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Clinton and Obama Campaigns Exchange Fire; Winners and Losers in Democratic Presidential Debate; Harvard Grad Chooses NYPD

Aired July 24, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us tonight.
The race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama turns downright ugly, and it got started because of last night's debate.

And get a load of a show that wants to offend you. Has TV finally gone too far?

And sex offenders on the Internet have a brand-new tactic. How are they going after your kids now? We have got a warning you need to see tonight.

We begin with a new era of interactive politics. The Internet, of course, still left buzzing over the last presidential debate. That was the one last night. And no wonder. For two hours the Democratic candidates took questions that people recorded on their computers and posted on the YouTube video-sharing Web site.

And the end of the debate isn't the end of the story. An unprecedented response from I-Report contributors poured into, mostly young voters speaking their minds like never before.

Check this out.


CONNER TRIPPING, IOWA: Having watched all the Democratic debates to date, I thought it was the best one yet.

JAMES BRIERTON, NEW YORK: Finally the questions we want to hear.

MATTHEW RANKOW, WASHINGTON: I definitely thought Hillary Clinton did the best.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am proud to be running as a woman and I'm excited that I may -- you know, may be able finally to break that hardest of all glass ceilings.

MARK GRASSO, NEW HAMPSHIRE: I was expecting to see Barack Obama tonight come out firing against Hillary Clinton to try to bridge the gap between the two of them in the polls. I didn't see that, however.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous.

BRAD MCQUEEN, NORTH CAROLINA: I really thought that John Edwards really stood out. I didn't really think about him as a contender until tonight.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When are we going to stand up and do something about this? We have talked about it too long. We have got to stand up to the insurance companies and the drug companies.

WILLIAM, ALASKA: The really interesting thing about the whole debate was that it occurred at all.

AMANI CHANNEL, GEORGIA: And hopefully we will have more people taking an interest in politics.


ZAHN: We hope that's the case.

But not only does the debate have the Internet buzzing, but the Barack Obama answer we just heard provoked a withering attack from Hillary Clinton's campaign today.

We asked CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley for the inside story.



CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That was so last night. Now in interviews with Iowa's "Quad-City Times," she is calling Barack Obama irresponsible and naive. He's accusing her of fabricating a controversy.

It began with a debate question: Would Obama meet with the leaders of hostile nations, like Iran and Cuba, in the first year of his presidency?

OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous.

CROWLEY: It was just the sort of opening camp Clinton was looking for, and she fired.

CLINTON: I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don't want to make a situation even worse.

CROWLEY: Team Clinton was so excited about the moment, they made former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright available to tell reporters that Clinton's answer was -- quote -- "perfect, a sophisticated, nuanced view."

In a memo titled "Strength and Experience," they said Obama "committed to presidential-level meetings with some of the world's worst dictators without precondition."

Pushing back in a memo titled "Obama Wins Debate and Commander in Chief Test," the Obama folks said Clinton's debate's comments were at odds with a previous statement, when she said it was a mistake for President Bush to say he won't talk with bad people. "The American people choose straight talk over Washington double-speak," the memo read, "and they know that change must be more than a slogan."

With that, the Clinton people put out the rest of the quote, in which Clinton talked of diplomatic discussions, not necessarily presidential meetings. The Obama people pointed out that, in a CNN dial test of debate watchers, Obama's answers scored high on the charts. But camp Clinton thinks Obama stepped in it and is trying to spin his way out.

What's all this about? It is a super-struggle for control of the post-debate spin in a campaign that has heated up earlier than any before it. It is getting testy out there.


ZAHN: Candy Crowley still at the site of the debate, can't rip herself away from the Citadel Military College in Charleston, South Carolina, where she's been camped out for the better part of the week. And so has our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Good to see both of you.

All right, Candy, both of the candidates seemed to be fine with each other, Hillary Clinton not directly attacking Obama, Barack Obama on this point, until we saw both campaigns going at each other this morning. Is this a manufactured crisis?

CROWLEY: No, I don't think so. I think all this tells you is the stakes in this election. I mean this has started so early and so the rhetoric, the heater rhetoric has also started early.

I think two of them, the Clinton campaign wanted to point out the difference here, wanted to point out they thought that Barack Obama had the non-presidential answer to that. The Barack Obama people wanted to point out what they thought were inconsistencies. I think this just shows you the intensity of this election at this point in the election year.

ZAHN: And with the intensity heating up so quickly, Candy, what does that telegraph for the campaign to come?

CROWLEY: It telegraphs it's going to be a pretty interesting cycle. You know, the fact of the matter is it always gets more tense as you move along. The difference here is it just has gotten tense earlier on in the cycle. But you can expect that this will ratchet up, particularly since Obama has the money to go toe to toe with Hillary Clinton. She's got the poll numbers.

So, you have what really is a titanic struggle, at least politically, and then you have John Edwards who is looking for a little running room between the two with his sort of populist approach to a number of things, the health care bite that you just ran. So, you know, it is a real race going on here. And it is only likely to get livelier.

ZAHN: And, Bill, Candy just touched on three of the candidates believed to be the three front-runners in most polls. And if you listened to their campaigns today they all of them each won handily. I know there are no post-debate numbers out yet. But is there any suggestion that any one of those three did get traction last night?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they're all claiming victory, as they would after a debate like this. They're all telling their supporters they won. They're trying to raise money from their supporters. They're emphasizing the good -- the big points that they made in the debate.

I don't know how many minds were changed. The most interesting part about that Obama/Clinton exchange was that it didn't happen during the debate. Voters who are watching the debate don't want to see that kind of ugliness erupt during a debate. It would probably reflect poorly on both of them. It happened after the debate. It is pure spin. But it is not what people want to see in a debate.

ZAHN: Now, there is another measurement of the success of each one of these candidates' performance, and that's the amount of money, Bill, that they can -- checks that are cut as a result of the performance. Any news on that in the wake of last night?

SCHNEIDER: What we're hearing is that Obama and Edwards have sent out messages to their supporters, claiming that they won a big victory. They are touting their good reviews in the debate. Many of the candidates did get good reviews. There is no official winner in one of those things. And the polls will take some time to digest this information, but they sure are out there raising money.

How much have they raised? Well, we don't know yet.

ZAHN: And a final thought from you, Candy, on the spinning war going on about who outperformed whom last night. What do you hear from there in South Carolina?

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, I think that you have seen in sort of the reviews that have come out from various news organizations that they believe that Hillary Clinton had a very strong performance. Others sort of pointed to Barack Obama, others to Edwards.

I think what we have seen over the course of time in all of the debates we have so far, that this is clearly Hillary Clinton's venue. It is not that the others do badly. It is that she does very well. This seems to be something that she excels at.

ZAHN: Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider, thanks for bringing us up to date.

As we have seen, regular people not only going to ask the questions last night; they're also letting us know that they thought of the answers they got. Remember these two women? Well, they asked up one of the debate's most memorable questions.




MATTHEWS: And we're from Brooklyn, New York.

If you were elected president of the United States, would you allow us to be married to each other?


ZAHN: And Mary Matthews and Jen Weidenbaum are with me now, along with political video blogger James Kotecki, who has been advising some of the presidential candidates about reaching young voters online.

Welcome back. It's almost like a reunion here.


ZAHN: Now, I know the two of you were shocked when your question was picked last night by CNN. I want to show our audience now how your question was answered.

Let's watch together.



SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They ought to have that ability in civil unions. I don't go so far as to call for marriage. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would level with you -- I would do what is achievable. What I think is achievable is full civil unions with full marriage rights.


ZAHN: Were you satisfied with any of those answers, which we tried to string together as best we could?


ZAHN: ... representative of what these candidates said. MATTHEWS: I think Kucinich obviously answered it directly, which we appreciated. And I appreciated Edwards' comments. you know, it was something he was struggling with. I know he answered the reverend's question with that. But it was still kind of the same issue.

And Bill Richardson, I appreciated what he said, too, that, you know what? We will do as much as we can now, which, again, wasn't a yes or a no. So, a lot of them played the middle road, I think, other than Kucinich. But...

ZAHN: Well, that's what -- we had talked about this last week. And you were hoping that you would have gotten a simple yes or no, which you only got from one candidate.

WEIDENBAUM: Right. And we didn't get to hear from all of the candidates. I would have liked to have hear what Clinton would have had to say on the issue. She was a little quiet there.


ZAHN: But we should make it clear that not all the candidates did have the opportunity to answer that question.

WEIDENBAUM: Right. Right. Yes.

ZAHN: Now, John Edwards answered a different question when he was asked specifically whether it is fair to use religion to deny gay Americans their full and equal rights. And here is part of what he had to say.


EDWARDS: Do I believe and do I personally support gay marriage?

The honest answer to that is, I don't. But I think it is absolutely wrong, as president of the United States, for me to have used that faith basis as a basis for denying anybody their rights.


ZAHN: So, Mary, you said he has struggled with this question. What did you make of that answer?

MATTHEWS: Well, I think it is interesting his wife is for gay marriage, and he's not. I'm curious about their conversations about that.

I think he's like a lot of Americans. I think a lot of people are struggling with it, knowing people who are gay in their families and seeing that it is, you know, as we progress, as a society, a civil rights issue.

ZAHN: Let me bring James into the conversation now.

You have had a chance to go all over the blogosphere today. What is your sense of how voters out there made contact with these candidates last night?

JAMES KOTECKI, POLITICAL VIDEO BLOGGER: Well, not only have I been looking at a lot of their views online. I was actually at the debates last night.

And just talking to the people in the audience and talking to the people who saw it on television as well, I think a lot of people got the sense was, this -- that this was definitely a new kind of debate. The questions were more interesting than we have ever had before, much more emotionally compelling. And Mary and Jen's question is a great example of that.

And also we have created essentially a broader political dialogue. Beyond just kind of a one-off Q&A session, we now have a dialogue that happened long before and will happen long after the debates, because all those questions are up there on YouTube for the world to see.

ZAHN: Did you get any sense from the immediate feedback you saw online whether any minds were changed by these performances last night?

KOTECKI: I don't know if any minds were changed, I think, as Bill Schneider said, not necessarily so, because I think a lot of the candidates' responses were in a sense what people would sometimes expect -- how they would expect these candidates to respond.

ZAHN: As in canned answers? Is that what you mean, James?

KOTECKI: Yes, in a sense, canned answers, maintaining close adherence to their messages.

The one candidate that actually stood out for me, and surprised me, actually, was Senator Hillary Clinton, because she, along with only other candidates Kucinich and Gravel, actually responded to people directly by name when she responded to their questions.

No other candidates got that this was a YouTube debate. You should respond to these YouTube users.

ZAHN: I liked the way you said close adherence to a message.


KOTECKI: That's the way it is.

ZAHN: You're talking Washington-speak here. You mean they paid close attention to their talking points, what they rehearsed, no?

KOTECKI: Yes. I mean, I think they certainly would have practiced for this debate just as much as they could practice for any other.

And my hope is that they -- these -- some of these questions would be a little bit more offbeat and catch them off guard in a sense. The most -- the time that that happened the most, I think, was when Senator Edwards, as you just played that clip, was asked not only a question about gay marriage, but a follow-up question, because the reverend who asked that question in a video was sitting in the audience.

And when the citizens get to ask not just the questions, but the follow-up questions, I think we begin to take real ownership of the Democratic process. And I think we saw that starting last night.

ZAHN: Yes. They might rub out some journalists' jobs in the process.

James Kotecki, thanks so much.


ZAHN: Mary Matthews, Jen Weidenbaum, thank you.

An issue that makes just about every voter explode is wasteful government spending. You are not going to believe this one. We're about to show you a $300 million cost overrun, and it is your money. It's right in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.

Then a little bit later on, a TV show that is causing so much outrage, it's changed its name even before it gets on the air.

We're also bringing a shocking secret about dating Web sites out in the open. Is a sexual predator using one of them to get at your children? We want you to pay close attention to this one, too. It is important.


ZAHN: We parents do everything we can do to protect our children from Internet predators. But they may be lurking in a place you never, ever imagined. We're going to bring that out in the open in just a little bit.

When you think about government waste, things like a $200 million bridge to nowhere in Alaska come to mind. But listen to this one. It is a project that began in the year 2000, and was supposed to be finished three years ago. Its current cost is $600 million, more than double the original budget. And would you believe all this tax money is going into a project right in Congress' backyard?

Andrea Koppel reports tonight on the congressional money pit.


ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a city filled with monuments...

(on camera): So, it is a nice view from up here.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Yes. Welcome to the United States Capitol's own boondoggle.

KOPPEL (voice-over): ... lawmakers say the project to build a Visitor Center underneath the east front of the Capitol, so as not to block the view, has been a monumental headache.

REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: It is government ineptitude at its finest. It is the poster child for everything that is wrong with government.

KOPPEL: Here, amidst the 580,000 square feet of subterranean space, larger than the Capitol itself and big enough to accommodate 5,000 people a day, are congressional hearing rooms for the House and Senate, two orientation theaters, and a one-of-a-kind exhibition hall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here is the stone and then the glass.

KOPPEL: Designed to reflect the grandeur of historic buildings nearby, there are massive skylights with views of the Capitol dome and a great hall with ceilings 35 feet high. That's a far cry from the project's original, more modest goal. Back in 1999, former Speaker Dennis Hastert promised quick work on a facility to give visitors a safe place to wait before touring the Capitol, the price tag, $265 million.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We hope that it would be completed by, I think, the year 2002?



HASTERT: We have a difference of opinion here. We hope it gets done pretty quick.


KOPPEL: But, today, three years behind schedule, the cost has more than doubled to close to $600 million.

What happened? According to Tom Fontana, the project's spokesman, two unexpected events: the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and the anthrax scare on Capitol Hill, which forced costly security upgrades, special electrical and filtration systems. It also prompted lawmakers to demand additional secure office space.

TOM FONTANA, CAPITOL VISITOR CENTER PROJECT SPOKESPERSON: No one asks, who is to blame for that? You say, OK, our world has changed dramatically. We have got these changes that we could do either down the road or now. Let's do them now.

KOPPEL: But some are blaming this man, Alan Hantman, the architect of the Capitol, who, until he retired in February, managed the project. SEN. WAYNE ALLARD (R), COLORADO: I think we would have been much better if we had somebody manage this who really knew about construction projects.

KOPPEL: Hantman's old office didn't return our calls, but, in an interview CNN in 2004, Hantman said the add-ons slowed down construction.


ALAN HANTMAN, ARCHITECT OF THE CAPITOL: Trying to keep that train moving efficiently, keep that project on time, on budget is a very difficult thing to do, especially with the magnitude of changes that we have initiated over here.


KOPPEL: Now nearly complete, the Visitor Center is scheduled to open to the public in the fall of 2008, over budget, and four years late.

Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz heads up a committee that oversees the project.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The public will get a tremendous experience out of it, but will it have been worth $600 million? No.

KOPPEL: Andrea Koppel, CNN, Capitol Hill.


ZAHN: So, let's bring in our panel to debate this, Evan Coyne Maloney, a columnist for the conservative blog

Is your brain terminal with you this evening? I hope it is.



ZAHN: Please, we need your help tonight.

CNN contributor Roland Martin, and criminal defense attorney and TV host Lauren Lake.

So, when we consider that we have a $9 trillion budget deficit today -- and we are going to put some more numbers up on the screen to give you an idea of just how large the spending is here, $12 billion a year on Iraq -- is there any justification for spending $600 million on a visitor Center?

MALONEY: Well, this is emblematic of a much larger problem, that there is no structural disincentive for Congress to spend more money. And there is no respect for the fact that it is...

ZAHN: So, you think this is really lousy?

MALONEY: Well, it's -- yes, but it is a drop in the bucket. The fact is nothing prevents politicians from spending more money because they don't pay any consequences for spending more money. And that's the problem.

When the Republicans get in office, they end up looking like the Democrats after a few years. They all end up spending the same amount of money because they forget that it is our money. And we need to remind them of that.

ZAHN: So, you try to remind them of it. It doesn't seem to have any impact. What kind of consequences could you create that would hold down this kind of spending?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think first you have to fire people. And that is, from the congressional standpoint, who are the bureaucrats who are in charge of these various projects? But not just this here.

We reported earlier on "THE SITUATION ROOM" about sending out $1.1 billion to farmers who have been dead. OK? That money is gone. We're not getting it back. And so, somebody will say, well, we're trying to get our paperwork together. That's $1.1 billion. So, when we begin to cut programs, $200 million here, $300 million here, that's where the money went. And so it is about accountability.

And I understand Wasserman, Congresswoman Wasserman. But my issue with her is, if it said we're going finish the Capitol by 2004, and at the end 2004, did somebody say can we get a report on why it is not finished?



MARTIN: It is kind of basic.


ZAHN: Well, in addition to that, how about the conclusion that perhaps someone who was a construction expert might have overseen this, and when you go to cost overruns, you could figure out what kind of final cost you're going to end up with?


MARTIN: Right.

LAKE: This is where it gets crazy. And this is where the American people stop believing in their politicians.


ZAHN: OK. Before you go any further, let's put up a graphic on the screen that will absolutely reinforce what you're saying. LAKE: OK. OK. OK.

ZAHN: And this is the latest "New York Times" poll showing that the American people are fed up with Congress. Only 26 percent approve of the job they're doing.

LAKE: Yes. No one believes in them.

ZAHN: So, Roland says the only answer you have got here is to fire your representative.

LAKE: But the American people have to stop being so apathetic. The problem is, we stop believing in the Congress, so then everyone stops paying attention to them. They stop participating in the political process. We stop talking. We stop demanding. We stop challenging, and the next thing you know they are running around acting like they're Elvis and they need a big structure with marble and sandstone and bronze doors.

There are people here that have no health insurance. There are children with inferior books. What are we building this for?

MARTIN: And, Paula, I think we also must be very careful when we use phrases like this is a drop in a bucket; this is a small amount of money.

We allow people to get away with those kinds of phrases, yet I say...

ZAHN: But when you look at the deficit that we have right now, it really is a very small fraction.


MARTIN: No, no, no, it is a very small -- but when it is time for cuts to programs, you can point to, OK, sure, this $300 million over is a small amount, but, when you're about to cut $300 million from student loans, that's where the money could have come from. And so we have -- that's where accountability comes in.

And unfortunately you don't have a level of accountability by members of Congress, and then they won't own up to the issue. So, the question is, who gets fired?


ZAHN: You get the last word.

MALONEY: The size of government never seems to decrease. When Congress talks about cuts, what they actually mean is cutting the rate of growth. I would love to see real cuts. But it seems that, short of a revolution, we're never going to see Congress spend less money. We're never going to see the size of government actually shrink.


LAKE: We need a revolution, maybe.



ZAHN: You seem to be equally critical of Democrats as you are Republicans, even though you describe yourself as conservative.


MALONEY: They both end up being part of the problem. I liked the Republicans when they got in, in '94. But then they sold out all the principles that I believed in.

So, it is kind of hard to support them now.


MARTIN: And, also, Paula, real quick, it's very simple. The American public, they have to also stop their infatuation with pork as well. Maybe they should learn how to say no. But folks don't want to say it, because, well, hey, he's getting it. She's getting it. I might as well get it, too.

ZAHN: We need to pick different protein, don't we?



ZAHN: Evan Coyne Maloney, Lauren Lake, thanks.

Roland, stay right there. You're going to be back in a little bit.


ZAHN: A top new rookie is turning heads and making waves here in New York. No, she doesn't play for the Yankees or the Mets. She is the top new recruit for New York's finest, one of "People You Should Know." Meet her next.

And then a little bit later, a Web site inspires a TV show and a huge controversy. What is wrong with "Hot Ghetto Mess"? Well, we will let you decide for yourself when you see it.


ZAHN: Well, it is pretty obvious that no one becomes a police officer to get rich. And that's especially true in New York, one of most expensive cities in the country. In fact, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says the NYPD is facing a labor crisis, partly because of the low wages for rookie cops.

But one NYPD officer wasn't scared off by the low pay, even though she happens to be a Harvard graduate. Deborah Feyerick has tonight's person you should know.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York's finest has a new batch of officers.

OFFICER CHERYL WALTER, NYPD: A great task has been completed. And an even greater one remains.

FEYERICK: Among them is valedictorian Cheryl Walter, the cadet with the best combined academic and physical fitness scores in her class, who also happens to be a Harvard graduate with a master's degree in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

With all that education, many, including her own parents, pegged the Ivy Leaguer for a career with the FBI. But, after moving to the Big Apple, Walters said she decided the NYPD was where she wanted to be, even if that meant scraping by on a modest salary of $25,000 a year.

WALTER: Yes, a lot of my fellow students, my fellow graduates are making, you know, six figures. But I knew what I was getting into when I entered this field.

Hi, gentlemen.

FEYERICK: Walter, now a beat cop, walks the streets of the Bronx as part of the department's "Operation Impact," a program that floods the high crime neighborhoods with rookie officers on foot patrol. A mission that Walters says is right up her alley.

WALTERS: Believe it or not, I like to be on the street. I like to be moving at all times. I don't like office work at all and I like to not know what I'm going to do every day.

FEYERICK: Walter does hope to move up ranks, perhaps to detective, but she says her loyalty remains in New York.

WALTER: At this point I'm committed to the NYPD. I'm hoping to make a great career out of it.

FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: And we're counting on her to be a lifer in the force. You're not going to believe what's coming to your TV. This show wants to offend just about everyone.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't care what offends anybody because it is not responsible to what offends you.


ZAHN: Is this reinforcing some of the country's worst racial stereotypes? And why is BET, Black Entertainment Television, even putting this stuff on the air?

And a little later on, child predators looking for a date with you to get at your children. It is an important story you need to see, got a warning for you tonight.


ZAHN: Coming up in this half-hour, a warning that you really need to see. How are sex offenders routinely trying to get at your children now? By using something Websites you'd never expect. We'll explain.

Then coming up at the top of the hour, Lindsay Lohan's estranged father speaks out about his daughter's brand new arrest, one involving a felony charge, today -- cocaine possession.

So, what do you make of a Website that warns you if you're not completely appalled, then you haven't been paying attention? A Website devoted to show pictures and video of people, mostly Black, doing stupid offensive things. At the same time, the site says it is there to hold up a mirror to the Black community and quotes Martin Luther King saying, "nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

Well, tomorrow the TV spin-off of that Website has its premiere on BET and even before anyone has to see the show, it's causing outrage, as we hear now from entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas.


SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): BET's new show premiering Wednesday night wants to be called "Hot Ghetto Mess," but before it even hit the air, it has caused a firestorm of controversy. Without seeing the program, critics have blasted it, sponsors have yanked their ads and producers were forced to change its name.

LEATRICE JANINE, COLLEGE STUDENT: It's an unnecessary show and they need to stop it.

VARGAS: Twenty-five-year-old college student, Leatrice Janine and other critics base their complaints on the Website called HotGhettoMess, a site that showcases mostly African-Americans dressed in outrageous attire and engaged in behavior that all could be considered offensive, socially unacceptable, or just plain old embarrassing.

Like the Website, the half-hour show will be filled with images of people, Black and white, doing zany things, but producers promise a whole lot more.

JAM DONALDSON, CREATOR, HOTGETTOMESS.COM: We have man on the street interviews where we actually go into the communities and ask them everything from what do you feel about how Black women are portrayed in music videos to Black history facts.

VARGAS: In fact the show's creator, Jam Donaldson, says the show is less about criticism and more about self-examination.

DONALDSON: I get a ton of positive feedback of people who are anxious to see the show, who think it is time that, you know, BET put forward something so thought provoking and so sort of cutting edge.

VARGAS: But student Leatrice Janine isn't buying it. She thinks the show will do little more than perpetuate stereotypes and she's launched an on-line petition to can the show.

JANINE: BET was founded as Black Entertainment Television. That's the part they're seeming to forget, Black Entertainment Television. It is supposed to uplift and empower Black people.

VARGAS: And BET itself admits the hubbub caused advertisers to pull their ads from the show.

(on camera): BET president, Reginald Hudlin, says he expects advertisers decisions to pull their ads, but says critics are jumping to conclusions about a show that hasn't even aired.

REGINALD HUDLIN, PRES OF ENTERTAINMENT, BET NETWORKS: It's unfortunate that people have no qualms, taking a very strident stance on something they haven't seen.

VARGAS: Unlike the Website, producers say the show will include educational factoids and provide perspective and ample commentary to some of the images that could be deemed offensive, as a result of the controversy; the producers have changed the name of the program to "We got to do Better."

But, UCLA sociology professor, Darnell Hunt, who studies specializes in African-American images in primetime, says that BET must be careful its message is not lost in translation.

DARNELL HUNT, UCLA SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR: It is like a double edged sword. If they're genuine about wanting to say something important, then they still have to be really careful. If indeed they're just saying that to excuse the fact that they're trying to make a quick buck, then I think the chances of this doing damage are even higher.

VARGAS: Sibila Vargas, CNN, Hollywood.


ZAHN: Back with me now, CNN contributor, Roland Martin.

All right, so, a lot people, can see, they haven't seen it. But they think if the show tracks like the Website, there will be highly offensive stereotypic images of Black people and they're wondering where BET would buy into that? Why would they air something that makes Blacks look bad?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well again, there's been long criticism of BET and its programming in terms of videos and other kinds of shows. At the same time, you have people who are criticizing a show, a lot of people haven't seen it. No, most folks haven't seen it. I talked to a couple of folks, Greg Brachlen of the "Los Angeles Times," and our own Sibila Vargas, who saw it, and Greg wrote about it, I talked to Sibila before we came on the show, she said, look, a lot of things you see on the Website you don't see in the show. She did say they do have educational components there. So, it's difficult for me to listen to all of this outrage for a show you haven't seen. I say hold your powder until you see it.

ZAHN: So, you don't think it is fair. And yet, let's put up on the screen something that Jasmyne Cannick had to write about it. You know her.

MARTIN: Know her well.

ZAHN: You know her well. "Will be received, it won't matter if you're part of the upper-class black bourgeoisie or bourgeois, when your 13-year-old, Timmy, tunes in from white suburbia and won't matter if you don't even watch the show. Once there images are broadcast on national television, that's going to be the image of Black people for everyone everywhere. Are you ready?"

MARTIN: Yeah, but here is the other issue, though, BET also has another show called "Baldwin Gills" that showcases an upper income African-American neighborhood in the Los Angeles area that is complete opposite of what some people are describing. So, how can you say, well, BET, you're wrong, if you show this, but they don't offer praise if you show this particular show?

And so, again you have all of that. A lost this is because of perception of the historical views about Black Entertainment Television because people feel as if it should be a public affairs network, uplifting...

ZAHN: It should be empowering, it should promote positive images.

MARTIN: All of that. But you know what? If the people who believe that, if they really believe it, they need to watch it. That's what they need to do because when they had the...

ZAHN: You know what the ratings would be? Zip.

MARTIN: And that's precisely my point now. now, the other piece is you also have to acknowledge reality as only one major Black cable network in America. BET's in about 85 million home. I'm a commentator for TV-1 cable network, charter to adult African- Americans, 35 million. Only been around three years, but, again, African-Americans spend in excess of $4 billion a year on cable programming, yet there's only been one network. This is an issue of balance, what kind of images you actually see. Now Paula, I got to hold Black folks accountable, as well. Do you note No. 1 show in Black households? It was Flava Flav's show. Also, "I Love New York," a spin off of that show and also "Charm School."

ZAHN: All right, but for people don't watch with those shows. What's the problem you have with those shows?

MARTIN: Because those shows were stereotypical. They show Blacks folks and some Whites on the show in absolutely crazy, heinous, unconscionable behavior. Yet, African-Americans watched it. So, at some point, you can't sit here and complain about a show about how -- what kind of images, if you actually watch it. You can't, it's a double standard.

ZAHN: And we see that contradiction played out with White TV, too.

MARTIN: I got you, but obviously, the difference is, you know, Whites -- there are a number of shows they have, African-Americans say you only have one network. But the other piece is people are not criticizing VH1 for those shows, although it's a sister network of BET. So is there is also a double standard? Are we going to hold BET to a higher standard than VH1. I say if it's offensive, you criticize across the board. But the bottom line, wait until the show comes on before you begin to denigrate and say it should be taken off of the air when you haven't seen it. That makes no sense to me.

ZAHN: It's America, Roland. That's that we do.

MARTIN: But, will also hope the people who are outraged with this will also fight those cable systems and say, put the other Black cable networks on, give us more options than simply one. And so take your energy and channel it in that area. Don't just say what I don't like, also say what I do like and give them the equal praise, as well.

ZAHN: That's the harder part of the equation.

MARTIN: Well, because it's holding people accountable. A lot of these same folks don't want to be held accountable and so they call my radio show, trust me, I'll hold them accountable in a second and we should hold them accountable here, as well.

ZAHN: And you no he what I'm accountable for right now?


ZAHN: Commercial break.

MARTIN: I understand.

ZAHN: Someone's to pay for this.

MARTIN: That's right.

ZAHN: Bye, my friend. MARTIN: Check needs to clear.

ZAHN: Yeah, exactly. Millions of people go looking for dates online, but some of the men out there have an ulterior motive that is downright sick.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Online dating services make it easy for sexual predators to use their sites. They're candy stores for potential victimizations.

ZAHN: Coming up next, an Internet danger, how do you protect yourself and your kids?


ZAHN: The current Miss America was a star witness today in Washington at a Senate hearing on protecting children on the Internet. Lauren Nelson sat before senators and told them a chilling story about what happened to her when she was just 13 years old. She said it started when she and some friends were using an Internet chat room.


LAUREN NELSON, MISS AMERICA 2007: We were approached by a man who was older than us, and he asked us the question, ASL, which means age, sex, location. And we gave him the information willingly, not knowing any better. So, within an instant, he knew that we were girls, he knew we were females and he knew where we were in Oklahoma, which is ultimately enough information for him to track us down. Luckily that did not happen, but a week later, he sent inappropriate pictures of himself and then we alerted our parents and they alerted the proper authorities.


ZAHN: Well, Lauren Nelson happened to be one of the lucky ones. And tonight, I want to bring out in the open a frightening new tactic child abusers are using. As Allan Chernoff reports now, they're lurking on dating Websites, searching for women with young children.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Aloneandlooki396 is looking for love on He writes in his profile, "Life is so wonderful, I know I am not meant to spend it alone," adding he would like to meet a woman who has children.

What he doesn't reveal is that he's a convicted child molester. His real name is Michael Bradley, and five years ago he pled guilty to sodomizing a 15-year-old boy in Suffolk County, New York, and was sentenced to 10 years of probation, including a prohibition against socializing on the Internet.

When CNN went to the gas station Bradley owns to ask him what he was doing on, his daughter Kim told us to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He does on in the want to speak to anybody right now. His lawyer has advised him to asked you to leave the premises. Please leave the premises, OK?

CHERNOFF (on camera): Is he here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, he is not. You can leave now.

CHERNOFF: Nor was Mr. Bradley at home. After getting anonymous complaints about Bradley's profile on, the child abuse prevention group Parents for Megan's Law set up a fictional profile, compassionate mom, a single parent of seven and 12-year-old boys. The group says it got a quick response after contacting Bradley through the site.

LAURA AHEARN, PARENTS FOR MEGAN'S LAW: Within hours he e-mailed back, wanting to set up a meet to have coffee or ice cream. Online dating services make it very easy for sexual predators to use their sites. They're candy stores for potential victimizations.

CHERNOFF: Suffolk County's probation office ordered Bradley off the dating site and confiscated his computer. Now, forensic investigators were analyzing the hard drive to deliver evidence in court that Bradley violated his probation.

DONNA VIGILANTE, FORENSIC INVESTIGATOR: We're finding more and more of our probationers online, using the Internet as a tool to, say, groom victims...

CHERNOFF:, which declined to speak on camera, says it quickly pulled Bradley's profile after receiving a complaint. "Member safety is and always will be our highest priority at," a spokesperson told CNN. It's not only dating sites that present opportunity for sex offenders. Thirty-three-year-old Michael Karis, last month, pled guilty to raping a 6-year-old girl in Ohio after meeting her mother through the social networking site He's been sentenced to 10-1/2 years in prison.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It makes me feel so guilty because I feel like I allowed it to happen.

CHERNOFF: Online dating site, which screens applicants, unlike most dating sites, including, says it has blocked 30,000 convicted felons and sex offenders so far this year.

HERB VEST, CEO, TRUE.COM: They'll go on and look for women with children, and particularly women with children that have photos of those children, so that the fantasy begins to build at that point.

CHERNOFF: Good reason for women looking for love on-line to be very cautious, and experts say, provide few details and no pictures of the kids when first meeting an on-line suitor.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, Suffolk County, New York.


ZAHN: Scary stuff.

We're going to move on, now. Actress, Lindsay Lohan, was arrested earlier this morning on five different charges including suspicion of DUI and possession of cocaine. Coming up at the top of the hour, her estranged father will join Larry King.

And coming up next, how is a CNN hero saving driver's big money with nothing more than an air pump. He'll tell us.


ZAHN: For this past year, we have been making a special effort to honor people who've turned their own vision for a better world into action and tonight I want you to meet a teenager who is trying to help all of us save billions, yes, billions of gallons of gas. Her name is Savanna Walters and she happens to be tonight's "CNN Hero".


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go ahead when you're ready.

SAVANNAH WALTERS, PUMPEMUP.COM: Yeah, I'm worried about the future because I don't want to live in a yucky world where there is no clean water to drink and no clean air to breathe. If we drill in the Arctic Refuge, we'll hurt lots of animals and people. It is just not fair. I'm Savannah Walters and I'm teaching people to pump up their tires to save the Arctic Refuge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was on a photo assignment in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ever since then I've been involved in environmental activism. One evening the phone rang and this little girl said I'm Savannah Rose Walters and I'm 9-years-old and my mom said I could call you.

WALTERS: He is the one that told me Americans waste millions of gallons of gas a day by driving on under inflated tires. I said well, why don't they just pump them up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, why don't you ask them to? And so she did.

WALTERS: I got permission to go and put tire gauges, flyers, and balloons on everybody's car in the local train station, explaining to people how they could pump up and check their tires.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My first reaction was why didn't I think of that? And I think that was only the beginning of her education of me.

WALTERS: Do you know how to check your tires? What you do is look for the PSI, and that's pound per square inch.


WALTERS: If you pump up your tires, your tires will last a lot longer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, good to know.



WALTERS: That's about right.


WALTERS: OK, you can keep the tire gauge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, I need to check this once a week?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Thank you very much.

WALTERS: Thank you very much.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Savannah Rose is doing what she's doing because she wants to do it and she understands that she needs to do it for things to get better.

WALTERS: It's just about protecting the planet and wanting to live in a clean world.


ZAHN: A lofty goal, and an admiral one, at that. A lot more about Savannah Walters and her project on

Just a few minutes away from LARRY KING LIVE, tonight. Lindsay Lohan's estranged father speaks out about her latest DUI arrest. And another felony charge she faces, coming up at the top of the hour.


ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Tomorrow night the incredible challenge of a man who has been locked away because he has an extremely dangerous drug resistant form of TB. Can any treatment help? An exclusive one-on-one you won't want to miss coming up tomorrow at 8:00 p.m.

And that wraps it up from all of us here. In meantime, have a great night and LARRY KING LIVE.