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CNN CROSSFIRE

Are Republicans or Democrats Politicizing the Iraq Debate?; Should Blacks Boycott `Barbershop'?; Does New York Need a Sex Museum?

Aired September 25, 2002 - 19:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left: James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right: Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.
In the CROSSFIRE tonight: getting touchy as the war talk gets political.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TON DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: But for heaven's sake, don't politicize it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't believe the president (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Will there be a full-scale political war before there's a real one?

Does the nation's most popular movie, "Barbershop," need to get clipped?

Al Sharpton thinks so. We'll ask him why.

And, we've got museums for everything else, but do we really need one for sex?

Ahead on CROSSFIRE.

From the George Washington University: Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Tonight: Al Sharpton turns movie critic.

Also, we'll peek into a museum we're pretty sure that you'd like to visit -- but have you got the nerve?

Well first, however, we have the nerve to present to you the best political briefing in television right here: the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." When some Democrats, like me, were pointing out that the White House is rushing a war vote weeks before the fall election, despite no new threat from Iraq, Dick Cheney said it was reprehensible to try to politicize the war.

But the headline in the "Topeka Capital Journal" after a Cheney political fund-raiser for a local Republican says it all. Quote: Cheney Talks About Iraq at Political Fund-Raiser; Electing Taft Would Aid War Effort."

Four times in the last two days George W. Bush has suggested that Democratic Senators are, quote, not interested in the security of the American people.

Today Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle went ballistic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DASCHLE: You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War II they're not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous! Outrageous!

The president ought to apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Four words: God bless Tom Daschle.

What the administration is doing is both, I think, outrageous and reprehensible -- or I supposed President Bush would call it "reprehensible."

TUCKER CARLSON CO-HOST: Oh this is, even for you, I must say, a new low.

Instead of quoting the vice president, you quote the "Topeka Journal" headline of a news story.

That's -- you're going to take a headline from a newspaper in Topeka, Kansas?

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: OK.

More hints today that there is some kind of link between Iraq and al Qaeda. At a NATO conference in Poland, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters that Washington has evidence linking Iraq to al Qaeda. He says he presented the evidence to the other NATO defense ministers.

Rumsfeld would not, however, elaborate. A U.S. official tells CNN, quote: "We can't be utterly dismissive," end quote, of the evidence.

So far, however, most Democrats are dismissive of the evidence, presumably because Democratic campaign hacks believe they have better access to classified intelligence information than the secretary of defense.

BEGALA: You know, they've been back and forth on this. If they have the information, they should bring it to the public the way Tony Blair did.

CARLSON: I actually agree with you. But I am willing to believe that the secretary of defense knows more about this than Terry McAuliffe.

And I think we can both agree on that.

BEGALA: I do, but I don't think he knows more about it than Colin Powell or the CIA, who keeps telling the newspapers...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We will come on to this later, believe me.

A bipartisan group of United States senators has reached a compromise on the homeland security bill. The compromise proposal was engineered by the Senate's most gifted deal-maker, John Breaux of Louisiana.

It would weaken some civil service protections currently enjoyed by government workers, but send disputes to a presidentially appointed arbitration panel.

Not good enough, the White House says. Mr. Bush is threatening to veto the entire homeland security bill.

According to Bush, emergency workers are only heroes when they're needed for photo-ops. In the real world of legislation, if you can't screw union members and government workers, what's the point in being a Republican?

CARLSON: I guess the point here is to protect the country, not necessarily to pander to labor. I mean, there's no Marine Corps union.

Actually, you should ponder that, Paul. But then again, we'll talk about that in a minute.

More bad news tonight for the Robert Torricelli for Senate campaign.

The Associated Press is reporting that lawyers for the New Jersey Democrat are trying to keep secret a memo that details Torricelli's relationship with convicted felon and current federal prisoner David Chang. The memo, which is part of the public record, may help answer some of the questions now swirling around Senator Torricelli.

For instance: Did he attempt to obstruct a federal investigation? Did he threaten a witness with violence? Did he boast about having close friends in organized crime? New Jersey voters would like to know the answers to these questions and, of course, they have a right to.

Torricelli's lawyers, meanwhile, argue that the memo should be released, but not until after their client was reelected.

The truth, they understand, may indeed set Senator Torricelli free -- free from his embarrassing political career.

I hope it does. He's an outrage, and Democrats ought to leap on the bandwagon and demand they release them.

BEGALA: He has a lot of questions that he's got to answer. But we also should -- you should recognize that this was investigated by John Ashcroft's prosecutors, and they brought no charges, which means they cleared him.

CARLSON: Voters have a right to know the facts, and I hope they'll hear them.

BEGALA: The bottom-line fact is: He was cleared.

In 1961 an ivy league child of privilege by the name of Bob Filner joined the Freedom Riders in the segregated South. Filner was beaten, arrested and thrown in Mississippi's notorious Parchment State Penitentiary, where temporarily he was housed on death row. His cell mate lost his mind.

Today Filner is a Democratic Congressman. Yesterday he noted, factually, that America had armed and aided Saddam Hussein in the past. Joe Wilson, a right-wing Republican from South Carolina, accused Filner of hating America.

But Filner kept his cool. One of Filner's Republican colleagues said, If someone had said that about him, he'd have decked him.

But Filner told the "Washington Post," I've been beaten up and thrown in jail by better people than Joe Wilson.

CARLSON: Actually, you missed the key to the story, Paul. Filner accused the United States government of giving biological weapons to Saddam Hussein, which is a slander on the United States. I don't care what jail the guy's been in, that's an outrage that he would say that on television.

Gave biological weapons to Saddam Hussein? That's a lie.

BEGALA: Bob Filner is an American hero.

CARLSON: I don't care what he is. That's a lie. He ought to be ashamed of saying that.

BEGALA: You know there was a front page story a few weeks ago that talked about how Americans knew and helped Saddam Hussein when he was using chemical weapons against Iran. CARLSON: Nobody has ever alleged that the U.S. gave biological weapons to Saddam. That's a lie, and Filner ought to be embarrassed for saying that.

BEGALA: He's a hero, and he should not.

CARLSON: No he's not.

There was an explosion of acrimony on Capitol Hill today. Democrats screamed; Republicans yelled back. The tranquil bipartisanship of post-9/11 Washington was shattered, maybe forever.

On the other hand, contentious as it was, the beltway is still not Peru. In Lima yesterday, Peruvian Vice President David Waisman denounced opposition leader Eittel Ramos as a coward.

Let's see who is the coward, Ramos replied, and promptly challenged Waisman to a duel.

Asked later if he was joking, Ramos assured reporters that he absolutely was not joking. he then demanded the vice president meet him outside with a pistol in hand.

As of airtime tonight, the vice president had not responded. But the episode does put the current debates in Washington into some perspective. Yes, there is partisanship, but at least there are no gunfights.

BEGALA: Maybe just even -- you know, in the Senate, Tom Daschle, my party's Democratic leader once wore the uniform; Trent Lott, the Republican Leader wore the uniform of an Ole' Miss cheerleader. So I don't know that they want, exactly, to have that same kind of manly combat in the Senate here.

CARLSON: You can keep your homophobia to yourself, Paul.

Democrats are forgetting to pretend to be statesmanlike and bipartisan as they debate the issues of war and peace and homeland security. It was just a pretense anyway.

Now even that is gone. Good thing? Bad thing? We'll debate it.

Stepping into the CROSSFIRE tonight: former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta and former Florida Congressman Bill McCollum.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Bill, we all know now from the newspapers, the latest from the president, the latest from Tom Daschle.

But I want to put this into perspective: Tom Daschle is the man with the longest fuse of anybody I know. It took him nine months before he finally blew.

Here is where the first time I found in public record of the White House stating publicly that they intend to make political hay out of issues of war and peace. All the way back in January -- January 22 of 2002, and I read to you from the "Houston Chronicle: "Karl Rove, the president's chief adviser, told the Republican National Committee, meeting in Austin last week, that their could be political profit in the war. We can go to this country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might, and thereby protecting America, Rove said."

Hasn't this been the Republican electoral strategy for all of this election year, sir?

BILL MCCOLLUM, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I certainly find it fascinating to see all of this politicization, as you want to call it that, of either party a month away from the election.

BEGALA: This is nine months away, sir.

MCCOLLUM: Probably -- well, we're talking about right now.

BEGALA: No sir, the question was about January.

MCCOLLUM: Well, I'm talking about today with Daschle and this weekend with Vice President Gore raising the issue and so on.

The president's concern right now is with the fact that the homeland security bill is being held up, and has been for days and weeks, actually, now in the Senate without action, when he thinks it ought to be acted upon, and when it's all over a question of whether he can move personnel around in there or not; very frustrated with that.

And we don't yet have a time horizon on bringing up an Iraqi resolution yet, which would give him the authority, when Congress is out of session, to go after Saddam Hussein.

And I think that we're seeing some really steamy feelings about this on his part, not because of the election, but because he realizes Congress is coming to a conclusion very soon, and we need to resolve those two things before they go out for this election.

BEGALA: Important points, no doubt. But if I may press, please answer the question.

Back in January, nine months ago, Congressman, Karl Rove, the chief political strategist to the president said, We intend to politically profit from the war. Haven't they executed on Rove's strategy brilliantly?

MCCOLLUM: Paul, that's what's been reported, presumably by someone in the media and you're quoting that.

BEGALA: The "Houston Chronicle" endorsed Bush.

MCCOLLUM: All I can tell you is: People talk politics all the time in the background somewhere. I wouldn't be surprised if somebody made those kinds of political analyses somewhere. Is that what the president thinks? I don't think so. I think the president personally -- and I know him quite well -- is deeply concerned about moving the homeland security bill and deeply concerned about moving an Iraqi resolution. The politics of this election site were important to everybody, but his focus is almost exclusively on what we do with those two things right now. And that's what this is about.

CARLSON: John Podesta, I'm like a lot of Americans who I think were confused by the outburst tonight. I think I understand part of the reason Senator Daschle is upset. Let me put it on the screen.

It's a poll from CNN/"USA Today" and it shows that since August, just in the last month, Americans now think Iraq is a bigger issue in the midterms than the economy.

I want to show you a second poll that shows the right track/wrong track numbers are changing. More Americans now think the country;s on the right track. These are bad numbers for Democrats, I think you'll agree, and they frustrate Democrats in the Senate.

PODESTA: Well, I'm not sure whether you're proving -- which point you're trying to prove. I think if you're trying to prove the point that this is political and that these numbers show that the political strategy is working, I guess that you may have a point. But I think that what really got under Senator Daschle's skin was not any kind of numbers like this. It's important to think about these numbers in the context of an economy that's tanking, a Dow that's tanking, unemployment going up, et cetera. So, the fact that maybe it's working as a political strategy is, you know, it's a point, I guess -- you have proven.

But what I think really -- what really got under Senator Daschle's skin is this quote from the president -- "the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people."

For him to go out in a campaign fund-raiser and say that the good men and women of the United States Senate, Democrats, are not interested in the security of the American people was just below the line.

CARLSON: I agree with you.

PODESTA: I was on this show a couple of weeks ago and I defended the president on this point. I said that, you know, I don't trust Mr. Rove very much but I defended the president. But I think he's been going from fund-raiser to fund-raiser...

CARLSON: But you're taking this completely out of context. You're aware, you're full aware...

PODESTA: There is no context.

CARLSON: Let me just give you one sentence and let me tell you what the context is. The context is the debate over the department of homeland security. And there's a raging debate about labor and what sort of labor union protections should the employees of the department have. The president is saying Democrats are pandering to their labor base and they're putting that consideration over considerations of national security. That's a valid point.

PODESTA: But what the president said was that the Senate Democrats are not interested in the security of the American people after they have stood shoulder to shoulder with them...

CARLSON: He wasn't talking about Iraq.

PODESTA: What is the context? John Kerry, a Vietnam War hero or Dan Inouye, a World War II hero are not interested in the security of the American people? It's out of bounds and out of line.

And I think that Senator Daschle needed to call him on it and I hope now we can get back to a bipartisan pursuit...

MCCOLLUM: I think that's the bottom line. We need to be back to a bipartisan pursuit of this and we need to get it resolved now and we need to move that homeland security bill and not mess with -- and we need to get to the resolution and a good solid debate. But the bottom line...

BEGALA: Let me put you to the test then, Congressman. Let me put to you the test because I know you're a person of good faith and you put your country ahead of partisanship.

On this set, many months ago now, Cynthia McKinney, a Democratic member of Congress, suggested, Tucker pointed out to me that she had suggested, that President Bush had advanced knowledge and allowed those attacks of September 11 to take place. I was so embarrassed I crawled under the desk literally and I said, I will never defend that kind of slur against our president. It was completely out of line.

I wonder if you can name me a time that the Republicans, perhaps with this quote from our president, were also in the heat of political combat going over the line?

MCCOLLUM: Paul, you must say there's no comparisons between those two. What Cynthia McKinney had to say...

BEGALA: So Bush has made no mistakes in this? The Republicans have never crossed the line in impugning the patriotism of my party?

MCCOLLUM: I'm not trying to say the rhetoric might not impugn somebody in their opinion, because we used to do that: take down the word of the floor, somebody gets in the heat of passion, they say things. But what Cynthia McKinney said was that we had pre-knowledge. I mean that was -- you can't compare this...

BEGALA: But what I'm asking you about is have the Republicans ever crossed the line for you? Has anything they have said crossed the line? For example, saying that members of the Senate don't care about the security of the American people? MCCOLLUM: Of course, from day to day some people cross the line all the time. But we need to get back on the issue. The issue is not all this rhetoric about who's crossed what line right now. We need to move on with the legislation of homeland security. We to give the president the authority to get at a guy who has chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities that are growing everyday and we can't mess around so he can use the army and the military during the winter when they want to have it used and be able to do this job.

BEGALA: Hold that thought. Well put.

John Podesta, we're going to come back to you as well in just a minute.

But in a minute, I'm going to ask both of our guests for their reaction to what I thought was a bold and brilliant speech by the man who most Americans wanted to make their commander in chief.

And later, why Al Sharpton wants to shave a few of the jokes out of "Barbershop."

And our quote of the day comes from a senator who appreciates history, but does not appreciate what the Bushies are up to these days.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: John Podesta, let's just talk for a second about the former vice president's sort of sad, poignant little speech he gave the other day. It was dismissed not only by the right but also by Robert Torricelli. Now, if Robert Torricelli starts beating up on you, you know you're in trouble.

Here's exactly what he said about Mr. Gore's speech: "The speech," he said, "is completely not relevant. That may be his judgment, but it doesn't represent the views of any of us in the Democratic party. The policy of preemptive action to deny rogue regimes weapons of mass destruction should be a bipartisan issue."

This brings up a larger question: Why aren't Democrats taking, if they disagree with what the president is doing, a principled stand against it? Instead, they're kind of criticizing him around the edges, but we agree fundamentally with preemption, et cetera, sort of.

Where are the true believers in your party?

PODESTA: Well, I think that from the beginning what the Democrats have been trying to say is essentially what the vice president was saying -- which is that we got to pursue Saddam Hussein, we need to get him out of Iraq, but we've to do it in a way that strengthens our war against terrorism and al Qaeda.

And I would have thought Senator Torricelli would have heard that, but I think that was his message. To use a Begala-ism, you know, it's al Qaeda, stupid, that he was saying to the American people.

And we got to pursue both at the same time and a strategy that gets us out of the U.N. -- doesn't pursue this with an international coalition -- is one that's going to really undermine our ability to continue this fight against terrorism.

MCCOLLUM: But, John, what Al Gore said, in addition, was that we had to fight and should fight only the terrorists right now because we can't afford to be preoccupied with Hussein and the issue of Iraq. The reality of that of course is -- and you know this -- that we are going to be engaged with al Qaeda and fighting them for a long time to come. And we need to go in a find a way to do both of them at one time.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCOLLUM: Oh, I heard him and I think he made a big mistake in that. Maybe he didn't mean to say it but that's what he said.

BEGALA: There was another point he made apropos of the speech that Senator Daschle gave today. He suggested that perhaps at times the White House was seeking to gain political favor from this issue.

And I just want to layout seven different times the White House -- on the record, by name, White House officials including our president -- have said just that. In January Karl Rove says, As we've pointed out they want to use this to make political points. In March, the White House -- the president himself says, A Republican majority will make sure the enemy doesn't attack again.

In June, a White House briefing on the election strategy says, Focus on the war. Again in June, the pollster for the White House, Matthew Dowd, says, This puts the Republicans on a good fitting. The chief of staff has said it's driven by marketing concerns. The president again and again has said, If I were running for office, this would be an issue. And now the other day, his famous comment that the Repub -- Democrats aren't concerned for the security.

That's a pretty damning indictment, Congressman.

MCCOLLUM: Let's face it, Paul. Where you do have the dissent right now -- and there is some dissent on whether we should go forward at this moment -- it's all on the Democrat side. I don't know any Republicans who are dissenting.

BEGALA: How about Schwarzkopf? How about Dick Armey, the leader of the House Republicans?

MCCOLLUM: We're now talking about fellas like Levin who I know quite well...

BEGALA: The House majority leader is a Republican. His name is Richard Armey, he's from Texas. He's against this.

(CROSSTALK) MCCOLLUM: Not against it in the same way, in the sense of, Hey, we can't go forward. The issue here is can we go forward and do this now or not do it now. And there are those -- and principally Democrats -- who say, Whoa, we don't think you're going to have to -- you should do anything but try to contain this guy, like the old Cold War contained to the Russians. It doesn't work. The preemptive...

BEGALA: It's a good debate, it's a good debate.

MCCOLLUM: It worked with the Russians, but it's not Saddam Hussein and it's not the day and age of terrorism where you get chemical, biological and nuclear in the wrong guy's hands in a briefcase -- a suitcase and get to the United States. That's a real difference.

We need to take him out, we need to do it now and we need to have a debate about that. And his concern -- the president's concern is principally because Democrats are taking that view much more than any Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Will the resolution pass?

PODESTA: I think so. And I think Senator Daschle's pledged to bring it up before they leave and I think it will pass.

CARLSON: Thank you. Thank you both very much for joining us. We appreciate you. Thank you.

There's a new way for you to keep up with all the developments in the Iraq crisis. Join Wolf Blitzer every weekday at noon for "SHOWDOWN: IRAQ."

Coming up: why Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, among others, aren't laughing at the hit comedy "Barbershop."

Later in our culture segment, CROSSFIRE takes you to the new museum of sex in New York City.

But next, a particularly breathless "Quote of the Day" from a senator who is never at a loss for hot air.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: The issue of war, of course, is a very important one. And from the halls of Congress to our own little world here on CROSSFIRE, the debate sometimes generates as much heat as it does light. Today in the Senate, the longest-serving Democrat in body, Senate Pro -- President Pro Tempore Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia excoriated the White House for using issues of national security as, in his words, a bumper sticker election theme. Senator Byrd gets out "Quote of the Day" for reminding everyone that war is about the blood of our sons and daughters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ROBERT BRYD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I've been in this Congress 50 years. I've never seen a president of the United States or the vice president of the United States stoop to such low levels. It's your blood, your sons and daughters, those who are looking at this Senate through those electronic lenses. It's your blood -- your treasure!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: That was Robert C. Byrd lecturing a cameraman in the well of the Senate.

CARLSON: I have to say I agree with him. Everyone agrees but how many sentences of his begin with "I've been in this body for 50 years and I have never seen this, that, the other thing." Please, pull it back a little bit Senator Byrd. That would be my feeling.

BEGALA: Powerful truth. Glad he said it.

CARLSON: Louisiana has battened down the hatches. Isidore is on the way. That's a hurricane. Connie Chung has the latest next in a CNN "News Alert."

Later, Al Sharpton is back on CROSSFIRE. This time as a movie critic.

And speaking of movies, there are blue ones and so much more in New York's latest cultural attraction. We'll explain that. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We are coming to you live from The George Washington University here in beautiful downtown Washington, D.C.

You know, the hottest movie in the country, right now, is a comedy. It's called "Barbershop." It's aimed primarily at an African-American audience, and it's just a little bit irreverent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "Barbershop)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: There's three things that black people need to hear the truth about.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: One, one, Rodney King should of got (EXPLETIVE DELETED) beat for driving drunk and being (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Two, O.J. did it. And, three, Rosa Parks can't do nothing but sit her black (EXPLETIVE DELETED) down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: That last remark about civil rights legend, Rosa Parks, and other lines about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Reverend Jesse Jackson have infuriated some leaders in the African-American community.

One of those leaders, the Reverend Al Sharpton, joins us from New York.

Reverend Sharpton, good to see you again, sir.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Good to see you.

CARLSON: Reverend Al Sharpton, thanks for joining us.

Here we have a movie, I haven't seen it. looks pretty amusing, though, but it's -- the writers of this movie are black. The producer is black. The director is black. Most of the actors are black, and this movie is the number one movie in the United States for two weeks running, and you're criticizing it.

Why can't you cut a brother a break?

SHARPTON: First of all, I'm so happy that you, all of a sudden, talk on defending brothers. That's progress within itself.

CARLSON: I think it looks like an amusing movie, Reverend Al.

SHARPTON: I think that for you to say that it's amusing, and you haven't seen it says a lot about your observations.

But on a serious note, I think that there are some things go beyond humor. Martin Luther King died fighting for the freedom of all Americans. I don't think to disparage him, as a line in this movie does, is something that's funny. I don't think to say that Rosa Parks, who was arrested for sitting down in the front of the bus at that time causing a social revolution that led to desegregation, is something that is funny to me.

CARLSON: Well, wait a second...

SHARPTON: I think the artists have the right...

CARLSON: ... nobody is really attacking.

SHARPTON: ... to say what they want to say, but I think we have a right to respond.

BEGALA: Actually, let me jump in here, too, though. I love the Reverend Jesse Jackson. I think he's a wise and wonderful guy. And one of the things that he has said is that we have to be careful about memorializing Dr. King into irrelevancy. And, in point of fact, history records that Dr. King had a wonderful sense of humor, and maybe you and I may not like this or that, but isn't it better to remember that these legends, like Rosa Parks and Dr. King, were really people, too? Maybe we...

SHARPTON: I think that's very important, and I agree with that. And I think that they are human beings. But we're not talking about them being referred to in human terms. We're talking about they called Dr. King a whore. That's like calling a woman out of a -- that's like someone saying that a woman is a "B," and you're just humanizing her. That's insulting! That's offensive!

And I think if they were just humanizing them, they'd tell jokes about me in movies. You never heard me complain about a movie before whether they lampoon me or someone else. There's a difference in degrading and denigrating someone's legacy and in telling a joke about that.

CARLSON: Well, wait a second. I would think, though, Al Sharpton, you'd be particularly sensitive to efforts to squelch free speech as someone who routinely pushes the limit of that constitutional right. You can say, well, people have a right to boycott, et cetera, but you're putting economic pressure, or attempting to, on the distributors of this film. You're really trying to take away their freedom to express themselves, and I wonder why.

SHARPTON: No. What I'm saying is they have the freedom to express themselves, but I have the freedom to say I'm not going to support it. I think that they have the right to do whatever they want. I also have the right to say that's not funny to me; I'm not going to finance it; I'm not going to participate.

There was once a record done once by Michael Jackson. People were offended. Sony Records took the line out of that record. Right after 9/11, they delayed Arnold Schwarzenegger's movie because of the sensitivity of that.

People have the right to say what they feel is in good taste or not. I don't think this is in good taste. Others think it is not in good taste. I think MGM, if they were responsible, should sit down and hear people out, respond and go forward, but I don't think that people should be censored for saying things and people should not be censored to respond. I have the right to say what I feel just like they do.

BEGALA: Yes, sir, but let me bring you back. You mentioned Michael Jackson a minute ago, and I think one of the last times I saw you in the paper, you were at a Michael Jackson rally protesting, apparently, the mistreatment of that billionaire odd ball. And now, you're criticizing...

SHARPTON: No...

BEGALA: But we live in a world where, yesterday, the government reported that 1.3 million Americans have slipped into poverty under Bush. We got the president leading us into a war that many people think might be unwise and unwarranted. AIDS is ravaging the world. Why are you wasting time on Michael Jackson's record deals and somebody's movie?

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, I wouldn't waste time on his record deal. Michael Jackson came to a summit meeting about which many of these artists, by the way, are supported talking about how difficult it is for blacks in the entertainment field. You saw him at our headquarters at our rally. I'm not in anybody's record deal.

And you're absolutely right. In fact, tomorrow night, I'm preaching at Yale University about the war in Iraq. Dr. King was a central figure in dealing with the war of Vietnam, which is why someone 30 years should not refer to him as a whore. We ought to be studying Dr. King and what he did in the anti-war movement and how he appealed for world peace, at this time in history, not trying to denigrate him and make out of humor, which Edgar Hoover tried to do, in fact, with (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: OK, now, Reverend Sharpton, we would be remiss if we didn't point out that not only are you a movie protester, but you're, also, a leading voice in the Democratic party, one of the most popular presidential candidates for 2004. A Zogby poll found you beating senators John Kerry, Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt and a whole roster of Democrats who think they're more important than you, but they're wrong. My question is when was the last time you spoke to Senator Hillary Clinton, A, and, B, how is your campaign going?

SHARPTON: Well, I don't know. I call senators all the time. I don't remember the last time I talked to Senator Clinton. I think she probably talks to you more than she does me.

CARLSON: Have you spoken to her in the last six months, Reverend Sharpton?

SHARPTON: Yes.

CARLSON: Really? What'd she say?

SHARPTON: I've spoken to a lot of republicans and democrats senators in the last six month, all of whom I'm encouraging not to give the president a unilateral decision on bringing to us war. I think that that is a mistake. I think that we cannot afford, as we try to unite the world against terrorism, to have our allies on one side, and we on another without very clear evidence of imminent danger in Iraq. And I'll be dealing with that at Yale, tomorrow night.

BEGALA: Reverend Sharpton, briefly, we're almost out of time, but I wonder if you'll, I guess you won't though, be willing to join me in the protest against that smart-ass white boy who makes fun of me on "Saturday Night Live?" I guess I don't quite raise to that level, but that's an outrage, isn't it?...

SHARPTON: Well, I think first of all, he makes remarks against me. I don't think you or I represent in history what Martin Luther King did, and I don't think either one of us was killed. That's not funny to me. Dr. King lost his life. I think he ought to be respected for that. I certainly don't think he should be reduced to a sexual joke, particularly when we fought hard to get blacks the right to do things in Hollywood. I think if these were whites doing it, all of us would be outraged. If anything it shows that we are consistent, even if they're black, we're going to call their hand on it. We're being consistent.

CARLSON: Al Sharpton, I want to thank you. We're, unfortunately, out of time. I hope you'll say hi to Senator Hillary Clinton next time you talk to her. You talk to her a lot, and I appreciate that. Good luck on your presidential campaign. We're behind you. Thanks.

SHARPTON: Thank you, Tucker.

CARLSON: Coming up on "Fireback," one of our viewers wants to know who's hiding behind that Paul Begala mask. Up next, a visit to the land of whips, chains and smutty books. America's newest museum is open for business. Do you dare visit? We do.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back. Before Mayor Rudy Giuliani, if you wanted tawdry sex and sin in New York City, all you had to do was visit Times Square. Now, you have to go to the museum.

Most sex, which is a demand, of course, and, also, the name of the Museum of Sex opens its doors, Saturday, in a building that, according to urban legend, recently housed a brothel.

We have yet to take Dr. Ruth up on her offer to give us a guided tour. We have arranged for the next best thing. Museum founder Daniel Gluck joins us from the city that never sleeps, but apparently, does sleep around. Here he is.

BEGALA: Mr. Gluck, thank you for joining us. Let me ask you the obvious question. There are 5.5 billion people in the world. Don't you think we know how to do it by now?

DANIEL GLUCK, FOUNDER, MUSEUM OF SEX: Of course. Especially you, Paul.

BEGALA: Why, you promised not to mention last night. No, I'm just kidding. No, I'm just kidding. Come on. People know what they're doing in the bedroom. Why do they need a museum?

GLUCK: Well, there's more than just the act. The purpose of the museum is to really present and preserve the cultural history and significance of sexuality in all aspects of our culture. The arts, humanities, the sciences. And we're starting with our inaugural exhibition on the history of sexuality of New York City.

CARLSON: But, don't, I mean, it strikes me a museum of sex is a little bit like the museum of getting up in the morning or the museum of going to the bathroom. I mean, it's something that everybody does, and I wonder if the museum won't make it boring, which would be a serious sin, I think you'll agree.

GLUCK: Yes, well I mean, there's a huge body of scholarship that really is not known to the general public that we really hope to bring in this format. And I think it's actually very exciting.

For instance, in this particular exhibition, we're going to be mixing a lot of femora and artifacts ranging from pornography to newspaper headlines and things of that nature.

What's that?

CARLSON: To more pornography.

GLUCK: Exactly.

CARLSON: What's the weirdest thing you have in the museum?

GLUCK: The weirdest thing. We have some footage from Christine Jorgensen's sex change that I think would be interesting to your viewers. Excuse me.

BEGALA: Oh, yes, well. Now, the price of admission -- the price of admission, Mr. Gluck, is $17 American. I mean, in my day, you could go with a pocket full of quarters to Times Square, as Tucker mentioned, and pumping those little machines. And what are you getting for 17 bucks besides, yuk, movies about -- a film about somebody's sex change operation?

GLUCK: You're getting a great blockbuster exhibition on an exciting new museum in New York City. And I think that if you compare the price to other museum openings, it's really not that far, and I think it'll be exciting and well worth the money.

BEGALA: Tell us about the gift shop. What do you sell in the gift shop, Mr. Gluck?

GLUCK: Not what you'd expect. We will be selling...

BEGALA: How do you know what I'd expect?

GLUCK: Well, I -- just by the way you are, I think. We will be selling mostly...

BEGALA: You know, you didn't talk like this to Katie Couric, Mr. Gluck, I just...

GLUCK: No, no. I'm being a little rougher with you.

BEGALA: That's all right. Go ahead, I'm sorry.

GLUCK: Books, T-shirts, posters, that kind of thing.

BEGALA: The first exhibit you mentioned, and I believe the title is "How New York City Transformed Sex in America." As a non-New Yorker, that's a tad arrogant, isn't it? What do they do in New York they don't do in Sugarland, Texas?

GLUCK: Well, New York became the financial and publishing capital of America beginning around 1830, shortly after the opening of the Erie Canal, and it really was a great platform that was used by radicals and revolutionaries to set forth an agenda that really gave its name, Sodom on the Hudson, set its reputation as Sodom on the Hudson, and we show that in this exhibition.

CARLSON: Well, wait. I mean, this is getting to a suspicion that I've had for a long time, and that is that New Yorkers talk a lot more about sex than they actually have it. It's like a giant Woody Allen movie. They spend dinner yapping about sex, and then go home and sleep alone. That's true, isn't it?

GLUCK: Well, I wouldn't know.

BEGALA: Well, what regional difference is there? OK, New York because the Erie Canal brought a bunch of hookers into town. Good for them. But I mean, is that really important enough to warrant a museum, plus with the arrogant notion that somehow New York has transformed sex in America. Come on.

GLUCK: But as the publishing capital of America and the financial capital of America, it really has. You look at the founders of Planned Parenthood is Margaret Sanger. You look at the Stonewall Rebellion. You look at modern pornography, which really had its origins in New York City, fetish culture started in New York City. We're going to be showing all of that in this exhibition, so really, it has had a tremendous influence on modern attitudes about sexuality in America and around the world.

CARLSON: Have you checked this with like the business roundtable or the New York Booster Society? I mean, you're the center of the fetish community? Do you really want to advertise this to the world? Is Japanese tourists going to come to New York because of that?

GLUCK: We may no longer be the center of the fetish community, but we are, definitely, its origin in America and, probably, the world. That fetish culture really has influenced everything from comic books like "Wonder Woman," which we show in this exhibition to Bat Woman...

BEGALA: Hey, hey, hey, Wonder Woman? Back off on Wonder Woman, there, Mr. Gluck.

GLUCK: Exactly.

GLUCK: What's wrong with Wonder Woman?

GLUCK: She has a classic aura of fetish culture. Cinched waist. She tied people up all the time. She was wearing high heels...

BEGALA: That's (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Come on! Oh, you have a very dirty mind, Mr. Gluck. She was a hero for millions of us who read very carefully.

CARLSON: We won't even get to Aqua Man because, unfortunately, we're out of time.

BEGALA: Daniel Gluck, the curator of the Sex Museum. Tell us, again, when it opens.

GLUCK: It opens this Saturday, September 28.

BEGALA: CROSSFIRE viewers across America will flock to see it and send us voluminous and detailed e-mails about it.

Thank you very much...

GLUCK: Thank you.

BEGALA: ... Daniel Gluck from New York City.

Now that our minds are firmly ensconced in the gutter, stay tuned for our "Fireback" segment, where one of you has a question about dirty movies in hotel rooms.

Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: If you'd like to fire back at CROSSFIRE, e-mail us at CROSSFIRE@cnn.com. Make sure to include your name and hometown.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Time now for our "Fireback" segment where you at home take careful notes during the show and then, fire them at us after the show.

Carl Tuckerson -- I smell a pseudonym here. Carl Tuckerson from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, says, "I can't believe you let Tucker's deceptive claim that Al Sharpton is a Democrat's preferred candidate go uncorrected. As you know, all polling shows President-elect Al Gore is the current preferred candidate of Democrats, followed by Hillary Clinton."

That's true. Gore's re-election, actually, is probably the most...

CARLSON: That's simply not true. Actually, Sharpton does beat Hillary Clinton in the polls. But I was glad to find out, tonight, that Sharpton and Mrs. Clinton are close friends and talk frequently.

BEGALA: Oh...

CARLSON: That's what he said. Jim Greene from San Francisco, California, writes in about the show we did last night on porn in hotel rooms. Sandy "Rios said" -- last night -- "that hardcore pornography was in may D.C. hotels, but she failed to mention the hotel name. I plan to be visiting the nation's capital next month. Please help."

Jim Greene, we are not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here. We are merely a talk show. You'll have to find out yourself.

BEGALA: That's right. Not just a talk show host, also, a pimp.

Thomas E. Doll, Jr. of Austin, Texas, my home, says, "That's a nice `Showdown Iraq' graphic you've got there. When are we going to see 'Our Crappy Economy graphic at the bottom of the screen?"

Well, Tom, here, your wish has come true thanks to our producers here at CROSSFIRE. Folks at home are watching it right now.

CARLSON: Really? BEGALA: Our crappy economy. Why not? That should be a special...

CARLSON: I can't believe standards and practices allow that.

Next up, Jay Wood of Greensboro of North Carolina writes, "Tucker, I think you should reach over to look for a seam on Paul Begala's head. I bet if you pull on the seam, you'll tear his mask and find that Paul is actually Bill Clinton."

Actually, Jay, I have, but I'm sad to report, it's Hillary Clinton.

BEGALA: Oh! Oh! Yes, ma'am, tell us your name and hometown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, I'm Teresa Aroco (ph). I am from Philadelphia. I'm studying at the Fells Institute at University of Pennsylvania.

CARLSON: Smart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My comment is on the movie "Barbershop." There's another real popular movie out ,right now, called "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" that's gotten a lot of appeal to people with any cultural background because it's a movie that really depicts the good and the bad about a family with strong cultural values, and I really don't see the movie "Barbershop" in any different way. It's a caricature of a neighborhood, an African-American neighborhood, and it's simply that.

BEGALA: Good for you. I haven't seen either, I have to say, but I like any kind of celebration of diversity. I don't think we should all just be homogenized. I think it's important to recognize that there's all kinds of fun, interesting, funny things in every culture.

CARLSON: I'm surprised the "Big Fat Greek Wedding" lobby hasn't complained, but that...

BEGALA: The big, fat Greeks are furious, yes.

CARLSON: Yes, sir!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ed May (ph) from Maplewood, New Jersey, and my political question is, if Forester beats Torricelli in the New Jersey senate race and the GOP regains the senate, don't you think you ought to stop making jokes about New Jersey?

CARLSON: Well, yes, New Jersey will have redeemed itself. I look forward to the day when democrats will rise up as one and say, we don't need someone like this in our party and collectively endorse Mr. Forester.

BEGALA: We need, instead, somebody who is like been jacking up the price of prescription drugs for senior citizens, which is how Mr. Forester made his fortune. CARLSON: That's actually not true. And if you're going to defend Robert Torricelli on television, do it in the camera, so we can save it.

BEGALA: I actually said...

CARLSON: I will save the tape.

BEGALA: ... Forester is the guy who is very bad on prescription drugs. If you care about them in New Jersey, don't vote for him.

From the left, I'm Paul Begala. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Yes, from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us, again next time, for another edition of CROSSFIRE. CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT begins immediately after CNN NEWS ALERT. Have a great night.

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Debate?; Should Blacks Boycott `Barbershop'?; Does New York Need a Sex Museum?>

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