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Anderson Cooper 365

Aired December 31, 2003 - 19:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: And good evening. I'm Anderson Cooper, live from a very noisy Times Square here in New York City. They call it the crossroads of the world. Tonight it certainly seems like that. Hundreds of thousands have gathered, awaiting the new year. Here are the headlines at this hour.


ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN special presentation.

It was a year of promise. And shattered dreams.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Columbia is lost. There are no survivors.

ANNOUNCER: Of struggle, and bloodshed.

BUSH: On my orders, coalition forces have began striking selected targets and military equipments, to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war.

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER: We besieged them, and we killed most of them, and I think we will finish them soon.

ANNOUNCER: A time when heroes were needed, and many answered the call. Soothing the anxiety of a nation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After an ordeal that had ended with a very happy, successful recovery of seven missing U.S. POWs.

ANNOUNCER: A time when one superstar shined brightly, but lost his luster.

KOBE BRYANT, NBA: I'm so sorry, for having to put you through this, and having to put our family through this.

ANNOUNCER: A year when times stood still and everybody pulled together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No major incidents. No major signs of crime. Detroit is the model of the nation.

ANNOUNCER: A year when politics made for strange bedfellows, and then some.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: I'm moved and I'm honored beyond words to be your governor.

ANNOUNCER: A time of flames and fears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's the one who saved my family. She's the one who said, get out, get out.

ANNOUNCER: A time when the King of Pop saw his fairy tale existence enshrouded in a nightmare.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An arrest warrant for Mr. Jackson has been issued, on multiple counts of child molestation.

MARK GERAGOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He is greatly outraged by the bringing of these charges. He considers this to be a big lie.

ANNOUNCER: A year when the war on terrorism saw the enemy strike America's allies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These attacks are attacks on the whole of humanity.

ANNOUNCER: A time of surprise and jubilation at the capture of a deposed dictator.

PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVIL ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!

ANNOUNCER: A time of challenge and change. A year in the making.

Join us for this special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 365, CNN's unique look at the pivotal hours and moments of 2003.


COOPER: Welcome. What a year it has been. In the past 365 days, we've witnessed the fall of Saddam, the rise of Arnold, and the, well, rebirth of Britney. So what kind of memories do you have of 2003? In the next hour, we're going to bring you some of what we think were the most gripping and unforgettable moments of the past year, stories witnessed firsthand by CNN reporters around the globe.

Without a doubt, one of the most defining moments of the year happened just weeks ago. Saddam Hussein captured after dodging U.S. troops for nine months. Once a tyrant followed and feared, Saddam emerged from the hole he was hiding in a man, bearded, bedraggled, broken. Here's how the story was captured by CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a raid today in Tikrit conducted by the U.S. military based on intelligence that Saddam Hussein was at a particular location. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very interesting. It's something that I observed here last night, when U.S. forces went on a raid they tore out of here about 7:00 at night, came back at about 11:30. The forces definitely had a different mood after this raid. The leadership here has given them a pep talk, and they were posing for pictures. We could smell cigars a little bit later on.

BREMER: Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.

SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right behind me and all across in this neighborhood, wild celebrations have broken out. As you mentioned, this is a very, very dangerous place at the moment, because in typical Iraqi fashion, thousands of people are firing.

BUSH: A dark and painful era is over. A hopeful day has arrived. All Iraqis can now come together and reject violence and build a new Iraq.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The other message, very important for this White House, is to make sure that the American people understand that although you are seeing these pictures of people dancing in the streets of Iraq, you are seeing the absolute jubilation there, they should not expect this to be the end of violence.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: It's a final question, sir. How did you find out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I spoke -- when the first time the news came out on the CNN, to be honest, that's the best source of intelligence these days.

GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ: He was a tired man, a man resigned to his fate.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That video of Saddam Hussein, a man who, by the way, had been reported to have an absolute obsession with hygiene, having his hair checked for lice, having a U.S. military person stick a tongue depressor in his mouth, absolutely extraordinary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was in the bottom of a hole. There was no way he could fight back. So he was just caught like a rat.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When the soldiers discovered Saddam Hussein, he came with his hands up. He said, "I'm Saddam Hussein, I'm the president of Iraq, and I want to negotiate." To which the troops, we are told, responded, "President Bush sends his regards." After that, Saddam Hussein was whisked out of the hole, pulled up and taken away to a helicopter waiting in the field just across here.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Members of the Iraqi Governing Council say that if they can gather all the evidence and put together a case against him, he would be the first to be tried under their tribunals. But many experts believe that that could take months, simply to get that process up and running.

BUSH: Good riddance. The world is better off without you, Mr. Saddam Hussein. I find it very interesting that when the heat got on, you dug yourself a hole, and you crawled in it.


COOPER: Well, the year started with the war on terror and the search for Osama bin Laden. Both still go on to this day. But in mid-March, a war unlike any other began in the skies over Baghdad. In those early uncertain hours when the bombs started falling on Iraq, our Nic Robertson was there.


ROBERTSON: When I heard those explosions, I rushed down to that office, got on the telephone line and started reporting.


ROBERTSON: Well, what we heard here in Baghdad a few minutes ago were the air raid sirens going off. We could hear in the distance around the city the sound of anti-aircraft guns being fired. I see crater (ph) fire flying through the air.


ROBERTSON: We could hear the anti-aircraft gunfire with each wave of attack. You could hear the anti-aircraft gunfire start up on the outskirts of the city, and then move in and be very loud and very strong in the center of the city, as planes or whatever it was, arrived right over the center of the city.

What I did was I went up to my room on the 17th floor. There were a couple of still photographers up there, and when shock and awe started, I just set my camera up and had it rolling on the presidential palace.

And I was able to see the massive explosions that were happening.

I was frustrated that I couldn't get on the phone, that I was prevented by the Iraqi authorities from actually reporting live on the air, but I knew at least I was capturing the pictures of what was happening.

And the explosions were massive. They were shaking the building that we were in. The bits of plaster fell off the walls and windows were blown open. But I did feel relatively safe, because I knew that the building we were in wasn't a target. The target was just across the river from us, that area of the Republican Presidential Palace, a huge area of complexes and palaces. That was the area that was taking the full brunt of shock and awe, massive explosives, multiple explosions. And I felt very good that I was able to film and capture that. Of course, the next day I had some time to sneak those tapes out across the border. PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": We have some breaking news from the leadership of our own company. Iraqi authorities today have just expelled four journalists working for CNN from Baghdad immediately.

The next morning, at first daylight, we prepared the cars, we packed our bags, we got ready to leave the hotel. Bombs were falling around the city. We were worried, as we approached the outskirts of the city, we were driving through the city, that perhaps we could become collateral damage in an attack on a building. As we drove out of the city, you could see damage and debris by the side of the road.

We're about an hour out of Baghdad but the thoughts of the border already keep me awake now. The last few journalists who went through there had very big problems. Some of them were even sent back to Baghdad, had to appear in court and pay huge fines, tens of thousands of dollars, just so that they were able to get out of the country.

As we drove through the Iraqi desert towards the west, towards Jordan, we were able to see on the main highway where some buses had been targeted. The pressures on us before the war were incredible. The pressures just to be there, just to try and stay, not only from the Iraqi authorities, but from other journalists who didn't feel safe and wanted to leave.

So there was a sense of feeling that we had done our job as much as we could. We got the network on the air and covered the beginnings of the bombings. And that alone was an achievement.


COOPER: Well, hundreds of correspondents were embedded with coalition forces in Iraq. Some of the images they brought us were simply remarkable. Our Walter Rodgers was with the 7th cavalry.


WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The pictures you're seeing are absolutely phenomenal. These are live pictures of the 7th cavalry racing across the desert in southern Iraq.


COOPER: Embedded reporters showed us up close the lives of U.S. troops and shared many of the same dangers. Here's CNN's Martin Savidge.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We had made the first objective, and fortunately for the Marines they had gotten in without much of a fight. I remember (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who my photographer sort of bemoaning the fact we could hear fighting going on but we couldn't see it.

All of a sudden you heard this sizzling in the air, this hissing sound, which you know is the distinct noise of an RPG. It's the rocket. Before your mind can even grasp something has been fired there's this tremendous explosion and shattering glass. We realized we were under attack. And it was just an amazing scene.

It was the first time we went live. I think it was the first time anybody was going live from actual combat and people in their living rooms could watch it all play out. It was the ultimate reality TV in the first day of a war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can tell we're in the middle of a pretty severe duststorm.

SAVIDGE: The sandstorm was referred to by the Marines as the MOAS, the mother of all sandstorms. It truly was. It was something almost that you almost felt of biblical proportions. The wind picked up and the sand was just hitting you without letup. It was a fighting, piercing, stinging, aggravation. They couldn't fight under this. This was the most modern military in the world that literally had been brought to a standstill, not by the Iraqis, but by forces of nature.

The storm subsided and then it was told, we have to move because an emergency mission has come up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They needed to get in a quarter of a million gallons of diesel last night. The 1st Battalion 7th Marines was the group that was tasked with keeping that supply line open. We were warned going in last night that we would face being sniped at, shot at. Sure enough, the Marines went along that route and we were hit last night.

SAVIDGE: The fuel supply was safe. And, in fact, the soldiers that were driving the fuel supply cried when they saw the Marines because they thought they weren't going to make it through that. But I think it's a lesson that they learned that war is not always as it is played out in their rehearsals.

There are so many levels to try to approach Baghdad. And there was already a sense that this was going to be an historic day. Our vehicle had broken down. We were being towed. So we're going along and we're seeing the same things that everybody else was reporting. Tens of thousands of people in the street. We got by Baghdad University, and it changed dramatically.

They went across the Tigris river and was attacked (UNINTELLIGIBLE). There was an Iraqi gun boat that was hidden under the bridge that opened fire. started going off. The front of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) now stopped and in a classic ambush, RPGs started falling. Mortar rounds started coming in, and small arms and heavy machine gun blasts coming from the university.

Chaos breaks out. We're hurled over bombs and we are dragged through brick walls and being thrown around. I'm amazed we managed to stay there.

Now that we've come under fire, I was in a haste to get out of here.

I remember being frightened. You are trying to describe to an audience, from a journalistic point of view what's happening, but you are also just, as a human being, caught up in remarkable events.

I remember at one point during the narration, a feeling like, my gosh, you are just blabbering right here. Stop talking and let the images and let the sound carry this story. And I did that. And then I remember hearing through my ear piece from a producer in Atlanta who is literally pleading, "Martin, please don't stop talking, please don't stop talking, because it's only when you are talking that we know you're all right."

That was quite an emotional moment. You felt a tremendous sense of pride of being with them because you were watching people who are committed, willing to give their lives for this particular cause. It's the faces, I think, not the gunfire, not the explosions and not the technology. It's the individual faces that you walk away with.


COOPER: During the war we saw clearly what it was like on the front lines in Iraq. But what about behind the lines?


JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So they had to make a decision. Finally at the last minute they double checked. The president went around the room and said go.


COOPER: Behind the scenes at the White House, when we return.


ANNOUNCER: In March, practicing medicine behind the front lines of the battles in Iraq. The devil docs.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: About 10 percent to 15 percent of war casualties need immediate treatment to stay alive.

ANNOUNCER: And one CNN reporter faces an unusual challenge. Crossing the line to become part of his own story.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: One of the other doctors had come up to me and they knew I was a neurosurgeon and they asked me if I would go take a look at this child who had been shot in the head. There was no one else there that had this particular skill set. When we see an injury we've seen before, we know how to handle, we pounced on it.

ANNOUNCER: In June, another international crisis erupts. This one in West Africa. Forcing a power shift in Liberia.

CHARLES TAYLOR, FORMER PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA: I will be back. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He took off his presidential sash, and a new president was quickly sworn in.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It was an unbelievable scene of history unfolding right here at Roberts Airport. Outside the Liberian capital Monrovia, as former president Charles Taylor actually followed through on two pledges in one day. He stepped down and he left the country.

ANNOUNCER: U.S. troops put boots on the ground to secure another of the world's hot spots.



COOPER: Days before Saint Nick swung into action, President Bush got his biggest gift of the season, announcing the capture of Saddam Hussein. He knew about it nearly a day before the rest of us, and kept it quiet until the capture was confirmed. But then, of course, he has had practice keeping things hush hush. When the war in Iraq began, he didn't speak until he was ready.

Our John King takes us behind the scenes.


KING: Throughout the day, most of the guidance, not today, not March 19. What happened, later in the day, George Tenet was over at the Pentagon and he got new information that perhaps they knew where Saddam Hussein was and his son was and they double checked the information and deemed it to be reliable information in their view. So, they had to make a decision and they double checked. The president went around the room and said go. They decided to go for bunker. So they spent months and months and months working on this war plan. Because of this intelligence that came to them, they essentially ripped it up and rewrote the first few pages of the plan in the afternoon.

BUSH: Coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war.

KING: One of the wonders of the technology in this war was the live pictures, whether it was the tanks rolling through the desert with live cameras on them or the scenes in Baghdad when that statue came down. There was a great sense of excitement at the White House because they took what they were seeing to be proof of what they had predicted, that the Iraqis would come into the streets and greet the United States as a liberating force. On that day, they thought, they were having a very good day. And they thought that relatively quickly, with relatively low casualties and fatalities, that they had achieved the major objective, capturing Baghdad.

There's a whole list of questions that now flow from that day. People at the White House, whether they were in the traveling party or whether they were here, they thought it was a great moment for the president. They thought the power of the pictures was reinforcing, that it showed him to be vigorous and that it showed him to be welcomed and that moment is now in the uncertain column. At the time it was viewed as a home run for the president.

BUSH: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended and the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

KING: They are trying to make the case now that the mission accomplished banner was put there solely in the context of the sailors aboard the "USS Abraham Lincoln," that they had accomplished their mission. No one at the White House said, oh, by the way, when you shoot this picture of the banner, we don't mean it to be anything about that speech. Nobody said that that day. If you read that speech there's no question the president said this is going to go on for some time, but there's also no question the tone was we were turning the page from the most dangerous part into a post war, yes military presence, but the beginning of the political transition. The critics say they grossly underestimated what would happen in postwar Iraq. The administration would say said it is dealing with the situation that it confronts. His determination, no one would say his determination has wavered.


COOPER: A conflict of a very different kind caught much of our attention this year. A budget mess in California created a mess of a whole different sort. A recall campaign and an election, well, it was like no other. A Hollywood megastar, a millionaire socialite, even a porn queen. They all wanted to be governor.

Candy Crowley looks back on it all.


CANDY CROWLEY (voice-over): Only in California would voters, you know, 10 months earlier, put Gray Davis in office and 10 months later go get out of here. It was, in fact, a perfect storm. You had an unpopular governor and an economy that was failing, and you had a very rich Republican Congressman who was willing to fund the recall campaign by collecting all the signatures. You added it all up and it really imploded on Gray Davis.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA: And this is why I am going to run for governor of the state of California.

CROWLEY (on camera): (UNINTELLIGIBLE) actually argued that in fact more people in California saw his announcement on Jay Leno than they ever would have seen had the announcement been a typical behind the microphone politician, yet another announcing for the candidacy for governor. So it worked very well for him.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger kicked off his last bus tour campaign before the election, that's the day that the "L.A. Times" ran the story about tall the women who had made allegations of groping in one sort or another against Arnold Schwarzenegger. When we got to the final stop of the first day it was an elementary school, first through third graders. And the parallel universes began to collide because it was the first time that reporters with Schwarzenegger had had a chance to actually talk to him, to get a camera and a microphone near him. And I remember thinking, so our first shot at him is in front of all these little kids. At one point he's watching these little children put -- paste macaroni on to construction paper, while I'm sitting there trying to think how to actually ask him about, you know, did you grope this woman, did you do this?

Did you put your hand up her skirt, that sort of thing.

And it took on this kind of, you know, collision thing while he's watching oh, that's very nice and pretty, meanwhile we're worried about these very grown-up things. That was the first time that he actually addressed it in a quick interview.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I don't remember things that I've done or said 20 years ago. I don't remember things I've done 30 years ago, and I said many of the things are not true because it's not my behavior and other things may be true, and in case it is, I just want to say I want to apologize if I offended anyone.

QUESTION: Is it true or not true?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I would say most of it is not true.

CROWLEY: He had a number of things he said in the interview that, in fact, only made it worse. The one thing that turned this around for Arnold Schwarzenegger was his wife, Maria. She was not to join him at all on this bus tour. She joined him that first night in a small news conference they did together. She's standing at his side. She, being very angry about them, and then she was with him from then on. He knew very well what she had done for him.

This campaign had everything in a really short period of time. It had so many elements. What really is good storytelling and in the end that's what they like. It was a great story to cover.


COOPER: This was a year of great triumphs. There was also great tragedy.

Do you remember where you were February 1?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That moment will be with me to my grave.

COOPER: Seven souls with one goal added to the pantheon of heroes when return.


COOPER: You are watching a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 365. We are live from Times Square in New York City.

Here are the headlines at this hour. They are ringing in the new year around the world. This was the scene in London about a half an hour ago. Amazing fireworks with that Millennium Wheel.

Of course, here in Times Square, New Yorkers are getting ready for a party of their own. It's going to be a party unlike, as you can see by this live picture of Times Square, hundreds of thousands of people already here, packed in, hoping to get a good view of that ball drop.

A lot of police officers here as well. Security extremely tight because of the heightened terror alert.

And the celebration started early on Wall Street today. For the first time since 1999, stocks had a winning year. The Dow gained more than 25 percent in 2003, the Nasdaq surged 50 percent. They are seeing bonuses on Wall Street this year. A lot of happy people.

Jason Carroll is going to have more headlines at the top of the hour.

ANDERSON COOPER 365 continues right now. Be sure to join me again at 11:00 p.m. Eastern time, from 11:00 to 12:30 a.m. We're going to have a live countdown, watching the new year come in right here live from Times Square. See you soon.

The date was February 1. What should have been a joyous homecoming for seven brilliant astronauts turned into horror as the space shuttle "Columbia" broke up on reentry over Texas.

Our Miles O'Brien was on the air that morning when word first came that something had gone terribly wrong.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Throughout the morning, I had been telling viewers that they had an excellent opportunity to see the space shuttle as it streaked back to earth.


O'BRIEN: Take a look at RX9, if we can.

Good morning, Texas. Take a look outside at space shuttle "Columbia" coming back. We're watching it landing, about 15 minutes away.


O'BRIEN: I heard right around the top of the hour, 9:00, that they had lost communication with the shuttle.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Columbia," Houston. We see your tire pressure messages, and we did not copy your last. O'BRIEN: Obviously some troubling news here about the space shuttle "Columbia," as we haven't heard from it yet. The time of landing was supposed to be right about at this moment.


O'BRIEN: At 9:16, the expected landing time, when it should have been on the ground, it didn't arrive. And the thing about that is that there's no real middle ground on that. It's not like they diverted to Dallas.

I knew in an instant that it was a very ominous thing, and that the crew was most likely lost.


O'BRIEN: Here's what we're seeing that is very significant and what you should look at. Multiple trails, multiple -- indication of multiple targets there as the space shuttle streaked over Dallas, Texas.


O'BRIEN: I remember sitting here, you know, watching the feed from NASA, listening to what they were talking about, about sealing their records and closing up their computers in such a way to preserve evidence. Very ominous stuff.

It just kind of -- there was a moment there where it almost just hit me in the gut, and I just had to stop, take a deep breath, and consciously tell myself, You can't go here now. This is the time to do your job, step back for a moment, and just think about telling this story.

And it was from that moment on, I stayed in that mindset, and stayed in this position for, I think, I don't know, 15 hours or so, right here in this spot, and just watched this story unfold.

It was only three or four days after launch that I became aware of the fact that engineers were looking at this problem of the foam striking the left wing of "Columbia."

The minute this happened, I immediately thought of it, just as everybody at NASA did. And within, I believe it was in 30 to 45 minutes, we were telling viewers about the foam striking the leading edge of the left wing. And I don't think anyone came close to reporting it that quickly.

Thinking about that moment, and, you know, I really -- I've never been able -- I was -- I have the tapes, and I can't, I really can't look at it. I did read the transcript at one point of what I said, and what others said that day, and it was -- that was hard enough to do.

But on that moment when I was on the phone with a friend of mine in Houston, public affairs officer Kyle Herring, and we saw that tape from WFAA out of Dallas, and just the streaking meteor, six or seven streaks across the sky. And I knew that he knew what it was. He knew that I knew what it was. In an instant, we knew the crew had perished.

You know, and I don't even know how I got through that, as I look back on that, thinking about what had happened there. It was concrete proof of what I had feared those few minutes before that tape came in.

It was so sad to see that, to see the loss of life and the loss of dreams, and the loss of a -- the loss of -- I guess it's the spirit of an organization that you know will be demoralized.

So that moment will be with me to my grave.


COOPER: It's hard to forget.

Well, with all the high-profile legal cases in the last 12 months, it's fair to say 2003 was a good year to be a lawyer. The legal woes of celebrities made headlines, and in some cases the legal woes of nobodies made celebrities out of them.

We'll be right back.

ANNOUNCER: March 12, parents' prayers are answered.


LOIS SMART, ELIZABETH'S MOTHER: I am the luckiest mother in the world. I am so happy and so thrilled!


ANNOUNCER: After nine months of uncertainty, the Smarts hold a joyful reunion with their 15-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.


ED SMART, ELIZABETH'S FATHER: All of the children out there deserve to come home to their parents the way Elizabeth has come back to us.


ANNOUNCER: Just seven weeks later, Elizabeth and her parents were there to meet President Bush as he signed the Amber Alert bill into law.

May 31, a routine arrest, but a not-so-routine suspect, as police grab one of the FBI's 10 most wanted.


JEFFREY POSTELL, MURPHY POLICE OFFICER: That's just in a day's work. Don't really deserve any credit. Just doing what I'm -- what I was hired to do.


ANNOUNCER: After eluding a massive manhunt, Eric Rudolph, the suspect in the Olympic Park bombing and a string of others, is behind bars.


EMILY LYONS, BOMBING VICTIM: Forgiveness doesn't come easy for me, and this wouldn't be one of them at all. There's nothing that could forgive this.



COOPER: Well, 2003 saw a disturbing new chapter open in the already bizarre life story of Michael Jackson. An NBA superstar admitted adultery, but denied charges of rape. And a cross-dressing millionaire who admitted chopping up a guy was found not guilty of murder. What a year.

Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, joins us now.

Two thousand and three, what do you think were the most important court cases?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Two of them. The Supreme Court saying that homosexual sodomy cannot be a crime, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court saying that gay people have to be able to be allowed to get married.

COOPER: Now, why those two? (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

TOOBIN: Well, because I think they really open a whole new chapter in the story of gay rights, and millions of people may ultimately be affected by those decisions. Interestingly, not necessarily the way you think, because those decisions obviously were great victories for people in the gay rights movement.

However, there's been a real backlash to both of them in terms of public opinion in Massachusetts, even, you know, a very liberal state, their has -- the legislature has not really embraced the idea of gay marriage. Public opinion polls show support dropping for gay rights.

So there will be major implications. Just don't know what they are.

COOPER: And let's talk about Michael Jackson.


COOPER: Where does this thing go? I mean, it is, it is not possible to overstate the amount of coverage the Michael Jackson case is going to get. TOOBIN: Well, and you are talking about one of the maybe dozen most famous people in the world being charged with a horrible crime. So I'm not really surprised it's getting all that coverage.

But what's interesting about this case is, it's going to get out at an issue that we haven't -- that the legal system has really had a hard time resolving, which is how much of someone's history is relevant?

COOPER: The same thing could be said for the Kobe Bryant case.

TOOBIN: That's right. Although he -- there hasn't been a -- although that side, it's the victim's history. On the Michael Jackson's side, it's the alleged defendant's history.

You know, how much of his weirdness, how much of the '93 case? In recent years, the legal system has made it a lot easier to use prior convictions, prior accusations against, against a, particularly a sexual abuse defendant.

Michael Jackson is really going to showcase that issue.

Well, in the Kobe Bryant case, you have the defense, you have the victim's history. You know, this has been an issue in rape cases forever. How much of a victim's history can you get into? And even though, you know, the feminist movement made tremendous strides in getting things like rape shield laws passed, these case -- these issues keep coming back.

COOPER: The Scott Peterson case. How was it that this case, I mean, the man was unknown at the beginning of all of this. Why all the attention on this case?

TOOBIN: Anderson, you ask very hard questions. I, I, I, I, it's, I admit to being somewhat baffled by this. I think part of it has to do with, you know, the legacy of the O.J. Simpson case is that we have this tremendous infrastructure of coverage of court cases, and I, of which I am happily part.

But, you know, once the machine starts grinding forward, once we start covering a case, it becomes very hard to stop, and we continue following it. I mean, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

COOPER: And yet, some cases get followed more and than others, that you think might get followed more. And this brings us to what you is maybe the weirdest case of all this past year, the Robert Durst murder trial.

TOOBIN: The Robert Durst murder trial. You know, I am a respecter of the -- I respect the jury system. But, boy, do they seem like they blew this one. I mean, this was inconceivable to me. This is guy who claimed self-defense, and then chopped the body up into a bunch of pieces and threw it in, in, and threw it in the, in the bay. That, to me, is evidence of someone covering up a crime, not self- defense. But -- and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

COOPER: The defense said he panicked.


TOOBIN: The defense said he panicked. And the chilling thing about the Robert Durst case is that he is a prime, prime suspect in two other murders. So there is every bit the possibility that this is a possible serial murderer who is just going to be released soon.

COOPER: And yet the trial received coverage, but not the level of the Scott Peterson case.

TOOBIN: If he had been convicted, I don't think it would have gotten that much coverage, because the case seemed so overwhelming. Here you have an evergreen issue, you know, money and justice, a guy with high-powered defense attorneys, you know, in a state where death row is full.

How he got off with it -- how he got away with it and lots of other people didn't, that's a -- the color of money, the color of justice is green.


COOPER: ... you think? Oh, you cynic.


COOPER: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks.


COOPER: Well, heartache and hope. On the front lines of a California firestorm, when we return.

ANNOUNCER: August 14, a power grid fails, leaves 50 million people in the U.S. and Canada without electricity. As darkness fell, anxieties rose. But so did community spirits.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: People were walking long distances to get out of Manhattan, crossing the bridges into Queens, into Brooklyn.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: With a lot of luck, later on this evening, we will look back on this and say, Where were you when the lights went out? But nobody will have gotten hurt.


ANNOUNCER: September 18, Hurricane Isabel lashes the East Coast with punishing winds and rain.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm hanging onto a planter, and that's the only reason that I'm not blowing away. I don't know if you can see this thing, but it probably weighs about 300 pounds.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) see the winds coming this way, the ocean is out that way, Robin.


ANNOUNCER: Not the fiercest storm on record, Hurricane Isabel is still strong enough to cause more than $1 billion in damage across six states.


COOPER: In Southern California this October, many were getting ready for Halloween when a very real fright grabbed their attention, and ours as well. Wildfires with towering flames swept across thousands of acres, forcing some to literally run for their lives.

For days, our reporters were on the scene as firefighters struggled to save houses and forests.

Our Miguel Marquez was there one day when the fire suddenly turned on him.



MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These people didn't have a chance...


MARQUEZ: That's my first year in the L.A. bureau. And as we left the bureau to come cover these fires, we were told, This happens every year. They're never a big deal. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) wrong. It was amazing how fast these fires took off.

And I was covering one fire one day, and suddenly I was being told in my ear from the producers in Atlanta that another fire had just started miles from where I was, and then another fire. And we were trying to cover as many of these fires at the same time as they were starting almost simultaneously. It was amazingly big.

During our live shot, it was a pretty impressive show. They were burning out brush that was three, four, five feet high, and, you know, several hundred yards of it. And as we were doing our live shot, the wind shifted direction a little bit, blew that hot air from the fire onto the cold air where we were, and it created a fireswirl or a fire tornado.

And this thing just came out of nowhere. You know, firefighters were running everywhere, telling everybody, Get out, get out. It was intense.

We actually ended up in a second firestorm that was not during a live shot later the same night, and the people there were just in shock over how fast their neighborhood went in this regular, normal, suburban, lovely little place into absolute hell.

They were lucky to finally catch a break in the weather that allowed the temperatures to go down, humidity up, and allowed them to get up onto the, on the fire. And the winds died down as well.

When you're on the firelines, you don't get a sense of the human loss of it, because for the most part, the humans are gone, with the exception of the firefighters and the helicopters and the planes. And it's a very sort of intense experience. It almost feels like you are covering a war.

But then when you go to the towns where the people are waiting to find out about their homes, it is just amazing to see how many people are in need. And it really puts a human face on it. And you realize that there are just countless thousands and thousands of people who have lost everything.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here's where I hung my Christmas stockings.


MARQUEZ: It's always amazing to me as well, in covering not only this fire but many fires, just how resilient people are and how they just inevitably will say, We'll rebuild and start all over again.


COOPER: A lot of wonderful voices fell silent this year. For a moment, let's look back at some of those who died, and remember all they gave to us.


NELL CARTER (singing): I'm through with flirting. It's you that I'm thinking of. Ain't misbehaving...

GREGORY PECK: All men are created equal.


ROBERT STACK: For nearly four decades, the mystery has tantalized and fascinated Hollywood.

JOHNNY CASH (singing): And I got a woman who knows a man, drive on, drive on.

ART CARNEY: You're big enough to be three people.

BUDDY HACKETT: I couldn't have done it without myself.


BUDDY EBSEN: (singing): (UNINTELLIGIBLE) jamboree (UNINTELLIGIBLE). MR. ROGERS (singing): It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?

CELIA CRUZ: (singing in Spanish)

BOB HOPE (singing): Thanks for the memories.

I'm happy to be here. I don't know where the hell we are, but I'm happy.

BARRY WHITE: I've got staying power.

DAVID BRINKLEY, ABC NEWS: All is well that ends well. My time here now ends extremely well. Thank you.




NORAH JONES (singing): I waited till I saw the sun. I don't know why I didn't come.


COOPER: And the past year saw a lot of activity in the world of pop culture, from Bennifer to Beyonce. Let's look at the highlights and, well, maybe the lowlights in the pop culture current.


COOPER (voice-over): Leading off the year, top hats and tails as the movie musical "Chicago" tap-danced across the Academy Awards, taking home six Oscars.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, my love.

COOPER: But the year's biggest scene stealer...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good night, folks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three...

COOPER: Lip-shtick from the Material Girl and the pop princess at the MTV Video Music Awards. By the way, Madonna is the only babe Britney says she'd ever kiss.

There was a lot more celebrity lip-smacking. Demi Moore, in a very public May/December romance with Ashton Kutcher. Is someone getting punked here?

But Hollywood's It couple for 2003, some called it Bennifer, the on-again, off-again romance of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. So many cameras, they never could set a date. But hey, can anything stop these two crazy kids after managing to survive "Gigli"?

Some badly ruffled feathers in 2003. Texas trio The Dixie Chicks got their wings clipped for bashing President Bush. After a radio boycott, backlash from fans, and death threats, they learned a new tune. Who's sorry now?

Remember the tantrums and tiaras? Liza Minnelli and David Gest, need I say more? The odd wedding, followed by an even odder divorce proceeding. He says she beat him. He wants $10 million for his pain and suffering. She's countersuing. If only someone had seen this coming.

Rosie O'Donnell fell from grace as the queen of nice, and Martha Stewart, the maven of style, can sure beat up a souffle, but can she beat the rap in a stock scandal?

Two thousand and three saw a lot of comeback kids. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres is back on TV. This time she wants to be Oprah. Rush Limbaugh is back behind the mike. This time he wants to be drug-free. Simon and Garfunkel are back on tour. This time they want some harmony.

Who can forget this year's debuts and finales?

SIEGFRIED: In magic, anything is possible.


COOPER: Finally, New Year's resolutions to the Nth degree. Now, every year around this time, we always promise to do things to change our lives for the better -- diet, exercise, plastic surgery, whatever.

Truth is, we rarely follow up on our own New Year's resolutions. So this year, we thought we'd suggest resolutions for other people. That way we won't spend the year feeling so bad about ourselves.


COOPER (voice-over): Paris Hilton should resolve to stay in more, turn off that video camera, for goodness' sake, put some clothes on, maybe read a book. There's a novel idea.

Al Gore, we think he should resolve to stay in touch with old friends more. Just because your old running mates aren't your current favorites doesn't mean you shouldn't call and say hi.

And finally, we think Osama bin Laden should resolve to get out in public more, walk around, mix and mingle, don't be so reclusive. In fact, with cell phone rates so low, start talking more on the phone. I know a couple of special forces soldiers who'd love to have a word with you in the new year.


COOPER: That wraps up our look back at some of the most memorable moments from 2003. I hope you enter 2004 with some wonderful moments of your own.

Thanks for joining us, and I hope you join me every weekday night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on 360.


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