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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Treating America's Wounded Warriors; Mortgage Mess
Aired July 25, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us tonight.
Has the U.S. military found a sneaky way to get rid of severely troubled veterans without picking up their medical expenses?
Can you believe it has been 35 years since comedian George Carlin was arrested for saying the seven words you can never say on TV? Why did it seem like just about everyone says them now?
And could it be your friends' fault that you're fat? There's some brand-new research that suggests obesity might be contagious.
I want to start off though tonight with the scandalous treatment of this country's wounded soldiers. About 27,000 American troops have been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. At least 3,100 of them have suffered serious injuries. We were all disgusted earlier this year at the disgraceful conditions that were exposed at the Army's Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.
It was so bad and so shocking that President Bush put together a blue-ribbon panel to look at ways to improve the treatment for all of our country's veterans.
That report is out today. And our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, has seen it.
So, Jamie, Bob Dole and Donna Shalala worked on this for months. How do they plan to fix this broken system?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Paula, there's a lot of focus on peeling paint and substandard conditions at Walter Reed.
But the real problem facing soldiers was the bureaucracy and particularly getting the treatment, getting qualified for the treatment that they needed. So the commission has tried to keep it simple. They have come up with just six recommendations that they say will make a big difference, everything from creating recovery plans, to restructuring the disability system, aggressively treating post- traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries, strengthening the family support, moving information back and forth between the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration at a much faster clip, and also -- this is interesting -- keeping Walter Reed open and fully staffed until it's scheduled to close in 2011.
That's a little bit of a vote of confidence in Walter Reed. ZAHN: But all of those solutions are going to take some time to put into effect. So, what is it that's most urgently needed on their list of six recommendations?
The biggest complaint you hear from soldiers is that they can't get the disability rating that they need to get the treatment that they need. We hear that over and over again.
So, one of the big things they're talking about doing is the second recommendation, which is transferring from the Pentagon to the Veterans Administration the authority to give those disability ratings. That's under the reconfiguring the compensation system.
The other one is treating those traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress syndrome much more aggressively, having a much more aggressive treatment. And they believe that's one of the big keys.
Now, one of the things that will happen here is the Pentagon, the military will simply decide if somebody is fit to go back into battle. And it will be just the Veterans Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, deciding whether they qualify for the benefits. And that will eliminate this complaint that a lot of soldiers had that they -- they couldn't get the disability rating from the military because they are using a different system from the Veterans Administration.
And a lot of people say that's the key, is getting them into the system, where the care, frankly, often is first-rate.
ZAHN: And it was a fitting day for the president of course to be part of a photo opportunity jogging with two wounded vets. What was his reaction to this proposal?
MCINTYRE: Well, first, he called these very interesting proposals, said they came from the patients' point of view. But he also said he was going to give these top priority.
And, after all, this was the commission he created, and he asked them for these recommendations. And they gave him some very simple ones. But they are simple to say. They're not necessarily so simple to do, so we will have to see how fast they really get implemented.
ZAHN: We will be watching that process with you.
Jamie McIntyre, thanks.
And, tonight, we're bringing yet a new aspect of the veterans health care scandal out in the open. Every day, military and other hospitals treat U.S. troops who come home with physical wounds from bombs or rockets, but the devastating psychological damage some of them suffer is a lot harder to identify and treat. Some wounded vets say the government isn't treating them at all; it is just throwing them away. And one of those vets was there for one of the war's most remarkable moment.
We asked Deborah Feyerick to bring us his story.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Army Specialist Jeans Cruz looked down into the foxhole when Saddam Hussein came out hands up.
SPECIALIST JEANS CRUZ, DISCHARGED SOLDIER: And we go in, and there he was (INAUDIBLE) a man that looked like a bum. He stunk in there.
FEYERICK: He received awards for courage, a big deal for a kid who grew up poor in the projects in Bronx, New York.
(on camera): They gave you parades. They gave you proclamations. They gave you awards. I mean, you were a hero. Do you feel as if you are a hero?
CRUZ: A hero, I consider a person who is out there and dies right now...
CRUZ: ... because he died for his country. I didn't die. Physically and mentally, I died, but I'm here.
FEYERICK (voice-over): Back home with his parents and 4-year-old son, Cruz says he was getting panic attacks. He couldn't eat or sleep and was drinking heavily, haunted by images of dead children.
CRUZ: There was a lot of children I seen died and shot at. And I myself wounded several of them (INAUDIBLE) to die.
FEYERICK: Even though he was consumed by thoughts of suicide and self-mutilation, thoughts Army personnel knew about, the Army let him reenlist two weeks after he signed a paper agreeing he would not hurt himself or anyone else.
He sought help with a military counselor. But, when the problems didn't go away, the Army gave him an honorable discharge, citing what it claimed was a preexisting personality disorder, even though he says he had no history of any.
CRUZ: They're claim is that I have had past depression.
FEYERICK: Like some 22,000 others in all five branches of the military who were discharged with a personality disorder over the past six years, Cruz was denied all disability, medical and financial benefits.
Had the military diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress, a condition with many of the same symptoms, he would have received all benefits.
BRIDGET WILSON, ATTORNEY: I think it's one of the great disgraces of military medicine.
FEYERICK: Lawyer Bridget Wilson represents soldiers like Cruz.
WILSON: The real reason that personality disorder diagnoses are misused is expediency. It saves money. It saves time. It gets a problem out of my hair. It gets me a replacement fast.
LT. COL. ELSPETH RITCHIE, ARMY PSYCHIATRIST: I am not concerned about money. I am concerned about taking care of soldiers, and I'm also concerned about the readiness of the unit.
FEYERICK: Lieutenant Colonel Elspeth Ritchie is one of the Army's top military psychiatrists.
RITCHIE: If somebody meets a criteria of a longstanding maladaptive pattern of behavior that meets a criteria for a personality disorder, then that may be the appropriate separation.
FEYERICK: The military defines personality disorder as behavior that may be self-destructive, antisocial, or narcissistic.
RITCHIE: In a tight military unit, sometimes, these traits can cause problems both for the soldiers and their unit.
FEYERICK (on camera): So, you are confident in these diagnoses, however many there are?
RITCHIE: Ma'am, I think that we can always improve our processes. And one of the things that has happened after five years at war is that we are now re-looking at this process. I think that in some cases we may find that mistakes were made.
FEYERICK (voice-over): Iraqi veteran Jeff Peskoff worked at Fort Carson, meeting with soldiers about to leave the Army.
JEFF PESKOFF, FORMER MILITARY PAY CLERK: We saw three to four troops every day getting out on personality disorders. So, it kind of -- we started questioning that. That was really odd.
FEYERICK: Odd, he says, because some had received medals or Purple Hearts and served multiple combat tours.
PESKOFF: I talk to the troops, and they say to me, no, they just said, hey, I can get you out of the service within two weeks, and the VA will take care of you. Pretty much, that's the exact line that is being told over and over again to these troops.
FEYERICK: But, at hearings on Capitol Hill Wednesday, the head of the Veterans Affairs Committee said that was exactly what was not happening.
REP. BOB FILNER (D), CALIFORNIA: They were not given the full truth in their evaluations. They were lied to, in terms of the implications of this diagnosis.
FEYERICK: Aside from losing benefits, a personality disorder discharge can hurt a person's ability to get jobs or security clearance.
Retired Brigadier General Stephen Xenakis says there is no way to know if combat can trigger a personality disorder, but believes it's a diagnosis that should be used rarely.
BRIGADIER GENERAL STEPHEN XENAKIS (RET.), ARMY MEDICAL COMMAND: We recruited them with an open eye and then we sent them off. And I think we have a real responsibility to them.
FEYERICK: As for Jeans Cruz, the soldier who helped catch Saddam Hussein, after he was discharged, the Army froze his bank accounts, saying he had to pay back his $10,000 reenlistment bonus for failing to complete his second tour.
PESKOFF: So, if you ask anybody in my family or my friends that knew me before I went into the military, I'm not the same person.
FEYERICK: The Army says it's doing a review of about 6,000 personality disorder cases.
RITCHIE: We are committed to taking care of our soldiers. And, if there are cases that mistakes have been made, we want to know about it.
FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.
ZAHN: And with me now, Joshua Kors, who wrote a groundbreaking article about personality disorder discharges for "The Nation" magazine. He testified about those discharges before the House Veterans Affairs Committee today. Georg-Andreas Pogany is an investigator for a group called Veterans For America. He served in the military from 1996 to 2005, including some time in Iraq.
Good to see both of you.
So, Joshua, we explained that you broke this story a couple months ago. You testified today. Why was it so personally important to you to have members of Congress know what has happened to some vets like Jeans Cruz?
JOSHUA KORS, "THE NATION": Well, I think any citizen who has looked at what has happened over these recent years with the personality disorder discharge sees the situation as very simple.
The Army is taking wounded veterans, psychologically and physically wounded, and putting them out the side door without disability or medical benefits, with this preexisting condition.
In all of the cases I looked at in the 10 months I have been reporting on this story, these are soldiers who were deemed perfectly fit to enter the military, and deemed fit yet again in a second screening before being deployed to Iraq.
It's only when they come back from Iraq and are wounded and seek benefits that this preexisting condition is discovered. Today's hearings really highlighted that with a story of Specialist John Towne (ph), who was struck by a rocket in Iraq and lost a significant portion of his hearing.
The surgeon general of the Army, Gale Pollock, determined that he had lost his hearing due to this personality disorder.
ZAHN: That is just devastating to any of us hearing that for the first time.
And, Andrew, I guess all you have to do is look at some of the numbers and realize that there has been a pretty dramatic increase in the number of vets diagnosed with a personality disorder upon being discharged.
What are the consequences of that, beyond this one story that we have just heard Joshua tell?
GEORG-ANDREAS POGANY, VETERANS FOR AMERICA: Well, the consequences are that once a veteran or a service member is discharged with a personality disorder, it is deemed a preexisting condition.
Therefore, when that service member presents to the VA, or the Veterans Administration, for compensation or health care for their combat-related injuries, they are denied, because the VA does not take care of preexisting conditions. The VA will only treat you for service-connected injuries.
ZAHN: And what are your worst fears, Andrew, when that happens?
POGANY: Well, the worst fears is that, even though the service member has been discharged, the problem has not been addressed.
First of all, the service member exits with a false diagnosis, is being misdiagnosed. He doesn't have an understanding, a full understanding, of what the injury to the mind is, whether it is PTSD or potentially traumatic brain injury. So, therefore, he's unable to seek the proper care.
The second one is that once the service member is, for lack of a better term, downloaded back into the community and he's not able to get the proper care that he needs, well, the thing that will start happening is that service member will start draining the resources of that community or whatever communities that he's going back to. So the problem is being passed onto the community.
And it's really, really shameful that a medical diagnosis is being misused, that there is no accountability, the providers that are diagnosing this that are violating the DSM-IV, which is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, that outlines mental health diagnoses.
Just like Colonel Ritchie said, she talks about personality traits.
POGANY: The personality traits, just because you have a personality trait does not mean you have a personality disorder.
ZAHN: All right.
ZAHN: I, unfortunately, have got to move on, Andrew Pogany, Joshua Kors, to gain better insights into what that might all mean psychologically, appreciate your time tonight.
I want to the find out more about this now with Dr. Gail Saltz. She is an associate professor of psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
And she has treated people with personality and post-traumatic stress disorders and is the author of a book called "Anatomy of a Secret Life."
Good to have you back with us.
DR. GAIL SALTZ, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY, THE NEW YORK PRESBYTERIAN HOSPITAL WEILL-CORNELL SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Thank you.
ZAHN: We just heard Andrew describe the pain of so many of these veterans that are being discharged with this personality disorder diagnosis.
ZAHN: Help us understand what the difference is between that and post-traumatic stress disorder.
SALTZ: Well, I think first it's important to say they are not mutually exclusive. One can have a personality disorder and still get PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, because of a traumatic experience.
So, PTSD is, in this case, you go to war. You have a traumatic experience that is beyond normal experience. You feel like you are going to die. You see someone die. And it changes. After the course of a month basically of symptoms, you can have this diagnosis.
It consists of being very aroused. Your sleep is disruptive. You have nightmares about the event. You have intrusive thoughts about the event. You avoid certain things because of it. You can become very irritable, angry, withdrawn, which is different from a personality disorder.
Now, there are many personality disorders. It's interesting that the military only talks about a few, because there are quite a few.
(CROSSTALK) ZAHN: Are you willing to let the government off the hook here, or do you think they really are, as Joshua testified today, purposefully changing the diagnosis, so they don't have to pay health benefits, where they say, hey, you have a preexisting condition; yes, you passed these tests to get in the military; you passed two of them?
SALTZ: Right. Right.
You have to be in the room and actually evaluate that person to be able to say, hey, do they really have a personality disorder? And, by the way, on top of that, do they have PTSD?
What I could say is this. Many, many soldiers will develop PTSD. We simply know that. We know they have come home from Vietnam that way, from World War II that way. It always is the case that they come home that way.
ZAHN: But they didn't necessarily have a personality disorder going into the military?
SALTZ: They may have or they may not have. Many people have personality disorders, and they are highly functional, even with a personality disorder, even if they need treatment.
ZAHN: So, is it possible you would have passed two of these government screening tests with a preexisting personality disorder and not have it caught?
SALTZ: Yes. Is it possible? It's possible if it was operating at a low level.
But what I'm trying to explain is, you take any human being and you tax their psyche to the degree that you do when you send them to war, and you are going to have psychiatric fallout. And it is our responsibility, I think, if we're going to send people off into that situation, to be responsible for their care.
The American Psychoanalytic just came out with a statement today. We must step up to the plate as a country and stop stigmatizing mental health issues. We need to step up and say we're responsible for these people if we have sent them out there, and we're responsible for their families, because it affects the spouse at home and the children as well.
ZAHN: So, you think this is disgraceful on the government's part?
SALTZ: If this is what's happening, clearly, it is.
ZAHN: Dr. Saltz, thank you so. We learned a lot.
A couple of minutes ago, we showed you pictures of President Bush jogging with a couple of war amputees today. It turns out the president is also racing the late Richard Nixon for probably one of the most dubious spots in presidential history. What record is he close to breaking? Stay with us. We will show you.
Also tonight, some dramatic evidence of the mortgage crisis all over the country. Is your city worse than this?
Plus, the seven words comedian George Carlin got arrested for using 35 years ago, are you going to hear them tonight?
I don't know, Dr. Saltz. I'm not saying them.
And are they just as bad now?
We will be right back.
ZAHN: Tonight, President Bush is on the verge of becoming the most unpopular president in the history of opinion polls.
"The Washington Post" tallied up the damage today. Its latest poll shows that 65 percent of Americans disapprove of how the president is doing his job. that matches his own all-time low, which he hit in May of last year and again this January.
Now look at some of the company he's keeping. Only Richard Nixon hit a lower mark. That is 66 percent. And that came four days before he resigned because of the Watergate scandal in 1974. President Bush ties Harry Truman, who hit a low of 65 percent in 1952. And the current president comes out worse than his own father, whose worse disapproval rating sat at 64 percent. That's three months before he lost his reelection bid.
So, just how unpopular is he now? And how will history judge him?
Joining me now, Democratic strategist Kiki McLean, a former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, CNN contributor Roland Martin.
I could say a lot whole more about you, but, frankly, night after night, I'm sick of repeating your resume.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Four or five titles.
ZAHN: Yes. OK. I can never tell which one is your favorite title.
ZAHN: And Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus. Welcome to you all.
ZAHN: I want to start with you, Kiki, by putting back up on the screen some of these statistics that we can all absorb together.
Well, I guess we are not going to have them, so I will read them to you.
ZAHN: But, right after 9/11, at the start of the war in Iraq, his approval ratings rested at 86 percent. They have dropped to some 33 percent today.
Now, we know, obviously, he has presided over a very unpopular war. What else is fueling the anger?
KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the -- the what else is the lack of anything else. This is a president who is going to end an eight-year tenure with no accomplishments, Paula.
Even Richard Nixon had China. He made groundbreaking forward progress in the areas of the environment with clean air and clean environment.
You look at somebody like LBJ, who had horrific negative ratings because of the Vietnam War, but he passed civil rights. You know, the two things that George Bush might try to point to just, you know, turned to horrible mud after he dealt with them. And that was No Child Left Behind, which the general consensus is a complete disaster. Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit, which ended up costing wildly -- millions, hundreds of millions of dollars more than they had planned to do.
So, the fact of the matter is, he not only ends with having made really bad judgments and bad decisions. He ends with no accomplishments.
MCLEAN: But, ultimately, his decisions have long-term consequences for this country.
ZAHN: All right.
So, Kiki is saying he has accomplished nothing.
But there are a lot of people out there that say, hey, wait a minute. There hasn't been a second terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and look how strong the U.S. economy is today. Are you willing to give him credit for that?
MARTIN: Not necessarily, because I will compare him to his father. His father had strong opinion poll ratings coming out of the Iraq war after what took place in terms of Iraq invading Kuwait. Yet, we were also mired in a recession. That also is what also determined his fate. A president is determined by the big-ticket items, the large items.
Kiki is right. When you go back to Nixon, go back to Ford, Ford's biggest issue had to be putting America back together after Nixon, his biggest criticism, pardoning Richard Nixon. So, when you go to LBJ, Kennedy, Ike, and keep going back, it's all a matter about the large items.
This president has not had any major accomplishments. And some folks have said, hey, his legacy might be in terms of his commitment to Africa. That's not considered a major priority, unfortunately, in terms of how we measure the legacies of a president.
ZAHN: And, Cheri, will this president ever be able to get out in front of this legacy of this Iraq war, perhaps one of the most unpopular wars this country has ever waged?
CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think, first of all, we can't really draw parallels between this president and Richard Nixon. There just aren't any.
I think, to be accurate, you have to look at the poll numbers of this Congress. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid leading a Democratic Congress, and their numbers are, in some cases, lower than the president's.
ZAHN: I know. But you still didn't answer the question, specifically about the war, Cheri.
JACOBUS: Specifically about the war, look, you have to look at what Truman went through. You have to look at what Abraham Lincoln went through, wildly unpopular at the time, but, in the end, it showed that they did the right thing for their country. And, in this case, this president isn't paying attention to the polls. And he shouldn't.
JACOBUS: I think history will be very, very good to him in the long run.
ZAHN: You are saying at the end of the day what is happening in Iraq will be a success, that you believe that there will be a government that is independent and able to rule?
JACOBUS: I think that we have no choice but to do all we can to be successful there, and this president is doing that. And as you said, Paula, we have not been attacked on our soil since 9/11. That's a very, very big deal. And I think it's very disappointing that the other two guests seem to be minimizing that, plus the fact that we have a very, very strong economy. (CROSSTALK)
ZAHN: Kiki, hang on.
ZAHN: Guys, I have got to move on.
But I can give you, Kiki, 10 seconds, and then we will let Roland finish up.
MCLEAN: He is now engaged in leadership by defiance, defying his peers who lead other countries around the world and defying the people he serves. That's the kind of leadership he's now engaged in and that's the kind of legacy he's going to have.
MARTIN: The president's poll numbers are also low because it comes down to integrity and credibility. And so when people begin to see why we went into the war, and the actual rationale behind it, that's where he also lost credibility.
That's how you can tie him to Nixon. It's a matter of integrity and credibility. And, frankly, he's lost it.
JACOBUS: You can't tie him to Nixon at all.
MARTIN: Yes, you can, Cheri.
JACOBUS: There are no parallels ever. You can't.
ZAHN: Roland, you just went six seconds over. I'm taking that out of your next segment.
MARTIN: Not a problem.
ZAHN: Kiki McLean, Cheri Jacobus, thanks.
Roland Martin, stay right there.
ZAHN: We will be checking back with you in a minute, even though you just got a very slight demerit there.
On Capitol Hill today, a scary warning about a national crisis. We have been watching it very closely for a while, and it is only getting worse. How many people could lose their homes? And could it happen to you?
Also coming up, the words that once got comedian George Carlin arrested, you think your kids don't hear them every day in the schoolyard?
We will be back.
ZAHN: It's a real scary time for American homeowners out there. Home values keep falling. Sales are dropping, and foreclosure rates are skyrocketing all at the same time. And, this week, the largest mortgage lender in the United States, Countrywide Financial, says its profits took a hit in the last three months because people with good credit are falling behind on payments.
There is another troubling sign, too, in the housing market. In the last three months alone, foreclosures reached a record high in California, rising almost 800 percent over the same period last year, California just one example.
Our Dan Lothian has been following the fate of a desolate neighborhood in Cleveland that has been devastated by this mortgage mess.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Cleveland, Ohio, is drowning in a sea of bad loans and foreclosures.
And Audrey Sweet and other residents like her are fighting to keep their heads above water.
(on camera): Kind of at the peak of your problem, what were you facing?
AUDREY SWEET, CLEVELAND HOMEOWNER: We had no money left at the end of the month.
LOTHIAN: How close did you come to losing your home?
SWEET: Very close. Actually at one point we were sent papers.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): Sweet told her story on Capitol Hill, how a lender overstated her income and savings to profit from her home loan two years ago.
SWEET: They knew that I couldn't afford it, but they made it appear that I could so that they could approve it.
LOTHIAN: Shady lending practices that cost many others in the Cleveland area their homes.
JAMES ROKAKIS, CUYAHOGA COUNTY TREASURER: We had 13,600 foreclosures last year in the county which is about 10,000 more than we had 10 years earlier. We're gong to do 17,000 this year.
LOTHIAN: We first reported on Cleveland's mortgage crisis earlier this year. Snow on the ground couldn't mask this ugly picture. Block after block of boarded up and abandoned homes. (on camera): These are all foreclosures?
ZACK REED, CLEVELAND, OH COUNCILMAN: That would be correct.
LOTHIAN: Well, this is the perfect storm.
(voice-over): Predatory lending practices, said councilman Zack Reed, a major factor. Lenders get borrowers into loans they can't afford, homeowners default, properties are abandoned, then thieves strip homes of anything valuable, like siding copper. Another blow to an already battered communities.
Back on Capitol Hill the Joint Economic Committee looking into this mess also heard from Barbara Anderson whose neighborhood was hit hard and whose home of more than 25 years was nearly taken away.
BARBARA ANDERSON, CLEVELAND HOMEOWNER: Being a victim of predatory lending penetrates your very heart and soul.
SEN CHARLES SCHUMER (D), JOINT ECONOMIC CMTE: The sub prime rate is leaving deep scars that threaten economic security nationwide.
LOTHIAN: It may be a crisis in Cleveland, but lawmakers say everyone should pay attention.
SEN SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Cleveland, to be sure, is the canary in the coal mine.
ROKAKIS: This is the beginning; it's going to get much worse.
LOTHIAN: Some say this problem was fueled by "unbridled greed" during a booming housing market. Now, many parts of the country are in a slump. That means people who can no longer afford their mortgages will have trouble selling their homes as a way to get out.
Dan Lothian, CNN, Washington.
ZAHN: Comedian George Carlin once got arrested for a routine listing the seven words you can never say on TV, but TV watchers these days are telling a different story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have the data, profanity has increased 100 percent over a six-year period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Coming up, are there any words left you can't say on TV? Is anything unspeakable anymore?
Also, is your best friend making you fat? You have to hear about this brand new medical study everybody's going to be talking about.
ZAHN: It's almost impossible to imagine seeing a standup comedian perform these days without hearing four-letter words. You may not like it, but it's pretty normal these days. And tonight, I want to note an important anniversary, an event that changed our culture.
Thirty-five years ago this month comedian George Carlin was arrested in Milwaukee for saying, on stage, what he called the seven words you can never say on TV. He says he wasn't trying to shock, he was pointing out the absurdity of singling out seven words among some 400,000 words in the English language. Words, as he joked, that are so outrageous they'll infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war.
Well, his routine, ultimately, was the focus of a Supreme Court case and a landmark ruling on freedom of speech. And tonight entertainment correspondent, Brooke Anderson shows us how some of those words are no longer taboo.
BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Comedian George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words You can't Say on Television" immediately became a show business legend.
CARLIN: Now that was the original list (BLEEP)
ANDERSON: A word for excretion.
ANDERSON: For urination.
ANDERSON: For having sex.
ANDERSON: For breasts.
CARLIN: (BLEEP) (BLEEP) (BLEEP)
ANDERSON: And three words still so radioactive we can't even describe them. In 1972 that unforgettable bit of standup stunned a Milwaukee audience which included some children.
ELMER LENZ, ARRESTING OFFICER: I heard this foul profane language. It really shocked me and I'm thinking, here my 7-year-old son is in the audience.
ANDERSON: Carlin was immediately arrested for disorderly conduct.
CARLIN: I didn't know they were, but it wouldn't have changed anything if had known there were children in the audience. In fact, children need to -- I think children need to hear those words the most because as yet they don't have the hang-ups. It's adults who are locked in to certain, you know, thought patterns.
ANDERSON: An unapologetic Carlin was released and the charges were dismissed. But then a New York radio station aired Carlin's follow-up act, "Filthy Words."
DAVID TILLOTSON, ATTORNEY: There was a complaint by a man supposedly driving with his 12-year-old son in the car when these words came pouring out over the radio...
ANDERSON: That complaint got to the Supreme Court which supported FCC regulation of profanity on the public airways. And it established which words were off limits.
CARLIN: I wanted a list because nobody gives you a list.
DR DEMENTO, RADIO HOST: There for the first time, you had kind of a quantification of what is obscene. That was something you could really put your finger on. It's all there. The nastiest words are all right there!
Anderson (on camera): that was then, this is now. A few words remain on the list remain explosive and rarely used. But others are no longer taboo and frequently used on that five letter word, cable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the (BLEEP) out.
ANDERSON (voice-over): HBO'S "Deadwood," original episodes of "The Suprano's"...
You want to be wearing this (BLEEP) on your head?
ANDERSON: And "Sex in the City" are rife with racy language.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I bet you have a beautiful (BLEEP), dear.
ANDERSON: In one episode, Comedy Central's "South Park" used the "S" word 162 times.
ERIC CARTMAN, SOUTHPARK: I said (BLEEP) on television.
ANDERSON: On cable TV, the subscription service not policed by the FCC, the way broadcast is. But barriers are also breaking down on broadcast TV.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to kick your (BLEEP).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Damn!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Language.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry.
ANDERSON: FOX's "Family Guy" even made fun of the FCC's regulations.
BRIAN, DOG ON FAMILY GUY (singing): ...they will make you take a tinkle when you want to take a (BLEEP)...
TIMOTHY WINTER, PARENTS TELEVISION COUNCIL: We actually log every instance of profanity on broadcast, so we have the data. Profanity has increased 100 percent over a six year period.
ANDERSON: Timothy Winter of the Parents Television Council says his group brings bad language to the FCC's attention.
WINTER: We've seen the "F" word used on live award shows.
CHER, SINGER: So, (BLEEP).
ANDERSON: That was Cher at the 2002 Billboard Music Awards. While U2's Bono used the same "F" word at the 2003 Golden Globes.
BONO, U2: I was really, really (BLEEP).
ANDERSON: The FCC ruled the incidents were indecent, but an appeals court recently overturned that decision, possibly weakening government power over language on the airways.
CARLIN: Filthy, foul...
ANDERSON: Thirty-five years after the "Seven Dirty Words You can't Say on Television," the debate George Carlin triggered, is far from over.
Brooke Anderson, CNN, New York.
ZAHN: So, is it time to list the taboo on "Seven Dirty Words?" Joining me now are two professional talkers. I don't think any of these have uttered these words, at least not in my presence.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: On the air.
JOE MADISON, WOL RADIO: Oh really?
CNN contributor Roland Martin -- well, you guys are so respectful of me, you'd never use those words around me, and Joe Madison.
MADISON: I sometimes wish I could.
ZAHN: Oh! And we're not going to tell which of the seven he's talking about. Joe Madison is a radio talk show host at Washington...
MADISON: It doesn't make any difference. ZAHN: ...WOL Radio. And you guys are all competing with my SpongeBob recording on my phone. Sorry, I forgot to turn that off before I came on the air.
MARTIN: Damn it, Paula.
ZAHN: The fact is -- oh, he just used the "D" word.
MARTIN: Just trying to get us into it.
ZAHN: So Joe, the truth is our children today are exposed to this language on the Internet and we can't, you know, be parenting everything they listen to during the day. They're hearing it on the playground, they're hearing it in music. Is it realistic to think that an overall ban would ever work?
MADISON: No. And you know, it's funny, I was sitting in the green room with a Republican strategist who saying: You know, you really cannot legislate morality, and I said wow, that is out of characteristic of someone who in the last 12 years did just that, got into our bedrooms and with all other kinds of legislative issues.
Look, the reality is that if you don't want your children to see violence, like on "The Soprano's," what do parents do know. They send them to their room and then they get a violent X-Box game. They're going to hear it. I heard language just walking up to the CNN headquarters today, coming out of cars, that people with CDs. No, you cannot do it. The reality is it may be indecent, but there are too many means of communication. Thirty-five years ago, three networks and maybe an AM dial, and most people didn't even know what FM was.
ZAHN: All right, so given what Joe has just said, Roland, who are we really protecting, here? And are we fooling ourselves?
MARTIN: Well first of all. No, we're not fooling ourselves because you obviously can't legislate all words. I think what you establish is a base foundation. Remember the basis...
ZAHN: But based foundation on certain mediums.
MARTIN: Right, well here's the issue, though. When Joe talked about "The Soprano's," that's HBO, that's a paid channel. The issue for a lot of parent's today is that cable television, basic, all of a sudden has lowered the standards.
For instance, I'm watching Comedy Central and I'm watching a show, they bleep the "B" word, but allow the "N" word. So I'm sitting -- so, obviously, somebody made a decision that that was accepted by them.
But also, let's go back to original case. There was a parent who was in a car, listening to a show, and that's why he objected. And so there's an expectation that if I'm going to a comedy show, I know what I'm going to get. I expect that. But it's different if I'm listening to a radio and all of a sudden I hear something, that wasn't the expectation. I think you can't have a base -- like we were saying earlier, look, my mom's watching right now, my dad's watching. There are some words that you know...
MARTIN: You just said the "D" word in front of them.
MARTIN: Oh, not to -- my mom tells me a curse too much, and I say, "Ah hell, mom, it's OK." But -- I tell my mom, all the time. But there are some words you're not going to use in front of your mom and your dad. It's a matter of respect. And so, I think to have a base level, I think is good.
ZAHN: And Joe, a final thought on what this says about our culture and you got to do it kind of quickly.
MADISON: Well, I'm going to do it real quick. You know, we have children who are seeing war. War is obscene, far more obscene than those seven words and we don't seem to have a problem with our kids seeing the destruction of war, do we?
MARTIN: Oh, and Joe, I understand that, but again, I think you can't have...
ZAHN: What are you saying, ban images of war on cable TV and network...
MADISON: No, war is obsolete, not these words.
MARTIN: ...you know what? Hey guess what? You see people, we're all human beings, we look at our own bodies, but you also have standards in terms of whether you want to see somebody nude or not. It's all a having -- matter of having a foundation, that's what it's about. Simple as that.
ZAHN: Gentlemen, go to leave it there. Roland Martin, Joe Madison.
MARTIN: That's right Joe, you go too long, I'll cuss you out.
ZAHN: You ought to heard him, he's in big trouble with mom and dad. They are going to wash his mouth out with soap, tonight.
I cannot believe you used the "H" word and the "D" word right here on cable TV.
MARTIN: Oh, it's a segment.
ZAHN: We're going to switch gears right now, this one, I got to really change my tone for, because we got to change our focus quite dramatically. This is really a story that's going to make you sick. The court recently let an accused child rapist go free on a technicality that some say is absolutely outrageous. Here's a hint...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: Does he speak English?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
TUCHMAN: And does he speak pretty good English?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: All right, so what is going on here? Why did this guy get off? Where is he now? You've to see this next story to believe what happened.
Then a little bit later on, a news study says obesity can spread like an infectious disease, so can you catch it from your friends?
ZAHN: There is a lot of outrage tonight in a Maryland community where a man suspected of raping and molesting children is free. He was released because the courts couldn't line up an interpreter who speaks the suspect's obscure African language. A judge said years of delays had violated the accused man's right to a speedy trial. But here's what's really stunning. CNN found an interpreter with just a couple of phone calls. Gary Tuchman's been digging into this story and he joins me now.
That's got to be quite a blow to legal officials to hear how quickly we were able to track down an interpreter. What else did you learn?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Paula, it really is some story. In the realm of stunning legal stories, this is one of the more stunning.
A Liberian immigrant accused of very disturbing sex crimes against two of his own relatives, two little girls, has seen his charges dropped, not because the case was weak, but because of a bizarre technicality.
Mahamu Kanneh lives in Washington suburb of Rockville, Maryland. After being charged with raping and molesting a 7-year-old girl and molesting a 1-1/2-year-old girl, the charges have been dropped because a court clerk was unable to find an interpreter fluent to the suspect's native tongue who could stay the course of a trial.
Now, as you might imagine, prosecutors are aghast at the judge's decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MCCARTHY, MONTGOMERY COUNTY STATE'S ATTORNEY: The bottom line is that any delays caused by the attempt to find an appropriate and qualified interpreter is not attributable to the prosecution and legally was the responsibility of the courts and should not serve as the basis for dismissing the charges against the defendant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: Judge Katherine Savage disagreed, saying from the bench: "This is one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in a long time." She said the suspect's right to a speedy trial has been violated. The case has been going on about 2-1/2 years. Interestingly, as you said, Paula, it took our CNN producer about 2- 1/2 hours to locate a Liberian native who lives 15 minutes away from the courthouse who speaks fluently Vai who says he would have interpreted if asked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would do anything, anything at all, this government asked me to do. I am their guest and I'm enjoying their hospitality and their kindness and their protection. I can't say, I'm not going to do this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: But was it necessary that he even have an interpreter? CNN has leaned that Kanneh graduated from one of the best high schools in Maryland, back in 2005, and to get your diploma in Montgomery County high schools, one has to pass four years of English. A source at the school says Kanneh did not even find it necessary to take the English as a Second Language course, that is offered.
In addition that, Paula, we talked with a neighbor of Kanneh, and he says that Kanneh speaks very good English. Back to you.
ZAHN: Boy, that's like getting whiplash, there. But, I guess the case isn't over, Gary, and you'll explain it a little bit later on at 10:00 at night, because there could be an appeal that would eventually lead to the reinstatement of this case, right?
TUCHMAN: That's exactly right, Paula.
ZAHN: Well, we will be tuned in for those later details at 10:00 p.m. Thank you so much.
Are you having trouble with your weight? Need an excuse why you're putting on pounds? We found one for you, tonight. Maybe you can blame your friends. Really. Wait until you hear what a brand new medical study has to say about that. It's next.
ZAHN: Did you know fat is contagious? It turns out that if your friends are fat, you are more likely to become fat, too. That is the provocative conclusion of a brand new study just out today. But how does it happen and why?
Medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen is here with tonight's "Vital Signs."
Can you answer either one of those questions for us, tonight?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I can certainly try, Paula.
This study, many people are calling it revolutionary because it takes a completely different look at why Americans are so often obese. Usually you think, oh, it's because we're couch potatoes or oh, it's because we have so much fast food, and that's definitely part of it. But what they found in this study is that you're more likely to be fat if your friends, if your social network is also fat, 57 percent more likely, in fact. That is indeed a large number. And it makes researchers think about, well, what about other people? Did they, perhaps, influence whether or not someone's obese.
Well, take a look at these numbers. Someone has 40 percent more likely to be heavy if a sibling or siblings were obese, that's much lower than 57 percent; 37 percent more likely to be obese if the spouse was obese.
In other words, when it comes to your body size, it appears that friends are more influential than sibling or a spouse.
ZAHN: But we also know family is pretty influential, too. There has been so much emphasis on the role the genes play in all of this. Does this study dilute any of that old stuff?
COHEN: You know, it doesn't really dilute it, it adds another factor. Genetics clearly play a role, that's absolutely true, but what this gets at, is that your friends sort of become your norm. If the people around you are heavy and you're, too, you might think, oh, I'm normal, I'm probably not that overweight, because everyone else around me looks like this.
As a friend of mine, who struggles with her weight said, look I like to go out and eat, so I hang out with other people who go out and eat. When we go out and eat these huge portions, we think that's normal because that's what everyone at the table is doing.
ZAHN: Well, Elizabeth Cohen, remind me, are you up to three children now, or four?
COHEN: Four children.
ZAHN: Four children. As a mother of four, it appears to me that you are hanging out with a lot of people who spend a lot of time at the gym.
COHEN: Oh, well you're very sweet. Thank you.
ZAHN: All right, Elizabeth thanks. That was really interesting.
We're just minutes away from the top of the hour, and LARRY KING LIVE, tonight, shark attacks and -- oh, scary -- an amazing getaways. You won't want to miss this. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here, tonight. Tomorrow night NFL star Michael Vick faces arraignment over dogfighting allegations. We're going to take you inside the secret world of dogfighting, tomorrow night.
In the meantime, stay tuned for LARRY KING LIVE. He focuses in on shark attacks. We've heard about some pretty stunning ones and actually seen them play out on camera, lately. You're going to see some of that, as well as, other strange getaway vacations.
Again, thanks so much for joining us tonight. We hope you have a really good night. Until tomorrow night, here's LARRY KING LIVE.
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