Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


What Killed Anna Nicole Smith?; Smoker For President?

Aired February 9, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everyone. Thank you all for joining us, as we wrap up the week here.
Here's what we're bringing out into the open tonight.

Exactly what killed Anna Nicole Smith, and who is the father of her baby? The latest developments lead to even more mysteries.

Also: Will Senator Barack Obama smoke his chances to be president if he can't quit lighting up?

Plus: how General Motors managed to offend thousands of people with this suicidal robot.

We are starting, though, with the very real death and the mystery of what killed Anna Nicole Smith. Tonight, more clues than ever are out in the open. But, even after a six-hour autopsy, the mystery just seems to be getting deeper and deeper.

John Zarrella joins us from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, keeping track of both the medical and police investigations.

John, what do you got?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Paula, you're absolutely right. That mystery just gets deeper and deeper.

The autopsy took place here behind me in this building. And it may still take more than a month before we know what killed Anna Nicole Smith. But, tonight, we do know that some things have been ruled out.


DR. JOSHUA PERPER, BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA, CHIEF MEDICAL EXAMINER: We do not make a determination of the cause and the manner of death.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): After a six-hour autopsy, it could still be three to five weeks before tests determine how Anna Nicole Smith died. But, today, we know how she didn't die.

PERPER: The autopsy was able to exclude any kind of physical injury, such as blunt-force trauma, gunshot wound, stab wounds, or asphyxia.

ZARRELLA: The chief medical examiner said, no tablets or pills were found in Smith's stomach.

PERPER: There are no findings which would indicate continued drug abuse.

ZARRELLA: Here is what we have learned from law enforcement sources about that happened Thursday.

A private nurse was in the room with Smith. At about 1:39, she noticed Smith not breathing. The nurse called the bodyguard, who came in and began CPR. Nurse then called Howard K. Stern, Smith's companion. She can't reach him right away. Only after he calls back does the nurse call front-desk security, which called 911.

It is not yet clear how much time elapsed before 911 was called, but a source close to the investigation told us -- quote -- "It was a longer-than-usual delay" -- end quote.

Smith's attorney said she had fever for several days. The medical examiner said, Smith could have died as a result of natural causes, or medication, or a combination of the two. Seminole police say:

CHARLIE TIGER, SEMINOLE, FLORIDA, POLICE CHIEF: At this point, no evidence has been revealed to suggest that a crime occurred. We found no illegal drugs, only prescription medicines.

ZARRELLA: Smith tried to commit suicide in the Bahamas after the death of her 20-year-old son, Daniel, in September, "Entertainment Tonight"'s Mark Steines said today on CNN's "AMERICA MORNING."


MARK STEINES, "ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT": We have found out that, after the death of Daniel, at some point, Anna did jump in her pool, attempt suicide at that point, and was found by Howard face down in the pool.

Howard screamed for help. Her bodyguard, Moe (ph), came out, who is a -- who is paramedic, and took her from the pool, administered CPR, and -- and saved her life at that point.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's Anna Nicole Smith.

ZARRELLA: This year, on January 6, a smiling, but subdued Smith attended a boxing match held at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino by fight promoter Don King, one of her final public appearances, ironically, at the same hotel where she died.


ZARRELLA: Now the Seminole Indian police chief, Charlie Tiger, says that this investigation is going to remain ongoing, going to remain open, at least until the medical examiner, Joshua Perper, here comes up with a final determination of cause of death -- Paula. ZAHN: Now, that medical examiner you're talking about said that there were no tablets or pills found in her stomach. That doesn't mean, though, that you could rule out drugs as a potential cause of death here, does it?

ZARRELLA: No, you're absolutely right.

In fact, Joshua Perper did say that he's leaving that open, that drugs, that the -- the prescription drugs that she was taking, some form or combination of, could still have been responsible, or partly responsible, for the cause of death. Won't know that, though, until all that toxicology is in -- and, again, three to five weeks before we know -- Paula.

ZAHN: John Zarrella, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

The battle over exactly who fathered Smith's baby girl is even more intense tonight. There was a court hearing in Los Angeles today. And are you ready for this? Now there is a third man who claims the child is his.

Entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson is in L.A. tonight with the very latest on that.

This gets messier by the moment, doesn't it?


You know, just when you thought it couldn't get more complex, more bizarre, it does, Paula. Attorney Ron Rale, the attorney for Anna Nicole Smith, told me today that it has all become a circus, that he just wants to protect Anna Nicole Smith's rights and her name. But that task seems to be becoming more and more difficult.


ANDERSON (voice-over): Anna Nicole Smith created a sensation wherever she went. And now, even in death, she still can't rest in peace -- not yet.

DEBRA OPRI, ATTORNEY FOR LARRY BIRKHEAD: Judge Schnider of Los Angeles Superior Court wants the remains of Anna Nicole Smith to be preserved, pending the February 20 hearing.

ANDERSON: Debra Opri, lawyer for Larry Birkhead, one of the men claiming to be the father of Anna Nicole's 5-month-old baby girl, Dannielynn Hope, went to court, seeking an emergency DNA test of Anna Nicole's body to help confirm who the baby's parents are. Her motion was denied.

RON RALE, ATTORNEY FOR ANNA NICOLE SMITH: I'm trying to think of a word I can use in front of the media. But that's a bunch of nonsense.

ANDERSON: Ron Rale, Smith's attorney, called today's closed-door courtroom hearing ludicrous and disrespectful.

RALE: I just didn't like the idea of trying to get her DNA, giving me notice of a court appearance right after she died to come to court here on what I consider a frivolous appearance, which was denied.

ANDERSON: The mother's DNA isn't necessarily required to determine who the father is. Opri wanted Smith's DNA for a different reason.

OPRI: It is very important that the DNA connect Anna with the baby being tested. We do not want a bait-and-switch.

ANDERSON: What is at stake here? The custody of Smith's 5- month-old daughter and inheritance that could be worth millions for the surviving parent of Dannielynn.

So, who is the biological father of Dannielynn Hope?


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": So, you are the father?



What do you make of that?



ANDERSON: Two men, Howard K. Stern and Larry Birkhead, both tell CNN they are the baby's daddy. But just who are these potential fathers?

Larry Birkhead is a Los Angeles freelance reporter and photographer. He claims to have had an intimate two-and-a-half-year relationship with Smith, at one point resulting in a miscarriage.


BIRKHEAD: Actually, Anna asked me to -- to marry her several times throughout the relationship.


ANDERSON: Howard K. Stern was Smith's longtime lawyer and friend. He was frequently featured alongside the star during her cable reality show. He says he had an intimate relationship with Smith.

STERN: Because of my relationship as her lawyer, we felt that it was best to keep everything hidden.

ANDERSON: Both men say the other had no intimate relationship with Smith.

Just when you thought the drama couldn't get stranger, another character came crawling out of the Hollywood woodwork. Prince Frederick von Anhalt, husband of actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, claimed today that he had a 10-year affair with Smith, suggesting he might be the baby's daddy.

PRINCE FREDERICK VON ANHALT, HUSBAND OF ZSA ZSA GABOR: There are lots of people who could be the father.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you be the father?

VON ANHALT: I don't know. I mean, you know, sometimes I'm a bad boy, yes.


ZAHN: Well, he certainly lived up to that reputation today, did he not, Brooke, saying some very demeaning things about Anna Nicole Smith?


He said, Paula, that, you know, Anna Nicole liked her life, but that he's sure there are other men. He said, in fact, there could be 20 to 30 other men. This is what von Anhalt was saying one day after Anna Nicole Smith died.

He said he didn't want to get into the whole thing. I think it is a little late for that. But he did say that he wants the court to decide what happens next, but, if the court awards custody to Birkhead or to Howard K. Stern, that he will step in and try to take further action.

Now, Paula, I want to mention that Ron Rale, attorney for Smith, said that he didn't know anything about von Anhalt's claims -- he told me this today -- and nor does Howard K. Stern.

ZAHN: A lot to keep track of here tonight.

Brooke Anderson, thanks.

Joining me now, Court TV anchor Lisa Bloom, who is going to help us sort through all of this.


ZAHN: There is the perception, is there not, that any one of these three men, or if it ends up being 20, as Mr. von Anhalt said in an incredibly disrespectful way, anything -- that they look like anything other than gold diggers?

BLOOM: It's wonderful that you say that, because that's what Anna Nicole was accused of all her life. And, of course, she earned every dollar she ever made. She never got a penny from her rich husband, who died. So, I always -- I laugh, because that was Anna Nicole.

Look, there is a simple way to resolve this. It is done on "The Maury Show" every day. It is called a DNA test. It's cost a couple hundred dollars. Let's have the DNA test done. Let's compare it to the baby, and let's find out. And keep in mind, this is a human being. This is a child. This is not a potted plant or a prize.

That baby's mother has just died. The baby needs a father. It is so disappointing to me that this is all playing out in the media. And the baby is over there in the Bahamas without a parent.

ZAHN: But nothing will really happen, then, until February 20, right?

BLOOM: Right.

ZAHN: That's when they will start..

BLOOM: That's here in the U.S.


ZAHN: ... to determine the paternity.

BLOOM: That's right.

You know, the question is, why doesn't Larry Birkhead, who seems to be the front-runner for the fatherhood status of the baby, why doesn't he go over to the Bahamas and file an action over there, where the baby is? Because the baby seems to be beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts at this point.

Already, DNA tests have been ordered. And they haven't been complied with, because the baby was in the Bahamas. As long as she stays there, everyone's rights are going to be stymied. Why not go over there, take some actions, and find out some answers here?

ZAHN: And -- and what happens legally with whatever Anna Nicole Smith was going to eventually be entitled to?

BLOOM: OK. Right.

ZAHN: Do these fathers, then, whoever is determined to be the father, have access to that money?

BLOOM: OK. Great question.

She won in the Supreme Court. And what she won is the right to continue fighting the thing in the federal court. She was given over $400 million at one point. Then it was reduced to zero. Then it was $87 million. Then it was reduced to zero, whipsawing back and forth.

It's still in litigation. If, indeed, her estate ultimately wins that, that would go to her -- her daughter, her biological daughter. And, probably, but not necessarily, the father of that child would be the custodian for the money. But the court could also appoint a guardian ad litem. The court could appoint a trustee. Even something like a bank, a simple third party, could come in and oversee that money.

So, the father would not necessarily be able to get his hands on the money.

ZAHN: Lisa, I would love for you to stay with me a little bit longer...


ZAHN: ... because I want to hear what you have to say about other aspects of this case.

BLOOM: Sure.

ZAHN: We're going to go live next to the Bahamas, where Anna Nicole's baby is right now. Who she's with, we're going to find out.

Also out in the open tonight: something that Senator Barack Obama would rather you didn't see. Could he ever get elected president, if he can't quit smoking, something that he's trying to do even as we speak?


ZAHN: Well, tonight, just when you thought it couldn't get any stranger or more complicated, three men are claiming to be the father of Anna Nicole Smith's 5-month-old daughter, who was born in September in the Bahamas.

The competing dads are Smith's ex-boyfriend, photographer Larry Birkhead, her partner and lawyer Howard K. Stern. And, today, the eighth husband of actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, Prince Frederick von Anhalt, says he could be the father, too.

But what about the baby? Well, she happens to be in the Bahamas tonight.

And, for the very latest on what we know about her and on this custody battle that is unfolding, let's turn to Rusty Dornin, who is in Nassau tonight.

Rusty, what are you being told about where little Dannielynn is?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From what we understand, Paula, she is believed to be in the home of the family of a high-ranking Bahamian official by the name of Shawn -- Shane Gibson. He is actually the minister of immigration and of labor.

Now, apparently, he also helped Anna Nicole Smith come to this country. Even speaking to the folks in the street here, they say, it was quite a scandal when she first came, that she was allowed to become a resident here in Nassau, in the Bahamas, so quickly. So, it is believed that the baby is with Shane Gibson.

We do understand from -- Associated Press has been reporting that Anna Nicole's mother did call the police and ask to find out where the baby is, but she is not being taken there. She said she's going to have to go through the courts. And the problem is, it is Friday night. And the courts here in Nassau, in the Bahamas, are closed for business.

We went to several of the offices, for the Ministry of Information and that sort of thing. People were out of their offices, and did not come back. And they will not be back here until Monday. So, if she is not with Shane Gibson or the custody battle continues -- or a custody battle continues, she could be placed with social services.

That is part of what they do here in the Bahamas. They call it social services. The child would be placed there, until the custody is decided -- Paula.

ZAHN: Another big mystery tonight that, of course, will affect all of this and -- and ultimate custody is whether Howard K. Stern and Anna Nicole Smith were ever legally married in the Bahamas. Has anybody been able to confirm that?

DORNIN: No. And it has been -- just according to "People" magazine, there was a commitment ceremony in September. Of course, that would not be binding in any kind of an American court or even here in the Bahamas.

But you can bet that the custody battle is going to begin here in Nassau very soon to determine exactly where Dannielynn will go. Of course, whether it be Howard Stern or Larry Birkhead, whether -- he determines paternity, he, of course, would then also be able to file here in the Bahamas for custody of Dannielynn.

ZAHN: Finally, Rusty, you were talking a little bit about how controversial it was Anna Nicole Smith was given residency so quickly. What has been the reaction to her death there and all of the controversy swirling around her daughter?

DORNIN: What was interesting is, a lot of people are still surprised that there is this much worldwide attention. A couple of people said to me they felt that she was trouble when she came here. There was a lot of scandal, a lot of stories about how she came, how she did obtain residency. People were not exactly comfortable with it.

But, then again, she came here because it was easy. She was not -- people did not follow her. They did not pursue her here. She was seen on the streets at times. She even was seen, apparently, going to the hotel Atlantis and that sort of thing.

So, she did here -- come here because she sought some kind of anonymity. And people here did want to leave her alone. They don't understand why the world keeps her in the spotlight.

ZAHN: Rusty Dornin, appreciate that live update.

Let's quickly go back now to Court TV anchor Lisa Bloom.

So, we just heard a little bit about the process the Bahamian officials used to figure out what -- where to put Dannielynn.


ZAHN: Do you understand how they arrived at that decision?


BLOOM: Yes, it's sad, isn't it, to think that three men are fighting over paternity, and that she might go into the care of social services, because nobody has gone, apparently, thus far, to the Bahamas to claim her and to claim custody rights to her.

All of this litigation is going on in the United States. The Bahamas, it might be nearby, it might be a popular tourist destination, but it is a sovereign country. And it needs to be litigated down in the Bahamas for somebody to get custody of that baby.

ZAHN: Do you think Bahamian officials will be pushing for that...

BLOOM: I think...

ZAHN: ... to be able to grant custody to someone, who will take the baby home?

BLOOM: I think -- you know, my understanding of what we have learned on Court TV News today is, the Bahamian officials want to be done with this thing. They don't want another Aruba, another Natalee Holloway situation.

They don't want their island nation to be besmirched with the idea that they're holding a baby away from Americans who want that baby. So, I think they want this thing done. And, as Rusty Dornin indicated, the people there want the island to be seen as a refuge, and they don't want to have any, you know, black marks on their record.

ZAHN: And, from a legal point of view, how do you react to what Rusty just told us about this commitment ceremony, that "People" magazine had confirmed it happened?

BLOOM: Right.

ZAHN: We have all seen pictures of the two of them on the beach.

BLOOM: Right.


ZAHN: What is the significance of that? BLOOM: There is no legal significance to it whatsoever. I mean, two people can say they're married, but you have to go through the legal solemnization of it, or it's not going to be recognized.

What gets me is, Howard K. Stern was a lawyer, an American lawyer. If he wanted to marry her, he should have known what he needed to do. And, if he had done it while she was pregnant, in most jurisdictions in the United States, including California, where they're both from, that baby would be conclusively presumed to be his baby, whether it is biologically his or not.

California says a baby born to a valid marriage is a child of those two, nothing -- you know, no ifs, ands, or buts, period.


BLOOM: He never did that. He never did that.


ZAHN: ... he didn't decide until after this baby that was born, that he wanted to claim it as his?


BLOOM: Well, what that means to me, either he didn't realize that during the term of the pregnancy, the decision wasn't made during the term of the pregnancy that the baby was going to be his, or Anna Nicole refused to marry him. Those are the only possibilities I can think of.

I think the decision maybe was made after the birth between Anna Nicole, or, you know, very shortly before the birth, that this was going to be considered his baby. But why has he been hiding from the DNA test all this time, if it's his biological child?

ZAHN: Yes. Larry Birkhead is the guy...


BLOOM: The guy who has been pushing for the DNA test is probably the bio dad, right?

ZAHN: I guess we will find out.


ZAHN: Science just might prove that some day.

BLOOM: Or maybe it's the prince. Maybe it is Prince Frederick.

ZAHN: Yes. He is the one that came out of the woodwork today...


ZAHN: ... saying he, too, could be the father. Lisa Bloom, thanks.

BLOOM: All right. Thank you.

ZAHN: Appreciate it.

Out in the open next: a surprising side of Senator Barack Obama that you rarely see. If he can't quit smoking, could he ever be elected president? We are going to debate that tonight.

A little bit later on: A commercial backfires. Why would General Motors use images of a suicidal robot to sell cars?


ZAHN: "Out in the Open" tonight: something that could hurt Senator Barack Obama's run for the White House. And, no, we don't mean his race or his youth. Tomorrow, he's expected to officially declare that he's a candidate. But, even as he gets ready to campaign, he's also trying to kick a cigarette habit.

And that made all of us wonder here, would America ever put a smoker in the White House?

Here is Keith Oppenheim.




KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 2004 Democratic National Convention -- Barack Obama catapults to the national stage, describing himself this way.


BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.


OPPENHEIM: That was then, when we knew little about him. This is today, when we're learning more.

Barack Obama smokes. That's right. Obama, the man who would be president, smokes cigarettes. This week, he told "The Chicago Tribune" he usually smokes fewer than 10 cigarettes a day. Obama said he smoked more when he was campaigning or writing. Otherwise, he's been more of a social smoker, friends say.

KIRK DILLARD, ILLINOIS STATE SENATOR: He played poker with a -- a number of legislators from downstate Illinois after hours. He would have an occasional drink. He would smoke a cigarette, bum a cigarette from legislators.

OPPENHEIM: Because of pressure from his wife, Michelle, Obama says he's now trying to quit altogether. The question is, in the brutal arena of presidential politics, does smoking cigarettes matter?

IRVING REIN, COMMUNICATIONS PROFESSOR, NORTHWEST UNIVERSITY: It is kind of like a -- like a hint or a tell about his character.

OPPENHEIM: Communications professor Irving Rein says, because Obama is still relatively unknown, small details about character can have a big impact.

REIN: Smoking is kind of a -- a nasty habit to most Americans. And it does give some insight in the fact that he's perhaps got some idiosyncratic behaviors, that there's another side of him.

OPPENHEIM: Keep in mind, smoking was a side to many presidents. (r)MDNMFDR smokes cigarettes publicly and proudly. Ronald Reagan, before his White House years, was a pitchman for Chesterfields. Many others, from Kennedy, to Nixon, to Clinton, smoked cigars.

But, clearly, in 2007, tolerance for tobacco has changed.

PAUL GREEN, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, ROOSEVELT UNIVERSITY: Health is going to be a big issue. If you're talking about universal health care, and you're smoking, it just doesn't look good.

OPPENHEIM: Strange as it may sound, some think that Obama's vice or his struggle to overcome it could be a plus.

DOUG HATTAWAY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: People see him as a regular guy who connects to them, who has had struggles in his life. Whether or not you smoke or like smoking, that humanizes him. And that's -- that's helpful to any candidate, I think.

OPPENHEIM (on camera): For now, Obama can be counted among an estimated 45 million Americans who smoke. Some, like the candidate himself, are trying to kick the habit.

Keith Oppenheim, CNN, Chicago.


ZAHN: And we should make it clear that Barack Obama's aides tell us that he is trying very hard to quit, and he's chewing a lot of gum these days.

But another sign of the negative attitude towards smoking, a new American Medical Association survey shows that most adults think movies that show smoking deserve R ratings.

So, in this era of political correctness, can any smoker be elected president? I'm going to ask our "Out in the" panel -- that would be "Out in the Open" panel -- in just a minute.

Then, a little bit later on: how a Super Bowl ad for cars offended relatives of suicide victims and thousands of laid-off auto workers.

We will explain when we come back.


ZAHN: We're talking about Senator Barack Obama's effort to quit smoking. We're told he's chewing an awful lot of gum these days and whether voters would ever put a smoker in the White House. Let's toss that out it our out in the open panel, author and political analyst Keli Goff. Niger Ennis, political consultant and national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality and Air America radio host Rachel Maddow. Welcome back to you too. Welcome. (INAUDIBLE) So would America elect a president who smokes?

KELI Goff, AUTHOR AND POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, you know, I have to say that I would never date a smoker because I think it is disgusting. That being said, as someone who's worked on political campaigns, I have to say that if you are blessed to work for a candidate who has the charisma of Barack Obama, the credentials of Barack Obama and the biggest skeleton in his closet is the fact he indulges in something that's legal and he's doing it with his own wife, I think you're probably in pretty good shape.

ZAHN: Although we heard critics, the piece that preceded this segment, before we hit the break, say, look, this is a guy that's going to have to talk about health care for Americans and while it might be legal for him to smoke, that would be a really ridiculous thing for the American public to have to be exposed to. He's trying to cut health care costs.

NIGER INNIS, CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY: I tell you, I think if he were Jerry Falwell running for office and his platform was of a moral lifestyle and a clean life and all that, the smoking would be a bit of a problem. I don't think it's going to be that much of an issue in this campaign. I think what could be much more of an issue is the fact he admitted in his biography to experimenting with cocaine. That is a -- that is something he is definitely going to have to address and something that is 10 times more serious than smoking. He could actually be a heroic trying to quit smoking.

Goff: Last time I checked, Jesus wasn't available to run for office anymore. Last time I checked. At a certain point, the American people acknowledge and accept the fact that their leaders are not perfect people. It is actually refreshing to see people who are willing to step up to the plate and admit it as opposed to keeping it a big secret and waiting for some scandal to --

INNIS: ... going to rule it out. I think he is going to have to address it, though.

ZAHN: Do you give him any credit though for not having to ask him 13 different ways, did you break the laws of your country, I tried it but I didn't inhale.

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO HOST: The legacy of the Clinton drug use referral, people were upset with him for saying for I didn't inhale and for the way he had to be asked about it and the way he handled it. In that kind of splitting hairs, Barack Obama came out and said I've got a drug thing in my past too. Here is what it is and if that makes you not want to vote for me, fine. That's the kind of way people want. I think that's what people want to hear on the drug issue from candidates. On the smoking issue, I think the elephant in the living room here is that we all know that smoking is horrific for you in health terms and I think people disapprove of smoking in general terms. I'm not sure that we think that smokers are bad people, though, or that a person who smokes is committing a moral wrong. I'm not sure it is going to reflect poorly on him at all.

INNIS: The interesting thing about it -

Goff: I think another thing to keep in mind is I think that we as a country are really great about saying, you know what works for you? That's why we live in a democracy. What works for you as long as you follow our laws and you don't harm anybody else. And I'm much more concerned about someone like a certain president we know drinking and getting behind the wheel of a car and possibly killing me or a loved one than someone who sits at home and indulges in something that is both legal and in private. I just think that --

INNIS: I want to address the cheap shot at President Bush, but what I will say though is that he has the potential -- actually to be seen as heroic figure in that he's trying to quit this vulnerability that he has. And those that want to love him are simply going to thrust (ph) yet another reason to love him. He's trying to overcome this addiction.

ZAHN: Let's move on to another issue, will certainly get some attention in this campaign. And it is something that Barack Obama's wife talks about pretty pointedly in an interview that we'll see on "60 Minutes" on Sunday night when she talks about her fears about her husband running. Here is what she had to say.


COURTESY CBS NEWS, 60 MINUTES: I don't lose sleep over it. Because the realities are that, you know, as a black man, you know, Barack can get shot going to the gas station. So you can't, you know, you can't make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.


ZAHN: Is Barack Obama more vulnerable than white candidates on the campaign trail?

MADDOW: I think Barack Obama is vulnerable because of his race. I think that other candidates are also vulnerable. That's why there is Secret Service protection for them. I think the big impact of this statement is wow. Barack Obama's wife is going to be a major asset in this campaign. She's fierce. She's a straight talker. She's willing to take on controversial issues, even the race issue. This is her -- I think this says more about her maybe than about the issue. INNIS: I think it was intriguing that she said that he could get shot at a gas station. I'm curious as to what was on her mind, shot by whom? I don't think it's by white racists which she was making reference to.

ZAHN: It wasn't clear.

INNIS: Yeah. Interesting.

Goff: The final thought is the last -- all the presidents who have been shot so far have not been black, so, you know, it is sort of one of those things where, it is always --

INNIS: Always a risk, absolutely.

ZAHN: Stay right there. We got much more to talk about tonight. Out in the open, next, selling cars or promoting suicide or making fun of suicide? Critics say a Super Bowl ad went way over the edge and people are outraged tonight.

And a little later on, a Hollywood controversy out in the open, are comedies about loud, overweight black women harmless fun or a humiliating insult? Be back with more. Don't go away.


ZAHN: Out in the open tonight, outrage over a General Motors commercial during the Super Bowl. Somehow in one little 60 second spot, the people behind the ad found a way to offend two vastly different groups, relatives of suicide victims, and the tens of thousands of people General Motors has just laid off. It has been five days since the ad aired and since then, the outrage has built to the point that GM has just today backed down. Deborah Feyerick has the latest for us tonight.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Take a look at this Super Bowl ad for General Motors. The robot working an assembly line accidentally drops a screw. The robot is fired and can't find work. Despondent, it jumps off the bridge, then suddenly wakes, revealing the suicidal plunge was just a dream.

CATHERINE COOK, SON COMMITTED SUICIDE: It is unfathomable that someone would do this, someone would portray a suicide in a commercial.

FEYERICK: Catherine Cook was at home enjoying the Super Bowl when the ad appeared. As the robot looks back at everything it is leaving behind, Cook said in a flash it was like seeing her 28-year-old son Brian just moments before he fatally pulled the trigger.

COOK: Every time when I close my eyes and I see that robot looking back and I think of my son, what was going through his mind? That robot did not want to jump. What was my son going through? What was he thinking? FEYERICK: Calling the ad horrifying and insensitive, the head of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention spent all week pressuring General Motors to pull the spot from its website where it had been prominently featured.

BOB GEBBIA, AMER. FDN. FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION: In spite of the fact that it is a robot or it's a dream, the message still comes across that if you are depressed, you lose your job, you have a setback, it is OK to take your life. And we think that's just a terribly dangerous message.

FEYERICK: According to the group, about 80 Americans commit suicide every day. The attempts are even higher, some 1500 daily. Earlier GM had defended the commercial saying a robot ad is a story of GM's commitment to quality. It is not intended to offend anyone. But Catherine Cook says that's exactly what it did to many people who have lost loved ones to suicide.

COOK: I had to relive what my son did all over again and many times since then because I can't stop thinking about this.

PAUL LA MONICA, MEDIA ANALYST: Anything that is obviously about suicide, I think, is probably, you know, marketing 101, you don't that.

FEYERICK: Paul La Monica, who covers media for says the ad is also in poor taste to tens of thousands of auto workers who have lost their jobs and have been replaced by machines.

LA MONICA: GM is a company that is really struggling now and a lot of employees have been faced with some difficult times right now. I thought that was pretty surprising that they would kind of make light of that situation.

FEYERICK: Some GM auto workers were stunned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With all of the companies going down and all the places shutting up, it is really getting rough.

FEYERICK: Today, GM gave into the pressure and notified the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention it is changing the ad. The company tells CNN we quote, listened to their concerns and are editing the ad to address those concerns. The ad has now been pulled from GM's website and the bridge jump scene will be cut. But for Catherine Cook, that still doesn't make things right.

COOK: Even if they apologize a 100 times right now, the damage is done. The damage is done.

FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: Back now to our out in the open panel, Keli Goff, Niger Innes, Rachel Maddow. What the heck was GM thinking when they used suicide to market a product? Goff: Clearly, not very much, clearly not very much and honestly, my main reaction to this whole fiasco is that if I were the executive who had given the green light to spend that much money on an ad this bad, I would be the one committing suicide.

ZAHN: But you could also look at this another way. Not only did this ad get gazillions of viewers on Super Bowl night, a lot of people are replaying it like we did tonight and if you wanted to be really cynical, you could say this was a masterful PR play.

INNIS: I wish. I suppose GM wishes but I don't think so. I think the negative advertising or the negative publicity it is getting is far, far more expensive to them than the millions and millions of dollars they spent to create the ad. Look, I'm going to be the bad guy because I actually -- I empathize with suicide victims and families of suicides, but it seems like our society is proliferated with movies about suicides, comedies. There is actually a comedy, 1998 comedy called "The Suicide." There are all kinds - "The End" with Burt Reynolds was a very funny movie, the whole movie was about suicide. You remove the GM commercial, what are you going to do about the other things?

MADDOW: But Niger, even if -- I'm sorry, Paula.

ZAHN: No, I was going to say, what are you saying, that we collectively lost our sense of humor? That this is political correctness run amok? You can't put anything on TV that doesn't alienate anyone?

INNIS: I think we're a -- bingo. Hit the nail right on the head.

MADDOW: There is something here about taking GM at its word if you can imagine the pitch meeting at GM where this got approved. What is the underlying message that GM is trying to sell here? A, we're willing to go for shock value by using suicide as a tool in the ad. But also we want to convey the message that we are so obsessed with quality that our workers, when they mess up, they'll get fired, they'll never get another job, they'll be despondent and they'll kill themselves. That's how we're going to sell more Buicks and that has everybody going, yeah, great idea.

Goff: I think another thing to remember too is that, let's not forget that GM is not having a good year. So it's like, the time when your bottom line is bleeding is not really the time to go, I think we should go edgy. Let's go edgy this year.

ZAHN: Clearly the GM officials we heard in the piece that preceded this saying that we did not mean to offend, including offending people on a bunch of fronts.

MADDOW: They wanted to offend just enough.

INNIS: They wanted to be provocative because Super Bowl commercials are supposed to be, at least according to the way it is laid out now, are supposed to be provocative. I mean do you remember the (INAUDIBLE) fart in a woman's face? I certainly found quite offensive, OK, but again, there are all kinds of absurd and silly - (INAUDIBLE) I'm being a little politically correct now.

ZAHN: A final thought on how you as a GM worker who had been laid off, would have reacted to that commercial, being replaced by a robot.

MADDOW: Being replaced by a robot and 30,000 GM workers laid off in two years. And what they're saying is when you're laid off from GM, next thing you can expect to see is the bottom of a bridge railing. This is them hoping to be provocative enough to get discussed on CNN primetime, but not to have to see some executives resign and to have to climb down publicly. They went too far.

ZAHN: It's not going to air anymore.

INNIS: This is heavy.

ZAHN: GM said today. Stay with us. We have a lot more to discuss. "Larry King Live" coming up in a few minutes with a special hour on the mystery surrounding the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Larry, you had an amazing show last night. Getting to a lot of people, journalists haven't been able to talk with so far. Who do you have on deck tonight?

LARRY KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, we are going to do one on one with the medical examiner who did the autopsy on Anna Nicole Smith this morning. And we'll meet Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband, the prince who says he may be the father of Anna Nicole's baby, gets curiouser and curiouser. Plus, attorneys for the other side, in a paternity battle. All at the top of the hour. Dull it ain't, Paula.

ZAHN: Dull it ain't. The prince has also said he wouldn't be surprised if 20 to 30 other men also claimed paternity of this child.

KING: This is going to be in court for years.

ZAHN: Yeah, it is. Well, have a good show, Larry. See you at 9:00.

KING: Thank you dear. Bye.

ZAHN: Time for a quick biz break right now. The Dow closed down 56 points after a Fed official warned that a surge in inflation would bring higher interest rates. The Nasdaq lost 28. The S&P lost 10. Oil prices settled at just below $60 a barrel. Analysts predict big energy profits could lead to a record number of mergers in the oil and gas industry.

Well, Eddie Murphy's new comedy is just out today. But it is making a lot of people very angry. Coming up, are comedies about overweight black women funny or downright humiliating and degrading. We'll be back with our debate when we come back.


ZAHN: Eddie Murphy's brand new comedy opens today. Some people aren't laughing about it. They are furious about it. We're bringing that out into the open tonight. The movie is called "Norbit." But get this, a lot of people say its portrayal of a pushy, loud, plus sized black woman is downright offensive even if it is played by one of Hollywood's favorite stars. Here is entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas.



SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jenise Armstrong is mad as hell. The object of her outrage, Eddie Murphy's upcoming movie, "Norbit."

"NORBIT," COURTESY DREAMWORKS PICTURES: Excuse me, ma'am, we have a 300 pound weight limit.

I'm don't weigh no damn 300 pounds. I weigh 165 (INAUDIBLE) .

ARMSTRONG: Think about who this movie is making fun of. It is black women, fat, black women.

VARGAS: In the comedy, Murphy plays several characters including an overweight, overbearing woman who makes Norbit also played by Murphy, the target of her affection. The movie's billboard even features Norbit being squished by a larger than life character with these words above their heads. Have you ever made a really big mistake? Some might find it funny, but Armstrong, a columnist for "The Philadelphia Daily News" isn't laughing. She says it is a stereotype perpetuated for far too long.

ARMSTRONG: It kind of goes back to the 19th century minstrel shows where people used to dress up in black face and the black woman was always overweight, usually with her head -- hair tide up in a rag. She was sassy and emasculating the black man. That's an old, old image that we've had with us for, you know, it goes back to slavery times, "Gone with the wind," mammy.

VARGAS: "Norbit" isn't the only flick that uses plus sized outspoken black women as punch lines. Two others prominent African- American stars have made millions playing these kind of characters. Martin Lawrence who donned a fat suit in "Big Mamma's House" and "Big Mamma's House 2" --

"BIG MAMMA'S HOUSE 2" FROM 20TH CENTURY FOX: Damn man, put on some drawers.

VARGAS: And Tyler Perry as the fast talking and elderly Madea in "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" and "Madea Family Reunion."


VARGAS: But Perry says it is more about appreciation than condemnation.

TYLER PERRY, PRODUCER, DIRECTOR, ACTOR: I think it has been the biggest form of absolute flattery to imitate our women. My mother was a big woman. Her mother was a big woman. And all we're doing is mimicking what we have seen and what we know to be -- that was so hilarious in our household.

VARGAS: Perry says these characters are just a reflection of some people in the black community that he feels he shouldn't have to apologize for.

PERRY: I know a couple of women who are taller than I am and heavier than I am. What is the big deal? Relax, people. It is not that big a deal. We are just having fun with what we know to be our lives, period.


VARGAS: Sibila Vargas, CNN, Los Angeles.


ZAHN: Let's go straight back to our out in the open panel, Keli Goff, Niger Innis, Rachel Maddow. We're going to put up the promotional poster. Quick reaction to it Rachel. What did you think?

MADDOW: Fat suit technology is getting a lot better. I didn't know they could be that big.

ZAHN: Niger?

INNIS: Black man being pressed again. No I'm kidding. I'm just kidding. I'm just glad I wore black for this segment. That's all.

Goff: My thinking, future Oscar winner for sure.

ZAHN: You weren't insulted by that? You got black women all over America who are absolutely crazed by this. They think this portrayal of black women stinks.

Goff: Look, clearly as an African-American woman, I'm not a fan of derogatory stereotypes of black women. But one -- a couple of things, one, at the moment, 50 percent of African-American women in the U.S. are currently obese. And I actually read a study the other day that said that in the labor market, employers are actually much more tolerant of overweight black women than they are of overweight white women. Which --

INNIS: (INAUDIBLE) The image of the overweight black woman, strong black woman is a psychological -- something that's been embedded in the American psyche for a couple hundred years. The mammy figure, Aunt Jemima, Tom and Jerry, the cartoon even had a mammy figure in there. Red Fox in the 1970s when he was doing "Sanford and Son" had to fight hard to make sure to avoid that particular stereotype. The interesting -- very quickly, interesting thing about these three individuals is being portrayed by black men, very powerful black men in Hollywood who could have control over the image that is being projected. Goff: But I have to say in the big scheme of things, when I think about stereotypes that are hurtful and harmful and unhealthy to black women, I'm much more concerned about Maury Povich's paternity Tuesdays, paternity Wednesday, paternity Thursday, paternity Fridays because the message and stereotype that that represents is much more debilitating from a policy standpoint and in society at large than I think "Norbit"'s going to be.

ZAHN: Let's move on to a scathing review of this movie by critic Jay Carr. I'm going to put up on the screen some of what he had to say in slamming this movie. Unless your idea of fun, he writes is laughing at a fat suit, Rasputia, the fat female character Eddie plays is conceived utterly mean spiritedly, the idea being that it is not only OK for us to laugh at her body fat, but OK to want bad things to happen to her too. Rachel?

MADDOW: Yes, the big issue here for me - this is horrendous. I think it is the mean spiritedness of it is what matters to me, really I don't like being encouraged to laugh about bad things happening to people, especially when they're supposed to be bad people because they're giants. I don't like it. On the other hand, doesn't anybody wonder why Eddie Murphy, amazing comedic actor, does one horrendous movie after another? He - other than "Dream Girls," he has the worst agent in the history of talent agents in all of Hollywood. What is it with --

ZAHN: He's taking a lot of money to the bank.

MADDOW: He's taking a lot of money and has completely lost his dignity. The guy could be doing great stuff.

Goff: They're actually saying that this might hurt his Oscar chances which I think is -- would really be a sad sort of addendum to this. He ends up losing an Oscar.

ZAHN: I want to come back to a segment we did before and it was about a very controversial ad, GM aired during the Super Bowl that a lot of people were insulted by. They thought in some way that it was poking fun at suicide or in some cases saying it was all right to commit suicide. You made a comment and I really want you to respond to this because people are upset by this, that if you had been the GE (sic) executive that had green lighted this commercial, that you would have committed suicide. Why did you say that?

Goff: I want to say for the record, I was clearly exaggerating. It was an attempt at sarcasm and I apologize to anyone who didn't read it as such. But I will stick to my guns on this and say that it was a really bad ad from a creative standpoint and I think from the message it was trying to say standpoint. And if I were the person who did it I don't think I would be particularly pleased with myself. And I don't think the company should be pleased with him either, him or her.

ZAHN: Are you satisfied by that?

INNIS: They obviously agreed because they pulled the ad.

Goff: That's absolutely true.

ZAHN: All right. We're going to leave it right there. We want to thank you all for joining us tonight. And I will be back after a very short break. Please stay with us.


© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines