need secure borders, or you don't have a country.


ZAHN: Hang on. Hang on. Hang on.


ZAHN: Isn't the president acknowledging that fact by doubling the amount of Border Patrol folks...

SANCHEZ: Exactly.

SIMMONS: He is, but also...

ZAHN: ... at the border of the U.S. and Mexico?

SIMMONS: He -- he is.

But -- but, on this point, Tancredo is correct. The president actually has a very poor record in enforcing the border laws. He has a poor record in going after corporate cheaters who are enticing people across the border. And he -- we -- the -- the number of arrests at the border have actually gone down during the Bush administration from what they were during the Clinton administration.


SANCHEZ: That's nonsense.

ZAHN: Do you think, at the end of the day, the president's plan encourages illegal immigrants to come here and want to stay here?

SIMMONS: Absolutely...

ZAHN: That's what Tancredo says.

SIMMONS: Absolutely not. What it does do is, it acknowledges reality, which is that we have got 12 million people here. We have to have something to do with them.

I have a 3-year-old niece who is going to start school. I don't want her sitting next to somebody who hasn't been to the doctor and had -- and a kid who hasn't had his shots, because his parents are afraid to go see the doctor.

So, I want to make sure that the people who are here are in the system and being taken care of. And then we can worry about...


MALZBERG: We're already paying for it, though.


MALZBERG: But we're already paying for it.


ZAHN: Is the president basically telling illegals...

MALZBERG: It's a big sign on our country: Come and break the law...


MALZBERG: ... and be rewarded and stay.

SANCHEZ: That is nonsense.

MALZBERG: That's what he's telling them.

SANCHEZ: That is nonsense.

ZAHN: We will continue to debate this one in the days to come...


ZAHN: ... Leslie Sanchez, Jamal Simmons, Steve Malzberg.

And we have lots more to talk about with all of you tonight. Please stay right here.

And the issue involving politics and gay Americans is out in the open tonight. Vice President Dick Cheney calls a question about his gay daughter's pregnancy out of line. Now, she just happens to be the vice president's daughter, and she played a very active role in his campaign.

Coming up: the man who asked the question and why he is under fire tonight in some circles.

Then, a little bit later tonight, a holiday story that is worth a second look because of all the hate mail a rabbi continues to receive.


ZAHN: A noticeably angry Vice President Cheney is making headlines tonight. We are bringing the story out in the open, because it involves his daughter, who is openly gay, and who happens to be having a baby with her long-term partner.

In an exclusive interview today with our own Wolf Blitzer, the vice president refused to respond to conservative criticism of his daughter and her choice to have a baby.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're out of time, but a couple of issues I want to raise with you.

Your daughter Mary, she's pregnant. All of us are happy she's going to have a baby. You're going to have another grandchild. Some of the -- some critics, though, are suggesting, for example, a statement from someone representing Focus on the Family: "Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what's best for children. Just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father doesn't mean it's best for the child."

Do you want to respond to that?


BLITZER: She's obviously a good daughter. I have interviewed her.

CHENEY: I'm delighted -- I'm delighted I'm about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf, and obviously think the world of both of my daughters and all of my grandchildren.

And I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question.

BLITZER: I think all of us appreciate...

CHENEY: I think you're out of -- I think you're out of...


BLITZER: ... your daughter. No, we like your daughters. I -- believe me, I'm very, very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both.

That was just a question that's come up. And it's -- it's a responsible, fair question.


ZAHN: But is that question really out of line, as the vice president suggested, when Mary Cheney played an active role in the 2004 campaign for candidates who oppose gay marriage?

Wolf Blitzer, the man who did the interview, joins me now, along with Howard Kurtz, host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," who also covers the media for "The Washington Post."

Welcome to the two of you.

So, Wolf, as we show our audience again part of that interview, you can't help but be focused in on the vice president's face. He is very uncomfortable. Do you think his discomfort was a result of the fact that you had in some way violated his privacy, or the fact that he knows that there are a bunch of people in his party who think that homosexuality is a sin?

BLITZER: I'm really not sure.

I was taken aback -- I have to tell you, honestly -- Paula, by his reaction, because Mary Cheney herself has written about her own experiences. She wrote a book that came out last year. I interviewed her here in "THE SITUATION ROOM" on CNN at length about that. We have spoken about this whole issue with Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife.

We have made -- and Mary Cheney has made clear she opposes those who would want a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. She worked for Dick Cheney during the reelection campaign. She was always outspoken about all of this. And -- and, since there was some criticism that had come up over her decision to go ahead and have a baby, that I thought it was a fair question. And I was, frankly, surprised at his reaction.

ZAHN: You said you were surprised by his reaction. And, certainly, it's not your job to script the answers for the vice president. But how did you expect him to answer that question? Did you expect him to possibly defend her right to be a parent and -- and say she was going to be a great parent?

BLITZER: Yes. I thought that, since the vice president's office had put out a statement earlier -- when asked about all of this, when everyone learned that Mary Cheney was pregnant, they put out a beautiful statement saying that the vice president and Lynne Cheney were looking forward to being grandparents again.

They have got five grandchildren already from Liz Cheney. I thought that he would simply say the same thing, and -- and either be critical of Focus on the Family, that group that issued that critical statement, or would simply say, let's move on, which I was more than happy to do.

But I thought it was a -- a fair question, since it had come up recently, and the whole issue of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage keeps coming up.

ZAHN: But, Howard, clearly, the White House did not think it was a fair question, because, shortly after it aired, you had the president's spokesperson going on the air on a rival network, essentially saying that he thinks that there's a double standard at work, that -- that the press seem to honor the privacy of Chelsea Clinton during a Democratic administration, but, clearly, this family's privacy was being violated by an intemperate question.

I -- I'm using that word, but they made it clear, too sensitive of a question to be asked by a reporter of a father-to-be -- grandfather-to-be.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Chelsea Clinton was a teenager when she lived in the White House. And I think, generally, the press should not drag the children of public figures into controversies. I don't think we should be writing about Jenna and Barbara Bush, if they don't want to be written about. We shouldn't be following them into nightclubs.

But the reason that I think this was a legitimate question on Wolf Blitzer's part is because Mary Cheney has put herself in the arena, by being a gay and lesbian liaison in corporate America, by working in her dad's reelection campaign, by writing a book in which she criticized her father's administration over the constitutional amendment the president has pushed to ban same-sex marriage.

Therefore, because there is this controversy, which CNN did not create -- it's conservative activists who are opposed to same-sex marriage or same-sex adoption or gay couples or lesbian couples having babies, that turned this into a controversy. And I think it certainly was worth one question. It sounded to me like it was asked very respectfully.

And, just as clearly, Dick Cheney has the right not to answer it, which he did.

ZAHN: Do you think this White House is going to try to politicize the question, Wolf?

BLITZER: I hope not. I hope that we move on.

I left that deliberately at the very end. We went through a lot of other questions, the war on terror, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the war in Iraq. Most of the interview dealt with that. We went in through some other politics, John McCain's criticism of the vice president, and what he thought about Hillary Clinton potentially becoming president.

This was just at the very end, one little question, that I hope it's -- it's over with, and we can move on.

ZAHN: Well, no doubt that you got the vice president's attention at the end of that long interview, Wolf.

BLITZER: I will say one -- one more thing, Paula.

ZAHN: Real quickly.

BLITZER: I covered the Clinton administration. I totally agree with Howard. I generally believe that children of presidents and vice presidents are off limits, and we shouldn't get into that.

And we certainly honored the privacy of Chelsea Clinton. I was a White House correspondent...

ZAHN: Right.

BLITZER: ... for seven-and-a-half years during the Clinton administration, and we left Chelsea Clinton alone. She was a little girl at the time, in elementary school, and then in high school.

But -- but Mary Cheney, obviously, is an adult, and has been open about this, wrote a book about it. And, as a result, I -- I didn't think it was an inappropriate question.

ZAHN: Wolf Blitzer and Howard Kurtz, thank you. Appreciate your time tonight. Even though it's only been a month, it seems like the holidays are long gone, but not for a rabbi who has been flooded with hate mail. Find out why he's the target of so much intolerance.

Also ahead:


SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR: There are just great, great, great roles in great films that happen to have people of color in them.


ZAHN: Samuel L. Jackson says Hollywood is opening up to diversity on camera. What -- but what is happening behind the scenes? We're going to look for hidden intolerance. Or is it out-and-outright racism?


ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight: a religious controversy that you might have thought faded away weeks ago. It is the battle that was raging on during the holidays over Christmas trees on display at Seattle's airport.

A Jewish leader had threatened to sue because he wanted a single menorah added to the holiday decorations. And, in response, officials took down all the trees. Of course, the holiday is over. The bad feelings, though, aren't. And Jewish groups say they have received thousands of angry, hate-filled anti-Semitic letters and e-mails.

Dan Simon has that story for us tonight from Seattle.


UNIDENTIFIED MALES AND FEMALES (singing): We wish you a merry Christmas.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lot of people lost sleep in Seattle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're offended, because Christmas is a wonderful holiday. It is not an offensive holiday.

SIMON: It was last month, and the issue was the airport's controversial decision to take down its Christmas trees a few weeks before Christmas Day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not very pretty around here without these trees. And everybody wants them.

SIMON: It all started when the local rabbi requested the airport put up an eight-foot menorah to go with the Christmas trees already there. The airport refused, believing it would also require adding symbols from other religions, and the airport wasn't prepared to do that. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, there are prohibitions against religious displays.

SIMON: When the rabbi and his lawyer presented airport officials with a draft of a lawsuit, they viewed it as a threat, and decided to remove the trees, rather than face legal action. And that got the attention of the media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I received more e-mail on this subject than any news story ever.

SIMON (on camera): Any time you mix religion and controversy, you're bound to have some angry responses -- no surprise there -- what was surprising, the tone and words some people used to express their opinion.

RABBI ELAZAR BOGOMILSKY, CHABAD LUBAVITCH OF SEATTLE: I couldn't believe that, A, the lack of education, how people basically are quick to jump to conclusions.

SIMON (voice-over): Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, who was behind the menorah effort, received the brunt of it.

BOGOMILSKY: I got over 5,000 e-mails.

SIMON: E-mails from all over the country filled with hate and offensive language.

CNN obtained a sampling. One person wrote, "Your actions have shown why Jews are treated as a scourge in every country they inhabit."

Another wrote: "You are the devil. Burn in hell with your holiday symbol."

And there was this, "I never understood why people hated Jews, but I understand now."

And it goes on and on and on. Much of the content cannot be aired.

BOGOMILSKY: Throughout history, Jews have been -- many things have been said to Jewish people. So, was I shocked that this exists? I can't say I was shocked that this exists. I was -- I was shocked to see how it actually came, you know, towards me in reading the e-mails.

SIMON: Shocked, because the rabbi points out he never wanted the trees to come down. He just wanted a menorah alongside the trees.

But, clearly, many people didn't hear or care to hear the full story, and, instead, unleashed a torrent of anti-Semitic anger toward Bogomilsky.

BOGOMILSKY: I think people always felt and know it exists, but you don't know to what extreme. You don't realize how easy it is for that anti-Semitism to sort of be brought to the surface. SIMON: Local synagogues and the Anti-Defamation League were also flooded with hate mail.

ROBERT JACOBS, ADL DIRECTOR, SEATTLE: "Is it any wonder Jews are hated throughout the world? How stupid. Merry Christmas."

SIMON: Robert Jacobs, the ADL's director in Seattle, reading what he got on his computer.

JACOBS: What it shows is how strong and how long-lasting old stereotypes and old hatreds still are.

SIMON: The controversy simmered down a bit when the rabbi made it clear he wouldn't actually sue. The airport took that as a cue and put the trees back up. But the rabbi says the issue isn't over. He vows to continue his fight to have a menorah displayed at the airport during Hanukkah. He hopes to have an agreement worked out for the next holiday season. Dan Simon, CNN, Seattle.


ZAHN: We go straight back to tonight's "Out in the Open" panel. Leslie Sanchez, Jamal Simmons, Steve Malzberg. They've changed positions. Now the guy on the right is the guy on my left.

I was stunned by the amount of venom and hate in these e-mails. And I'm only going to read two more to give an audience, our audience, a better understanding of just how vile these were. "Leave this country to its own people and go back where you came from."

"You Jews," this is another one, "Keep digging a deeper and deeper hole for yourselves. Your eternal whining will not be tolerated forever."

As you read about the case, and yeah you're seeing that the fallout continues well after this holiday, were you surprised by the amount of hatred?

MALZBERG: No. No. Because there are some people out there, not many but a small percentage, who will take any opportunity they can to target a group like Jews or blacks or whoever it is they hate. But I've got to tell you, I'm Jewish, and I was ready to write a story, a column for Newsmax when I found out that the rabbi had done this, and I was going to say, lay off, we don't need this, as Jews we don't need this. We don't need to be a part of this. We don't need to be associated with this. Leave this to the ACLU. Leave this to the atheists. Leave this to the people who want to take religion out of our lives.

And then I saw that he didn't want the trees removed and I felt better and I backed off. And it changed it for me.

But as far as the hate mail, I mean, I get it. I'm not going to say I get tons of it but I get a little bit of it. And I'm sure black hosts get it and I'm sure Hispanic hosts get it and maybe female hosts get it. I don't know. But I don't think -- it was motivated by hatred of Jews for some, but the overriding factor is there's a war against religion and Christmas in this country and people just reacted initially without learning all the facts.

ZAHN: How much of this -- attaching onto that controversy? How much of it do you think is raw anti-Semitism.

SIMMONS: Certainly some of it's anti-Semitism. All that exists. Prejudice exists. Racism exists in the United States. But I tell you, if there's a war against Christmas. Christmas is winning because I swear it seems like Christmas starts in October these days. As soon as Halloween is over all of a sudden it's Christmas. So I'm not sure there is a war against Christmas.

MALZBERG: It's a war against being able to celebrate it in public without offending somebody.

SIMMONS: And the folks who are sending him messages, Christmas is the birth of Christ that we're celebrating, it's not very Christ- like to send these messages to people.

MALZBERG: Absolutely not.

SIMMONS: Yet many of them also would probably call themselves Christians. So we've got to ...

MAZLBERG: I don't know that.

ZAHN: A bit of restraint ...

SANCHEZ: I would say this is not a very Christian thing to do. And I agree with my counterparts on that.

I think more than anything take a step back. It is the worst P.R. blunder of 2006 when you rank them all together against the Seattle Airport Authority. I mean, of all things, if they had a menorah in the Ellipse of the White House what's the problem of putting one up there?

ZAHN: And it ended up being a blunder for this rabbi as well? As Steve said, you know, before he understood that he wasn't asking for the Christmas trees to come down you could argue that you're inviting -- you're almost inviting this hate.

SIMMONS: We should have tolerance. As a Christian and son of a preacher I'll tell you that we should have tolerance and people should be able to have whatever symbols of their religious faith involved in their public square, depending on the community. And so we've got to just figure out how it is that we keep everybody involved ...

MALZBERG: We're a Judeo-Christian nation and Judeo-Christian symbols should be displayed, whether it's public property, private property, whatever.

ZAHN: And that will alienate no matter what you do. MALZBERG: I guess there are those who will always be alienated. But they have to understand what kind of country we are and what we're built on and what we're founded on.

SIMMONS: But we were not founded on Christianity.

MALZBERG: Freedom of religion.

SIMMONS: We were founded on pluralism and freedom of religion. And freedom to practice religion. Freedom to practice religion whatever your religion is. That's what we were founded on.

MALZBERG: Nobody is stopping anyone from practicing their religion.

ZAHN: Final thought ...

SANCHEZ: I go back to it's a bad P.R. mistake, they should have included both from the beginning, they should have settled the anxiety, and all they did is ...

ZAHN: And nothing more sinister than that.

SANCHEZ: No. It made people feel excluded. It sounded like an attack on Christianity and people responded.

ZAHN: Leslie Sanchez, Jamal Simmons, Steve Malzberg. Get back to you in a couple of minutes. Don't switch again. Right and left thing on me, OK?

Every time I look you guys have moved. We're going to shine the light right now behind the scenes in Hollywood looking for hidden intolerance.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: African-Americans still are sort of at the back of the bus in many ways when it comes to Hollywood.


ZAHN: Coming up, even with the success of movies like "Dreamgirls," why are there still charges of racism in Hollywood?

And then a little bit later on, why are so many more black women than white women dying from cancer? We're going to examine the issue of medical treatments and race.


ZAHN: Tonight we're bringing Hollywood "Out in the Open." A huge week, an important week for African American movie stars. They earn five of 20 acting nominations for the Oscars. That seems to show that diversity is gaining ground in Hollywood. But some say all those nominations are misleading because racism still exists.

We asked entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson to find out just how much things have changed.


WILL SMITH, ACTOR: You've got a dream, you've got to protect it.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Will Smith protected and fulfills his dream. His Oscar nomination for "The Pursuit of Happyness" is the latest in a long list of accomplishments as an actor in Hollywood.

SMITH: Don't ever let somebody tell you you can't do something.

ANDERSON: Smith is among five black actors nominated for Academy Awards this year, and the musical "Dreamgirls" with its nearly all black cast got the most nominations of any film.

SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR: There are just great, great, great roles in great films that happen to have people of color in them. It's not long overdue. It's just the fact that those are the films that were very good this year.

ANDERSON: But for every high-profile award winning African- American star like Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, or Forest Whitaker, there are countless other black actors toiling away in obscurity hoping to get their break in an industry criticized for discriminating against actors of color.

RUSSELL ROBINSON, UCLA SCHOOL OF LAW: African-Americans still are sort of at the back of the bus in many ways when it comes to Hollywood.

ANDERSON: UCLA law professor Dr. Russell Robinson recently conducted a survey of casting announcements and found that only up to eight percent of all roles are written specifically for black actors.

ROBINSON: It's this sort of unthinking assumption that white has to be the choice, that the central character has to be a white man. That is I think sort of the most pervasive explanation for the discrimination that we see.

ANDERSON: A look at, a popular Web site actors use to get casting announcements, doesn't disprove Robinson's finding. Caucasian, Caucasian, Caucasian, Caucasian, white or Hispanic, white or Hispanic, Caucasian, African American, Caucasian. This particular description calls for an African American drug dealer with a tooth gap and devious look in his eyes.

ROBINSON: There are some really cruel choices that actors have to make. If they have to work they have to demean themselves and demean their identities.

ANDERSON: Actor and director Harry Lennix who stars in the new film "Stomp the Yard" says he has had to fight against being stereotyped.

HARRY LENNIX, ACTOR AND DIRECTOR: I had terrible rows last year with big Hollywood executive producer who tried to put a character I was playing on television in a really demeaning light, and I would not do it. I think we all have the power of no.

ANDERSON: It isn't just black actors who are underrepresented in Hollywood. Of the more than 13,000 members of the Directors' Guild of America, fewer than five percent are African Americans. One reason, Robinson asserts, why more blacks aren't featured in front of the camera.

ROBINSON: The various people that are deciding in terms of casting are people that are mostly white men. And so it's not surprising that they would sort of replicate their identities in the casting process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at me. I know people, black people. Without me you're just another black man in Africa. All right?

ROBINSON: Even movies about Africa like "Blood Diamond," where it's about Africa but it stars a white man and the black characters are just there to sort of help the white man develop in some way.

ANDERSON: Film critic Elvis Mitchell says the tide may really turn when African Americans are recognized for their work behind the camera.

ELVIS MITCHELL, FILM CRITIC: It's great that African American actors have been nominated, but I've often said that, you know, when we start seeing an African American director nominated or an African American screenwriter nominated and win, that's when we'll see there's been a real shift in this.

FOREST WHITAKER, ACTOR: Together we will make this country better.

ANDERSON: Oscar nominee Forest Whitaker is hopeful and feels progress is being made.

FOREST WHITAKER, ACTOR: There's like so many people working. It doesn't mean that there's still not some difficulty. But there's people behind the camera directing. There's people like producing. There's people like -- there's many stars.

ANDERSON: Casting director Twinkie Byrd agrees and says the black film community has the power to change things.

TWINKIE BYRD, CASTING DIRECTOR: We have to write and stop sitting around and waiting for people to write for us. And we have stories to tell. Let's tell them. What are we waiting for? We have money to pool together. We have people to pool together. We have resources. Let's utilize them.

SMITH: You want something, go get it. Period.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: Time to go back to our "Out in the Open" panel. Leslie Sanchez, Jamal Simmons and Steve Malzberg. Welcome back. So, Jamal, we know four years ago we had Denzel Washington, Halle Berry winning best actor Oscars. And at that time she said basically the glass ceiling hopefully was shattered if not broken forever. Was her optimism misplaced?

SIMMONS: Well, there may have been a bubble in the glass ceiling. I'm not sure that it's been shattered. I actually spoke to Harry Lennix tonight and one of the things he said to me is that this goes all the way from just -- not just the casting directors but up to the studio heads and the problem is not just the fact that actors don't have a lot of roles, the type of roles they play.

Look at Denzel Washington's character. He played a drug dealer and a thug. Look at Halle Berry's character. She played -- some people have argued that her character sort of was -- we won't use the word, but it was not the best character.

A friend of mine, Jackson, who's also an actor out in Hollywood is also having the same problem going in and trying to interview for roles and constantly being ...

ZAHN: Is that racism?

SIMMONS: Yeah, when you're being cast as thugs. I mean, Idi Amin is one of the characters that African American -- that Forest Whitaker's been nominated for. So these aren't positive role models ...

ZAHN: But are you going to have a white guy play Idi Amin?

SIMMONS: No. But why is it Idi Amin? Luckily we've got Will Smith this year. But there ought to be a wider variety of characters, not just the shifty-eyed African American ...

ZAHN: Is there still a back of the bus mentality when it comes to ...

MALZBERG: First of all, I am so thrilled to be a part of this discussion that liberal Hollywood is racist. I mean, they took -- as you said, four years ago they finally gave best actor and actress to two blacks. I mean, they were way behind the rest of the world in finally acknowledging the works of black artists and blacks in their business.

Having said that, I mean, complaining that -- so they shouldn't have made a movie on Idi Amin? And right, like Paula said, should it not have been a black in I mean, this is insane. You want positive roles for movies, positive roles for blacks, go write movies that have positive roles for blacks.

SIMMONS: You think people don't write movies?

MALZBERG: So where - so why not?

SIMMONS: Because studio heads don't pick them.

MALZBERG: Why because they're racist? Or they don't think it will sell?

SIMMONS: We know that they do sell.

ZAHN: What about the dignity and the humanity of the 50-plus- year-old women? See how women are portrayed - but come back to the issue of blacks and how you see them portrayed on film, how they are treated off camera.

SANCHEZ: There's two things. It's liberals attacking liberals in Hollywood. I do agree. That's probably one of the funnest parts of watching the debate. The truth is you've seen people like Spike Lee, you've seen individuals go out and start their own movie production companies and they offer it to the marketplace. And the market decides whether or not it's a hit or not.

We just saw this movie this weekend with a lot of the dancing that was number one at the box office. It was the same thing people said about movies of faith, like "The Passion of the Christ," no one's going to watch that. Why should we even fund it?

And now all the studio heads are running to create faith-based movies. It's because they seeing individuals of color are a market, they do want to see individuals that look like themselves in positive roles. And I think Hollywood is addressing that. Look at Salma Hayek I would say in "Ugly Betty." She did the concept, she's executive producer. She's creating new movies out of it.

SIMMONS: Study after study ...

ZAHN: You could argue that Spike Lee has created extremely dehumanizing roles for blacks along the way. No?

SIMMONS: There's a diversity of the roles inside those movies. So it's not just like you have -- no one's saying there should never be an African American criminal. We're just saying there should be a broad-based set of characters. Just like ...

ZAHN: Whose fault is that, though? Because Steve's saying write the parts. Like we heard Twinkie Byrd saying.

SIMMONS: Look at the very successful TV shows, "24," "Lost," those types of shows, "Grey's Anatomy."

ZAHN: Look at the bad guys in "24". Muslims.

SIMMONS: They have very diverse characters on those shows, and they're doing very successfully.

ZAHN: But the liberals are arguing - hang on -- Hang on. You're picking on us.

SANCHEZ: But I think the answer, what he's not saying, I don't want to put words in your mouth, is that there should be quotas. There should be a certain number of people who are assigned a certain ...

MALZBERG: Based on percentage of blacks in the population? What about Puerto Ricans? What about Jews? What about Chinese or Asian Americans? I mean, you could go with the whole gamut. It's crazy. Someone sits down and writes the screenplay. They sell it, whatever. Some characters just, you know, are naturally white or black, or whatever. You're not going to reverse that because you want to get more blacks in or have more Spike Lees, like the actress in the piece said.

SIMMONS: You think there aren't more Spike Lees? There are people out there writing movies every day and wanting to be directors every day.

MALZBERG: And the studios but they are racist and they won't put it out baloney. Look at the garbage that's out there now.

ZAHN: Look at "Dora the Explorer. You have Nickelodeon ...

SANCHEZ: I watch a lot of "Dora the Explorer."

SIMMONS: What color is she?

SANCHEZ: There's a very diverse group of writers and creators that Nickelodeon has. It's like a farm team. They put a lot of money in them, they invest in them, they want to see creative material. It's a great example, something Viacom does. And a lot of other studio heads. They open the doors - it's opening the doors and allowing an even playing field.

But it's not saying hey, we need quotas.

SIMMONS: It's better, it's not as good as it needs to be.

ZAHN: All right, Jamal Simmons, thanks. Leslie Sanchez, Steve Malzberg. Great having all of you with us tonight.

We are about to bring a medical controversy out into the open tonight. Why are more black women than white women dying from cancer? Does racism really play a role in their medical treatment? We'll be right back with more.


ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight, are more African American women dying from cancer because race plays a role in their treatment? New findings show that black women are 18 percent more likely to die from cancer than white women. And now some are raising questions between the connection between cancer care and the color of a patient's skin. Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has tonight's "Vital Signs."


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Patricia Hepburn walks the streets of Harlem looking to save lives.


COHEN: At beauty shops, clothing stores, schools, Hepburn tells women the simple hard truth. Cancer is not colorblind. For example, black women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are much more likely to die than white women. Thirty-two percent more likely. White women, more likely to survive.

HEPBURN: Just give us a call and come up and get a mammogram.

COHEN: Why would this be true? After all, some of the best cancer care in the world is in African American communities like Harlem. And more top-notch centers are just a subway ride away. So what's going on? Why are blacks dying of cancer at higher rates than whites? Some people believe doctors treat minorities differently than they do white people.

DR. JENNY ROMERO, ONCOLOGIST: There are physicians, not all, but there are physicians who will see the outside first.

COHEN: Dr. Jenny Romero says she saw it when she was a resident, seeing firsthand white doctors treat minority patients like second- class citizens.

ROMERO: It was my first rude awakening to the fact that people aren't always going to be treated according to their disease but rather what their outward appearance was.

COHEN: And some studies back her up. One found that white doctors were more likely to perceive their black patients as non- compliant with medical orders and less intelligent with a tendency toward substance abuse. And several studies show African Americans are less likely to get certain life-saving medical treatments.

(on camera): So when a black person and a white person has cancer, the white person's more likely to get surgery, chemotherapy, all those treatments?


COHEN: Why is that? Is that just plain old racism?

NEUGUT: I don't think I would use the term that way. If you mean by that that somehow in some kind of Ku Klux Klan fashion.

COHEN (voice-over): Dr. Alfred Neugut is head of cancer prevention and control at Columbia University Medical Center. He says there are many reasons why blacks get different care than whites including education and income levels.

Patricia Hepburn agrees. When she's out on the street, she hears all sorts of reasons from women about why they won't go in for testing. Sometimes women tell her their husbands won't let a doctor touch their breasts.

HEPBURN: The husband is the head of the household, and he says, well, I don't want you to go in, I don't want you to -- I don't want anyone to touch you.

COHEN: And sometimes fatalism plays a role.

HEPBURN: God gave me the cancer, so this is what I'm supposed to die from. You know, some women think that way.

COHEN: Hepburn's trying to change all this. She's training women in the community to talk to their friends and family about breast cancer. And in the meantime she'll keep knocking on doors, keep trying to save lives.


COHEN: Working toward the day when black women will survive breast cancer just as often as white women do. Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: Right now we're going to change our focus. Time for a quick biz break. What a day on Wall Street. The Dow rose 87 points to close at a new record high. The NASDAQ soared 34 points. The S&P sailed to a six-year high, up 12 points. But the Democrats' promise to raise minimum wages ran into some trouble today in the Senate. Republicans demanded tax breaks to help small business pay higher minimum wages.

And a small break for taxpayers this year. April 15th falls on Sunday. Monday is a holiday in Washington, DC. So this year federal taxes won't be due until April 17th. I'm sure you'll have a lot planned for those two extra days. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: That wraps it up for us all here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. Tomorrow night we're going to take you to a restaurant where most customers don't even realize they're being served by drug dealers, robbers and ex gang members.

They happen to be prison inmates. It is a unique program to try to overcome hatred and intolerance. We'll see if it's working.

Again, thanks for joining us tonight. Have a great night. LARRY KING LIVE starts right now.


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