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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: The magic of the open primary.

JOHN MCCAIN (Republican presidential candidate): (From videotape.) Today Michigan sent a powerful message across America, a message -- (cheers) -- a message that our party wants real reform from the real reformer.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: (Republican presidential candidate): (From videotape.) I've got by far the vast majority of the Republicans. And when you combine the Republicans and independents, I won that race, too. I just didn't do very well amongst the Democrats.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: John McCain's big, seven-point win in Michigan over George Bush has set the stage for a cosmic showdown one week from Tuesday; March 7th. Why cosmic? Because Super Tuesday features races in California, New York, Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Minnesota, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont. Up for grabs, 588 delegates a week from Tuesday. But this coming Tuesday, February 29, primaries in Washington and Virginia both wide open. Republicans and McCain's people, Democrats and independents, all able to vote. Those two primaries could determine which candidate goes into Super Tuesday with superior momentum.

In Virginia, Bush is up 11 points. In Washington, it's a dead heat: Bush 43, McCain 43. But the evergreen state is notoriously difficult to gauge. Question: Who holds the trump card in Virginia; Bush or McCain? Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: Well, I think obviously Bush is ahead in Virginia, John, but the real trump card in this campaign is going to go to the candidate that presents the best theory of what reform should be. I mean, McCain's reform is a campaign finance reform that appeals mostly to Democrats and independents, does not appeal to Republicans. He's now trying to shift and say, "I'm really a Republican." George W. Bush, unnoticed by most of the 90 percent liberal Democratic media, has put a reform plan on education, welfare, tax reform, made intellectually serious proposals that won in South Carolina and won in Michigan among Republicans and independents. So it's really a showdown to see which of those two can present a reform package, a reform idea that is going to appeal to Republicans, and neither has fully succeeded in doing that yet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And a reform with results, would you not say? (Laughter.)

MR. BARONE: Well, that's a Bush term "reform with results" and so forth. A lot of the coverage says that he is not a reformer, he is not for campaign finance reform. Campaign finance is not the only aspect of government that voters can plausibly believe needs reform.


MR. BARONE: They might think an education system that doesn't teach kids to read and write might need some reform, as well.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And also of course, the best-kept secret in town, if not the nation, is no one cares about campaign finance reform; except maybe you, Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Campaign finance reform is a metaphor for reform, and John McCain got to the "reform" label first. George is a Georgy-come-lately to that label -- he is a pretender -- and that's the message that McCain has gotten across successfully.

But the second thing that's going on is that voters outside of Washington, outside the McLaughlin Group, are a lot less ideological, and they are attracted to McCain's personality. And once we get beyond the personality, he is going to have some fending off to do when it comes to issues.


MR. BLANKLEY: Well, Michael would be right if the public cared about issues. There is no doubt that George Bush has a more developed issue set than McCain does. But right now the public is more interested in the personality and the character, and McCain has presented a stronger one. That's why he is able to reach out beyond his base. Now, he has the challenge of trying to reach into his base, which he has yet to be able to do.

So act one for McCain is over; he has won act one. Act two is to present himself to his base, and we have to see whether he can do that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. In terms of the entry question, I am assuming, from what you have said, that you three are calling Virginia for Bush?

MR. BARONE: Yeah. I think that he's ahead. And neither candidate is --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right.

MR. BARONE: -- contesting it as heavily as Washington.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Lawrence, do you care to speak to any of these various questions that are afloat here?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, Bush is ahead in Virginia. But momentum is everything; McCain has the momentum. It is a wide-open state. It's a state that selected a Democratic senator, Chuck Robb. I think that it could easily squeak out for McCain.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, we are all agreed that Washington is too close to call, correct? However, we will pick up the gauntlet and make the call. Tony, would you go first, please?

MR. BLANKLEY: (Laughs.) Look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Look what?

MR. BLANKLEY: -- the best pollsters in the business can't figure out what the turnout is going to be in any of these states, so we can't make it a scientific projection. But putting all that aside, my guess is that McCain carries Washington.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There seems to be a presumption that he'll carry it because of the liberal tinge of Washington. True?

MS. CLIFT: Oh, I don't know if it's "liberal tinge"; it's an independent-minded state. He would appeal.

And the beauty of the McCain strategy is he only picks and plays in certain states, and that's where the media goes. Virginia people can see --

MR. BLANKLEY: Ultimately -- (these people ?) -- have got to go where the delegates go.

MR. O'DONNELL (?): Exactly.

MS. CLIFT: Well --

MR. BARONE: John? In Washington state, Bill Bradley has spent six days, and he has scheduled six days of campaigning there. I think he is going to pluck off some votes that in his absence, would go to John McCain and would have gone to McCain in primaries like --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you calling it Bush?

MR. BARONE: So I'll go way out on a limb and call George Bush.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Call it Bush.

What do you say?

MR. O'DONNELL: I think, whenever it's close, McCain will win because McCain will always have the momentum.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I am calling it McCain.

Okay. "Changing the message."

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): (From videotape.) Don't fear this campaign, my fellow Republicans. Join it. Join it. (Cheers, applause.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: John McCain is customizing his message now to the Republicans. He claims that he is the Republicans' only hope for recapturing the White House; only he has demonstrated the ability to attract the Reagan Democrats and the Independents indispensable to winning the White House in November.

But McCain needs the GOP for another reason, to win the two crucial primaries, California and New York, on Super Tuesday, March 7, a week from this Tuesday. Both are closed: no Democrats, no Independents with voting power. So McCain must draw his strength exclusively from Republicans.

Is McCain now successfully customizing his message, do you think, so that Republicans are going to believe what he says, that he's as true a Republican as those Republicans attending and voting in the primary?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, California Republicans have good reason to. He's picked up some very strong endorsements there on Republican elected officials -- the mayor of San Diego, he's got the secretary of state of California, who switched from being a Bush supporter to a McCain supporter. So he has the kind of endorsement base now that can make a very legitimate claim on Republican votes.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, you know, the notion that he is a liberal is ridiculous. I mean, he is to the right of George Bush on most domestic issues. He's got a much more muscular foreign policy. What he needs to do to win over Republicans is pick two or three issues that shows he's a soul mate of theirs, talk about it, and he can -- and that, combined with his electability in the polls, should woo Republicans.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about reinvention? Is that what McCain has to do with himself, reinvent himself now and make himself less attractive to Democrats and less attractive to Independents and now much more attractive, compellingly attractive, to Republicans?

MR. BLANKLEY: (Chuckles.) Well, yes, that's what we're talking about. I think the danger for McCain is he has to make himself more attractive to Republicans without making himself less attractive to Independents, at least.

Now, the problem for McCain -- and Eleanor's not quite right -- historically, McCain's got a very conservative voting record. But in the election cycle, when the public isn't paying attention, he has not. He's been talking about class envy in tax issues, he's been talking about reform and tobacco. These are issues that in the last year are moderate to liberal. So I don't think, as the public sees him -- because they didn't know him until then; only us here in town knew him -- as the public sees him now, he looks like a fairly moderate to liberal guy, and he has to move away from --

MR. BARONE: John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are we -- okay.

MS. CLIFT: Any --

MR. BLANKLEY: -- he has to move away from that to be able to get the Republican base.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Now how -- you understand that California is closed, Republicans only. So is New York.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's half closed. It's half closed. It's a beauty contest.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, as far as the delegates are concerned --

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, it's an important -- it's a beauty contest.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Is he going to win the beauty contest in California?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think he's going to win the beauty contest.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he's going to lose all the delegates, correct?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I'm --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if it's a closed Republican --

MR. BARONE: Well, John --

MR. BLANKLEY: I want to wait and see, because the argument McCain can make now is the argument that Bush was trying to make earlier, which is "I can win in November." He can --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to get on the record on this. California -- is he going to win the beauty contest?

MR. BARONE: Well, John, right now he hasn't got -- he probably will win the beauty contest. He certainly has a good shot at that when non-registered Republicans can vote there. I think that he's going to have a harder time. He has got to emphasize Republican and conservative things, and not just treat them perfunctorily. He's got such stuff in his platform. On Social Security reform, he's talking about individual retirement accounts. On education, he's talking about giving parents more educational --


MR. BARONE: -- but so far, he has talked perfunctorily on these issues. He has not shown the passion and the concern that he's shown about campaign finance.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't it true that Californians are comfortable with establishment Republicans?

MS. CLIFT: Well, yeah, but --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that means that Bush would have an edge there.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but John McCain is the current fantasy candidate. This is like a seduction scene that's going on --

MR. BARONE: Eleanor, let's not get back to that!

MS. CLIFT: -- and everybody is projecting on him all these positive attributes.

Now the Republicans moved up the primaries so much, there's not enough time to get really to know him. But when we get to know him, he's not going to look like the man on the white horse anymore.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. I want to get around the circle here. You're saying California --

MR. BARONE: I'd say delegates to Bush.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: California delegates, Bush. California delegates, Bush. California delegates, Bush. California delegates, Bush.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, and -- (chuckles) --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: California delegates, Bush?

MR. O'DONNELL: I think McCain's going to squeak out the delegates.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do? Aw --

MR. O'DONNELL: It's very different -- I think he's going to win Washington, and that's going to create momentum in California.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, dream on! Four of us say it's California delegates to Bush, and that means 162 delegates.

All right. Let's talk about -- quickly, around the horn -- New York. Bear in mind that Governor Pataki has mobilized his whole organization, and he has his prestige on the line. Is he going to carry New York for Bush?

MR. BARONE: Well, right now it's running about even or so, and I think that McCain is probably going to catch up. He's got Guy Molinari --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're calling New York for McCain.

(To Ms. Clift.) What do you say?

MS. CLIFT: George Bush is looking like a regional southern candidate. I call New York for McCain.


MS. CLIFT: Yeah.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. The Bush organization, the Pataki organization, expected not to have McCain on the ballot until a few weeks ago when they lost the core caucus, and it's going to go to McCain.


MR. O'DONNELL: New York Republicans will choose McCain.


MR. O'DONNELL: McCain. Twenty-eight percent of New York Republicans voted for liberal Pat Moynihan the last time he ran for Senate. All of them are with McCain --


MR. O'DONNELL: -- and then he'll just pick up another 20 percent.

MR. BARONE: He transcends party lines.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is McCain. When we come back, is McCain playing the Catholic card against Bush?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: McCain plays the Catholic card against Bush.

RECORDED VOICE: This is a Catholic voter alert. Governor George Bush has campaigned against Senator John McCain by seeking the support of southern fundamentalists who have expressed anti-Catholic views. Several weeks ago, Governor Bush spoke at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Bob Jones has made strong anti-Catholic statements, including calling the pope "the anti-Christ," and the Catholic church "a satanic cult." John McCain, a pro-life senator, has strongly criticized this anti-Catholic bigotry, while Governor Bush has stayed silent while gaining the support of Bob Jones University.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Silent? Here's Bush's silence:

GOV. BUSH: (From videotape.) I don't like to be accused of being a bigot. No one wants to be called a bigot. I've got a Catholic in my family, my brother Jeb and my sister-in-law, Columba. I reject any labeling me because I happen to go a university.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: fair rap or bum rap by McCain against Bush? I ask you, Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: I didn't hear the word "bigot" in that phone call. And frankly, I think it is a fair rap. It recited the facts and the fact that George Bush chose that particular university -- he could have gone to the Citadel, there's no shortage of conservative colleges in South Carolina. That was a deliberate choice --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you in pain?

MR. BLANKLEY: I'm in pain. I'm in pain on this.

MS. CLIFT: -- wait a second -- to attract the votes of people who might be bigots.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By the way, was the person who read that message from a different planet, do you think?

MR. BLANKLEY: (Laughing.) I don't know. Look -- it was an effective, but a very bum rap. Everybody who goes through South Carolina since Reagan in 1980 goes to Bob Jones University. Now the fact that --

MS. CLIFT: That was 20 years ago.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, and -- and -- and McCain's top people in South Carolina got honorary degrees there recently.

(Cross talk.)

MS. CLIFT: Attitudes -- as attitudes have developed --

MR. BARONE: Eleanor, the religious wars have been over since before 1980.

MR. BLANKLEY: Just this --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why does --

MR. BLANKLEY: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Just this week, Al Gore went to a Hasidic Jewish event where women and children were kept outside. It doesn't mean that Al Gore is in favor of discriminating against women and children. You don't have to endorse every aspect of an organization you speak to.

MS. CLIFT: That's --


MS. CLIFT: That's not comparable.

MR. BARONE: John, there's a double --

MS. CLIFT: That's not comparable.

MR. BARONE: There's a double standard.

MS. CLIFT: That's not comparable at all to --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. Eleanor, go ahead. Hurry up.

MS. CLIFT: That's not comparable at all, when you respect the traditions of the Hasidic Jewish people, to speaking at a university and not disavowing their obvious anti-Catholic stance.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, Gore didn't disavow discriminating against women and children.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear from Michael.

MS. CLIFT: They are entitled to that.

MR. BARONE: Well, the fact -- my mother, who is a Michigan voter, got about a dozen calls on election day. That was the one that bothered her the most, and she's not a Catholic. I don't like this idea that you have to be a member of the group attacked in order to resent bigotry against them. I think bigotry against one group is bigotry against us all.

On that thing, I think McCain was stretching there. I think saying that Bush had the support of the university is not, technically speaking, accurate. More important, it invited an inference that George W. Bush is an anti-Catholic bigot, which is not so, and which he knows is not so.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Do you think it was an innocent blunder on his part?

MR. BARONE: Well, what's interesting is the McCain people announced all day before the polls were closed that it wasn't done by their campaign. Only afterwards did they admit it. Now, I know them, and I don't think these people would deliberately lie, but the fact is that their ignorance on this was convenient to the campaign.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think "Dubya" should come out and vocally and emphatically denounce the views of Bob Jones University, which he has not done?

MR. O'DONNELL: He should have done it AT Bob Jones University.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should he do it now? Should he do it now?

MR. O'DONNELL: He should have done what Bill Clinton did in 1992 --

MR. BARONE: But there is a double standard here.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- which was denounce black rap artists in front of a black audience.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What kind of boost is that going to produce? He went there to get votes.

MR. BARONE: John, there is a double --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The people are not --

MR. O'DONNELL: Because when you're in front of an audience, you're not always working for that particular audience's vote. Bill Clinton got white votes while speaking to a black audience.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The dilemma is, if he does that now, he's going to be faced a week from -- two weeks from Tuesday, the super primary south, which is the southern states.

MR. BARONE: The fact is that he --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And if he does denounce Bob Jones University, he's going to disenchant --

MR. BARONE: Oh, John, it was a tactical mistake in going there. He is right in saying that he doesn't share their views.

There is a double standard operating here by the press, however. Nobody is asking candidates who go to the schools that have -- some of these elite schools that have separate black dormitories, separate black orientations and so forth, nobody is asking them whether or not they approve of that kind of racial segregation.

MS. CLIFT: No, that is no -- that -- no --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, we've got to move on. Okay -- Okay, back to --

MS. CLIFT: That is not -- that is not comparable, and the problem --

MR. BARONE: It is precisely the same. It is racially segregation.

MS. CLIFT: Michael, the problem that George Bush has now is that he is seen by a lot of people in this country as joined at the hip to Pat Robertson, and appearing at Bob Jones University reinforced that attitude, and that's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Okay -- we've got to --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to move on! Back to McCain's telephone hit message against Bush.

As noted three weeks ago, George Bush made a campaign stop at Bob Jones University and delivered his stock political speech.

MCCAIN CAMPAIGN PHONE CALL: (From audio tape.) Because of this, one Catholic, pro-life congressman has switched his support from Bush to McCain.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: John McCain here in effect is congratulating Catholic Congressman Peter King of New York for being outraged at Bush's appearance at BJU, and because of it, throwing his political support to John McCain, the new Catholic lover.

King, by the way, has been newly appointed by McCain to be his campaign co-chairman in the State of New York, along with respected Republican veteran Guy Molinari.

Peter King is the same Peter King, by the way, who was described not too long ago by John McCain in this language: "There is little in Mr. King's singularly unimpressive legislative record to suggest that he is motivated by anything other than a compulsion to utter provocative sound bites. I have never met a single other Republican who felt that Mr. King spoke for the party or for any Republican other than himself. Indeed, the only Republican organization I have ever noticed Mr. King represents is the Irish Republican Army."

Now, King on McCain: "He has a tremendous sense of self-righteousness and moral superiority."

Question: Is there any explanation for McCain's bonding in this fashion with Peter King, other than opportunistic, manipulative, raw politics, when clearly each has such utter distaste for the other?

I ask you, Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, first of all it has to be said that both of their prior comments were probably pretty accurate! (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And they have distaste for each other ongoing, right?

MR. BLANKLEY: But the point is, this is politics, and in politics you evolve to support somebody for reasons that don't go to historic relationships, and you've seen a perfect example of it in this.

And it's useful, and it's useful for McCain at this point.

MS. CLIFT: McCain pops off. Everybody who's dealt with him knows that.

Secondly, you don't have to approve of the tactics of the IRA to deplore anti-Catholic discrimination in this country. I mean, I think it's a perfect marital relationship -- political marriage -- (chuckles) --


MR. O'DONNELL: And Peter King could not get his phone calls returned from the Bush organization when he was backing George W. Bush. That has a lot to do with his switch.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Do you think that George Bush's visit to Bob Jones University will become like Michael Dukakis riding around in the tank or Ronald Reagan visiting Bitburg, or neither? Do you think it will vanish, stay, or do what? Quickly.

MR. BARONE: I think it'll linger softly, where the press will try and pump it up.

MS. CLIFT: Tank quality! (Laughs.)

MR. BLANKLEY: I think it hurts him a lot. At least in the primary, it could cost him the Northeast, maybe the nomination.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will it go away?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, because in the fall, if he's the nominee, the Gore people will bring it back.

MR. O'DONNELL: Tony's right. This is bad --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It will be judged by the American people as an innocent blunder, and it will go away. (Laughter.)

Issue three: Continuing Catholic problem.

"Reverend Graham lobbies Hastert on chaplain." So reads the headline in a Capitol Hill newspaper. Reverend Billy Graham found himself a week ago embroiled in the fracas surrounding the Republican nomination of a chaplain for the House of Representatives. Graham lobbied House Speaker Dennis Hastert to keep a Protestant in the office of House chaplain. So said the media.


Earlier Republican Speaker Hastert and Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey chose Charles Wright, a Presbyterian, to replace retiring House chaplain James Ford, a Lutheran. In doing so, Hastert and Armey ignored nominee Timothy O'Brien, a Catholic priest. O'Brien was chosen by an 18-member bipartisan and bidenominational -- 15 Protestants and three Catholics -- selection committee for House chaplain.

In the House's 200-plus-year history, a Catholic priest has never held the post of chaplain. This is seen as a glaring omission in a country and a Congress where Catholics outnumber every other religious denomination.

In acting against the committee, the Hastert-Armey snub of O'Brien brought charges of anti-Catholic bigotry, and the charges came from Republican members as well as Democrats. Ever since, Hastert and Armey have been flailing about for political cover. Last week they thought they had it. Hastert put out to the press that Reverend Billy Graham telephoned him and allegedly told Hastert to stand firm by his chaplain choice -- i.e., forget Catholic O'Brien, stay with Presbyterian Wright for the $138,000-a-year chaplaincy position.

Then within 24 hours, Graham himself surfaced in his own news release, personally repudiating Hastert, quote: "I cannot and did not take a position concerning the choice of the new chaplain for the House of Representatives. I stressed to Speaker Hastert, 'I cannot and will not get involved on either side of this issue'" -- unquote.

Now this week, we have a new headline on Capitol Hill, a retraction, "Hastert Changes Graham Account." Recanting, the Republican speaker now says Graham was asking for information about the selection process, all of which mendacity has led the president of the Catholic League, William Donohue, to declare, quote: "The Republicans have built a house of lies. This latest fiasco is only one chapter in a book of lies that the Republicans have written on this subject" -- unquote.

Lawrence O'Donnell, is there any way out of this mess?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, the way out of it is to realize that the House of Representatives doesn't need a chaplain. It's absolutely ridiculous that they have a political-appointee job there called chaplain. And once it becomes that, of course, it's going to be politicized and --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, ever since you spent a lot of your time in Los Angeles, I think you have become increasingly -- (laughter) -- secularistic. Are you going wear the beads?

MR. O'DONNELL: Any minute now. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about you?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you hear?

MR. BLANKLEY: -- part of this problem was that Roll Call misreported the story, to some extent.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's Roll Call's fault? (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Part of it is that they misreported the story. In fact, neither Graham nor Hastert placed the call. Frank Wolf, the congressman, proposed to both of them they should talk to each other. And so --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is the House going to do? Quickly.

MR. BLANKLEY: They are going to try to muddle through the next couple of weeks and maybe have a vote.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about keeping Wright on until after the election?

MR. BLANKLEY: Ford? That's --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ford rather?

MR. BLANKLEY: -- one of the ideas being talked about.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will the Bush-McCain contest go all the way to the last primary, New Jersey, June the 6th?

MR. BARONE: Could, but I guess no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You say no.

MS. CLIFT: Mathematically, yes, it could.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no.

MR. O'DONNELL: I think it might. Alabama votes that day too; 44 delegates in Alabama, 54 in New Jersey. If McCain wins New Jersey, Bush, Alabama --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that a yes or a no?

MR. O'DONNELL: I think it will go to the last day.


I think no, it will not go until then.

Next week, Bob Dole has called for timeout between Bush and McCain. Will he get it? Don't bank on it!




MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let the games begin!

DARVA CONGER (Bride on "Who Wants to Marry A Multimillionaire?"): (From videotape.) He is just a person -- and once again, I will not discourage anyone -- but he is not a person that I would ordinarily have even a friendly relationship with.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So says blushing bride Darva Conger, voicing her disappointment with the stranger she married on air on the Fox Network's "How to Marry a Multimillionaire" (sic). Less than three weeks after the nuptials, winner Darva wants an annulment. Besides bad chemistry with her new husband, the ensuing publicity has made her life wretched.

This reality-based gameshow is only the first of an onslaught of like programs, a situation genre that throws ordinary people into extraordinary gaming struggles. Europe is already hooked, and as happened on "How to Marry a Millionaire" (sic), things can go awry.

In a Swedish program called "Expedition Robinson," 16 strangers are dumped on a deserted Malaysian Island where they fight for survival, all under TV cameras grinding away relentlessly. The contestants vote by secret ballot to expel each other from the island. When one person is left, he or she collects a cash prize.

During the filming of "Expedition Robinson," things went terribly wrong. One contestant who was kicked off the island committed suicide a month later and his widow blamed the series. Despite this, an American version is in the works and other equally outlandish programs are on the way, like "Big Brother," that puts 10 people in a house to live inside together for 100 days sans contact with the outside world. No TV, no radio, no telephone.

What are we to think of these reality shows? Here's one view:

MR. : (From videotape.) You're talking about appealing to the most, kind of, basic voyeuristic instincts in every one of us. And now, a peeping tom doesn't have to go out and find a window to look into. Television, of course, has brought the window right into their house.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is this entertainment okay, or is it making us sickos? I ask you, Michael?

MR. BARONE: Well, I think it's -- I don't think it's making us sickos, because those of us with a clicker can turn it off. But the fact is, it's really weird, John, and my advice to you is do not go on that show with the Swedes -- (laughter) -- where they throw somebody out.

MS. CLIFT: Well, you know --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to know which is more pitiable -- Internet addicts -- what do they call this? -- real-life game show addicts, or sports addicts? Which is more pitiable, I ask you?

MS. CLIFT: I'm not going to judge, but I must say that people fighting for survival while the television cameras grind on reminds me of something we do every week, so I can relate to that. (Laughter.) But secondly -- (laughter) --

MR. BARONE: You're wrong, Eleanor! (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: The Fox news executives say they're --

MR. BLANKLEY: Where's my ballot? (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: -- they're swearing off of this stuff. They've cancelled "America's Nastiest Neighbors." (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Exploitative, reality-based shows.

MS. CLIFT: Right.


MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, this getting close to sort of putting snuff films right on public television. I think it's appalling. It's another step to (bread and ?) circuses --

MR. O'DONNELL: It's just a phase we're going through, and good, strong dramas and comedy will reign --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Am I getting overexcited about it? Is that your feeling? That's what -- life is a moveable feast. That's what they teach you in Los Angeles, right?

MR. BARONE: Lawrence was scheduled by Fox to be the next multi-millionaire, you know that. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think we should send him to an island, and if so, with whom? Darva?

MR. BARONE: Well, I wouldn't bet on your chances. (Laughter.)