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Last-Minute Preparations for Tonight's Debates; Importance of Amjad Hussain Farooqi's Death; Merck Pulls Vioxx from the Market

Aired September 30, 2004 - 08:30   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome back, live on the University of Miami campus for our special election coverage of the first presidential debate. It's a sunny morning here in southern Florida.
I'm Bill Hemmer. Good to have you along with us today. John Kerry and George Bush know what they need to do tonight, the question is: Can they do it? And if so, how? Reports from both campaigns in a moment here. Breaking down the strategies, looking at how each candidate intends to score points on his opponent.

Also this morning, we'll talk to three undecided voters. What would make them vote for the president, or what would make them vote for Senator Kerry? What questions do they want answered later tonight?

Also rather interesting sidebar here: University of Miami students have been given an opportunity to attend this debates. Hundreds wrote essays to compete for half a dozen -- only six tickets. Hundreds competed, and they gave out those tickets earlier in the week. So, six lucky students will be inside watching John Kerry and George Bush face off tonight at 9:00 Eastern time in primetime.

Also, Heidi Collins with us back in New York. Heidi, good morning, again, to you.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Only six tickets? Boy, both candidates probably could have scored a little more than that to get that younger demographic maybe.

HEMMER: Kind of cheap, you're right.

COLLINS: All right, Bill. We'll check back in just a moment.

Also coming up, just made this announcement here on CNN moments ago: Merck making a major announcement about a multibillion dollar drug. You've heard of it, Vioxx. They are voluntarily taking the drug off the market effective immediately. This is the drug that many people are taking for arthritis.

Sanjay Gupta is going to be with us to talk more about this, why it's happening and the potential health effects from that drug. Once again, Vioxx being taken off the shelves today.

Want to check in on the stories now in the news, once again with Rick Sanchez, this morning. Good morning once again, Rick. RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to start with the Middle East where there is more violence, Heidi.

Machine guns and explosions are ripping through a Palestinian refugee camp in the Gaza. Dozen of masked Palestinian gunmen have taken up positions along the streets. They are fighting Israeli forces that moved on to the area overnight. Now, sources are telling us at least 15 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed thus far.

More foreign workers have been abducted in Iraq. There's a video now that shows what appears to be a group of about 10 electric workers. It was broadcast on the Arabic language television network Al-Jazeera. It happened just about hours ago.

Meanwhile, Britain says that it's going to talk with the group that's holding Ken Bigley, but it will not negotiate. New photos show Bigley chained in a cage. The two Americans abducted with him have been killed, by the way.

Milton Bradley's got no game -- well, the baseball player, that is. Major League Baseball suspended the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder for the rest of the season yesterday because of that right there. You are seeing it. Bradley threw a plastic bottle near a fan after someone tossed it on the field in his direction. He became extremely upset and was ejected.

There you have it. Let's take you to Miami now. Bill Hemmer following things there on this eve, I should say, as we prepare for the big event tonight -- Bill?

HEMMER: Yeah, best name of the day, don't you think, Rick? Milton Bradley? Got to go a long way to get that one. Thank you, Rick.

Thirty-three days and counting right now. And CNN, the folks at Gallup have just completed polls in some of the bigger battleground states. The race very tight in Ohio. We know that. Senator Kerry leading among registered voters, but the president is ahead with likely voters. There's the same difference in Pennsylvania. Registered voters put John Kerry ahead by four points, but likely voters have George Bush up three.

Also, in Florida, here in the Sunshine State, President Bush a measurable lead -- nine percentage points over John Kerry among likely voters.

Both men are here in the Sunshine State, arriving yesterday -- then again, last evening. Frank Buckley is watching the Kerry campaign in Bal Harbour, and Dana Bash is covering the Bush campaign in Miami.

Let's start with Dana this morning, and good morning to you.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you. Well, the president is going, for the second day in a row here in Florida, to try to take advantage of the fact that he's the incumbent. He is going to tour some hurricane damage just as he did yesterday. Yesterday, the president toured an orange grove, something in the center of the state, a very crucial part of the state for the president to continue his lead, according to our poll, in this state.

Now, he's promising to do everything he can to help with federal funds. Not an official campaign stop, but certainly his aides are hoping that this will really play well with voters.

And the imagery, Bill, has another purpose. It's to show the president out and about, not necessarily concerned about the monumental event he has tonight.

And the president isn't going to be having any mock sessions as he did over the weekend to prepare for the debate. He is, of course, going to be consulting, we're told, with some senior advisors throughout the day on last minute preparations for debate strategy.

But the president, in terms of what we expect from him tonight, his lines of offense are not going to be a mystery. We have heard him building it for months on the campaign trail, that John Kerry, because what the president calls his changing positions on Iraq, is not fit to be commander-in-chief.

But what the president's aides knows he has to do and be prepared for are his lines of defense on Iraq. Unlike campaign rallies where he certainly defends the war, perhaps in campaign commercials, this is going to be a lengthy forum where a lot of people watching where he is going to have to defend questions about: the number of troops that went into Iraq that he sent into Iraq; the cost of war, whether or not he underestimated that; and those kinds of questions.

His campaign knows, in order to keep his lead, he has to answer those questions and answer them well -- Bill?

HEMMER: Dana, thanks for that. One thing's for sure both men are getting a whole lot of advice, too.

Here is Frank Buckley with the Kerry campaign. Frank, good morning.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. This is really a second chance for John Kerry to make a first impression. Yes he's been on the campaign for a year-and-a-half. Yes he's had his Democratic National Convention and introduced himself to many voters that way.

But historically, this is the period when those undecided voters really start paying attention. That's who he's got to connect with tonight. Much riding on this debate tonight for John Kerry.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, Senator John Kerry. BUCKLEY (voice-over): Senator John Kerry arrived in Florida, the burden on him, to convince voters they need to change presidents.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want you to know we're going to get an opportunity to debate with the president about the direction of our country. I'm looking forward to that debate.

BUCKLEY: Kerry's strategists say the senator has to show he can be a strong leader and that he offers a better choice than President Bush. Aides say mock debates in Wisconsin help to hone his arguments and to keep his answers focused.

KERRY: ... to be able to share with Americans the truth -- not the soundbites, not the advertisements, but the truth.

BUCKLEY: Kerry also reportedly read this advice on how to debate George Bush in "The New York Times," written by Al Gore, who advised Kerry, "Be prepared for the toughest debate of your career."

Gore, someone who know, better than anyone, that debate press is not debate performance.

AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT: It's quite interesting. It just makes me sort of -- want to sigh.

BUCKLEY: Kerry will no doubt avoid the Gore sigh. His advisors say he will press the case against President Bush and his management of the war in Iraq.

KERRY: I can be a stronger commander-in-chief who solves the problem of Iraq and gets our troops home.


BUCKLEY (on camera): We're told that Senator Kerry may do some practice this morning. At around 1:00 or 1:30 this afternoon, he's expected to head over to the debate site for a technical walkthrough. Bill, a heads up to you, Joe Lockhart and company are headed over there right now. They're just saddling up here in the lobby. So, they will be moving in that direction shortly.

Fortunately for both candidates, tonight, the debate is inside, where it will be cooled to an industry-standard temperature and not outside, where we're standing, where the humidity would surely cause a Nixon flop sweat -- Bill?

HEMMER: Indeed it would. Whatever industry-standard means, we are all going to find out later tonight. Frank, thanks for that. Dana Bash also, thanks.

Our live coverage starts later tonight at 7:00 Eastern. Debate starts at 9:00 Eastern. You have it live here on CNN. Tomorrow will be live in Columbus, Ohio. Frank mention the undecided voters. Two dozen have gathered there. And later tonight -- you'll also see it in primetime here on CNN -- we will monitor their reactions -- these voters, online and also on one of our other networks, CNNfn -- so you can gauge them as a viewer and as a Web user how the candidates and how their responses are getting reaction from undecided voters. Should be very interesting later tonight.

More from Miami in a moment. Here's Heidi again in New York. Heidi, good morning there.

COLLINS: Thanks, Bill.

Switching topics now for just a moment -- Pakistani forces say they could have broke the back of al Qaeda in their country. A key al Qaeda operative was killed this weekend when he refused to surrender to Pakistani security troops.

Amjad Hussain Farooqi is suspected in several assassination attempts and is believed to be the killer of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl. That is just one of the significant developments as we follow terrorist trail.

Terrorism expert Sajjan Gohel is joining us now from London this morning to shed a little light on what all of this means. Sajjan, good morning to you. Tell us, if you could put this in perspective, what is the significance of killing Farooqi?

SAJJAN GOHEL, TERRORISM EXPERT: Amjad Farooqi is a very important individual. He's linked to various terrorist groups inside Pakistan, as well as being closely tied to al Qaeda.

Now, the fact that he's killed is disappointing news, because he would have been better off alive because he could have provided valuable intelligence, valuable information as to other al Qaeda individuals that are inside Pakistan.

Unfortunately, because of his close ties in the past with the Pakistani intelligence groups, it is believed it was better they killed him, because in effect, he could have exposed his ties with the intelligence group in the past.

Let's look at the other killer of Daniel Pearl, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, another Pakistani. He's still awaiting to be executed. Now, he was also closely tied with Pakistani security forces. And he should have also been handed over to the U.S., but the Pakistanis have been reluctant to do that. And unfortunately, they have a different tactic when it concerns Arab terrorists to Pakistani terrorists.

COLLINS: So, possibly then that -- might have missed out on some information coming to us from Farooqi. Who still then is at large in the murder of Daniel Pearl?

GOHEL: There's one other main key individual, Abu Faraj al- Libbi, who is in fact senior to Farooqi. He is believed to have master planner for 9/11 Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. He is believed to be closely tied to running the al Qaeda cells inside Pakistan. And had Farooqi been alive, we could have provided information as to where al-Libbi is hiding. Unfortunately now, intelligence is going to have to start from the beginning. And it's going to be delaying the process in hunting down the key members of al Qaeda inside Pakistan who have made Pakistan their base of operations.

And a U.S. general in Afghanistan this week is pointing to Pakistan, saying that this is the haven for these top al Qaeda figures. But he says he has seen, quote, "relatively little evidence of senior al Qaeda figures being inside Afghanistan."

So, why is he saying this now?

GOHEL: Well, it's almost inevitable that this type of comment would come out, because the U.S. forces in Afghanistan have been there for a while. Their specific purpose was to pick up key senior members of al Qaeda, but they have not been able to find any.

Ultimately, let's look at the fact that key senior members of al Qaeda have all been caught in major urban areas inside Pakistan along with their entourages. For example, master planner of 9/11 Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was found in Rawalpindi. Abu Zubaydah in Faisalabad. Tawfiq bin Attash was caught in Karachi.

So, you've got key people all being found in major cities. There's no point looking in mountainous areas when the people are actually in major cities inside Pakistan.

COLLINS: And very quickly, Sajjan, before we let you go, I have to get the situation in Yemen. This week, in fact, two men got the death penalty for their involvement in the USS Cole. Four years later, what are the lessons that we learn from the Cole?

GOHEL: Well, USS Cole was a very important development in the evolution of al Qaeda's tactics. It was the incident prior to 9/11. And what we always have to remember is that hunting down and killing al Qaeda people are important, but we also have to look at two other dimensions.

One is that the recruitment for terrorism is still continuing. For every terrorist killed or captured, there's another one coming on the assembly line. And al Qaeda's weapons of mass committee, led by Midhat Mursi, is still out there. They're still trying to plot attacks against the U.S. So, that needs to be looked into in the future if we're to avoid another catastrophic terrorist attack again.

COLLINS: Boy, you got that right. All right, Sajjan Gohel, thanks so much for your insight on this this morning. See you again soon.

Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, breaking news on a popular painkiller being pulled because of a link to heart attacks and strokes. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the very latest on that, here on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COLLINS: We're "Paging Dr. Gupta" this morning about a story that is breaking right at this time. Arthritis drug Vioxx being voluntarily pulled from the market. And Sanjay is joining us from the CNN Center in Atlanta now to explain more on how this came about. They are pulling it right now effective immediately, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, effective immediately. If it is in your medicine cabinet, if Vioxx is a medication that you're taking -- stop, throw it away. That's the message from Merck. It's a huge drug for them.

There's been some speculation for some time that Vioxx may be related to heart attacks and strokes. There was a trial that was ongoing, Heidi, actually looking at something totally unrelated to Vioxx and heart attacks, and they found that after 18 months, the people that were taking Vioxx had a significantly increased incidence of heart attacks and stroke. They actually stopped the trial. They're making this announcement saying throw it away, don't use it anymore.

You remember, Heidi, that Vioxx became quite popular -- take a look. This is part of the announcement there. "In this study, there was an increased relative risk for confirmed cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stoke." And that really sums it up. Again, speculation on this for some time.

Heidi, you may remember, this drug has been around for about five years or so. It became quite popular in the beginning because it was supposed to be an anti-inflammatory medication that wouldn't make your stomach as upset. A lot of people who take Motrin, Naprosyn, other anti-inflammatories, got a lot of stomach upset. Vioxx was supposed to be the answer to that. And it worked as far as that goes. Unfortunately now, we're hearing five years later too many heart attacks, too many strokes associated with this drug. It'll be gone, Heidi.

COLLINS: Wow. Talk one second if you could, Sanjay, about the dosage. Now, the information that I have here says that higher dosages, higher than 25 milligrams per day, is what they were looking at. Does it matter how much you were taking?

GUPTA: The study that they particularly looked at -- again, they stopped because they saw the heart attack and stroke was 25 milligrams per day. That is a standard dosage.

Some people make illusion to the fact that people take this medication as if it were a painkiller. So, you take more than the 25 milligrams. They have always urged people not to do that, to only take the standard dosage. But there does appear to be a what they call a dose linkage, meaning the more you take, the higher likelihood you may have some of these other problems, Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Thanks so much for that, Heidi. Making it all make sense, as usual.

GUPTA: Thank you. COLLINS: Appreciate it.

Andy Serwer here now as well, "Minding Your Business" on this -- and some serious business implications, as well.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Oh, huge. I mean, this drug is blockbuster, Heidi. No question about it. And it's the 16th largest drug in the United States in terms of sales -- $2.5 billion.

Put that in perspective for Merck, Heidi. Merck has overall sales of $23 billion. So, in other words, right now today, the company is wiping away more than 10 percent of its sales. This could be good news for Pfizer, which makes Celebrex and Johnson & Johnson which makes Remicade.

In fact, Pfizer stock is up in pre-market trading. Merck taking a big hit, down $7, or about 15 percent, to $38.

And what can we expect here? Well, you can expect possibly layoffs at Merck. You can expect possibly more litigation. And they were expecting this drug to sell $750 million in the fourth quarter and, again, that is just gone. It is a huge blow.

A very, very respected company, Merck has been...


SERWER: ... and you just don't see this kind of thing happening to big drug companies where they voluntarily remove a drug just like that.

COLLINS: Yeah. And also, if people are wondering how they can get more information on the drug in case they're not familiar with it, don't go to the Web site. Because right now their Web site says, "This site currently unavailable. Please check back shortly."

SERWER: Oh, no kidding.

COLLINS: So, yeah, that's what you'd see if you tried to pull that up.

So, once again, just to reiterate, Vioxx voluntarily being taken off the shelves -- actually off the shelves, we should say...

SERWER: That's right.

COLLINS: ... at this time. All right, Andy, thanks so much for that.

SERWER: You're welcome.

COLLINS: And still to come, you have no doubt heard it a few times by now. Senator Kerry's infamous line about voting for the $87 billion before voting against it. The Democrat has an explanation, and it makes today's "Cafferty File."

Stay with us for that on AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: Jack Cafferty here now with my favorite part of the morning, "The Lafferty File."

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Now, watch we'll go from over there...

COLLINS: I know, they said camera five.

CAFFERTY: ... to over here.

COLLINS: All the others are numbered except for that one.

CAFFERTY: All right.

Another attempt Heidi by John Kerry to explain his notorious comments about voting for the $87 billion before voting against it. In an interview, he now said it was, quote, "One of those inarticulate moments late in the evening when I was dead tired," unquote.

There's one problem with that explanation: Kerry made the comments in the early afternoon at an appearance at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. CNN covered the event. The comment was made at 1:20 in the afternoon.

Not only is the Hummer SUV a gas guzzling annoyance on the road, now a cologne bearing its name set to assault your sense of smell. A scent inspired by the less-than-fuel-efficient sports utility vehicle, Riviera Concepts is launching a new fragrance simply called Hummer Fragrance for Men.

COLLINS: Nice bottle.

CAFFERTY: If you can't afford the Hummer, for $52 a bottle, you can take home the cologne and smell as cheesy as the men who can.

And they finally come up with an idea that could kill reality television. Farrah Fawcett signing up with TV Land for six episodes of "Chasing Farrah." The press kit promises a, quote, "wild ride with the jet-set actress as she travels from Hollywood to Miami to New York to Texas," unquote.

Think Anna Nicole Smith on diet pills. Think watching a squirrel look for a nut. Episodes will include Farrah going shopping, Farrah going to the spa, Farrah visiting her parents. Maybe they should name it "Watching a Weird Old Woman Wander Around."

COLLINS: Remember her on David Letterman? It was a little odd.

CAFFERTY: Farrah on David Letterman was like Jessica Savage the night she blew her career up doing the update after having had some sort of chemical alterations done to herself.

COLLINS: Done to herself. Yes, all right. Very good, Jack. Thanks for the analogy.

Back now to Bill once again in Miami. Hey, Bill.

HEMMER: Hey, Jack? Hey, Heidi, you know, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.

CAFFERTY: Yeah, we found you in Miami.

HEMMER: Yeah, how about "Chasing Cheryl?"

CAFFERTY: Chasing -- oh, now come on.

HEMMER: Cheryl Ladd?

CAFFERTY: Oh, OK. No, that's better. I thought you were talking about Cheryl Tiegs.

HEMMER: ... down here...


HEMMER: ... for crying out loud. No. Thanks. We're gone.

In a moment here, a look at what it is going to take for either candidate to have a successful debate later tonight. Rudy Giuliani is back. Madeleine Albright -- they have some advice on a specially important issue. We'll get to that after the break.

Later tonight, 7:00 Eastern, starts our primetime coverage. Debate starts at 9:00 Eastern.

We are back in a moment here live in Miami after this, on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Good morning. A critical moment in the presidential campaign. The first debate is tonight. Can either candidate break through in the 90 minutes here?

Breaking news for the millions of Americans who take the drug Vioxx. It's being pulled from the market today.

And will SpaceShipOne really leave earth again just days from now? We'll ask the man who took a wild and twisting ride, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: This is AMERICAN MORNING. Live from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, here's Bill Hemmer.


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