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MSNBC Takes Imus Off the Air; All Charges Dropped in Duke Rape Case

Aired April 11, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, breaking news on that racial rant by Don Imus. As advertisers pull out, MSNBC and NBC pulling the plug on Imus, with his cable outlet cut, can the shock jock keep the political heavyweights on his radio show?

Prosecutors dropping a bombshell by dropping charges in the sexual assault case against three Duke University lacrosse players -- why they now say innocent athletes were railroaded in, quote, "a tragic rush to accuse".

And the war in Iraq sparks a clash between presidential contenders. John McCain calls Democrats reckless, Barack Obama says McCain is fantasizing -- my interview with Obama coming up this hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Major new developments tonight in the furor over Don Imus' racially charged insults of the Rutgers University women's basketball team and it's reaching a dramatic new level tonight. Just a short while ago NBC announces that its cable operation, MSNBC, would be dropping its simulcast of Imus' popular radio program. That news coming as advertisers are fleeing Imus in droves.

CNN's Carol Costello is in New York. She's watching this story. This is a huge story and in the end, I suspect a lot of people will conclude, Carol, that money talks.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, you're right, money talks. I mean NBC is not waiting that two-week suspension out. Imus is out at MSNBC. It will no longer simulcast Imus' radio show. I just got a statement a half an hour ago from NBC News. Here's part of what it says. Let me read it to you.

What matters most to us is that the men and women at NBC Universal have confidence in the values we have set for this company. This is the only decision that makes that possible. Once again, we apologize to the women of the Rutgers basketball team and to our viewers we deeply regret the pain this incident has caused.

Now MSNBC is dropping a show that pulled in $8.6 million last year in advertising but was unlikely to match that this year. Today some major league advertisers began pulling their commercial.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether I should have known better, I did know better.


COSTELLO (voice-over): In just one half hour on Imus this morning, 19 different companies, including Buick, Shell, Crest, L'Oreal and Liberty Mutual ran commercials. By afternoon at least eight big companies pulled their advertising. Genworth Financial Services telling us we see no point in continuing. Imus' comments were offensive and abhorrent. Add Staples, Smith and Wollensky, and Bigelow Tea to that list, and Procter & Gamble, who told us we are accountable first to our consumers.

JAMES WHEATON, ADVERTISING AGE: I'm not that surprised that they are pulling out given the media coverage of this.

COSTELLO: James Wheaton, editor of "Advertising Age" says right now the negative press is deafening. Civil rights leaders are calling for Imus' firing. Rallies are held in support of the Rutgers basketball team, and those pictures of the smart, eloquent young women themselves they easily trump the big names defending Imus as a good guy who said a bad thing.


COSTELLO: You know, maybe Imus suspected this was coming, Wolf. On his show this morning he seemed to predict it. Listen.


DON IMUS, TALK SHOW HOST: But they need to understand...


IMUS: They need to understand -- I don't want this to be the final thing I do in what has been a remarkable career. And I'm a good and decent person and I don't have to -- for example, I don't need a "come to Jesus moment."


COSTELLO: That will be the final thing on MSNBC at least, Wolf, I got a statement from CBS about his radio broadcast just about five minutes ago. It says Don Imus has been suspended without pay for two weeks beginning on Monday, April 16. During that time CBS Radio will continue to speak with all concerned parties and monitor the situation closely. So for now the radio show will be back on the radio after that two-week suspension.

BLITZER: All right, so unlike NBC, CBS is leaving its options open right now. Carol, thanks very much.

The Reverend Al Sharpton confronted Don Imus directly about his racially charged remarks and he called for him to be fired. Reverend Sharpton is joining us now on the phone. So what's your reaction to the decision first of all by NBC, Reverend Sharpton?

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK (via phone): Well, I think that it was the right thing to do. Last Saturday I called the National Action Network. We joined National Association of Black Journalists and called for him to be fired. By Monday he had done my syndicated radio show. We consistently said this was about the use of the airwaves.

It was Mr. Imus that raised his own personal sincerity, personal track record that he's a good guy. It appears that there's now revelations that even in private that he was using racial language. I don't think that his firing should be based on the personal language. I think it is his misuse of the public airwaves, but I think that people that do business with him have a right to feel misled.

I think the challenge now is that CBS must follow suit. I'll attend the rally in front of CBS tomorrow, because this issue is about the public airwaves being not used to commercially make racism and racial attacks and sexist attacks. Let's not forget the sexism involved here, Wolf.

Sexism and racism cannot be tolerated, and this is what this is about. This is no night for those of us in civil rights or fairness to gloat. It's really sad that we have to in the 21st century, in 2007, even have to deal with these issues on the public airwaves.

BLITZER: If CBS does follow suit, Reverend Sharpton, and eventually as some suggested he may wind up on either satellite radio or Sirius or XM, since that's not necessarily public airwaves, would that be OK for you?

SHARPTON: Well, again, we'll cross that bridge when we get there and deal with whether or not that is an issue with public airwaves. I think if CBS follows suit as NBC now has done it gives a chilling message to those that will use the public airwaves in a way that is gender biased and race biased. And that's the point.

I think many of us -- all of us have maybe slipped of the lips and said things we shouldn't. But to use the public airwaves and then arrogantly apologize and then come back and do it again, as he has done, and consistently mock (inaudible), using federal airwaves, I think that's the core of the issue, and I think this is what NBC confronted today, and I think they did so properly. And I hope CBS does, and we will continue to rally to make sure they do.

BLITZER: Reverend Al Sharpton joining us from New York. Thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to have more on this story coming up later this hour.

Other important news, though, that we're following right now -- hard pressed to find enough troops to fight two wars, the Pentagon is ordering soldiers to stay longer in the combat zones.

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre who is watching all of this. It's going to be a lot longer for a lot of those soldiers in the combat zone, Jamie. JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. This affects every active-duty Army soldier who is in Iraq or Afghanistan now or who will be replacing, that's about 100,000 in Iraq and another 20,000 in Afghanistan and then the soldiers who come behind them. It doesn't affect the National Guard. They'll still do one-year tours.

It doesn't affect the Marines who will still do seven-month tours and it doesn't affect Air Force and Navy personnel who are also on the ground in Iraq, but for those Army soldiers the standard tour is now going to be 15 months in the war zone, but they are guaranteed at least a year at home with their families after that.

BLITZER: How much is this related, Jamie, to the surge, the so- called surge, the new Baghdad security strategy?

MCINTYRE: Well, Robert Gates said that when he looked at the deployment orders he was going to have to sign for the next year even before the surge they were going to have to do something or they were going to have to send too many troops back. But clearly this is designed to maintain those 20 brigades in Baghdad for as long as General Petraeus believes he needs them.

Under this plan they could maintain the surge for at least for a year from now, but they're saying -- they're not saying the surge is going to last a year, they are saying they have the ability to maintain it for a year. How long it lasts will depend on what happens on the ground.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre reporting for us at the Pentagon.

While the troops are putting in overtime in the combat zones the White House is having a hard time finding someone to fill the job of what it is calling a war czar, a post that would oversee operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Three retired U.S. generals have reportedly turned the job down. The White House says the job hasn't been offered yet.

Jack Cafferty is in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, some people who know about these things are worried, worried about the state of our military. First there was the surge, President Bush sending additional 30,000 U.S. troops into Iraq to try to stabilize Baghdad.

Then as Jamie just reported today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates extending the tours of duty for every active-duty Army unit in Iraq from 12 to 15 months. The Pentagon announced earlier this week it will send four National Guard units back to Iraq. These 12,000 troops will be rotated into Iraq to replace troops who are leaving.

And some of them will be on their second tour there. There's a pattern here. Extend the tours. Use more National Guard. Require more rotations into the combat theater. And what about places like Iran or North Korea? What if something else happens that requires our military to respond?

Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, a former secretary of the Navy, is worried. He says this -- quote -- we got this statement just a short time ago. "Having served as secretary of the Navy when the concept of the all-volunteer force was being developed, and having observed in the ensuing years the extraordinary success of that system in providing for America's security, I feel strongly that we must carefully monitor the possible risks to that system that these extensions may generate."

So here's the question. Can the military continue to do what it's being asked to do indefinitely without a draft? E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we know that two anti-war critics, John Murtha, Charlie Rangel, already have formally come out in favor of reviving the draft. I suspect others are going to do the same thing as we go down this road, Jack. Thank you very much.

Coming up, the Duke rape case dropped -- all three players declared innocent.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Based on the significant inconsistencies between the evidence and the various accounts given by the accusing witness, we believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges.


BLITZER: The stunning turnaround in a case that had devastated several lives and has the original prosecutor now facing very serious trouble.

Also, Senator Barack Obama right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to find out why he's taking Senator John McCain on over the war.

Plus, former Senator Fred Thompson's future. The actor, turned politician, and now back to being an actor, he may run for president, but he's coming out speaking about his health and cancer.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: They were once accused of rape in a case that made headlines around the world. Now North Carolina's attorney general is saying he's dropping all charges against three Duke University lacrosse players, stemming from an alleged assault on an exotic dancer.


ROY COOPER, NORTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We believe that these cases were the result of a tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations. This case, the inconsistencies were so significant and so contrary to the evidence, that we have no credible evidence that an attack occurred in that house on that night.


BLITZER: CNN's legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN's correspondent Jason Carroll, they are standing by. First to you, Jason, in Raleigh. First of all, have we heard anything from the accuser to the dropping of all these charges?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well a spokeswoman, Wolf, for the accuser says that she is very disappointed and angry that the attorney general chose to drop these charges at this point. Earlier we did hear some very candid comments from the attorney general. We heard some emotional comments from the players. The person that we are still waiting to hear from is the person that this case began with and that is Durham's district attorney.


CARROLL (voice-over): For more than a year, three Duke University lacrosse players lived under a cloud of suspicion. Collin Finnerty, Dave Evans and Reade Seligmann were indicted, arrested and accused of rape by Durham's ambitious district attorney, Michael Nifong. Today the players and their families finally heard the North Carolina attorney general echo what they had insisted all along was the truth.

COOPER: Based on the significant inconsistencies between the evidence and the various accounts given by the accusing witness, we believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges.

CARROLL: During an emotional news conference, the three players thanked their families, their attorneys, then described what it feels like to be publicly vindicated.

DAVE EVANS, FORMER DUKE UNIVERSITY LACROSSE PLAYER: It's been 395 days since this nightmare began. And finally today it's come to a closure.

COLLIN FINNERTY, FORMER DUKE UNIVERSITY LACROSSE PLAYER: I know I had the truth on my side was really the most comforting thing of all throughout the past year.

CARROLL: During an unusually candid news conference of his own, the attorney general dismissed the kidnapping and sexual assault charges against the players calling the case a tragic rush to accuse. Roy Cooper called Michael Nifong a rogue prosecutor who overreached his authority.

COOPER: The Durham district attorney pushed forward unchecked. There were many points in this case where caution would have served justice better than bravado. And in the rush to condemn, a community and a state lost the ability to see clearly. CARROLL: Nifong, who for several months publicly criticized the players at every turn, did an about-turn in January and asked the attorney general to take over the case. Nifong now faces ethic charges from the State Bar for allegations he mishandled the case and kept exculpatory evidence from the defense. Nifong hasn't publicly responded to those allegations. Defense attorneys say the final act of justice should be to remove Nifong from office and have him disbarred. In the meantime, Reade Seligmann says there are many lessons to be learned from what happened.

READE SELIGMANN, FORMER DUKE UNIVERSITY LACROSSE PLAYER: All of us need to take a step back from this case and learn from it. The Duke lacrosse case has shown that our society has lost sight of the most fundamental principle of our legal system, the presumption of innocence.


CARROLL: A State Bar hearing on Nifong's case is scheduled for this Friday, and in addition to that case, Wolf, defense sources are telling us that it is very likely that defense attorneys will seek a civil suit against Nifong -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jason. I want to bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin. Listen to this little clip, Jeff, from the attorney general of North Carolina on the accuser, the woman in this case. Listen to this.


COOPER: Other evidence contradicts her story. She contradicts herself. Next week we'll be providing a written summary of the important factual findings and some of the specific contradictions that have led us to the conclusion that no attack occurred.


BLITZER: Now, he clearly, Jeff, could have gone after legally this woman, making false statements. There are potential charges out there. Yet he decided not to do that. What do you make of that?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he made clear at his news conference that his office very seriously considered charging the accuser herself with some sort of false statement kind of case. Decided not to do it. And elsewhere he suggested that because of mental problems on her part, that she was simply unable to know the difference between the truth and a lie.

They were not going to proceed. But it certainly raises the question of given all those problems on her behalf, why in the world Michael Nifong decided to go forward with a case based largely, if not exclusively, on her testimony.

BLITZER: All right, now listen to this other clip, Jeff, from one of the three lacrosse players, David Evans. Listen to this one.


EVANS: These allegations are false. These charges were false and should never have been brought. We fully cooperated from the beginning. There was never a blue wall of silence. Look at the facts of the case, and you will see that.


BLITZER: All right, let's talk about civil suits. These three players presumably they can file some serious civil suits. The question is -- where's the money?

TOOBIN: You know, the problem here is you know lawyers have an expression, the only thing worse than winning a lawsuit -- that it's almost as bad to win a lawsuit, as it is to lose a lawsuit. You know, what these young men need, if I can offer advice as a human being, not as a lawyer, is to put this whole thing behind them.

They are not going to get any money out of Duke. They're not going to get any money out of Michael Nifong. They are certainly not going to get any money out of the accuser, who has none. They need to get on with their lives. They won the case.

Yes, in theory it's possible to bring a case for malicious prosecution case, some sort of libel against some people at Duke, but those are remote chances of victory. It certainly seems like a good time for them to take their victory and walk away on the high road.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin giving some advice to these guys. Thanks, Jeff, very much.

Up ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Senator Barack Obama takes on Senator John McCain.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have enormous respect for John McCain, but I think he is flat wrong on this issue, and I think he's been wrong for some time.


BLITZER: Senator Obama here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're going to find out why he and McCain are at serious odds over the war in Iraq.

Plus, more on tonight's breaking news -- NBC announcing its cable operation, MSNBC, will no longer be simulcasting Don Imus' radio program.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, what do you have? COSTELLO: A couple of things, Wolf.

Tonight the Democratic-controlled Senate has voted to lift President Bush's restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research and just moments ago Mr. Bush issued a statement standing by his threat to veto that legislation. The Senate vote was 63-34. That assures the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.

In Iraq a terrorist attack that could have killed hundreds is stopped. It might not look like it but the U.S. military says it did thwart this plot to explode a dump truck laced with chlorine gas. You see the explosion there.

Well officials tell us this had happened in the Anbar province that two U.S. fighter jets blasted that truck before the militants could hatch their plans. Officials say car bombs mixed with chlorine are now part of a deadly new insurgent tactic.

The company that owns the cruise ship that sank off of Santorini, Greece last week now says human error is to blame. It is the first time the company has talked about what caused the disaster. Six crewmembers including the captain are charged with negligence. In the meantime, there is growing concern about the 400 tons of oil still on the sunken vessel and threatening an environmental nightmare.

That's what's happening now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that. We'll check back with you shortly.

Just ahead, more on the breaking news we're following. NBC News announcing its cable operation, MSNBC, pulling the plug on Don Imus. Will the cable network's move satisfy critics of the radio host and his racially charged remarks?

Also I'll ask presidential candidate and Senator Barack Obama for his take on the Imus firestorm and a lot more.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, they're innocent. Those three Duke University lacrosse players accused of sexual assault. That's what the North Carolina attorney general says. He adds there's no credible evidence to support the accusations. He's blasting the handling of the case by the Durham district attorney. He says all charges have been dropped.

Bombs rocks Algeria and terrorists reportedly want credit. Twin attacks blast the Algerian's prime minister's office and the police station in Algiers. The prime minister was not hurt, but at least 24 people are dead. The Arabic language network Al-Jazeera says a man claims al Qaeda is responsible. And even as gas prices go up, drivers are still going out. Today the government said the demand for gas reached a record high for the month of April last week.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A fresh appeal today from Senator John McCain to give the president's new Iraq policy a chance. In the process, the Republican presidential candidate is trying to shore up his struggling campaign and he's lashing out at Democrats, including those who want the top White House job. Here's our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with the exception of the president, John McCain is the politician most closely associated with the war in Iraq, for better and, lately, for worse.


CROWLEY (voice-over): He came in defense of the war and launched an assault on the Democrats.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Before I left for Iraq, I watched with regret as the House of Representatives voted to deny our troops the support necessary to carry out their new mission. Democratic leaders smiled and cheered as the last votes were counted. What were they celebrating? Defeat? Surrender? In Iraq only our enemies were cheering.

CROWLEY: It was rough stuff from John McCain. An unapologetic old warrior whose support for the war, if not its execution, is unfailing. McCain traveled to Virginia Military Institute to warn a anew about the consequences of getting out of Iraq. A less safe America. Genocide in Iraq. And deadly turmoil in the region.

It is, he says, a just and necessary war.

MCCAIN: Having been a critic of the way this war was fought and a proponent of the very strategy now being followed, it is my obligation to encourage Americans to give it a chance to succeed.

CROWLEY: McCain has taken tremendous flak recently for saying, during a trip to Iraq, that some streets in Baghdad are safe to walk in. He has toned things down, but not given in. He talks now of glimmers of progress.

MCCAIN: While these glimmers are no guarantee of success and though they come early, in the implementation of the new strategy, I believe they are cause for cautious optimism.

CROWLEY: By far McCain's fiercest rhetoric was aimed at Democrats for failing to pass a bill to continue funding the war.

MCCAIN: It may appear to be the easier course of action, but it is a much more reckless one, and it does them no credit, even if it gives them an advantage in the next election.

CROWLEY: McCain's own political ambitions are likely to rise or fall on the course of the Iraq War. But he insists, it is beside the point.

MCCAIN: My political ambitions are nothing as compared to what these young people have already served and sacrificed.


CROWLEY: Being a chief defender of an unpopular war is not an enviable political position, but McCain's strategists have long held that his military credentials and his status as a war hero give McCain a certain leeway with voters who may not agree with him, but nonetheless respect his sticking with his principles -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Candy, thanks very much.

Senator McCain is actually dropping the name of a Democratic candidate to try to get his point across.


MCCAIN: When the president vetoes, as he should, the bill that refuses to support General Petraeus' new plan, I hope Democrats in Congress will heed the advice of one of their leading candidates for president, Senator Obama, and immediately pass a new bill to provide support to our troops in Iraq without subsidizing -- without substituting their partisan interests for those of our troops and our country.



BLITZER: And joining us now, the senator mentioned by John McCain in that little clip, the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

Is he accurately representing your position, Senator?

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I think John was misquoting me a little bit there. What I said was that Democrats aren't interested in playing chicken with the troops and that we are absolutely committed to making sure that the troops have the equipment they need in order to come home safely.

But what I also said was, is that this president should, in fact, adopt a sound plan that has already been presented by Congress. It's a plan that is reflective of a plan I put forward back in January, that calls for a phased redeployment. Having our troops out by March 31st of next year. If he decides to veto it, I think the president is the one who is putting troop funding at risk.

My advice at that point to Democrats will be to try to ratchet up the pressure, to shape a series of other conditions that can somehow rein in to be what I consider a continuation of a disastrous course on the part of this administration.

BLITZER: Let me try to pinpoint your position. Senators Harry Reid, the majority leader, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, they say cut off the funding if necessary to end this war. Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on the other hand, doesn't go that far.

Where do you stand in terms of this debate among Democrats?

OBAMA: I am not yet at the point where I am prepared to say that I'm going to cut off funding, partly because I spend a lot of time in Iowa and Illinois, in small communities where every town hall meeting I have, I meet with a mother whose son or daughter is in Iraq, and they are concerned not only about getting them home, but also concerned about getting them home safely, and making sure they have got the night vision goggles and the armor and so forth.

Now, I think Harry Reid is exactly right that if anybody is putting troops at risk, it is this administration, who is now calling up troops that aren't properly trained, sending them over there on rotations that are too frequent and too long, and that the Democrats have acted in a very responsible fashion. I don't think we're yet at the point where we have to immediately cut off funding.

What I do think we have to do is to continue to put the pressure on the president and get more Republicans to listen to their constituents, who are suggesting that, in fact, it's time for us to bring this war to a close.

BLITZER: In the statement you released earlier in the day, reacting to Senator McCain's speech on Iraq, some of the references you make to ideological fantasies. You said: "What we need today is a surge in honesty."

It looks like you are directly going after Senator McCain's credibility on this issue.

OBAMA: Well, look, the -- I have enormous respect for John McCain, but I think he is flat wrong on this issue. And I think he has been wrong for some time. What we have continued to see, over the last four to five years, is the constant presentation by the administration and prominent supporters like John McCain that we are making progress and that things are terrific in Iraq. And that's not the case.

It is belied by every bit of information that comes over CNN and every other newscast, and by people who are on the ground, and by those of us who make visits to Iraq. The fact of the matter is, is that we have a sectarian civil war. We may temporarily put the lid on some of the violence by sending additional American troops there. The price for that is additional American casualties.

But what we haven't done is change the fundamental dynamic on the ground. And that is going to require that Shia, Sunni and Kurds come to a political accommodation and we generate the kind of regional diplomacy that has been absent for the last several years. BLITZER: We're out of time, Senator, but a quick reaction to the Don Imus uproar. Do you believe he should be fired?

OBAMA: I believe that NBC should not be having hosts like Don Imus who are making derogatory statements towards and women and minorities. I've got two young daughters who I hope will be athletes. And, you know, the notion that somehow they would be degraded and insulted, and that that would pass as humor, and that NBC would be running that over the public airwaves I think is atrocious.

BLITZER: Senator Obama, thanks very much for coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

OBAMA: Thank you.


BLITZER: And since we spoke, NBC, following the recommendation from Senator Obama and many others, announcing that they were canceling any simulcast of the Don Imus radio program on its cable operation, MSNBC.

By the way, we invited Senator McCain to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM today. He could not. We hope he will come back soon. We will have tomorrow the number two Republican in the U.S. Senate, Senator Trent Lott, a strong supporter of the president's strategy in Iraq. He'll be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up ahead tonight, he's weighing a run for the White House. Will that change now that America knows former Senator and actor Fred Thompson has a serious health problem? His diagnosis and the possible fallout, all that coming up.

And the CEO of Ford tells a tall tale about President Bush, almost getting, get this, electrocuted. Find out how he got shocked in the end. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get some more now on our top story. The breaking news, NBC announcing that it will no longer simulcast Don Imus' radio program on its cable operation, MSNBC. Let's get some reaction from the coach of the Rutgers women's university basketball team. Vivian Stringer is joining us on the phone.

What do you think, Coach?

VIVIAN STRINGER, COACH, RUTGERS WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM: You know, I'm stunned. I'm surprised. I didn't see it coming. Though I think a lot of people did. But, on the other hand, I think that it's probably a victory for the people. For the people. Not for the Rutgers women's basketball team, but for women and decent humanity.

I think that a lot of people were able to internalize and put themselves in the same place and we realize that, one, the attack on women, you know, all of us have a mom. And so that it was not easy, it was not difficult for to us put ourselves in that place and certainly to attack the race.

But I think that is spoke -- as we said earlier, it spoke to a broader issue and one that is at the core of our society. And that is that we need to be much more tolerant. We need to take back America. That the common Joe, the person on the street, you know, sweeping the floor or, you know, that is a bank teller, whoever we are, we are all decent human beings that need to be respected with a level of dignity.

And if we as adults don't take it back -- and that is what has happened. I think the people have spoken. And I'm so proud of the corporate executives who were decent enough to, one, I think that they personally felt that. And two, I think that they looked at themselves and wondered, is the color green? And they have come understand that we can do better and as a society we will. And it starts now. And it doesn't need to stop.

BLITZER: Coach...

STRINGER: Because it would be disappointing. Imus is not the only person. I think we all share in some of this responsibility.

BLITZER: NBC announcing it's canceling his appearance on its network. CBS saying they haven't made a final decision. They still have another two weeks of suspension. They are keeping their options open. Are you and your team -- are you going to still plan on meeting with Don Imus, as you announced yesterday you would?

STRINGER: Yes, of course. Because our -- the purpose of our meeting was not to decide whether or not we were going to issue a statement that he would be fired or hired. That was not it. These young ladies that were personally hurt, they wanted to understand, they wanted to look at a face and see this man behind the mike and see, you know, him as a human beings, you know, how could you say this? And look at us as human beings.

You know, how -- what has brought you to this and how can we be better people? That really was our purpose and that will continue to be our purpose. And if he continues and wants to meet, then I'm sure that we will.

BLITZER: Coach Stringer, thanks very much for joining us.

STRINGER: Thank you so very much.

BLITZER: And still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, can the U.S. military avoid reinstating the military draft given its current obligations? Jack Cafferty will be back with your thoughts.

And did one top car executive really rescue President Bush from accidentally blowing up a car? Our Jeanne Moos has details on this "Moost Unusual" story.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack. CAFFERTY: The question is, can the military continue to do what it's being asked to do indefinitely without a draft?

Steve in Montgomery, Alabama: "Having lived in military towns most of my life, I have seen that the great strength of our military is the outstanding professionalism of its men and women. One important aspect of this professionalism is the willingness to do the mission well beyond the point of exhaustion. I greatly fear that our Army and Marines, in particular, are reaching this breaking point."

Jack writes: "We should kill two birds with one stone. An illegal immigrant who signs up for five years of military service would receive citizenship. If you can't stop them, use them."

Dave in Shell Beach, California: "If our troops are relieved of the burden of being invaders, conquerors and sitting ducks, then we can certainly maintain the required capability and get stronger again for when these fine troops are really needed."

Frank writes: "No to the draft. I will not allow my draft age children or in-laws to serve in this illegal and immoral war. Neither Bush nor Cheney's children are there supporting their fathers' war, why should mine?"

Joseph in Houston, Texas: "I look forward to two-year mandatory service for all adults after graduation from high school. Many other countries have this type of system: Israel, Switzerland, Russia, et cetera. And I believe that this will be a benefit not only to our country, but to our youth as well."

And Suzanne writes from Wisconsin: "My great-grandmother had a saying that covers the situation with our troops very well. She said, 'you can work a willing horse to death.' That is what we are doing with our soldiers. It's a horrible travesty."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to We put more of them online along with video clips of this here segment of this here program -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Great, thanks, Jack. See you tomorrow. Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Paula is standing by.

Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Hi. We are going to continue your coverage here tonight, Wolf. We'll have much more on tonight's breaking news, NBC News pulling the plug on Don Imus' cable TV show. What does that mean for them monetarily? What does that mean for the rest of those radio talkers out there?

Also, the media firestorm in the Duke lacrosse case. And who arranged a deal that let a woman who made -- excuse me, $10 an hour buy a $500,000 home? It's all "Out in the open" as we continue our weeklong series "Debtor Nation," coming at you just about 10 minutes from now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Paula. Thank you.

Up ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Rudy Giuliani takes on a controversy that has tested and hurt Republican presidential candidates before. Will his remarks about the Confederate flag haunt him?

And the CEO of Ford tells a tall tale about President Bush almost getting electrocuted. Find out how he almost got shocked in the end. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Tonight another case of cancer touching the presidential race. The former senator, Fred Thompson says his disclosed diagnosis -- we've only learned about it now, he has learned about it a few years ago, of cancer, won't affect his decision whether or not to run for the White House. The 64-year-old "Law & Order" actor learned back in 2004 that he had a slow-growing form of lymphoma. His doctor told reporters today Thompson's cancer is, is in remission.

Moving on to some other political news we're following right now. It's no joke. A man walks -- it's a question that White House wannabes must face sooner or later. Should the Confederate flag fly over statehouses in the South? Now the former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, is being put to the test. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now with more on this controversy -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Rudy Giuliani has found himself wading into waters that have proved difficult for other Republican White House hopefuls.


SNOW (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani is facing a hot-button issue on the campaign trail in the South that can carry a powerful punch for Republican candidates. That question, should state capitals be allowed to fly the Confederate flag? It came up in Alabama Tuesday and today in Atlanta, he told CNN...

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not a question that I'm going to decide. I don't think it's a question that I should decide. I think that it's something the states should decide.

SNOW: A national issue on the front burner? No.

DAN T. CARTER, UNIV. OF SOUTH CAROLINA: But it does have to do with the feelings and emotions of voters. And if it's not a third rail, it's certainly a delicate issue.

SNOW: Republican presidential hopeful John McCain found out just how delicate the issue is when he ran for president in 2000. It still haunts him seven years later. Listen to McCain from CBS's "60 Minutes" on Sunday being critical on himself about waffling on the Confederate flag issue back then.

MCCAIN: Worse than waffle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean?

MCCAIN: Well, I said that it was strictly a state issue and clearly knowing that it wasn't.

SNOW: After initially saying in 2000 that the flag was a symbol of heritage, he changed his position to say the Confederate flag should be removed from the state capital.

MCCAIN: I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles.

SNOW: While the Confederate flag has become a symbol of slavery and oppression, political observers say there is a group of white southern voters that Republicans are attempting to win over.

CARTER: They want a candidate who is going to say that the Confederate flag is a symbol of nobility and courage and bravery and has nothing to do with racism.


SNOW: So the question is, how far will the candidate go to win support of Republican primary voters in states like South Carolina and risk alienating voters in the general election -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Mary, for that report. It's no joke, a man walks into the White House and then tells a story that gets many people talking. Our Jeanne Moos has this "Moost Unusual" story.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Did you hear the one about the president and the hybrid vehicle?

ALAN MULALLY, CEO, FORD MOTOR COMPANY: I'm going to pay for that.

MOOS: The CEO of Ford never thought his joke would get this much mileage. Going all the way to the White House briefing room. Zipping around the blogosphere, resulting in headlines like "George W. Bush Makes His Own Carbomb," and "Bush Almost Blows Himself Up." It all started when the Ford CEO Alan Mulally told a story about his recent visit to the White House where he and other auto execs gave President Bush a demo of alternative-fuel vehicles.

The hydrogen port is in the back. The electric plug goes in the front. Ford's CEO was labeled a super-hero for preventing the president from sticking the electric plug into the hydrogen port. Or so the CEO told a room full of reporters at the New York Auto Show.

MULALLY: So I started walking faster and the president walked faster, and he got to the car before I did and then I violated all the protocol and I touched the president. I grabbed his arm and I moved him up to the front. I wanted the president to make sure that he plugged into the electricity, and not into the hydrogen.


MULALLY: This is all off the record, right?


MOOS: Off the record and straight on to the blogs. The author of this gem, "Bush nearly turned a hydrogen car into the Hindenburg," noted, hey, hey, I was pretty proud of that headline even after finding out it was all based on a joke that blew up.

Ford now says its CEO was inspired to joke around by a parody bit he saw on "Jimmy Kimmel." Kimmel took news footage at a White House event and did some dramatic doctoring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It marked the second time in five months the top executive came to the White House.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!": He's clumsy, but he's cute.

MOOS: In real life, when the president put in the plug, all that went off were tons of clicking cameras. When The Detroit News printed the CEO's joke without mentioning it was a joke, the story really spread. Though the White House didn't seem too worried about the misunderstanding.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: If I was concerned about all of the things that were on the blogs every day, I wouldn't get -- I wouldn't do anything else.

MOOS: Finally the CEO Mulally apologized saying: "I tried to tell a joke about it. It proved I am no Jimmy Kimmel."

(on camera): So in the end, the president was just fine, it was the CEO of Ford and the blogs who ended up getting burnt.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: And we'll wrap up this hour with some of "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. In Algeria, rescuers carry an injured man after a bomb exploded near the prime minister's office.

In Ohio, a vehicle rests in an appliance store after the drive lost control and drove through the side of the building.

In California, rapper Snoop Dogg listens in court after pleading no contest to felony gun and drug charges.

And in Atlanta, an orangutan plays video games at a touchscreen monitor while researchers study his cognitive skills. Wonder what they'll find out. Pictures often worth a thousand words. That's it for us. See you tomorrow. Let's go to Paula in New York.


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