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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST:
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

GUESTS:
ELEANOR CLIFT
TONY BLANKLEY
MICHAEL BARONE
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL

DATE: SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2002

.STX

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Figure This.

JAMIE SALE (CANADIAN ICE SKATER): (From videotape.) We're not bitter. I mean, we're so proud of what we've done, and the association is behind us and everybody's behind us, and that's all we need.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, the Canadian figure skating team, had to settle for an Olympic silver medal, despite a flawless performance at Monday night's Winter Olympics. The Russian team won the gold, despite a performance that was demonstrably inferior. Almost universally, experts agree that the Canadians were gypped; the fix was in.

SCOTT HAMILTON (FORMER ICE SKATER): (From videotape.) What happened? Well, I think the wrong team won. That's what happened.

JOHN POWERS (BOSTON GLOBE REPORTER): (From videotape.) The Russians have a phrase, "Ya tebye i tvoi menye," -- "Me for you, you for me." And I think this is the way that the sport goes on. I mean, everyone understands that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Boston journalist John Powers is right. This is the way the sport goes on. The French judge disclosed that she had been pressured to throw her vote, and she did so. Faced with this admission, Olympic officials awarded gold medals to the Canadian pair, leaving the Russian medals in place.

Four years ago, the 2002 Winter Olympics got off to a bad start when Salt Lake City was chosen as the site. Corruption played its role in enticing officials to choose Salt Lake City. No one can be surprised that the Games are tainted by corruption. In fact, the Olympics are not games anymore; they're big business, many believe.

A gold medal in figure skating is worth millions in fees and endorsements, and that means lots of money to line lots of pockets.

Question: A duplicate gold medal hardly constitutes justice, as Jamie Sale herself says, quote, "The truth still has to come out," unquote. The problem here is not only that the Canadians did not originally get the highest award. It was that they were cheated out of it. It was a corrupt decision. And papering over it with a duplicate medal is like Enron's phony financials in an annual report. It looks good but cures nothing.

True or false? Michael Barone.

MR. BARONE: Well, you give me that long, convoluted statement and ask me to say true or false to it, John. The fact is that I think a duplicate gold medal is an admission of corruption, as loud and clear as an admission of corruption could be made here. We see it here.

And it was fascinating that the judge who cheated on this turned out to be French. You know, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vidrine-- I'm doing my best pronunciation I can, in a multicultural spirit -- recently attacked the foreign policy of this country as simplistic, a foreign policy that's backed by both political parties in this country. We now see what the sophisticated French policy is. It was operating at the Olympics. I think most Americans will join our friends in Canada in thinking that we prefer to be simplistic here.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That was a brilliant linkage. Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: First of all, the blending of money and influence in the Olympics goes way back before Salt Lake City. And Salt Lake has been handling the Games fine and it's a great spectacle. It's sad that this has distracted from the athletes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, seven have been (indicted?).

MS. CLIFT: Second of all -- well, yeah, but the problems of the Olympic Committee predate Salt Lake. Second of all --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about the structure.

MS. CLIFT: -- to turn this into a political thing and let this inflame our passions about whether we like the French or don't like the French -- remember the Cold War -- that's not what the Olympics is supposed to be about. And what Michael said only makes it worse.

Lastly, I think it's fine that both pairs get the gold medal. There is a genuine conflict over whether the Canadians did a routine they had done many times before and the Russians did break some new ground. They performed -- both pairs performed wonderfully. I'm perfectly happy when there's a tie, frankly. I don't think, you know, we have to tarnish the Russians. They performed well, too. It's the judges that are the problem, not the athletes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think she's papering over cracks? Do you think that the entire Olympic operation has to be subjected to an overhaul?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, look, I think this event captured the Olympic spirit exactly correctly. There's a lot of corruption. There's a lot of subterranean nationalism that's played out in Olympics on all sides -- the American hockey team 22 years ago.

Frankly, I suspect this is going to have some problems for Putin, because the Russian reaction is going to be very upset at the North Americans and the West ganging up on them and taking away their pride, and he's going to be a little bit on the defensive with his own public. Unfortunately, Olympics is also politics. One might wish it was not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you're not saying anything about how the situation can be corrected. What can be done? Is that another question for you?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, look, I think what should be done is that they should take -- there should be only one winner. They should have some more standardized judging where you don't have nations picking their own judges to represent them at the Olympics and have sort of a pool of competent independent judges. I don't think that's going to happen because that's not part of the Olympic spirit.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, bribes are common in most societies, and everyone is welcome on an equal footing at the Olympics. So you're going to have a lot, presumably, of bribery going on. Now, what do we do about that?

MR. O'DONNELL: Or just plain human frailty. When you leave something as subjective as this to a collection of human beings to judge, you're going to get different results and you're going to get arguments. We've always had them. And we've always had bias within certain countries against other countries at the Olympics. It's part of the swirl of the emotion that someone will be almost reliably every time denied a medal that they deserve because of one of these nationalistic feelings from one country against another.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So it's subjective innocence here?

MR. O'DONNELL: Let's face it that it exists. Let's live with it. This stuff has happened before. It will happen again. There is no science to judging figure skating. And when you talk about bias, it's worth noting that the Canadian judge gave the Russians the lowest score of any of the other judges, including the United States judge. So was there any bias in that score? I suspect so.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you say to that?

MR. BARONE: What do I say to that? Well, it is subjective judging, ice skating. I mean, the writer John Feinstein suggested recently that the Olympics could solve this problem by getting rid of all the sports that have subjective judgment, like gymnastics and skating. Obviously, since these are among the more popular sports --

MR. O'DONNELL: But baseball does, too, with balls and strikes. Football does, too, with -- (inaudible). These judgments are everywhere. They're often --

(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does anybody want to do anything with the structure of the Olympics, that it has to be overhauled?

MR. O'DONNELL: There's a great lesson in it, that life is not fair.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about checks and balance?

MR. O'DONNELL: Do your best, but life isn't fair. (Inaudible.)

MR. BARONE: I want to hear what Eleanor has to say, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: What I was going to say is that the Canadians skated flawlessly. The Russians did make some mistakes. But two-thirds of the score is artistic expression, and there is a genuine conflict over whether the Russians took more chances. I happen to think the Canadians should have gotten that medal and they were cheated out of it, but I don't think the Russians should be punished over it. They also --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're not advocating --

MS. CLIFT: So give out the two medals, and then put the fear of God in these judges.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There is no central authority -- there's no central authority in the Olympics. There is no IOC body with the power to overrule the judges. The judges can only be sanctioned by the ISU president of the country from which they come. If that country's sports federation is corrupt or biased by nationalism, the judges can act with impunity. So is that going to continue?

MR. BLANKLEY: I mean, it probably will. But as I was saying, if you wanted to try to get something fair -- and the fact that you can't get perfection doesn't mean you don't try to manage the system more effectively. I think you've got to take the nationalism out of the judging role. There can't be --

MS. CLIFT: How can you? They come from different countries --

MR. BLANKLEY: The same way that we've taken --

MR. BARONE: John --

MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you dignifying this by calling it nationalism? Don't you think it's as grossly commercial as Enron?

MS. CLIFT: Oh, John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think so? You don't think there's huge sums of money to be had at the Olympics?

MR. O'DONNELL: There is, but it's also --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The international enterprise --

(Cross-talk.)

MR. O'DONNELL: (Inaudible) -- very happy, because everyone is going to make more money because of this controversy. The Canadians are going to make more money than they would have made just by winning the gold.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible.)

MR. BLANKLEY: That's the wonderful thing about amateur sports, right?

MR. BARONE: John, you asked us on this program to solve the problems of the war against terrorists, the U.S. macroeconomy, the cultural decline in America. We can do this. But I don't have a solution for the Olympics. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think they've got to have an overhaul from top to bottom of the structure. And I think it's -- well, let me get to the exit question. Assume that the U.S. hosts the Olympics again, as we are now. Should the U.S. Congress make it a federal crime to conspire to defraud in an Olympic event, so that if this ever happens in the U.S. in the future, criminal sanctions will apply? You're a lawyer.

MR. BARONE: I'm a lawyer.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What would you say to that?

MR. BARONE: I'd say no. We've got enough criminal laws and we've got enough trouble enforcing them, and we should concentrate on that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You wouldn't bring these judges who threw this contest before a criminal tribunal?

MR. BARONE: And a local jury? I don't think so, John.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are you doing? Are you whitewashing crime?

MR. BARONE: This is entertainment. It is entertainment that has a lot of money connected with it. But I don't think this should be criminal fraud.

MS. CLIFT: What do you want to do, send them to Guantanamo so we can interrogate them? (Laughs.) There are enough complaints about how heavy-handed the U.S. is already. We don't need any more laws --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There are honest people in sports, which is big business, and there are devious people. We ought to have the tools to deal with devious people. Don't you think criminal sanctions are --

MR. BLANKLEY: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't?

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't like to see the law get involved in the management of private sporting activity? And it's up to the sporting supervisors, whatever organization is running, whether it's baseball or football or Olympics, to manage their own affairs. I don't like to see the law get involved.

MR. O'DONNELL: We constantly over-glorify winners, whether they've won Oscars, Emmys or Olympic gold medals.

MR. BARONE: You won an Emmy.

MR. O'DONNELL: Life is not fair. There are unfair outcomes for winners and there are unfair outcomes for losers. The fact that the Olympics contains that lesson every time is fine by me. And what is wrong with a silver medal?

MS. CLIFT: Or a tie. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tell that to Jamie Sale.

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, I'll tell you, when my seven-old-daughter said to me, "What's wrong with coming in second?" I didn't have an answer.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's a great achievement.

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah.

MR. BLANKLEY: It is not as good as first.

(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The point is, they were cheated out of first. That's the point.

MR. BARONE: I think their value on the commercial market was probably just as high with a silver medal if people thought they deserved the goal. They were going to do fine.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think the day has come where there's so much commercial content to the Olympics that it should be judged as we judge a huge multinational, omninational corporation. And the same law should apply when there is defrauding, and there should be a corresponding tool to deal with it. There should be sanctions of a criminal nature. Then it would stop.

When we come back, are the critics of the watershed campaign finance reform bill, just passed by the House, correct? Is it unconstitutional?

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Campaign Finance, Winners and Losers.

REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D-MA): (From videotape.) We have a historic opportunity today, a historic opportunity to pass real campaign finance reform.

REP. ZACH WAMP (R-TN): (From videotape.) This bill is fair to everyone, and we need to consider it and pass it today.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): (From videotape.) This bill is good for America. It is not just good for the political parties, for Democrats and Republicans. It is good for our country.

HOUSE SPEAKER PRO TEM: (From videotape.) The bill is passed. And without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Shays-Meehan bill passed the House this week, 240-189, a watershed piece of legislation. It restricts attack ads just before the elections and bans millions in "soft money" donations.

But there is another story on campaign finance reform this week and that is who opposes it, why, and what they are saying. Speaker Dennis Hastert is calling the bill "Armageddon" for the Republican Party. His colleague, Republican House Whip Tom Delay, has even worse things to say about it.

HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP TOM DELAY (R-TX): (From videotape.) This is Swiss cheese. It's full of holes. It doesn't do what the authors want. It's like a fine wine that doesn't get better with age; it just rots.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So Hastert and Delay are predictable, you say. Well, what is not so predictable are those outside of Congress who are also crying "foul," coalitions from the ends of the spectrum -- the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, both of whom claim the bill's restrictions on media ads violate free speech; also, a range of commentators of standing, notably Robert Samuelson, who strongly opposes Shays-Meehan, plus the chairman and a commissioner of the Federal Election Commission itself, who are critical of the bill.

Are there constitutional problems with this bill? Let's start there. I ask you, Tony.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, the area that's most questionable is limitation on advertising by non-candidates in the 60 days prior to the election.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Restriction of free speech.

MR. BLANKLEY: That's the argument. I think it's going to be a strong case. We'll see what the Supreme Court says. But that's probably the strongest zone of constitutional challenge.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There is no absolute freedom of speech for television, Tony. You know that. We restrict tobacco commercials.

MR. BLANKLEY: That's commercial advertising. That's not political speech. We can always regulate economic speech. You can't regulate free speech.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the bill in that regard is unconstitutional?

MR. BLANKLEY: That's my sense, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The other member of the FEC says it's unenforceable. Do you want to speak to that?

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, it's spiritually unenforceable --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here we go.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- because what campaign finance reform claims to do is make politicians less reliant on money. This means, in fact, this bill will make them spend far more time raising money, because whenever you make it slightly more difficult, they don't reduce their efforts. They spend more time doing it. So your senator, for example, who spends, let's say, 30 percent of his time raising money now, now probably spends 60 percent of his time doing that and a very small percentage of his time legislating.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, who's the biggest winner?

MS. CLIFT: Well, first of all, I want to say that Congressmen Shays and Meehan waged a brilliant campaign. This wouldn't have happened, however, if Enron hadn't exposed the game that goes on between corporations --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That pushed it over the edge.

MS. CLIFT: That pushed it over the edge. I think President Bush is the biggest winner. One, he gets to align himself with the reformers and his archrival John McCain's signing ceremony at the White House. At the same time, he didn't want this bill to pass. His lieutenants were trying to kill it. He looks like a reformer --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In one amendment which they did eliminate.

MS. CLIFT: Right. But he looks like a reformer. Second, both parties get to raise as much money as they want until this election. So the Republicans, who were doing great raising money, can still try to buy Republican control of the House and Senate for him in November. I think Bush himself has no trouble raising so-called hard money. He's going to do just fine.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What class of people are the biggest winners from this bill?

MR. BARONE: I agree with just about all of Eleanor's political analysis. I think she's right on point. The biggest winners in this bill -- I don't call it campaign reform, because everybody likes to call their measure reform. I call it political speech restriction.

The biggest winners are incumbents. The soft-money provisions of the bill will reduce the amount of money parties can get, the two major parties. The two major parties are the major source, institutional source, of funding for challengers against incumbents.

The political-speech restrictions in the 60 days before the election, which I think clearly are unconstitutional, that too benefits incumbents. It basically says that people can't criticize incumbents 60 days before the election.

When James Madison and the other founders wrote the First Amendment, they did not say, "Congress shall make no law restricting freedom of speech, except you can't criticize or we're going to make it harder to criticize incumbent members of Congress 60 days --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, what is that?

MR. BARONE: -- 60 days before the election.

MS. CLIFT: The difference here is that the special-interest groups, from the Sierra Club to the National Rifle Association --

MR. BARONE: The special-interest groups are just groups of Americans.

MS. CLIFT: And second of all, where it's on strong ground constitutionally, I believe, just like you can't electioneer within a certain amount of feet on Election Day because it impedes elections, these campaign commercials can be seen as impeding the way to carry out democratic elections.

MR. BARONE: Well, anything that criticizes an incumbent can be seen as something that you're talking dirty about an incumbent member of Congress.

MS. CLIFT: No, you just can't pay for it with soft money. You can still criticize.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, we've got one winner -- segment a winner.

MR. BARONE: Incumbent members of Congress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Incumbent members of Congress. I will argue that it's good populist reform and that the biggest winner are the grassroots people --

MS. CLIFT: I would agree with that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- particularly the state chairmen. There aren't restrictions on what you can give to them, are there?

(Cross-talk.)

MR. BARONE: (Inaudible) -- that they can give to the state parties. The state parties will have somewhat marginally more money. But John, what's going to happen here, one way or the other, this is a country where we have a government that influences vast flows of the economy by its decisions. We have a government that influences moral issues which many citizens on both sides care deeply about. In that circumstance, we are going to see money in politics one way or the other.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask you a question. If this is a re-empowerment of the grassroots after an era where the political bosses and the heavies would rely on the big money of corporations, the elite money, when that's a thing of the past and now they're going to --

(Cross-talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait, wait. Let me finish. Let me finish. We are going to magnify the power of the grassroots.

MR. BLANKLEY (?): No, we're not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why not? Why not? In other words, we are going to engage more people in the political process.

MS. CLIFT: Right. Right. He's right.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me tell you what's going to happen.

MS. CLIFT: He's right.

MR. BLANKLEY: Is he right?

MS. CLIFT: Yes, he is. The political campaigns have turned into economic contests.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: Let me finish!

MR. BLANKLEY: Oh, you've been doing that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: Oh, let me -- oh, come on, Tony. Don't be such a spoiled little boy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Little?

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, not little, okay. Campaigns --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he's a cad? Do you think he's a cad?

MS. CLIFT: I'm not going to answer that on the grounds that it may incriminate me.

MR. BARONE: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Political contests have turned into economic contests. And what this does is it moves some of the money out around the country and may force politicians to actually engage with people who they're not getting a check from.

MR. BLANKLEY: This is fantasy.

MS. CLIFT: It is a step in the right direction.

MR. BLANKLEY: Let me tell you what's going to happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let Tony speak here.

MR. BLANKLEY: What's going to happen is the lawyers in both parties are busy designing shadow organizations and ways around this, and four years from now it won't make a bloody bit of difference.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that politicians are going to concentrate now less on money from special interests and more on how to serve the enlightened public policy of their constituents?

MR. BARONE: John, what's wrong with your discourse here is that your special interest is my grassroots group. The National Rifle Association or the ACLU are groups with very wide range of membership across this country, and so are many of the others that won't want to have their political speech restricted.

MS. CLIFT: They're not shut out.

MR. BARONE: The National Abortion Rights Action League and so forth. So I think the answer is people are going to gather money in different ways. There's going to be a premium on somebody who can assemble, bundle a lot of $2,000 contributions. The Democratic Party is going to be at a temporary disadvantage, but they'll overcome that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this bill better for the Democrats or the Republicans?

MR. O'DONNELL: It's probably right now better for the Democrats simply because the -- in fund-raising, it might just even out. But the political impact is that the Democrats are the ones who achieved this, and so they'll actually achieve this political benefit more than just the money.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with that?

MR. BLANKLEY: I don't think the public cares that much. To the extent they do, I think Lawrence is right. I think net, though, the only advantage the Democrats get is the union in kind for services can't be offset by corporate soft money. But I think that's probably offset by the fact that the Republicans are able to raise more hard money than Democrats can.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is Senate passage a foregone conclusion?

MR. BLANKLEY: Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You say so?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yep.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you? Many changes?

MR. O'DONNELL: Wait, wait, wait. Senate filibuster is very likely from Mitch McConnell. And it is not at all clear today that there are 60 votes in the Senate to break that filibuster.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A quick yes or no answer. My information is he's not going to filibuster. But a quick yes or no answer: Should President Bush veto finance reform? Should he?

MR. BARONE: I think he should on constitutional grounds, but he won't.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should he?

MS. CLIFT: He shouldn't, no.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should he?

MR. BLANKLEY: He should, but he won't.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should he?

MR. O'DONNELL: He shouldn't for a bunch of reasons, and he won't.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He should not. It's more of a plus for him than a minus. Will he? Quickly.

MR. BARONE: He will not veto it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will he?

MS. CLIFT: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will he?

MR. BLANKLEY: No.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will he? The answer is no. We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Michael.

MR. BARONE: We're going to take on Iraq within six months.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: The fallout from Enron will prompt the Senate to reconcile its differences about suing HMOs and result in a patient's bill of rights.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What fallout? From this bill?

MS. CLIFT: Fallout from Enron --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: From Enron.

MS. CLIFT: -- will prompt the Senate to reconcile about suing corporations.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I got you.

MR. BLANKLEY: The offshore partnerships of Enron have members on their board. When the names are revealed, it'll be very interesting.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you know that you're not telling us?

MR. BLANKLEY: I know a little bit, but I'm not telling you yet.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why?

MR. BLANKLEY: Because it's not confirmed. But it's going to happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why are you so proprietary? Just because you wear that blue suit, you know, that doesn't give you special entitlements. Lovely threads, by the way.

MR. BLANKLEY: Thank you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.

MR. O'DONNELL: Senator John Kerry will lead and win the fight on the Senate floor to prevent oil drilling in ANWR.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien will finally elect not to seek re-election this fall. His successor will be Health Minister Alan Rock after a bitter battle with Finance Minister Paul Martin.

Next week: President Bush's trip to the Far East and Vice President Cheney's to the Middle East -- Far East.

(End of regular program.)

(Begin PBS segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: The Agony Over Ecstasy.

PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) Drugs undermine the health of our citizens. They destroy the souls of our children. There's some new hip drugs, like Ecstasy and GHB, that are kind of fads. But they're dangerous and lethal and are taking too many lives.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: More than one-half of our high school seniors have admitted to using illegal drugs. Ecstasy is the number one hard drug of choice, outranking cocaine, crack and heroin among high schoolers. One in nine teens start on Ecstasy as young as 12 years old. That figure is double the amount of teens trying the "love drug" five years ago.

In the past two years, Ecstasy has skyrocketed 71 percent among children ages 12-18. On average, partying teens are popping three to five Ecstasy pills per night out, and at $10-$25 a pill, over $100 per evening for some 12-year-olds.

Where are the adults? Where is the supervision? Unfortunately, too many adults find out too late. Meanwhile, children are being rushed to the hospital at an alarming rate. Emergency room Ecstasy visits have catapulted tenfold: 1995 -- 451; 2000 -- 4,511.

The president this week declared the Bush drug war. Bush laid out a $19 billion three-fold plan: Prevention, treatment, interdiction. And, for the first time ever, Ecstasy will be the focus of a series of public service spots.

(Excerpt of public service announcement by Partnership for a Drug-Free America.)

FATHER OF DRUG VICTIM: We know that she took Ecstasy three times, and on the third time it killed my daughter. It killed her.

MOTHER OF DRUG VICTIM: She was a beautiful young lady. She tried Ecstasy, and she paid the ultimate price -- her life.

(End of excerpt.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, is the Ecstasy threat exaggerated?

MS. CLIFT: Look, I'm sure it's available. It gives kids a sense of well-being. It's cheap, probably easy to get. I don't think it's exaggerated. I don't know if public-service ads are the way to combat it. I think you need to go into the schools. You've got to have people who are recovering drug addicts who can talk from some experience that kids can respect and relate to.

Parents can do their job at home, but often kids like to rebel against what their parents say. So I think you have -- I mean, I think more prevention is the answer. But I don't think that's what the president's drug program is mostly about.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm wondering whether there is a fashion quality to drugs. (Oxy content?) came along. Now that seems to be moved a little bit out of the limelight. Now we have Ecstasy. And I'm wondering whether cocaine has lost some of its chic allure.

MR. O'DONNELL: There are cycles. We've had Ecstasy for really as long as I can remember about drugs, and I remember hearing about Ecstasy 25 years ago. And we have to be careful in the way we talk about it and warn young people, because they know when we've gone too far. They know when they're into a "Reefer Madness" rap.

This notion of Ecstasy killing is probably taking it farther than what most kids know that it's capable of doing. I mean, it's a largely recreational drug. And when you tell them that it's lethal, then they're not going to listen to you anymore.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Four thousand five hundred Ecstasy emergency room visits.

MR. O'DONNELL: Hospitalizations. Those aren't deaths. And those have to do with just the fact that they're overwhelmed in the way --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There are other statistics, like 27,000 people in emergency rooms for being bitten by rats.

MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, sure.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is not to minimize the importance of --

MR. O'DONNELL: There's nothing you can say about drugs --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But I want to ask you this. There are two areas where I think adolescents have greater vulnerability -- under-age drinking, which is big, and also prescription drug abuse. True or false?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I mean, under-age drinking has --

MR. O'DONNELL: Is the number one problem; always has been.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I mean, and it has been, going back --

MR. O'DONNELL: Forever.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, some of this Ecstasy talk is good, but it tends to override these other major problems.

(End of PBS segment.)


END