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Correspondents Discuss News Behind the News

Aired August 27, 2005 - 19:00   ET


ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ON THE STORY is coming up in just a moment, but first, a look at what's happening now in the news. Mandatory evacuations going on in the low-lying parts of Louisiana as Katrina churns through the Gulf of Mexico. In New Orleans, they plan to call for voluntary evacuations by tomorrow morning.
One U.S. soldier was killed, four others wounded in a bomb attack Friday in Afghanistan. The Pentagon says the soldiers were part of a combat patrol working to stabilize the area ahead of next month's parliamentary election. Fifteen American troops have been killed in Afghanistan so far this month.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said the housing market that is, will in his words, simmer down. Greenspan told a conference today in Wyoming that the steady increase in U.S. home prices will slow and he said home prices could even decrease. And that's a look at what's happening now in the news. I'm Erica Hill. Now on to ON THE STORY.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN ANCHOR, ON THE STORY: This is CNN and we are ON THE STORY. From the campus of the George Washington University here in the heart of our nation's capital, our correspondents have the stories behind the stories that they're covering.

Suzanne Malveaux was on the story with President Bush.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will stay. We will fight and we will win the war on terror.


KOPPEL: What's behind that latest pledge on Iraq?

Back at the ranch, Ed Lavandera is on the story of protests for and against Bush policy.

Ed Henry is on the story of how politics save or sink military bases.

From Boston, Dan Lothian, how record gas prices rev up pump and run crooks.

Mary Snow is on the story of Martha Stewart, almost ready to unlock that house arrest bracelet.

And Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the story of travels with Bill as in former President Clinton in Africa.

And welcome everyone. I'm Andrea Koppel with Mary Snow and Ed Henry. All of our correspondents are going to be taking questions from the studio audience that's here at George Washington University. They are visitors, new college students and people from all across Washington.

But first White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is covering President Bush this week and the growing protests at his ranch's front gate. And at the center of this big story is a very small town. From Crawford, Texas, here's Suzanne's reporter's notebook.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On this nine mile stretch to Crawford, we'll pass cows, prairie land, ranchers, (INAUDIBLE) so you're immediately reminded just how small Crawford is when you see the Crawford sign city limit population, 705, Crawford, Texas. We're coming up the only stop light in town. This is it. This is downtown Crawford.

So this is the coffee station. This is where President Bush and the first lady occasionally come to talk to the locals and also to order a cheeseburger. That's one of his favorites. My favorite are the pralines. I love them here. But it's not only a restaurant. It's also a gas station as well, $2.49 not bad.

On one block, you have city hall. You have a church, the police department, a country star and the old barber shop. Since the president has made this his home, there has been some development in Crawford with a new bank on one corner and of course a new big gift shop on the other. And just within the last week, we've seen Crawford's population double in size.

KOPPEL: OK, Suzanne, where did that country music come from?

MALVEAUX: I don't know. That local country music, it travels (ph) into the background all the time.

KOPPEL: I bet you do. It's just kind of playing at all times. Suzanne, we've got a question for you in the audience. Why don't you stand up and tell us your name and your question.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Kate. I'm from Alexandria, Virginia and I was just wondering, do you think that it helps or hinders President Bush's campaign to rally support for the war when he refuses to meet with Cindy?

MALVEAUX: Well, I can't give you my own opinion on that matter, but I can tell you about the Bush strategy here, because it's really changed. It's quite interesting. There's some Republicans who actually believe that the president made a mistake in not meeting with her initially. But what they've done since then is that he's gone out - he's traveled this week and he's gone before veterans' families.

He's met with privately with military families and he's making the case here that there are military families that he speaks with who actually support the Iraq war and that he feels that he has something in common with these families. At the same time, he understands and respects the fact that Cindy Sheehan does not. He's met with her once before. He and his administration don't believe that they necessarily need to meet her again.

But one thing that they're doing - it's almost unusual, you see this kind of battle of the military moms almost where they were not so open before. We didn't know about the numbers of people that he was meeting with. We didn't know the names of those people, but we heard some different things this week. He talked about one family in particular. He used examples. He used cases of people and he also used hard casualty numbers, the number of people who died in Iraq and Afghanistan in an effort to show that he understands the sacrifice.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, I know that it's rare that you actually get to go onto the president's ranch, but I understand you got to go to a barbecue this week. What was that like?

MALVEAUX: Well, as a matter of fact, it is pretty rare. We were invited to the Crawford ranch, a group of journalists, working journalists, who were out here, about 40 or 50 of us, a very casual affair, completely off the record however. The discussions that we were having with the president and the first lady, essentially none of us can really talk about those kinds of discussions. But it was an interesting setting. You had the president, the first lady, the first lady wearing a suit, the president very casual denim boots, cowboy boots, jeans. He invited us - they all invited us basically to come out by the pool, even invited us to swim in the pool, but I can tell you nobody showed up in bathing suits. You didn't see anybody and there's some characters in the White House press corps. Nobody did a cannon ball in the pool or anything like that. You have to show a certain amount of distance and decorum as well.

KOPPEL: Suzanne, we have another question from the audience. What's your name and your question?

QUESTION: My name is Michael. I'm from Naples, Florida. I'm curious, as a reporter, how frustrated are you with the president's repeated theme of progress, progress, progress (ph). Are there rules to the press conferences? Are you - do you have to give up after one question once he's given his response? How do you feel it's coming across?

MALVEAUX: Well, there are no rules in terms of the press conference itself. Essentially what happens is the president or one of his spokespersons will ask, they'll actually call on who he choose to call on, sometimes. There's a list identifying who's sitting in what seat, which correspondent has that seat, so he knows who he's calling on. And you can go for it. I mean if you believe you can get a second or third question in there, a lot of us try to do that. A lot of times we get made fun of a little bit by the president, because he's always ribbing us a little bit. But you know, you have to ask the questions, the tough questions and sometimes you just have to continue.

KOPPEL: Thanks so much Suzanne. We're looking forward to seeing you and your reports from Crawford in the week ahead. President Bush will have the final say on yet another story that's grabbing headlines this week. That's the latest round of military base closings. Ed Henry is back on that story after this.


KOPPEL: Welcome back everyone. We are ON THE STORY. Watch out when politicians talk about taking politics out of important decisions, especially when billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake. But we heard just that kind of talk this week as the panel responsible for closing military bases announced its decisions. Congressional correspondent Ed Henry was on that story and here's his notebook.

HENRY: It goes on for months and months and months. Within the final hours of sort of this frenetic, high profile lobbying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) South Dakota need (INAUDIBLE) air force base, but that Americans (INAUDIBLE) air force base as well.

HENRY: You have John Thune here in the second row watching every maneuver by the commission, desperately trying to save the air force base in South Dakota. Then you've got a Democrat like Bill Richardson, a potential presidential candidate, Democratic governor from New Mexico. He's here in another row, desperately trying to save an air force base in New Mexico. An historic day, farewell to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

What a dramatic moment when all of sudden, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a place where Harry Truman was treated, Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, all of a sudden, gone. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that there's not an ounce of politics involved in this process and when you take a look at the winners and losers and it's clear that the political dynamics are fascinating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fascinating, but it seems like there's a (INAUDIBLE) lobbying right with these lists?

HENRY: Absolutely, John Thune, he was this Republican rock star. He beat Democratic leader Tom Daschle in South Dakota last year. All eyes were on him. They were talking about him for the White House already, but he won that race in part by saying, he was so close to President Bush that if he got elected, he was going to save this air force base.

In May, after he'd won that race, you could imagine his shock when his fellow Republicans in the White House and the Bush administration basically put that air force base on the hit list and watching him in the final days. He said he hadn't seen his wife in days. He was getting angry with them. He wasn't sleeping much because he literally saw his political career flashing before his eyes. He was going to be a one-term wonder, because this is the second largest employer in the state of South Dakota.

And this was going to be millions and millions of dollars on the line and watching him - I can tell you, when the verdict came down in the end, he actually saved the air force base in part with help from Democrats as well. He was - when the verdict was coming down from that commission, rocking back and forth in his chair. You could see his career flashing before his eyes. He won that battle and now all of his allies were all of a sudden saying he's back in the hunt for the White House.

KOPPEL?: While Thune's situation was obviously on the fence, he didn't know which way it was going to go, how many of you were surprised to hear that Jeb Bush was able to save his base in Florida?

HENRY: Nobody would be shocked.

KOPPEL: Clap if you were surprised.

HENRY: That's why when they say that politics not involved, when you look at the losers as well. You say Jeb Bush wins, but what about Trent Lott? Here's somebody who's not in favor with the White House. He was bounced out as majority leader a couple of years ago and this very week he's on a book tour, promoting a book in which he takes some shots at the president, says he helped push him out the door as majority leader. Well this week, Pascagoula Shipyard in Mississippi took a hit. They're getting shut down.

KOPPEL: We got a question from the audience Ed? Your name please and your question.

QUESTION: I'm Sam Berman from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I was wondering whether the Federal court decision regarding the closure of the Pennsylvania reserve base in that whether, regarding whether - with the governor's approval, can they close the base or not, will that effect other quote, reserve base closings such as the Otis air force base on Cape Cod.

HENRY: It's definitely - it was something that I can tell you, it was buzzing through the hotel where the commission was meeting this week when that court decision came down. But all of a sudden, maybe this independent commission was not going to be the final arbiter and I think raised a lot of eyebrows right away. And the bottom line as well is that President Bush still has to sign off on this package. Congress has to vote on it up or down, down the road. And that's why you see that frenetic pace, because they have to deal with the courts. They have to deal with the president. They've got to deal with the Congress and that's why this lobbying campaign was intense.

I mean you saw John Thune as well as Bill Richardson, the Democratic governor of New Mexico. He wants to run for president. He almost had an air force base closed in his state. He was desperately trying to save it. It looks like he saved it at least in the short term.

KOPPEL: Are any of you in our audience from states that he bases whose future was on the line? You are. I'm curious. You want to stand up and let me know what state you're from and whether or not it was saved? Ma'am in the purple shirt, where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We live in Silver Spring, Maryland and we're right down the street from Walter Reed, so we've been kind of interested in that because that's a big, very big influence on our community.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's actually a really good story, because a lot of these places like Walter Reed, even though they're closing down, they're going to save some of the jobs.

HENRY: Yeah, I mean this is something the commission was wrestling with. Walter Reed has been serving and treating wounded soldiers from World War I right through Iraq. They've been treating presidents from Truman to Reagan. A lot of people were scratching their heads. At time of war, over 4,000 patients have come, returning from the war in Iraq to go to Walter Reed. A lot of amputees have been there and people wondering where are they going to go.

But it turns out it's such an outdated facility, very historic, but that only 165 occupied beds per day and what they're going to do is end up moving these patients to updated facilities in Maryland and Virginia near D.C. and what that's going to do is end up having 500 occupied beds per day. That could be good because they're going to offer more and better health care potentially. But they may be losing sight of the fact that this commission and it's supposed to be cutting back, is supposed to be spending less money. This is all about saving the taxpayer's money. Instead, these Walter Reed - closing Walter Reed down is going to cost about $1 billion more to pump these two other military hospitals.

So a lot of people were wondering, when you see John Thune saving his base, Bill Richardson saving his, this is supposed to be shutting things down and instead, they were overturning some of the Pentagon's recommendations and it's just another example perhaps of the appetite in Washington. We saw the highway bill a couple weeks ago, the energy bill, filled with pork, spend, spend, spend.

KOPPEL: OK, well, speaking of appetites, how are things looking for John Roberts? His confirmation hearing is going to start in the next couple of weeks. Is there any read meat that's been thrown on the table?

HENRY: It's been very quiet and it's almost the calm before the storm. I mean this is the first Supreme Court nomination in over a decade and I think you're seeing the Democrats hold their powder somewhat. But right after Labor Day, we're going to see the first hearing. And you're going to see Democrats coming out of the box. They're feeling some heat from liberal interest groups that they need to be tougher on this nominee than they've been so far. I think you're going to see some fireworks. It's not going to be rock 'em, sock 'em maybe, but it's going to be interesting.

KOPPEL: OK, thanks so much Ed. From military spending to consumer spending at the gas pump. Record prices, we don't have to tell you about that, are tempting some people, believe it or not, to break the law. Our Dan Lothian is back on that story after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KOPPEL: We are ON THE STORY here at the George Washington University. You don't need to be an economist to realize that energy prices set new records this week. CNN Boston bureau chief Dan Lothian was on the story of one of the many unfortunate fallouts of price hikes - gasoline thefts. Check out his notebook.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... look at those people who were stealing from gas stations and in order to that we thought well, how about taking a look at those surveillance tapes?

The challenge was trying to get a hold of the videotape. We started calling around to gas stations and it took us about a month to be able to track down some video of people making off with gas, called either pump and run or gas and dash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The customer took off with $36 of gasoline. Once the light came green, flew out of here like you wouldn't believe.

LOTHIAN: Everybody has a different way to make off without paying for gasoline, but what we saw in some of the tapes, some people would act like they're about to pay for the gas or they would even pretend like they were swiping a credit card at a pump or attempting to make payment and they would simply get into their cars and drive off.

Some gas station owners are losing about $800 a month from these pump and runs. So they're very frustrated. Some of them are putting in, installing those video cameras so they can get a shot of those license plates and be able to report those folks to police and hopefully track down suspects.

KOPPEL: You know, Dan, my mother in law has a word for something like that. It's called chutzpah. I can't believe that people are so cheap that they won't spend $30 or $40 to fill up their gas tanks.

LOTHIAN: It is quite surprising and one of the things we found out in talking to an official, an expert in this area. He said you know, it used to be that this was something that young kids did, 16, 17-year olds who were out there, who got their licenses, would go to a gas station and run off. But what we're really seeing now, adults, making off with not just $10 but $20, $30, $40, even $50 worth of gas and some of them are doing it because they are upset. They're angry at the high gas prices. Others are frustrated and then you have your element who are just criminals looking to steal something.

KOPPEL: And does anybody in the audience know of someone who's done that recently, just clap if you do. I guess nobody here, everybody's honest in this room. Your name please and your question.

QUESTION: Hi. I'm Alex from Hillsboro (ph), California. And I was wondering, is it true that the current surge in gasoline prices has more to do with the refining capacity in the U.S. more so than the overall world supply?

LOTHIAN: Well, that's one of the things that we've heard. Certainly there's the whole issue of the capacity and it goes back to the issue of demand. United States and China, two biggest importers of oil. China of course, upping its imports and so there is that supply, pinching the supply. And then there's one other issue that comes up this time of year, the hurricane season. You have these drilling platforms that have to shut down. When you're not drilling oil, you have to lean on some of those reserves and so that's when you see the oil prices going up and those oil prices going up will eventually trickle down to your gas prices.

SNOW: And we're watching these surveillance cameras and you kind of watch in disbelief. But I'm wondering, is it helping gas station owners find people who are doing this and how common is it?

LOTHIAN: It is pretty common. I mean this was something as we talked to gas station owners that they would see maybe once every couple of weeks or once a month and now they're talking about this happening two to five times a week perhaps even more in some of these gas stations. It is very, very frequent and you have these video cameras now that gas station owners have installed. The big problem, one of the problems that we had in getting our hands on these tapes, that some gas station owners, they do have machine, but they're not rolling the tape. So they didn't have anything on the tapes. Others had the tapes, but they've handed them over to prosecutors so that these cases can be prosecuted. It became part of the evidence. They did not want to release the tapes. But that is certainly one of the weapons that gas station owners are using now to try and fight back against these pump and runs.

KOPPEL: Dan, we have another question from the audience. Your name please and your question.

QUESTION: I'm Lisa from Springfield, Virginia and I was just wondering if you think that oil prices will follow a similar pattern to having prices where a so-called bubble will burst and the prices will bottom out.

KOPPEL: We wish. I think we're wishing for that Dan.

LOTHIAN: Yeah, well we hope so. I mean I think everyone hopes so, but we have been hitting record levels for oil, a barrel of oil, $68 in that range or right below it. Everyone's saying it's not a matter of when or if, but when it will hit $70 a barrel. But certainly, everyone hopes that at some point, the bubble will burst and the oil prices will drop as well and hopefully the gas prices will drop.

KOPPEL: Well, the sooner the better, Dan thanks so much. We are going to see you back on the story in the days to come, hopefully not on this one. Still ahead, we are on the story of Martha Stewart, poised to shed the ankle bracelet and dive into new projects.

We'll also be on the story with Dr. Sanjay Gupta and his travels with Bill Clinton in Africa. And how President Bush may be in Texas, but he is still right in the middle of a noisy debate over Iraq. Ed Lavandera is back on that story in Crawford, Texas right after this.


JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm Jacqui Jeras in the CNN Weather Center. Hurricane Katrina about 370 miles away from the mouth of the Mississippi River and showing signs that it may be strengthening once again, packing winds right now of 115 miles per hour. That makes it a category three or a major hurricane.

Hurricane watches have been posted from Intracoastal City, Louisiana, extending over to the Florida/Alabama state line. That means hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours.

And moving west right now, but expected to be turning up to the west and northwest and strengthening as it moves over these warmer waters, likely a category four hurricane when it makes landfall sometime mid day on Monday. Category four has winds of 131 to 155 miles per hour. More in a half hour. Now back to ON THE STORY.

KOPPEL: CNN's ON THE STORY here at the George Washington University. We are just a few blocks from the White House but that is not where you're going to find President Bush this month, as he continues his get out of Washington summer break in Texas.

And, again this week we found his Crawford ranch at the center of a storm of protest, both against and in favor of the president's policies on Iraq.

Ed Lavandera is on that story. Let's look in his notebook.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN DALLAS BUREAU CHIEF: I'm based out of Dallas for CNN and the president's vacations are in our backyard here. Literally, the security checkpoint leading to President Bush's ranch is just right here.

(voice-over): There's a real sense that what started out as perceived as one grieving mother making this stand against the Bush administration has grown into this -- this strong movement.

CINDY SHEEHAN, LOST SON IN IRAQ: There's thousands of military families, hundreds of Gold Star families who want the same answers.

LAVANDERA: Part hero, also part villain.

(on camera): The level of debate here has reached the point where one side describes the other as evil and anti-American and, you know, it's that kind of intensity and the polarization that makes this so difficult to cover.

I think regardless of what you think about Cindy Sheehan the very real moment when she returned here to this big tent area and she walked up to this banner-sized portrait of her son and we were following her, trying to ask her a question and, as we kind of turned the corner, she seized that banner and erupted in tears. This was definitely a super real moment where the politics, the protest, all of that kind of vanished for a moment.


KOPPEL: And, Ed Lavandera joins us now from Crawford. And, we have a question for you, Ed, your name please and your question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Viola (ph) from Aptof, California. Do you think that Cindy Sheehan as a military mom will be the catalyst for a national protest against the Iraqi war?

LAVANDERA: Well, I think that is definitely what they're trying to do at this point. We've been talking to several of Cindy's supporters here and I think it's fair to say that they're not expecting to meet with President Bush while they're here.

In fact, they're already making plans to at the end of this month to start heading toward Washington, so they will be in a bus caravan leaving from Crawford going to Washington, D.C.

Cindy Sheehan has several speaking engagements over the next couple of weeks as well away from Crawford and it's all gearing up toward a September 24th anti-war rally that they're saying is going to be a huge event and a very poignant event and they do think that they have forced the president to alter his message and to talk about them and what they're saying here in Crawford.

KOPPEL: And I believe that Sheehan has said that she is going to stay outside the White House now. But, Ed, we got another audience question for you, your name please?

MATT: Matt from Atlanta, Georgia. President Bush seems pretty insistent that the troops will stay in Iraq. What are the chances that protests like the Cindy protest will actually result in the troops coming home soon?

LAVANDERA: You know I don't cover the president on a daily basis but what I have heard constantly and I think that most everyone who covers the president routinely will tell you is that the president has his plan. I don't think there is any variation or any difference that he's going to change his mind.

I mean there might be some difference in strategy as they evolve it over the next couple of weeks and months and years but anything immediate happening, I don't think from my vantage point I don't see that happening.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ed, give us a flavor for what it's like to be there for both sides, not the issues and the positions that they're taking but more some people have compared this almost to Woodstock, the atmosphere there, people camping out on both sides. Talk a little bit, give us a flavor of that.

LAVANDERA: Well, you know, I'm too young. I wasn't in Vietnam, let's be honest. But I have a hard time imagining that, you know, people who protested Vietnam will look at what's happening here and think it's a Woodstock, you know.

People show up for the weekends. There have been people who come from all over the country, from Boston to California to come meet Cindy, take pictures with her and speak with her and get involved. Yes, there are a lot of people who are motivated here and there are a lot of people camping out in tents in the middle of ranch fields here.

However, you know the crowds have, you know, kind of dwindled during the week. We expect it to pick up this weekend. But it's not like it's like this huge event, you know, 100,000 people here that's not just not the case.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ed, is there any tension behind the scenes though among these two camps?

LAVANDERA: Oh, there's more tension than we have time to talk about. You know I was struck. The other day we were at the airport in Waco when Cindy Sheehan returned. She walked into the terminal and this is a small terminal, you know. It's like a living room and you walk in.

She comes in there with several of her supporters, a lot of people there clapping to her return and just as many people kind of booing in the background and, as we were trying to get an interview with her and several of her supporters, you hear over the intercom the announcer there at the airport announcing the next flight.

So, you hear this as we're doing the interview. For those of you boarding flight such and such out of Bush country and then all of this clapping kind of ruined the interview there for a moment but it gives you a sense that clearly this is President Bush's backyard. This is an area that voted overwhelmingly for the president and will continue to do so. Oh, there's a nice pickup truck, sorry. You know this is Bush country.

KOPPEL: I wasn't sure if that was a pro or anti-Bush guy coming for you, Ed. We've got another question from the audience, your name please.

Steve: I'm Steve from Prince George, British Columbia, Canada and my question is presently what is the morale of Cindy Sheehan and her followers?

LAVANDERA: They're very passionate. You know they truly believe that what they have done here over the last three weeks has galvanized the country, has forced people to confront this issue.

In a lot of ways they're correct. The polls do reflect a lot of that so they're very motivated and it's part of this strategy that they've been pushing over the last couple of days to try to get us to talk beyond Cindy Sheehan and to show that there are other mothers, there are other wives who have come here in her support.

They're very motivated and they also point to the fact that even though she left here six days to go to southern California to take care of her mother that nobody left, that this protest continues, so they're very proud of what they've done and they really think they're forcing the country to talk about it.

KOPPEL: Thanks so much, Ed in Crawford, Texas. We're going to be watching the reports in coming days. From President Bush to former President Clinton and his travels to highlight the tragedy of AIDS in Africa, CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta is back on that story after this.


KOPPEL: CNN is ON THE STORY and Senior Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta tagged along when former President Bill Clinton toured Africa, especially those areas hardest hit by AIDS. Here's his Reporter's Notebook.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. I've been traveling with Bill Clinton on his biggest post presidency initiative, fighting HIV AIDS around the world.

(voice-over): Six countries in eight days, promoting programs to bring doctors to rural areas, medicine to children and touting the efforts of the Clinton Foundation to bring down the cost of AIDS- fighting medicine. I caught up with Mr. Clinton in Zanzibar in Tanzania.

(on camera): President Clinton, I want to say hello, Sanjay, CNN, nice to see you.


When I started it just cried out for somebody to step in and put it together, just put things together. There were all these people wanting to spend money. There were medicines that prevented mother and child transmission. The ARVs give people normal lives. It's 100 percent preventable and yet it's sweeping the world like a firestorm killing people of all ages in its path.

GUPTA (voice-over): Despite the enormous challenges, the ex- president's visit was about hope. In the Rwandan capital Kigali, the National AIDS Commission building got a face lift. Inside is a world- class laboratory. Money came from the Clinton Foundation and the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

CLINTON: We actually do know how to do this now and we have a lot of Americans who didn't understand the connection that we had to other countries, much more sensitive to it after 9/11, so I'm -- I feel more optimistic about this than I ever have.


KOPPEL: And, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us now from Atlanta. We have an audience question for you, Sanjay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name is Megan (ph). I'm from Portland, Oregon and when visiting Africa and covering the AIDS epidemic, as a doctor do you ever feel the desire to stop talking to viewers and to treat the people near you and how do you do your job under those conditions?

GUPTA: Such a good question, Megan, thank you. Yes, I mean I think that that's sort of our first obligation as doctors is try and help as much as possible. This has been a little bit of a tightrope walk for me.

I've been in that situation before when I was over in the war in Iraq, for example. I was actually asked to do a few operations out there, take off my journalistic cap and put on my surgeon's cap, if you will.

You know I will say this. I think that we do a lot as journalists. I think we can get a lot done bringing these stories to people like yourself getting them interested in what's going on in Africa and hopefully stimulating some action. That's a very worthwhile process as well. So, I'm hoping that this leads to some of that, Megan thanks.

HENRY: Sanjay, you got an up close look at Bill Clinton, a lot of people obviously wondering about his own health. He had heart surgery. He had to go back in, clear out some tissue. How is he doing?

GUPTA: You know, he's doing actually remarkably well. He did have two operations in a very short amount of time. He's sort of a testament to what open heart bypass surgery can do for somebody. He had trouble walking even more than a few hundred feet before his bypass operation.

Afterwards, he says he's doing pretty well. He's actually jogging around his home in New York and able to run up to a couple of miles up some hills and things like that.

I'll tell you what, I'm 35 years old and I had a hard time keeping up with him sometimes. He goes to bed late. He wakes up early. He moves fast and he still seems like he's able to do that quite well.

KOPPEL: Sanjay, we have another question for you from the audience, your name please and where you're from.

OSCAR: Hi, my name is Oscar. I'm from Gothenburg, Sweden. Regarding this growing epidemic, this ever growing epidemic, whatever happened to the Bush administration's initiative, ambitious initiative?

GUPTA: I'm sorry did you say the Bush administration's initiative?


KOPPEL: I think the $5 billion one, yes.

GUPTA: Right, it's actually $15 billion over five years. It's called PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Well, it is there. You know, it hasn't been as much money as people expected in the first couple of years but it was supposed to be $15 billion over five years, so it could still get there.

The biggest criticism really has been is any of this money going to go towards buying generic drugs. As many of you may know, generic drugs are exponentially cheaper than brand name drugs and people think that if you spend some of this money on generic drugs you could treat and save a lot more people. That hasn't happened as of yet. A lot of people are still waiting to see if that happens but the initiative is in place.

SNOW: Sanjay you see President Clinton. He seems so focused on this cause. How effective is he and how much clout does he have in really bringing about change?

GUPTA: You know what's so interesting, Mary, I asked him, I said "You know, President Clinton, I really thought" -- in full disclosure I should add I used to work for him. I was a speechwriter and White House fellow for him, so I know him fairly well for several years now.

But I asked him, I said "I thought your post-presidency initiative would focus on the Middle East" and he said to me, he said "Look, you know, I'm a former president. I really have no power anymore. I don't have an infrastructure by which to get these things done."

Now he may have been being a little bit humble but when he talks about public health he talks about something that is very concrete for him, you negotiate lower drug prices. You get those drugs to people in Africa and you save lives and it's really concrete for him.

He's working, incidentally, on childhood obesity here in the United States. That's his biggest domestic initiative as well, so he's really focused on public health and he seems to know quite a bit about it.

HENRY: Does the former president talk at all about his wife, about her political ambitions? There's obviously a lot of attention on that and whether or not he wants to run the U.N. or run for mayor of New York?

GUPTA: You know, I asked him those questions, Ed. I was thinking of you when I did. I thought you might want to know. And, not surprisingly, he didn't, you know, he didn't really answer that question.

I said, the way I framed the question was like this. I said, "Look if your wife became president of the United States, would you be as focused on health issues?"

And he kind of gave me a smile and he said, "All I'm going to say about that is that Senator Clinton knows a lot about health issues and if she does become president, I'm sure she's going to focus on these issues as well," so not really an answer there. I don't think I can help you out, not make any news tonight on that one.

KOPPEL: Sanjay, you said you used to write speeches for the former president. Do you get a feeling that now that he has left office he's putting more energy into trying to eradicate HIV and AIDS?

GUPTA: Yes, absolutely, you know, and I -- I -- you know I asked him quite candidly. I said, "I wonder sometimes why you didn't spend more time on this when you president." And he was very candid as well and he said, "Look, you know, as president of the United States I had so many things on my domestic initiative, domestic agenda every single day and we tried to get as much done with AIDS as we could."

But now as a former president he's placed that very high in the pecking order, so you know I think that he is truly, genuinely focused on this and I think when he goes to these countries, you know, six countries in eight days and he sees the results of the Clinton Foundation's work, how many lives were saved, how many people are getting treated, it really rejuvenates him and, you know, he gets more money and he pumps more money into these places.

SNOW: As a journalist, Sanjay, you said you were a speechwriter for him and then covering the story. Is it particularly challenging for you?

GUPTA: No, you know, I mean I think that anytime you have this kind of access to a former president, you know, I think you try and make the most out of it and obviously I wanted to make sure that I could cover the story about everything that was going on with him, you know.

You guys were asking about his health, about his wife obviously, about AIDS, about childhood obesity. There's a lot going on with this man still and I, you know, just as a reporter got to constantly be thinking about how all these different pieces fit together.

Is he making news? Is he saying something that's going to be of interest, not only to the United States but to the world? So, I think it just really keeps you on your toes certainly, especially when you're traveling with him for a couple of weeks like that.

KOPPEL: Sounds like it was an exciting opportunity. Thanks so much, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Thank you.

KOPPEL: We're going to see you back ON THE STORY.

Still ahead, our Mary Snow on Martha Stewart, counting the days to getting rid of the house arrest anklet and getting back to business, Mary's on that story right after this.


KOPPEL: We're ON THE STORY here in Washington.

This week saw Martha Stewart spelling out her comeback plans just a few days before she'll shed her house arrest electronic ankle bracelet.

Our Mary Snow was ON THE STORY and here's her Notebook. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: For some reason people are fascinated with Martha Stewart. Some love to hate her. Some just love her.

Martha Stewart faced the press today to reveal details of her new show. She was candid. She cracked some jokes and she showed a softer side and it was all by design. Everything Martha Stewart does is carefully planned out.

MARTHA STEWART: A new motto, I don't know if I've said it out loud before is when you're through changing you're through.

SNOW: It was almost like a show, which was thought out in terms of which questions she would be taking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, next question up here, all the way in the back over there.

SNOW: The fact that she had a press event where she was fielding these questions was in itself a bit of a story.

Well, Stewart's attorneys vow to keep her out of prison.

A year ago, she was getting ready to go to prison. She had a company that was struggling. Advertisers were fleeing. Fast forward a year later, she is front and center on all their products. It's a process that she's gone through and she really has reinvented herself.


KOPPEL: I don't know about you guys but I want Martha Stewart's PR woman working for me.

SNOW: I want her money.

KOPPEL: And I want her -- yes. So, she's got "The Apprentice" coming up. She's got her new other everyday television show.

SNOW: A reality show. She has two books coming out, a radio show, DVDs, I mean it's Martha, Martha, Martha, so she really has taken the bull by the horns and run with it.

KOPPEL: Would you say that the period that she spent not just behind bars but now under house arrest has actually helped her more than it's hurt her?

SNOW: You know this is a woman, I'll never forget the day she got out of jail. We were at her house and she was talking to us and she was tossing these lemons and she was kind of making a joke about how, you know, this is a woman who learns to make lemonade out of lemons and this is exactly what she did with this business.

She has turned it around. Her story, everybody wants to know what it was like and, for instance, on the show she's going to have a poncho day. Everybody remember those ponchos that she wore the day that she got out of prison? She's kind of incorporating it now into her show.

HENRY: Lemons, what about lettuce, when she was chopping the lettuce...

SNOW: Yes.

HENRY: ...and CBS was trying to get her to talk about her case and she wouldn't talk about it.

SNOW: Right.

HENRY: And I'm just chopping lettuce. She almost cut her fingers off.

SNOW: Concentrating on her salad, you know, and now you see like a softer side of Martha Stewart and Mark Burnett is trying to bring out her comedy and have her lighten up a little.

KOPPEL: We've got a question from the audience, your name please and where you're from.

TESS: I'm Tess from Alexandria, Virginia. I've seen a lot in the media about the public's hatred of Martha Stewart but out in the world I don't find that it's true that people have such strong emotions about her either positive or negative and I'm wondering if you think that it's true that the hatred of her is largely a media concoction.

SNOW: It's a good question. I mean one thing I can say is that people are fascinated by her but I have to say covering her trial people would come by and just weigh in. I mean there was a whole media camp set outside the court and people would come by weighing in and we did have pretty much half and half, you know, fans but also people who did not like her.

KOPPEL: We've got another question from the audience, your name please and where you're from.

SUZANNE: My name is Suzanne. I'm from Rockville Center. And I was wondering what, if any, outrage you've seen from Martha profiting from her imprisonment and thus increased publicity.

SNOW: I have to say really not much and you could just see it by the way she is getting publicity. I mean like did anybody protest by not showing up at "The Apprentice," no. I mean it's...

KOPPEL: Or not watching her television show.

SNOW: Or watching her television show and that's when we'll know really how well these shows will do this fall.

HENRY: And how do you think her media empire will fare? I mean the stock had bounced all around and beyond the PR what is her financial outlook?

SNOW: The company is still losing money but I have to tell you the day that she made this announcement about her TV shows the stock shot up. The real question is, is it going to be over exposure? Is it too much? I mean, yes, people are kind of interested now and they want to hear. Will all these be a big success? I don't know but I talked to a TV critic who said there is a risk like any other show that you do. It could be too much exposure.

KOPPEL: How much of this, Mary, is Martha Stewart the marketing genius and how much of this is her handlers?

SNOW: I think she has control over everything she does and I think this was all very well thought out and people around her, including her daughter, are very vocal in the company. The idea is to get Martha Stewart back on this brand. She is the brand. She knows how to sell it and this is her business, so I think she's very involved.

KOPPEL: Thanks so much, Mary.

We are going to be back ON THE STORY right after this quick break.


KOPPEL: Keep yourself ON THE STORY at CNN.COM. Our website tells you about the panel, the topics and how to get tickets to join our audience.

Let's take a quick look ahead now to see what's ON THE STORY for you, Mary.

SNOW: Well, Martha Stewart will be getting her ankle bracelet off, finishing her home confinement and really the story now is her business, how will it do?

HENRY: The bottom line is John Roberts' Supreme Court nomination hearings right after Labor Day, all of the coming week we're going to have a lot of preview, look ahead. Again, I think that there will be some fireworks. People are not expecting (INAUDIBLE) but it could get interesting. What about you? What story are you going to be on?

KOPPEL: Well, I have a political story but in another country. In Egypt they're going to be having presidential elections on September 7th and I'm going to tell all of you about an Egyptian American who has thrown his hat in the presidential ring. There's a twist to the story so you got to watch.

Thanks so much to all of my colleagues and to our audience here at George Washington University and thanks so much to all of you for watching ON THE STORY. We're going to be back each week Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Straight ahead a check on what's making news right now.



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