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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Obama Fights Back Against Flip-Flop Charge; Obama Children on Camera

Aired July 8, 2008 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Barack Obama fighting back against those who claim he's moving to the center, striking back at the left and the right, insisting he's not changing positions on Iraq, domestic intelligence, or anything. If you think he has, he says, you haven't been paying attention. The latest on Obama's progressive pushback, the search for a vice president, and John McCain's pushback on an Iraq withdrawal.
Also, Obama's kids, their first interview. It's America's first look at the entire family. Hear what his two young daughters think of their dad and mom being in the spotlight 24/7. We will also look at why Obama is putting his kids on camera now.

And a dad in court charged with murdering his own daughter, accused of acting a deadly tradition from his native country, honor killings. Did he actually take his own daughter's life just to save face? And how common is honor killing in America? We will investigate in "Crime and Punishment" tonight.

But we begin tonight with Barack Obama's counterattack, insisting he's not moving to the center. His strongest words yet, trying to bury the notion before it spreads that he's just another politician who shifts with the wind. That's how the Republicans and even some liberals are painting him, most recently after his several news conferences last week on getting out of Iraq.

Today, Obama struck back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This whole notion that I am, you know, shifting to the center or that I'm flip- flopping or this, that or the other, the people who say this apparently haven't been listening to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This whole notion that I am, you know, shifting to the center or that I'm flip- flopping or this, that, or the other, you know, the people who say this apparently haven't been listening to me.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) OBAMA: And I have to say, some of it are my friends on the left, and the -- and some of the media. I am somebody who is no doubt progressive.

I believe in a tax code that we need to make more fair. I believe in universal health care. I believe in making college affordable. I believe in paying our teachers more money. I believe in early childhood education. I believe in a whole lot of things that make me progressive and squarely in the Democratic camp.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That's not all he said today.

Here with the details, some late reaction, CNN's Jessica Yellin.

Obama's obviously aggressively attacking this notion that, not just that he's moving to the center, but also that he's a flip- flopper.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is, Anderson, but for good reason. The flip-flopper label has derailed Democratic candidates in the past.

Take, for example, John Kerry four years ago. So, look, the Obama folks believe the flip-flop charge is driven by the McCain campaign and that the media is just picking up on it. In fact, the one thing that Obama's own supporters are really attacking him for is his reversal on FISA, the warrantless wiretapping law that he once promised to oppose.

His own supporters are so upset that 23,000 of them signed an Internet petition sort of on Obama's site asking him to go back to his original position.

So, yes, the McCain campaign is definitely pushing this storyline, but you can't say it's media-generated or McCain-generated, because even that sound bite you just played, that was in response to a voter asking Obama if he's changing positions. So, clearly, it's in voters' minds, too -- Anderson.

COOPER: A lot of this, Jessica, especially this week and at the end of last week that that his position on Iraq had shifted. He tried to clarify that again today.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: When I hear John McCain saying we can't surrender, we can't wave the white flag. Nobody's talking about surrender; we're talking about common sense. We cannot be there forever. We can't be there for 50 years. We can't afford it. Our military families can't bear that burden. We've got to get more troops in Afghanistan.

I am going to bring this to an end. So don't be confused. I will bring the Iraq war to a close when I'm president of the United States of America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Does the campaign feel they have put this issue on Iraq behind them?

YELLIN: Well, they know they stopped the bleeding last week, but they really need to sort of close the wounds now. They really have to go further than this. And it's tricky, because there's a real danger if Obama abandons his original promise to drawdown troops, he will never escape this flip-flop label.

On the other hand, a good commander in chief adapts to circumstances. So, he has to show some flexibility. The problem is, this one issue on Iraq comes with a litany of other issues he's being accused of flip-flopping on. And, so, what he really needs to do is find one issue where he says, I'm not changing in any way on this one issue, really emphasize that to show that he does stand his ground on certain points.

COOPER: Digging deeper now -- Jessica, thanks -- digging deeper on Obama's insistence he's not moving to the center, as well as new comments by John McCain on this second straight day of Iraqi leaders calling on Americans to set a timetable for getting out of Iraq, we're joined tonight by CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, Gloria Borger, also Carl Bernstein, CNN analyst and author of "A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton."

David, I asked you last night, is Obama moving to the center? You said, no doubt about it.

He says he is not.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he is.

I think, certainly, the positions that he's taken on abortion and on guns suggest to many voters, I think rightly so, that he's not an ideological man of the left. Yes, he has progressive -- he comes out of a progressive tradition, but any time you read anything by Barack Obama, say "Audacity of Hope," his book, it's very clear that he is a man who is a synthesizer. He takes most of his positions from the left, but there are some things in the center and indeed some on the right that he agrees with.

And when he comes out and talking about those, as he has in the last few days, one issue after another that sounded like they were putting him to the center, it sounded like he was cantering more toward the center, not that he was abandoning progressives, but that he was embracing the center, too. He was, if you like, a center-left candidate, not just a left candidate.

I happen to think this brouhaha will blow over, and he's better served by being what he truly believes in. And, on Iraq, you know, if anything, the Maliki statements and the Iraqi position statements over the last couple of days, as you just cited, saying we need to have some deadlines here on U.S. troop presence play into his hands and strengthen his position.

So, I don't think -- I think that we're into a lot of static at this time of the season. I don't think this is going to be very determinative over time. But it's interesting how sensitive he is to it.

COOPER: Carl, do tonight's comments satisfy those on the left who are worried that he is moving to the center?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, those on the left are never going to be totally satisfied.

First of all, he is a centrist, but he's a non-ideological candidate, unlike other candidates that we have seen. He paints himself as post-ideological. He appeals to Republicans on some issues, Democrats on others.

And, in terms of the war, he's always left himself room for exactly these circumstances. Jessica is absolutely right. Where he has changed what he said before, is on the FISA, on the question of wiretap authority, surveillance, et cetera, et cetera. That's what has gotten the left up the wall, because it's a basic constitutional issue.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But he's also changed himself on the question of public financing of campaigns. And he's done it because he knows now that he can raise a couple hundred million dollars pretty easily. And why would he disarm, given the fact that he could raise this kind of money?

I think the issue here is, what is John McCain going to do with this? And, in the general election, John McCain is running a character-based campaign. And if he can turn all of this into some sort of proof that Barack Obama is just another politician, that he can lower his altitude a little bit and say, he's very self-serving, he's all about winning, he's not about hope, he's just about winning, which is exactly what McCain is going to do, then it hurts him.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And some of the things that McCain intimated in a commercial today that he released, talking about Barack Obama's words.

BORGER: Certainly.

COOPER: David, let's talk a little bit about Iraq and McCain.

As we mentioned, yesterday, Iraq's prime minister said that any future agreement with the U.S. should include a timetable for withdrawal. I want to play McCain's reaction from a short time ago today. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: And since we are succeeding, then I am convinced, as I have said before, we can withdraw and withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable. I'm confident that's what the Prime Minister Maliki is talking about, because he's told me that over the many meetings we have had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: How does this hurt or help McCain or Obama?

GERGEN: Well, it -- listen, the Bush administration, as you well know, Anderson, and John McCain have been very firmly against any sort of deadlines on a U.S. troop presence.

And the Iraqis are clearly now feeling more secure because of the success we have had. They feel -- Maliki feels that he's got more control over the office. He doesn't feel as threatened personally. And they're beginning to assert their sovereignty. And it's quite inconvenient for Senator McCain, as well as for the president, for the Iraqis suddenly to say, hey, we -- you know that long-term agreement you wanted about your presence here? We don't want that. We want a short-term agreement. We would also like to have assertions of sovereignty. And, by the way, we would like to have a deadline for withdrawal of your troops.

All of that is very contrary to what John McCain has said that he wants and what the Bush administration stands for. But the withdrawal is exactly what -- a withdrawal deadline is exactly what the Democrats have been talking about all this time.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: McCain also went on to say that this is all domestic politics in Iraq, that these public comments are kind of jockeying for position.

We have got to take a short break. We're going to have more about this conversation.

Also, I'm live blogging. You can join our conversation online, our new Web site, AC360.com.

Up next, the veepstakes for McCain and Obama -- the latest on who is the running, who's out. Is Hillary Clinton still even a possibility?

Also, for the first time, Obama's little daughters speak, Sasha and Malia, their first interview and why their parents are taking the whole bunch public now.

And later, did a Pakistani man bring twisted notions of honor to America? Did he kill his daughter just to save face? She wanted out of an arranged marriage. And now authorities say it was an honor killing -- that and more when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Barack Obama campaigning today in Powder Springs, Georgia, trying to turn a red state blue this fall. The latest polling in Georgia shows him anywhere from 10 points behind to within the margin of error.

Also today, his campaign brought on yet another senior Clinton staffer. The question now, will Obama put her old boss on his ticket? And, if not her, then who?

Once again, here's CNN's Jessica Yellin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Barack Obama's list of V.P. options has gotten shorter. Virginia Senator Jim Webb and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland say they don't want the job. General Wesley Clark seems to have killed his chances when he said John McCain's military record doesn't qualify him to be president.

Obama still has plenty of options, but the choice is tricky. On the one hand, he has every reason to pick someone who will reinforce his message of change and bipartisanship, perhaps a woman, like Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Or Virginia's governor Tim Kaine, both Democrats in red states.

On the other hand, he could pick a running mate to beef up his foreign policy credentials, Senate Foreign Relations Chair Joseph Biden, one-time U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson. Both fit the bill. Or former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

The problem with these guys? They're Washington insiders, not the so-called change America's been looking for. The candidate isn't offering any clues.

OBAMA: The vice presidency is the most important decision that I will make before I'm president. And it's something that I take very seriously.

YELLIN: Some would bridge the gap. Senator Evan Bayh has foreign policy experience and red state appeal. He's from Indiana. Or Senator Ken Salazar could bring Colorado and the Hispanic vote. And, then, of course, there's Hillary Clinton.

Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We are going to look at McCain's options in a moment.

But let's dig deeper now on Obama's possible picks. I'm joined once again by CNN political analyst David Gergen, Gloria Borger, along with CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein.

David, what do you think? Obama is going to choose someone to shore up his vulnerability on national security or perceived vulnerability?

GERGEN: Anderson, I think he has got to make a choice. Is it Hillary Clinton? And then there's everybody else.

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: And this is not only the most important decision he's got to make, but the toughest he's got other make, because the pressure is now building from the Clinton side.

They -- I talked to one of the major fund-raisers for Hillary Clinton today. And he said, look, the stories have been running in "The Wall Street Journal" couple days the Clinton folks are coming to Denver looking either for a roll call or to raise hell.

And those are not good options for the Obama people. They have to conclude these negotiations with Senator Clinton, and conclude them in a happy way, before they get to Denver.

COOPER: Gloria, who do you think makes the most sense for Obama to pick?

BORGER: Well, just to follow up on David, I don't think it's going to be Hillary Clinton, because he would look weak if he gave into that kind of pressure.

He does have to settle with her campaign on whether she's going to call the roll at the convention. I think a couple of good folks are the B's, Biden and Bayh. Biden is older, but he does offer him that national security credibility. So, does Evan Bayh, also somebody with a lot of credibility on foreign policy, and, by the way, was a Hillary Clinton supporter. Indiana was a very important state for her.

And I think, if he were to choose a Clinton person, that might make some of those Clinton people happy.

COOPER: Carl, what are you hearing? Hillary Clinton?

BERNSTEIN: Today, I was amazed that somebody who really knows something about what's going on said to me that Hillary would be the nominee, if it weren't for Bill and the baggage he both brings to it, particularly since the campaign has ended, and his petulance and continued anger and kind of meltdown mode, and that they're moving away from Hillary, if they can help it.

But I think the names that are most under consideration, what Obama has to do, he and his people know is have somebody there that can, with the American people, say, that person can be the president, step into the job like that. And Biden and Nunn are the two names that you hear the most, particularly Biden, I think, right now. Biden could also be secretary of state. In that setup piece that Jessica did there, he was in Georgia. Georgia could be won if Nunn were on the ticket, perhaps, Sam Nunn, the former senator from Georgia.

But the Hillary situation is fascinating, because if he needs Hillary Clinton to win, he will pick her.

We are going to, in a little while, look at Hillary Clinton supporters and why so many of them seem so -- right now are not supporting Barack Obama. We are going to have with the panel next, who John McCain is looking at to be his vice president, including a couple surprises.

And, later, they are back on the trail together this week. But, as I said, are Hillary supporters buying the unity talk? New details on so-called Hillary holdouts.

And the Obama family, kids and all, together, on national television today for the first time. You will hear the interview -- tonight on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, John McCain's got a lineup of vice presidential choices, ranging from a billionaire New York mayor to a former Democratic running mate, to the woman who once ran Hewlett-Packard.

The details now on his choices from CNN's Jessica Yellin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): A number of governors seem to be in constant audition mode for the job, from the battleground state of Florida, Governor Charlie Crist, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, the youngest governor in the nation, and South Carolina's Mark Sanford, all strong social conservatives, would fill in a gap in McCain's resume.

Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty has all that. Plus, he's another swing state guy.

AMY WALTER, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "THE HOTLINE": He's a two-term governor, but he also has relationship with the evangelical community.

YELLIN: On the other hand, McCain, who has made no secret he's running on national security, could pick a number two who would beef up the ticket's economy credentials, former rival and business superstar Mitt Romney, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, or former Congressman Rob Portman.

The candidate's guiding philosophy?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think you have to be close friends, as much as you have to share principles and values, the goals, et cetera, but also the priorities. And I think the hardest things -- one of the most difficult aspects of...

YELLIN: Hmm. That doesn't really narrow it down much. Some wild card picks include independents like Joe Lieberman, a foreign policy ally, or New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Either would prove McCain's bipartisan credentials, but could alienate conservatives.

And the latest buzz, South Dakota Senator John Thune, who virtually screams of youth and vitality, qualities that could be a good match for the older McCain or could highlight his age.

Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let's dig deeper once again with David Gergen, Gloria Borger, and Carl Bernstein.

Gloria, last, "Politico" reported that Mitt Romney topped McCain's short list. But there was so much animosity there during the primaries. Is all forgiven? Does it just not matter?

BORGER: I think, as McCain said in Jessica's piece, they don't have to be close buddies. They have to have the same world view.

So, I do think Romney is on the short list. I was also told today by a good source that Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota has also made the cut to be on top of the -- or on the short list. Pawlenty is popular with evangelical conservatives. And that would help McCain with those base Republican voters.

COOPER: David, what do you make of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal? Newt Gingrich is lobbying hard for him. I think he called him the most transformational young governor in America. Does he bring enough to the ticket? He's 37 years old.

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: Well, it's a very long short list, isn't it?

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: And he is going to be in the mix, in part because he does have this vitality. He does have the youthfulness.

But I think that's very -- and he's clearly going to be a superstar in Republican ranks in the way he's going. But I just would be surprised. Going back to Carl Bernstein's analysis, which I thought was spot on about that Hillary Clinton situation, Carl emphasized how important it was for Barack Obama to have someone with experience and -- and stature.

And John McCain, not because he's inexperienced, but because of his age, needs someone who can step in. The country will accept that. And it does seem to me that points, even though he doesn't like him very much, toward Mitt Romney.

COOPER: Carl, what about Joe Lieberman? I mean, is that even...

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: I think that's a real long shot.

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: That's just poking the Democrats in the eyes.

And, look, I think there are two people that are really at the top of the short list. And I just talked to somebody on the phone before the show tonight. And that's Portman, former congressman who was head of the Office of Management and Budget, and Romney.

And Romney, I think, right now, is believed to have the edge, because McCain keeps thinking he has to move right. While Obama is being accused of moving to the center or is moving more to the center, McCain keeps going to this idea of he needs this Republican base.

In fact, George Bush beat McCain in 2000. And he could beat him again in 2008, George Bush could, if he keeps going to the right like this. I think that the problem -- the problem with Romney is to narrow the appeal to the base.

Gloria got something exactly right here, and about John McCain, if he is to win the presidency -- and the pros believe right now he's five, six, maybe seven points down, not that that means anything at this stage -- that he has got to demonstrate that he has the kind of character that he had in 2000. And that means not messing around with easy stuff and tricks like bringing in Bobby Jindal or whatever.

He needs to have somebody there who can be the president. He needs to not make remarks like he made today about, well, if we keep giving Iranians cigarettes, maybe we will kill them all, that reminds people of how his mouth sometimes goes in front of his head.

It's all a package. And, right, now his campaign is in trouble.

COOPER: And no more Teleprompters.

We are going to have to leave it there.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Carl Bernstein, David Gergen, Gloria Borger, good to have you on. Thanks.

Up next: She's out of the race, backing Senator Obama. We all know that. So, why do so many Hillary Clinton supporters still say they're not voting for him?

We will go up close. Also ahead, the Obama family like you haven't seen them, their young daughters on camera, speaking out for the first time.

But, first, tonight's "Beat 360": Britain's Prince Harry making a gesture during a football match.

Here's the caption from our staff winner, Brooke: "Prince Harry demonstrates his new gang sign."

Yes, that was kind of weak.

Think you can do better? And I'm pretty sure you can. Go to our new Web site, AC360.com, Click on the "Beat 360" link. Send us your entry. We will announce the winner at the end of the program tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: To anyone who voted for me and is now considering not voting or voting for Senator McCain, I strongly urge you to reconsider. I hope you will join me, I hope you will stand with me. I hope you will work as hard for Senator Obama as many of you did for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Is it just me or does it seem like that happened a long time ago? It was actually just 11 days ago in Unity, New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton officially throwing her support behind Obama and urging her supporters to join her.

Not all of her supporters, though, have come around. And, in fact, in the latest CNN/Opinion Research poll, nearly a third of Clinton supporters said they would stay home on Election Day, rather than vote for Obama. That's up from 22 percent in early June. Just over half, 54 percent, said they are planning to Obama. That's actually down from 60 percent in early June. Clinton supporters are cooling to John McCain as well. Just 10 percent said they would back him, down from 17 percent.

So, beyond those poll numbers, there's the cash factor. Clinton supporters, from rank-and-file Democrats to major donors, don't seem to be ponying up the money that the Obama campaign had hoped to see.

Up close tonight, why they're holding out. Here's 360's Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the picture of Democratic unity, they are scheduled for three fund-raisers together in New York this week. But when it comes to campaign cash, this political kumbaya might have its limits.

Some fund-raisers for Hillary Clinton are pressuring the Obama campaign to honor her policy positions and her campaign debt. They want her name placed in nomination at the Democratic Convention. And they are balking at writing checks for Obama.

LYNN FORESTER, MAJOR CLINTON DONOR: I certainly know there are lots of people who are withholding their money.

JOHNS: Businesswoman Lynn Forester launched a Web site bringing Clinton supporters together to pressure Obama. She is one of the so- called HillRaisers, who brought in at least $100,000 each to Clinton. She hasn't given money to Obama, and hasn't decided whether she will.

FORESTER: This is a hard decision for me personally, because, frankly, I don't like him. I feel like he is an elitist. I feel like he has not given me reason to trust him.

JOHNS (on camera): It's hard to say how many big donors might balk when it comes to Obama. Some political observers expect gushers of money by Election Day. But, if you were looking for early leading indicators that most of Clinton's deep-pocketed supporters are throwing open their wallets for the presumptive nominee, we're not seeing them.

(voice-over): The Center for Responsive Politics and "The Wall Street Journal" crunched the numbers from May, when Obama was wrapping up the primary. About 115 people who donated at least $1,000 to Senator Clinton were making their first big donations to Obama.

But here's the twist. Roughly the same number of former Clinton donors were making large donations to John McCain.

(on camera): So, what's the problem? Some say Obama is shifting positions. Some say Hillary Clinton should get a large role in both the convention and the fall campaign. And some of those die-hard Clinton supporters say they are angry because of the perceived sexism in the coverage of their candidate.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: So we need to address that issue, but we need to not take it out on Barack Obama, because it was not his fault.

JOHNS (voice-over): Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida spent the last two days in New York, talking to disaffected Clinton supporters. She says the answer is simple.

SCHULTZ: It's not unexpected that they count just automatically shift over to Obama, because they're not the typical Democratic supporters that just automatically shift over. They need to be wooed. They need to be, you know -- they need to be, um, won over.

JOHNS (on camera): Barack Obama needs to show them some love?

SCHULTZ: He does.

JOHNS (voice-over): The Obama campaign says it fully expects the Hill-raisers to come around and won't comment on the charges of sexism in the primary race. Needless to say, John McCain isn't exactly cooling his heels here. He's trying to lure Clinton supporters into his camp. He needs all the help he can get.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Just ahead, some high profile family time with the Obamas. The two little girls who have been mostly shielded from the spotlight stepped right into it and gave their first television interview. Hear what they have to say next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: For weeks we've been seeing Barack Obama attempting to reintroduce himself to the American public. In speeches, he's talked about patriotism, his faith and his family history. But until today, we never publicly met his family.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, Barack Obama let "Access Hollywood" interview his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, 10- year-old Malia and Sasha, who is 7. Considering it was "Access Hollywood," the questions weren't exactly hard-hitting, but that is most likely why they got the interview.

Nevertheless, given how both Obama and John McCain have tried to keep their kids out of the spotlight, the interview is rare and revealing. So here's the Obama family in their own words.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALIA OBAMA, DAUGHTER OF BARACK OBAMA: I read the "People" magazine and everything. And they always have those sections, you know, how much (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I was like, "Oh, Mommy, you're in this." Because I'd never seen Mommy in that.

MARIA MENOUNOS, "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD": Is it cool?

MALIA OBAMA: Pretty cool. I usually see people like Angelina Jolie.

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S WIFE: The real important people.

MALIA OBAMA: The real important people. No offense.

MICHELLE OBAMA: I've always loved clothes. He knows that. I think it's funny that he's involved in this fashion icon stuff, because these pants he's had for probably about ten years.

MALIA OBAMA: And that belt. That belt.

MICHELLE OBAMA: The belt's a little worn, actually, now that I look at it. And don't pan down to the shoes, because we talked about getting new shoes for him. So I think...

MENOUNOS: I don't know. I think they got you here. I mean, I don't want to jump on the bandwagon.

MICHELLE OBAMA: Just don't look too closely.

B. OBAMA: I'm baffled by this whole thing myself, because I hate to shop. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Again, the Obama family in their own words. What about the back story behind the interview? How it happened, why it happened, what kind of message a candidate hopes to convey when children are put in front of a camera.

CNN's Carol Costello reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was billed on "The Today Show" as an "Access Hollywood" exclusive.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, CO-HOST, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": The first interview with the entire Obama family.

Good morning to you, Maria. Congratulations.

MENOUNOS: Thank you, Meredith.

COSTELLO: It is unusual. There's a reason you rarely see the Obama kids' faces. The senator's campaign has asked news organizations not to take pictures of his kids, and they rarely do.

Example, this soccer game. News organizations shot Dad but not daughter Malia dribbling the ball.

But on "Access Hollywood," a show that touts actor Matthew McConnaughey's new baby and Christy Brinkley's lurid divorce, Obama's daughters took center stage.

MALIA OBAMA: "Mommy, you're in this." Because I'd never seen Mommy in that.

MENOUNOS: Is it cool?

MALIA OBAMA: Pretty cool, because I usually see people like Angelina Jolie.

MENOUNOS: Well, they didn't choose me, necessarily. They chose "Access Hollywood." My producer, Steve Forest (ph), worked really hard to get the interview with Michelle and the senator.

COSTELLO: Menounos, who also reports for "The Today Show" and "NBC Nightly News" -- and yes, she's the spokesperson for Pantene shampoo, too...

MENOUNOS: It made my colored hair brilliant.

COSTELLO: ... says she was surprised when the Obamas allowed her access to their kids.

MENOUNOS: No one really expected them to open up so much. You know, I know the campaign and their family were all huddled around, kind of surprised that the girls took over this whole interview. As was I.

COSTELLO: She says her interview was meant only to show the Obama family dynamic, not to ask tough questions. And that's exactly why political observers say Obama chose this show to introduce his daughters.

DREW WESTEN, AUTHOR, "THE POLITICAL BRAIN": This is going to be a referendum on whether or not he's American enough to be president. And I think -- you know, and whether he's too different to be president.

I think what he really needs to show people is that he's a guy with a family. I mean, you talk about family values. You sure saw them when you watched that clip.

COSTELLO: Weston says Obama should allow the media more access to his kids. Children can be powerful campaigners. But that's a decision difficult for any parent to make, even when Dad is running for president.

(on camera) On the power of children campaigning, some say Chelsea Clinton was a very effective campaigner, but it was really her presence beside her mother that helped out Hillary Clinton the most. It showed Hillary Clinton as a warm, caring mom.

Carol Costello, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Up next, an alleged honor killing. It happens overseas, but here in America, in Georgia? A father accused of killing his own daughter because she allegedly wanted to get out of her arranged marriage. "Crime & Punishment" ahead.

Plus, through the flames. Dramatic video -- take a look at this -- of a news crew literally caught in the middle of a California firestorm, next.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we have fire on both sides of the roads, it's an issue for getting our crews in and out. If it's not safe, we can't put engines down here, and that's what we're experiencing right now.

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COOPER: Under siege in California, fire officials driving a news crew from affiliate KOVR through a wildfire. More of this amazing video coming up.

First, the big picture: tonight, 330 wildfires are burning in California. Some 600,000 acres have been destroyed. An Army of 20,000 is battling the infernos. And a fire north of Sacramento may cause the greatest threat. It's called the Camp Fire. Up to 1,000 people have been evacuated from the area.

Tonight, extraordinary video from inside the wall of flames. A crew with our affiliate, KOVR, in Sacramento, was taken onto a journey that -- well, take a look for yourself.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we have fire on both sides of the roads, it's an issue for getting our crews in and out. You can see what the wind is doing to that fire right now. The way it's pushing it, and we're getting wind -- dramatic wind shifts in here. And it makes the firefight very, very difficult for the crews on the ground.

COURTNEY DEMPSEY, KOVR REPORTER: So when you say (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not safe. But we have crews that are already in there. So right now, pretty much they are cut off to coming out.

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COOPER: That was reporter Courtney Dempsey, photographer Shaw King Moore (ph) from our affiliate, KOVR, in Sacramento.

Tonight, a father in Georgia is behind bars, accused of murdering his own daughter. The possible motive, something hard to imagine. Authorities suspect this was a so-called honor killing.

The reason the young woman was strangled was because her father felt she'd brought shame to her family. She wanted out of an arranged marriage and, for that, authorities say she was killed.

The latest now from CNN's Brian Todd.

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BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: According to police, this man kept hearing his daughter scream, "Father" while he was killing her with his own hand.

Chaudhry Rashid is charged with first-degree murder in the death over the weekend of his 25-year-old daughter, Sandeela Kanwal. Police say he strangled her to death in their home in Jonesboro, Georgia. Police tell CNN the daughter wanted out of her arranged marriage, and her father told police he could not allow her to pursue a divorce.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently, she and the father had argued over the marriage and the fact that it had been arranged. And at some point during the altercation, he did end up killing his daughter.

TODD: Rashid and his daughter, both Pakistani. Police say the arranged marriage took place a short time ago in Pakistan. The daughter's husband lives in Chicago.

Based on what police say, this could be what's known as an honor killing: the murder of a woman, often by a family member, to punish her for shaming the family. Experts say this could be punishment for things like having affairs, pursuing divorce, or even being raped.

The U.N. estimates the number of women murdered around the world in so-called honor killings may be as high as 5,000 each year, with most of the killings taking place in Western and Southern Asia and Northern Africa.

AJAY NAIR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Overwhelmingly, women are the target in these cases. And I think the reason for that, unfortunately and it's unjustified, is that women are oftentimes the carriers of the culture, are oftentimes the -- the folks that people look to that carry on the culture from generation to generation. And it's a way for men in these cases to reaffirm and assert their masculinity.

TODD: How to stop it? The U.N.'s had a program in place for about 20 years to go into regions where honor killings are common and talk to traditional leaders in these communities, who define what's right and wrong. These are often religious leaders.

U.N. officials appeal to them and get them to pass along to locals that this practice is unacceptable.

(on camera) A U.N. official says the program has worked. She estimates that, since the late 1980s, the number of honor killings has been reduced 10 to 15 percent, but she admits this is an underreported problem. Many of the cases go undocumented.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Up next, an American soldier went to Iraq a believer but became an atheist. He says the backlash from his fellow soldiers over his lack of faith almost cost him his life. He's suing the military, saying they're biased against non-Christians. The military has until midnight to respond to the suit. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

Plus, a brazen robbery caught on tape. How the thieves got away with an entire ATM, next.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's all right, Tommy. Nothing wrong with praying here. There are no atheists in foxholes.

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COOPER: That familiar movie line about war -- there are no atheists in foxholes -- may be true for some soldiers who discover God on the battlefield. But for Jeremy Hall, the exact opposite happened. He went to Iraq a practicing Christian and became an atheist, a decision he says nearly cost him his life and torpedoed his career. Now he's filed a lawsuit alleging the military's unconstitutionally biased against not just atheists but all non-Christians.

The government has until midnight tonight to file its response. And while we wait, let's look at how Hall's claims square with the facts.

CNN's Randi Kaye is "Keeping Them Honest."

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RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Army Specialist Jeremy Hall was raised Baptist. He said grace before dinner, read the Bible before bed. Four years ago, in 2004, when he was deployed to Iraq, he packed his Bible.

(on camera) When you carried that Bible with you to Iraq, what did it mean to you at that time?

JEREMY HALL, SUING U.S. ARMY: I felt I really needed to be in touch with God.

KAYE (voice-over): That was then. Now 23, Specialist Hall has rejected all of that. He no longer believes in God, fate, luck, or anything supernatural. That sudden lack of faith, he says, cost him his military career, put his life at risk and eventually led him to file a lawsuit, suggesting the United States military has become a Christian organization.

HALL: I think it's utterly and totally wrong, unconstitutional.

KAYE: Hall alleges in the suit there's a pattern of military practices that discriminate against non-Christians in the military and that his rights under the First Amendment were denied.

(on camera) Specialist Hall is suing the Department of Defense, among others. He doesn't want money, just religious freedom in the military. He says after the lawsuit was filed, his life was threatened by fellow troops.

He says the Army, fearing for his safety, assigned him a full- time bodyguard and eventually sent him home early from Iraq.

(voice-over) On Thanksgiving two years ago, he refused to pray at his table. Hall says he was told to sit somewhere else. And when he was nearly killed in an attack on his Humvee, he was asked...

HALL: Do you believe in Jesus now? I said, "No, but I believe in ballistic armor."

KAYE: And Specialist Hall claims because he is an atheist, he wasn't promoted.

HALL: I was told because I can't put my personal convictions aside and pray with troops, I would not make -- I would not make a good leader.

KAYE: Michael Weinstein, a retired senior Air Force officer and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is suing along with Specialist Hall. He says he's been contacted by more than 8,000 military members, almost all of them complaining of pressure to embrace evangelical Christianity.

MICHAEL WEINSTEIN, MILITARY RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOUNDATION: Our Pentagon, our Pentecostal-gon today, is refusing to realize that when you put the uniform on, there's only one religious faith: patriotism.

KAYE: Religious discrimination is a violation of the First Amendment. It's also against military policy. "Keeping Them Honest," we asked the Pentagon's man in charge of military personnel policy what's going on?

(on camera) Is the Pentagon pushing one faith among troops?

BILL CARR, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Absolutely not.

KAYE (voice-over): Deputy Undersecretary Bill Carr won't talk about ongoing litigation but says complaints of evangelizing are relatively rare.

(on camera) If a soldier if atheist, does not believe in God, and chooses to not take part in prayer at his or her base, is that acceptable?

CARR: If an atheist chose to follow their convictions, absolutely that's acceptable.

KAYE (voice-over): Weinstein doesn't buy it and points to this promotional video by a group called Christian Embassy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christian Embassy is mustering these men and women into an intentional relationship with Jesus Christ.

KAYE: The video, which shows U.S. generals in uniform, was shot inside the Pentagon. They were subsequently reprimanded.

Another group, Officers' Christian fellowship, has representatives on nearly all military bases worldwide. Its vision: "A spiritually transformed military with ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit."

WEINSTEIN: Their purpose is to have Christian officers exercising biblical leadership to raise up a godly Army.

CARR: Proselytizing or advancing a religious conviction is not what the nation would have us do, and it's not what the military does. So I find precious little evidence to support that extreme theory.

KAYE: As for Specialist Jeremy Hall, today, he is back at Ft. Riley, waiting for the Justice Department to respond to his lawsuit.

(on camera) Do you think having faith makes you a better soldier? HALL: I think being a soldier makes you a better soldier.

KAYE: Do you think believing in God makes you a better soldier?

HALL: No.

KAYE (voice-over): For Hall, his beliefs are now a test of his faith in the law.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: And the Army isn't the only branch of the military accused of something like this. In 2005, the Air Force Academy dealt with similar complaints. It acknowledged some senior officers did not act appropriately and adopted new guidelines.

Currently, the ACLU is threatening legal action on behalf of students at West Point and the Naval Academy, who say they have to pray at mealtime.

COOPER: So they only have a couple more hours to respond, the government.

KAYE: Right. Till midnight tonight.

COOPER: We're getting a lot of responses, a lot of reaction to the story. Hundreds of comments right now to Randi's post on -- on our Web site, AC360.com. You can go there and post your own comments or on our live blog right now.

Randi has some other headlines now in a "360 News and Business Bulletin."

KAYE: I sure do, Anderson.

Catching a break with Bertha. The first hurricane of the 2008 season has been downgraded to a Category 1 storm, and it's expected to weaken in the days ahead with only a slim chance of making landfall in the U.S.

Some good news for a change on oil prices. They are down again, dropping more than $5 today and plunging nearly $10 since Monday. A stronger dollar and a report of lowered command fuelled that decent.

And caught on tape. Thieves used a pickup truck to steal an ATM from a gas station. This happened outside of West Palm Beach Monday. And it is not the first time in the area, leading police to wonder if one crime crew is behind a bunch of unusual smash and grab.

COOPER: That's crazy. Unbelievable.

All right. Time for our "Beat 360" winners. Tonight's picture, Britain's Prince Harry making what looks an "L" for "loser" during a football match in the African kingdom of Lesotho. He is there helping to rebuild a school for disabled kids.

Our staff winner tonight, Brooke. His caption: "Prince Harry demonstrates his new gang sign."

(SOUND EFFECT: foghorn)

COOPER: We didn't have a lot of good options.

Our viewer winner is Joe from San Diego. Not to take anything away from Brooke.

KAYE: I think that was a slam there.

COOPER: No, it wasn't. We appreciate it. Joe's caption: "Yet another 'Prince' attempt to change his name to a symbol."

That's pretty good. Joe, there's a "Beat 360" T-shirt on its way to you. Thanks for playing. You can check out the other entries we received on our blog. Play along tomorrow by going to our new Web site, AC360.com.

Up next, "The Shot" from Texas to Turkey and just about everywhere else, it seems. The dancing guy taking up the Web by storm. Who is he? We'll tell you ahead.

And at the top of the hour, is Obama moving to the middle to gain votes? He responds to his critics and fires back. We've got the "Raw Politics."

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COOPER: Time now for "The Shot." This is Matt Hardy and, in case you haven't seen his video -- I don't know why you wouldn't, because it's huge on the Web. All the kids are watching it.

For a few years now -- he's 31 years old -- he's been globe trotting, often in shorts, always dancing in front of a camera. Kind of a little dance there. He likes to do it. Sometimes he's joined by others. In his new video he is. He's been in the desert, under water, atop mountains. You get the idea.

It's a global party. It's been viewed more than 10 million times online. He has no intention of stopping his signature move.

His new video is actually really cool. He gets all these kids --- all these people dancing along. Are you watching?

KAYE: I have seen this guy. I'm waiting for him to show up here one night dancing behind you.

COOPER: That would be kind of cool, actually.

KAYE: Send out an invitation. There he is right there.

COOPER: We should just go on with the newscast while he's doing that.

KAYE: I think that's a great idea.

COOPER: I think so.

You can see all the most recent "Shots" on our new Web site, AC360.com. You can also see other segments from the program, read the blog, check out the "Beat 360" pictures. The new address again, AC360.com. Is that enough? Yes, I think that is.

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COOPER: Tonight, Barack Obama fighting back against those who claim he's moving to the center: striking back at the left and the right, insisting he's not changing positions on Iraq, domestic intelligence or anything.

If you think he has, he says, you haven't been paying attention.

The latest on Obama's progressive push-back, the search for a vice president, and John McCain's push-back on Iraq withdrawal.