THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, TONY BLANKLEY, ELEANOR CLIFT, AND JAMES WARREN
TAPED: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2002
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 28-29, 2002
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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Daschle Detonates.
SENATOR TOM DASCHLE (D-ND): (From videotape.) You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War II they are not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous! Outrageous!
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What had the normally soft-spoken Senate leader so upset this week? This comment from President Bush on Monday.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: (From videotape.) But the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people.
SEN. DASCHLE: (From videotape.) Not interested in the security of the American people? The president ought to apologize to Senator Inouye and every veteran who has fought in every war who is a Democrat in the United States Senate. He ought to apologize to the American people. That is wrong! We ought not politicize this war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Other Democrat senators rallied to Daschle's side.
SENATOR ROBERT BYRD (D-WV): (From videotape.) It is insulting. It is wrong, wrong, wrong!
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Later that day, the president was asked whether he's playing politics.
PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) My job is to protect the American people. It's my most important job, the most important assignment I have. And I will continue to do that, regardless of the season.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said Senator Daschle had it all wrong. Mr. Bush's comment, said Ari, was not a reference to Iraq.
ARI FLEISCHER (White House spokesman): (From videotape.) The president's remarks were about homeland security. Again, I think when you take a look at what was said, it was put into a context which did not match what the president said.
SEN. DASCHLE: (From videotape.) This is politicization, pure and simple. I meant it this morning, and I mean it now... So I want all the apologies at the other side of the -- Pennsylvania Avenue, all of these explanations about context to be taken for what they're worth. They're not worth the paper they're printed on.
REPRESENTATIVE RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO): (From videotape.) If this keeps on, then we will lose the atmosphere of trust that is necessary to get the right thing done for the country.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Are the Democrats beginning to think that there is no way -- even a swift war powers resolution for Mr. Bush -- to change the agenda from war to the economy and corporate corruption, their issues, therefore, wait for the backlash against Bush's perceived politicization of the Iraq issue and defeat him on his own playing field?
MR. BARONE: I think they have some fears in that direction, John. Your clip of President Bush omitted the part where it would have made it clear that he was talking about homeland security. And I think he should've used the phrase "homeland security," rather than "national security," and he should've apologized for misspeaking in that regard.
But I think overall, the Democrats are in an untenable position in the Senate, because Bush has indicated he's going to veto this bill on the grounds that the Democrats have put in a payoff to the public- employee unions, who are so important in financing their party. That's not a position they can sustain in full light of day, so they're trying to change the subject.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You will note that President Bush's homeland security clarification through his press spokesman was rejected as not worth the paper it was written on by the majority leader.
MS. CLIFT: Well, whether you confine it to the Department of Homeland Security or make it broader, he's still saying that the Democrats in the Senate put their own special interests above the security of the country. And to suggest that if you disagree with the president, somehow that's bad with the country, I think goes against everything that we stand for in democracy. And every Democrat and every Republican on Capitol Hill knows that the political timing of this war has more to do with the political climate in this country than it has to do with the political climate and the weather in Iraq. And I think Democrats are cheering that Daschle has said what everybody has been suggesting privately, but whether it's going to play out in the elections is a huge gamble.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that this is a trial balloon? Because we also have Senator Kennedy delivering, I think, one of the best speeches of his career, making similar points to former vice president Gore. Do you think they're trying to change the calculus and they're preparing now to fight him on his own ground and to forget about domestic issues?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I think that both parties have been told by their pollsters that the party that's perceived to politicize the issue is walking into a very dangerous area, which is why I think the Democrats, in the form of Daschle particularly, but also, to certain extent, Gore, are accusing Republicans of politicizing it, because they'd like to have that charge stick.
The problem is that the polls show -- so far show that about six out of 10 Americans think that Bush is not politicizing his decisions regarding Iraq, and about 58 percent of people think the Democrats are. So the Democrats have a difficult strategy to implement, but it's a logical strategy for them to do, because they're in a bad situation now, coming into the end of the congressional session.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the public is getting skeptical about the validity of the Bush and Rumsfeld claims, particularly of linkage and some of these other factors, so that this balloon might get some air in it -- this trial balloon?
MR. WARREN: I think in some ways they're more skeptical than even the many spineless Democrats on Capitol Hill. The Democrats are not going to run with this issue. They don't have the nerve. Their consultants are telling them, "Oh, go with prescription drugs and go with bashing him on the economy." They don't have it to face up to him on this particular issue. Both of them are playing this politically. Both are being terribly cynical, which is fine. We yell at one another. It's a democracy. Great.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think they can change the agenda to butter from guns?
MR. WARREN: They could change the agenda to guns, as someone like Gore essentially has suggested this past week. But most of these guys don't have the nerve to do it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They do not?
MS. CLIFT: But they can point out that the president has abandoned the economy as an issue, and not only that; he has put to the side the initial war on terrorism.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, he hasn't.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.
MS. CLIFT: We're not talking about Osama. We're not talking about Mullah Omar.
MR. BARONE: Yes, we are.
MS. CLIFT: We're not talking about the Taliban. We're not talking about al Qaeda, except with the spurious --
MR. BARONE: Eleanor, the Taliban -- Eleanor, the Taliban --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Eleanor finish.
MS. CLIFT: -- except for these spurious linkages to Saddam Hussein. And members who have seen the classified briefings say that that does not exist.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. We got to get out. Quick point, that's all. Quick point.
MR. BLANKLEY: This is a fantasy, that Bush has given up the war on terror, and it's just a Democratic Party line. In fact, they're collecting al Qaeda arrestees every week. A general at the Pentagon just announced he needs $23 billion more over the next few years for increased use of Special Forces in terrorism fighting. So the idea --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait. But there is a new point being made by the Democrats, and the new point is that in going into Iraq, you are going to explode your war --
MR. BLANKLEY: No, that's an old point.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- on al Qaeda. It's not an old point. It's a relatively new point they're hitting very hard. Kennedy hit it brilliantly, and so did Gore.
Exit question: Who won the round, Bush and the Republicans, or Daschle and the Democrats? Michael Barone?
MR. BARONE: I think Bush won the round.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: I'd like to think the Democrats did; I fear, the Republicans. But as long as we're on the war issue, I don't think that helps Democrats.
MR. BLANKLEY: I think it's too soon to tell, but probably Bush. And the fact is, the Democratic candidates around the country are running almost exclusively economic and prescription drug and Social Security ads. So their consultants believe that those are the issues they want to run.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who won the round?
MR. WARREN: America shakes its head, largely in bewilderment. It is mostly a wash.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mostly a wash? I agree. Mostly a draw.
When we come back, is the link between Iraq and al Qaeda fact or fiction?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: "Liaison Dangereux"?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) (In progress) -- distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. I can't distinguish between the two, because they're both equally as bad and equally as evil and equally as destructive.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The war on terrorism got a whole lot bigger this week. All of a sudden, Iraq and al Qaeda, if you believe the president and his Defense secretary, are joined at the hip. They are one and the same. On Wednesday, in Warsaw for a NATO meeting, Donald Rumsfeld was asked whether there was a link between Iraq and al Qaeda, and what exactly that link was.
DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: (From videotape.) I have no desire to go beyond saying the answer is yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where's the evidence? Unstated. On Thursday at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld said he had intelligence of senior al Qaeda members operating in Baghdad, and that Iraq and al Qaeda have ties that stretch back for 10 years.
Could the Secretary identify who the al Qaeda members in Baghdad are?
DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: (From videotape.) I could, but I won't.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Leading Democrats who have been briefed with classified information said they were surprised to hear this.
SENATOR TOM DASCHLE (D-SD): (From videotape.) Well, it is a reversal of information the administration shared with us earlier this year.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: British intelligence this week also stated that it had no evidence of an al Qaeda Saddam or Iraq connection. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld allowed that the reliability of the data was far from satisfying.
DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: (From videotape.) It's based on a lot of different types of sources of varying degrees of reliability.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Pentagon press corps has grown extremely skeptical -- reinforced, doubtless, by history. In September of 1990, when George H.W. Bush was still drumming up support for his incursion into Iraq, his Pentagon officials cited top-secret satellite images of what they said were 250,000 Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks massed on the Saudi-Iraqi border about to roll into our key U.S. oil supplier's territory, Saudi Arabia. But commercial satellite photos of the same area taken at the same time show no Iraqi troops at all, just an empty desert.
Question: Why are we only hearing now about the Iraq/Al Qaeda link?
MS. CLIFT: Well, they trotted out some of these arguments early on, claiming that there was an Iraqi representative that met with an al Qaeda representative in Prague, but they were never able to substantiate that.
This is weak evidence. It weakens their case. It looks like a desperation move. It's opportunistic. I can't come up with enough negative adjectives.
MR. BLANKLEY: Try! (Chuckles.)
MS. CLIFT: And the point is, the point is, if you're worried about Saddam using connections with terrorist groups, you're more likely to provoke him to do that than to prevent it with all this talk about --
MR. BARONE: Oh, he wouldn't do anything bad, except if we get into it. Please!
MS. CLIFT: If he's cornered, he might use it. But he has no cultural (affinity ?) with al Qaeda. They're a --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --
MS. CLIFT: They're a bunch of --
MR. BARONE: So it would only be the result of the "evil United States." Please!
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: James?
MS. CLIFT: They're a bunch of religious fanatics, and he's a hedonist, if anything.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: James?
MR. BARONE: Eleanor, if you read Michael Ledeen's book, "The Terror Masters," you will find that the secular and the religious terrorists and the terror masters work together all the time.
MS. CLIFT: No evidence.
MR. BARONE: You ought to take a look at the book. There is a great deal of evidence.
MS. CLIFT: No evidence!
MR. BARONE: Eleanor, all these people --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's go.
MR. BARONE: -- all these people who were saying that we should have connected -- Al Gore said we should have connected the dots before September the 11th, we've got many more dots now of al Qaeda, we've got many more --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're not talking about that now. We're talking about whether or not --
MR. BARONE: We've got --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me! Excuse me!!
MR. BARONE: We've got many more dots now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're talking about whether or not there is a linkage between al Qaeda and Saddam.
MR. BARONE: We've got many more dots now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to talk -- call on you.
MR. WARREN: Is it possible there are some secrets that we're keeping that we've got, and some great evidence? Yes, it's possible. Is it also possible that we're lying flat out? Yep, that's possible too. The arguments out there for this point are not terribly convincing.
But given Michael's erudite ways, Michael, I would suggest reading the State Department's own primer on global terrorism, "Patterns of Global Terrorism," updated by the Bush folks, which makes clear that they don't have any evidence in the last decade of any anti-Western attacks by Iraq. And if you want to look for state sponsors, look to Iran.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's move on. Excuse me! Excuse me! Let me move on.
MR. BARONE: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to point out that Rumsfeld's opposite number, namely, Mr. Struck, over in Germany, had this to say, "Germany is not aware of any connection between Iraq and al Qaeda on chemical weapons."
Now, I would point out that the German intelligence on Iraq is probably far superior than the CIA. Also, we have this interview with Brokaw and Ivanov. Ivanov is the defense minister of Russia.
"NBC NIGHTLY NEWS" ANCHOR TOM BROKAW: (From videotape.) There is a strong belief in some quarters in the President Bush administration that Iraq has close ties to al Qaeda specifically. What do your intelligence people tell you?
RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SERGEY IVANOV: (From videotape.) We don't have any evidence of the sort that Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, or his ministers or his officials are associated with international terrorist networks.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I would point out that the person who is regarded as being closest as an adviser to Vladimir Putin is Mr. Ivanov, the defense secretary.
Now are you impressed by these locutions?
MR. BLANKLEY: Not particularly. Of course --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think there's some hidden motive.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think that the Russians have better intelligence by far on the ground than we do over in Iraq?
MR. BLANKLEY: I know that diplomats are honorable men who are sent out in the world to lie. I know that Struck, the German minister, was a man who Rumsfeld refused to shake hands with and meet with, so he might've been motivated to say something other than his best opinion. But the deeper reality is, during this war with terrorism that's going to go on for years, we're going to constantly have this problem where we can't know, with the kind of certainty we used to know with troop movements, what the enemy is doing. And we have to be relying on --
MR. BLANKLEY: And it's not going to be satisfactory, John -- (inaudible) -- relying on classified -- (inaudible) --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to ask the group this: Why have we not seen anything like any physical evidence adduced, as we did --
MR. BLANKLEY: John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- as you can see from these photos -- just a moment! -- at the time of the missile crisis with the then-Soviet Union? A horrendous crisis, by the way, and you can see from those -- JFK brought those photos to the United Nations in order to establish the fact that we -- "Hey, we're telling the truth!"
MR. BLANKLEY: Can I answer the question?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, you may.
MR. BLANKLEY: Because the evidence would be the meeting of an Iraqi intelligence colonel and a --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not necessarily.
MR. BLANKLEY: -- (inaudible) -- inside a building, as opposed to -- (inaudible).
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why don't we see anything -- why don't we see anything like a centrifuge?
MR. BARONE: John, one of the --
MS. CLIFT: That's been discredited.
MR. BARONE: Well, am I just going to be edited off this program entirely? (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Cool off, would you, please?
MR. BARONE: John, the fact is that these -- the evidence that you're talking about is not always susceptible to photo identification. Al Gore said we should have connected the dots before September 11th. We've got a lot of dots here. Eleanor dismisses some of them, and we're to take the word of the Russian foreign minister when they've got substantial financial investments that Russia is -- (inaudible) -- that's the end of that -- in Iraq.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, here we go! The implication -- (inaudible) -- so tired --
MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. (Inaudible.)
MR. BARONE: The fact is, I think there are more dots here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Let's move on.
MR. BARONE: And Saddam has the will and capacity to hurt --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hurry, please. Hurry.
Last September Mr. Rumsfeld noted occasions during World War II when bogus information about U.S. troop movements was publicized to confuse the enemy. Rumsfeld paraphrased Winston Churchill approvingly, saying, quote, "Sometimes the truth is so precious, it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies." Is that what we're getting now in trying to show a link between al Qaeda and Iraq?
MR. WARREN: Remember, our views on this subject have sort of changed like the weather. Initially, post-September 11, it looked like this had to do with terrorism in Iraq. Then it was this shadowy meeting in Prague, which then there was no evidence of. Then it became weapons of mass destruction.
The reality is, yes, they could be lying to us. You had -- the possibility is, yes, they've got -- they do have some possible information.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. WARREN: But if you're looking for strong evidence, Tony, of things --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. WARREN: -- unequivocal, take a look at the thousands of, you know, surface-to-air rockets that one finds in southern Lebanon, given by Iran and Iraq to the militant Hezbollah.
MS. CLIFT: Look, I don't think they're lying.
MR. BLANKLEY: The fact that --
MS. CLIFT: I don't think they're lying, but they are exaggerating very weak evidence. And it is irresponsible to force a confrontation with Iraq when you know that he does have chemical and biological weapons, and we have done zero in this country to protect American troops against that kind of attack.
MR. BLANKLEY: Will it be safer when he's got nuclear weapons?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --
MR. BLANKLEY: Will it be safer when he has nuclear weapons? (Cross talk.) Thank you.
MS. CLIFT: That is not an imminent threat. There is time here --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to ask Michael just a -- I want to ask you a question. Then you can make your response and work them in as you see fit. Don't you think that the attitude of the American people right now, on the basis of what we have heard and what we know about Iraq and al Qaeda, would suggest to you that their going-in position ought to be one of extreme skepticism about what this administration is saying?
MR. BARONE: No. I think that's your attitude, but I don't think that's the attitude of most of the American people. And I think they realize as well that the level of evidence we need to act against people who hate us and have the will and capacity to do us grave harm on the level of September 11th and before is not the level of evidence that's needed for --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, really.
MS. CLIFT: And I have to --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You want to send American servicemen and women into battle on the basis of what you have seen, and you don't think that there should be an elaborate discussion of this in the United States Congress?
MR. BARONE: I think there should be an elaborate discussion. And I --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Have we had it, in two days?
MR. BARONE: And I would have one -- I would quote Dick Gephardt as setting the basis for one. He said September 11th changes the burden of proof. He's looking much more favorably on military action than he or most of us would have done before.
MS. CLIFT: War with Iraq may be inevitable, but we are not at that stage yet. We need to bring the company of other nations with us so that they are there at the beginning and for whatever cleanup there is.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. I want to point out to you --
MS. CLIFT: The rush to judgment has more to do with November 5 than any real threat.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to point out to you what Mr. Gephardt -- excuse me, Eleanor. I want to point out to you what Gephardt said in an op-ed piece in today's New York Times; that is, Friday's New York Times. Quote: "Bush has decided to play politics with the safety and the security of the American people."
MR. BARONE: Yeah. If you read --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does that alter your view?
MR. BAR0NE: No. I think if you read farther in that piece, he says he's inclined to support the president on the merits on this issue. And as he said, the burden of proof has changed since September 11th. We now should be trying to connect dots a lot more than any of us were doing before that time.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think this was a complimentary piece on Bush?
MR. BARONE: Not entirely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not entirely?
MR. BLANKLEY: It was put out by Gephardt because earlier in the week his counterpart in the Senate, Daschle, had made a tough statement and Gephardt had to get in the Democratic game.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. "Rummy" got one thing right this week.
(Begin video segment.)
Q Mr. Secretary, using John McLaughlin style --
DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: Using what?
Q John McLaughlin. John McLaughlin.
SEC. RUMSFELD: John McLaughlin, yes.
Q Yes. On the scale from 1 to 10, when 1 means total disappointment and 10 is supernatural contentment -- (laughter), which number would define your mood after this meeting? I am thinking particularly about the formation of -- the chances of making formation of a rapid-reaction force by NATO, but also about other matters.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well --
Q Thank you, sir. And I want to wish you all the best in your endeavors.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you, sir. "The McLaughlin Group." Ten's high, 1's low. I came away from this meeting very, very high. I would say it's up in the 9 and 10 levels. I think it has been an excellent meeting. We have had good discussions.
(End video segment.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As an exit question, do you think that Warsaw journalist of very high repute -- do you think he was a plant?
MR. BARONE: Do I think it was a plant? John, I would not accuse you of underhanded behavior or commercial self-promotion.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Exit: On a solidity scale of zero to 10, zero meaning zero solidity, Jello; 10 meaning metaphysical solidity, solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, how solid is the Rumsfeld attempt to link Iraq and al Qaeda?
MR. BARONE: I think under current standard of proof, a 10.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A 10?
MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) Point-zero-two. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Zero-two.
MR. BLANKLEY: About a four and a half or five.
MR. WARREN: I have this vision of Saddam in a bunker watching you going, "Issue three: Biological or chemical weapons against the Americans?"
I say a three -- oatmeal. Three.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think he's a four.
We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Before we go to predictions, let's hear Gore to the fore.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: (From videotape.) The president is proclaiming a new uniquely American right to preemptively attack whomsoever he may deem represents a potential future threat... If Iraq is the first point of application, it is not necessarily the last. In fact, the very logic of the concept suggests a string of military engagements against a succession of sovereign states -- Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And Iran may be next on the engagement string.
SEC. RUMSFELD: (From videotape.) There are al Qaeda in Iran. There are a lot of al Qaeda in Iran. Iran is providing haven. And they're telling their people they're not -- the government is. And they're not telling their people the truth. And they are there. And they do not like it when we say that, but they are.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did Gore help or hurt his candidacy 2004? And then I'd like a prediction.
MR. BARONE: Well, I think he hurt his candidacy in 2004.
Prediction: Congressman Greg Ganske may get ahead of Senator Tom Harkin in polls after the scandal with the Harkin supporter attending a Ganske meeting, taping it and giving the transcript to the press.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're calling it a win for Ganske.
MR. BARONE: I'm calling -- he'll go ahead in the polls. We'll see about November.
MS. CLIFT: Gore helps his candidacy because he sets himself apart from the Democratic pack, just as he did a decade ago, when he supported the Gulf War resolution then.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it was the best speech of his career?
MS. CLIFT: Next to bowing out 2000. This may be the bowing in into 2004. Where --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he's also leading the Democrats?
MS. CLIFT: Hmm... (laughs).
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think he's leading the Democrats.
MR. BLANKLEY: If Democrats do badly in this congressional election, this speech will have hurt him, because it's forced the war issue.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're predicting that?
MR. BLANKLEY: No, I'm not. If the Democrats do well in this election, then I don't think he hurts himself so much.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think about Gore, and what's your prediction.
MR. WARREN: As a piece of oratory, if you look closely, it was actually a little bit sloppy and self-contradictory. But if he were to run, it helps; while other Democrats cynically avoid the issue of Iraq, he at least confronts it. Good for him.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I thought it was an excellent speech. He did prove a little bit too much, but it was the best speech, as far as I'm concerned, of his career, with the exception of the apology speech. I predict that New Jersey Democratic senator Robert Torricelli will lose his reelection bid to GOP challenger Douglas Forrester.
END OF REGULAR SEGMENT PBS SEGMENT FOLLOWS
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Lights, camera, lawsuits!
CURTIS HANSON (film director): (From videotape.) To alter these and then put them out with our names still on the product is not only fraud, but it's artistic rape.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Curtis Hanson and other big name Hollywood directors are taking their fight to court in the latest skirmish between art and morality. The issue? Whether motion pictures can be edited by independent houses and consumers to remove violence, sex, and bad language. More than a dozen companies are now turning out these unauthorized re-cuts. One of the major companies, CleanFlicks, has 76 stores in 18 states. The owner sees no harm in the bowdlerizing process.
RAY LINES (CleanFlicks CEO): (From videotape.) We're not trying to change the story or the outcome or anything like that. We're just trying to take out the profanity and the sex and nudity and the gory violence.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As for copyright law, CleanFlicks says because they purchase every copy of every film they change, they are not violating copyright.
The expurgating process is so popular that CleanFlicks has a competitor, Movie Mask, a computer program. With it, customers can edit the contents of a film at home. Bullets are transformed into flashes. Nubile, naked bodies are clothed. Swords are changed into rods of light.
These alterations are enraging to Hollywood, but they are a blessing to moms and dads in the heartland of America.
JOHN RENTSTROM (parent): (From videotape.) It's nice to be able to take the swearing and the profanity and the sex out of the movie. It's something that we can sit down and enjoy together as a family.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What does the success of CleanFlicks say about contemporary entertainment?
MR. WARREN: Oh, nothing grand. That there are lots of well- intentioned, righteous blue-noses out there who are willing to buy into a product that is a clear, absolute, unequivocal violation of copyright law. Any judge, even one of your favorite conservative guys, before whom this goes, it will take him seven seconds to knock this down.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, a question: Are we all agreed that this is a very legitimate beef on the part of the directors of the film and the actors in the film and Hollywood?
MS. CLIFT: Well, it's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't they have a real beef?
MS. CLIFT: It's backdoor censorship. It's as though you took the McLaughlin Group and edited out the violent encounters -- left out Michael Barone's eruptions!
MR. WARREN (?): Yeah, what would be left? What would be left?
MS. CLIFT: It wouldn't be the McLaughlin Group anymore! (Laughs.)
MR. BARONE: John, what I think this shows is that there are people out there who -- there is a market for the kind of material that's being produced here. I don't know what the copyright law is, and I would not be surprised to find out that Jim's right about this, as I would be on some other issues.
But the fact is that Michael Medved did a thing a couple of years ago where he did a survey and found that, you know, G-rated films actually produced a lot more money and profit than did a lot of X- and R-rated films. So Hollywood may be trying to serve its peers who like this sort of violence and sex, and not a market that exists out there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that if producers were smart they would take advantage of DVD technology and start producing multiple versions of their movies -- a PG version, a PG-13 version, and R version, maybe an X version for you, Tony, and release the PG-13 or R version to the theaters, and then make multiple versions for the DVDs? What's wrong with that?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I mean, I think producers are intelligent, and I assume they've done their market survey right.
But to my way of thinking, that makes sense. There's a huge audience for not having the vulgarities in there --
MS. CLIFT: But it's their decision, and not some --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Which one -- if there were multiple versions, which one would you buy?
MR. BLANKLEY: I'd have the ones without the dirty words in it, but I'd keep the pictures.
MR. WARREN: They already do that for versions on television and on airlines, but they do it because they're the producer, it was their collaboration.
MS. CLIFT: It's their decision.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there growing thinking in Hollywood that actually you sell more and it's more commercially profitable if it's kept on PG 13? There is that view too.
MR. BARONE: Well, Medved advanced that view. I don't know if it's true nor not. But there's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would you look into that?
MR. BARONE: There's a market for it.