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Will NYC Islamic Center Be Moved?

Aired September 9, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: A dramatic breaking news tonight and many significant unanswered questions about the first big debate since the inauguration of Barack Obama as president that has everyone from the White House to John McCain and Sarah Palin on the same page.

The headline, the Florida pastor who had planned to burn Korans on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, tonight, he says he is canceling that event. Instead, Pastor Terry Jones says he will fly to New York on 9/11 and meet with the Muslim imam planning to build a mosque in cultural center near Ground Zero. Pastor Jones says he canceled the Koran burning after the New York imam promised, promised the mosque would be moved to a new location.


REV. TERRY JONES, PASTOR, DOVE OUTREACH WORLD CENTER: I was told exactly that the imam would move the mosque from Ground Zero. I was told he cannot move it tomorrow. I said that is fine, but it cannot be in ten years. These are exact words that I said. The man said that is fine.


KING: But, and this is an important but, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf says he has promised only to meet with Pastor Jones and has not, repeat not, committed to moving the mosque and cultural center from that site near Ground Zero. That may not be the last word, however. And among our question tonight, what's next now that the developers say Pastor Jones doesn't have his facts straight.

Did the Obama White House overreact in deciding the president should publicly condemn the burning plan and then authorizing the Defense Secretary Robert Gates to call Pastor Jones today to urge him to reconsider? And how much responsibility or blame do we in the media have for allowing a fringe pastor with a tiny congregation to set off a worldwide debate?

Here to talk it over, Ken Blackwell, a Republican Ohio's former Secretary of State. He's now a conservative family research council, democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, CNN contributor Erick Erickson. He's the editor in chief of the conservative blog,, and in Chicago, the Rev. Jim Wallis, the president and CEO of Sojourners.

Rev. Wallace, I want to begin with you because we now, apparently, have a he said-he said between Pastor Jones down in Florida and the imam in New York. Where do we go from here?

JIM WALLIS, GODSPOLITICS.COM: John, this is one of the times we should all take a deep breath. On September 11th, we should honor those who died, honor those who responded and honor the principles that make us different than those who attacked us. So, here was an alleged pastor who I don't know anyone who even knows him, with a small congregation, and he's going to set up more flames of hate and violence, really a slap in the face of Jesus, who never would have done this.

And I've been pleased with the unity of the faith community in responding to him across the board. My favorite is the Massachusetts Bible Society has said they will give away two copies of the Koran for every copy that he was going to burn to people in prisons or shelters or hospitals, Muslims who don't have their sacred text. That's the kind of response Christians ought to make.

So, I'm glad that he says he's called this off. Feisal Rauf will always meet with anybody who wants to talk to him, but this is something that was really an example of the extremes controlling our public discourse. The faith community is united against this, but the extremes really shake this conversation, and we have to look at that.

KING: Rev Wallis, I saw (ph) the faith community being united. I didn't say typically at the top, but I said to me what is remarkable is how quickly you have seen the political coalescing around this. Everybody from the president of the United States, very conservative critics frequently on other issues like Sarah Palin, people in between. We're showing some of the faces there in the political community, the Secretary of State, the pope, obviously, the military brass speaking out against this.

What is it -- obviously, this is outrageous, reprehensible, heinous. We could choose a lot of words about what this pastor wanted to do. Why did it come to this?

WALLIS: Well, I think everybody quickly came to the conclusion that this wasn't about constitutional rights. This was about doing the right thing. And as a beloved community of faith, we came together and those of us who are Christian understood that this was very un-Christ-like. Christ said, you know, you engage through love. And that's what -- I think that's the message that won out.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: And I would jump in and say, I mean, this is for -- when you think about American attitudes and values here, we are at a really interesting place where Americans sort of values and what they want to see actually happen are not easily reconcile because clearly it was contrary to our values. But at the same time, you know, freedom of expression is something that we want to be able to give everyone.

I mean, we can't have a (INAUDIBLE) when our Bob Dylan without freedom of expression, but unfortunately, we also have to let in ignorance as well. So, there's a real tough reconcile place with America as they want to see and what their values are. KING: It is interesting, and I'll leave it at that, unless, you help me find the better word, in that this escalated to the point that you have this pastor, whose congregation is about 50 members. He's at Gainesville, Florida, and this escalates to a point where the president of the United States, because of this, because of worldwide attention focused on this.

I want to show some of it. You had the Vatican and 11 other governments, including the United States around the world among those who condemned this saying it was outrageous and that it needed to stop. And many of these overseas governments, perhaps not quite understanding our system, saying why can't whether the governor of Florida, the president of the United States, just flat out and reach out and stop it? And then you also had this, obviously, some newspapers here at home.

This is right there down in Florida where Pastor Jones is, USA Today nationally distributed. Here's the Johnson City Paper Tri-City (ph) Tennessee right here igniting controversy, but this is what got the attention of the state department and the Pentagon. You see here papers in Germany, papers in China. Papers here -- this is in Morocco. this is Lebanon.

And this is the Arab Times published in Kuwait but distributed all across the Arab world to the point where the president of the United States, in an interview this morning with ABC, decided he needed to, through ABC news and through the news media, address Pastor Jones directly.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan. This is a recruitment bonanza for al Qaeda. You know, you could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who'd be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities.


KING: Did it need to get to that level?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The word we're not discussing here that needs to be discussed is fear. A lot of the reaction stems from fear of what might happen. I mean, the same thing, we have the CNN interview yesterday with the imam for the mosque in New York saying if we don't build it there, it may incite people.

I mean, we were told back during the Bush administration that if we change our behavior based on what the terrorist want, the terrorist will have won. Based on that standard, the terrorist won on this. We are telling this pastor that he shouldn't do this, not because he shouldn't do it; although, I agree he shouldn't, but because of what might happen with the incitement. That's fear. KEN BLACKWELL, (R) FORMER OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: I think the president erroneously escalated this, that this said, but now I think it's time to apply the same principle to the imam. You know, this is not about his constitutional right or the constitutional right of that religious community to build on that site. It's about is it the right thing to do? Now, we watched it work its way through with this pastor. Let's see if it works its way through with this imam.

KING: You say you think it was a mistake for the president to escalate. He is the commander in chief and if he has his defense secretary, the chairman of the joint chiefs, his commanding general on the ground in Afghanistan and other generals in the Middle East telling him, Mr. President, this guy maybe a crackpot, but this story is spreading all around and the Taliban is going to recruit and al Qaeda is going to recruit. You're the commander in chief, your response.

BLACKWELL: The tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it fall? And I'm basically saying that what he did was construct an international stage for this pastor of a small church who is a minimalist actor on this stage.

KING: I think the White House would argue the stage that long been constructed.

BELCHER: When the general calls the president and said look, this is going to endanger American lives, the president had better step in and he did the right thing. If anyone escalated it, it was our media. It was our news media who fight away -- this sells. This sells newspaper that you can see all around the country. Our news media plays some blame on this.

KING: One more quick point in to Reverend Wallis before we go to break because I still have a question as a reporter, where do we go because Pastor Jones says the event is cancelled, and I think we can all say thank you for that. We will not have that happen on Saturday. But, but he says he was promised the site in New York would be moved. Here's the statement from the Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf tonight.

"We are not going to toy with our religion or any other nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony." So, Jim Wallis, I read that as I'm happy to meet with you. I'm happy to have a conversation with you, but this is not a trade.

WALLIS: Well, it is wrong to link these two events. Imam Feisal Rauf is a friend of mine. For six months, this wasn't even controversial. It was to build an interfaith center for healing and now it's become controversial. And so, we will sort that out. But that's -- this is a man who has given his life for peace versus a very obscured pastor who got on the cover of "USA Today" and apparently that's what he wanted to do.

I'm very encouraged by the unity of response against this, this really stupid, obscure act that has become a national controversy, but I think, you know, to link these events is really irresponsible. KING: I will take a quick break here. We'll continue the conversation. Everybody will stay. When we come back, we'll put this in the context of nine years from 9/11. Why are we talking about this? We'll be right back.



IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, FOUNDER, THE CORDOBA INITIATIVE: If we move from that location, the story will be that the radicals have taken over the discourse. The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack. And I'm less concern by the radicals in American than I'm concern by the radicals in the Muslim world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But is that also saying the less concern about the voices of opposition here?

RAUF: I meant it that the danger from the radicals in the Muslim world to our national security, to the national security of our troops.


KING: The imam there who plans to build a mosque and cultural center not far from Ground Zero about three blocks away speaking last night, gentlemen, saying that if he is pressured to move, that the terrorists win. The radicals win. We're about to hit nine years after 9/11. We're having a conversation about do the radicals win over a decision of where to place a mosque and cultural center? Do the radicals win if a fringe pastor burns Korans?

ERICKSON: I love the use of the word radicals when every polls has come out shows 70 percent of Americans are opposed to the building of the mosque in that location. I guess 70 percent of these are radicals. It's an overstatement. You know, back during the Bush administration, the left just went ballistic every time the White House said you had to do X, Y or Z or it will incite something.

If David Petraeus had come out during the Iraq war and told anti- war protestors that your protesting the war is in bolding insurgents to make the violence worse in Iraq, people would have gone nuts, if he had said that.

KING: But you have twice said in the Bush administration and one of your postings about this issue today, you said this is madness. No, this is Barack Obama's America. So, let me post the question, would this be any different if George W. Bush was still the president of the United States?

ERICKSON: No, he would do the exact same thing.


ERICKSON: Jim, a while ago, you know, said that this was - linking these two things, but he's not linking the two personalities of who will be in responsible. But let's think about the American process that we're all here celebrating. That we've come together as a diverse community. We worked our way through this situation. There's nothing radical about asking the imam to consider doing the right thing in the context of moving the community forward.

He has to have the courage to tell the radicals in the international community that this community has come together, through a process that backed off a radical preacher. Now this is backing us off of (INAUDIBLE)

KING: That's a fair point from your perspective, but Jim Wallis, please come in on this point. What if he just says no, I've listened to everybody. I've listened to everybody, but I think A, for my community and B for the international message, I'm staying put right here.

WALLIS: Let's be clear here. The opposition to mosques around the country, the rise in anti-Muslim violence got nothing to do with the location of those mosques and those people. It's happening all across the country. We have to ask some basic questions. Are Muslim- Americans really Americans? And it's more than just can we all worship and pray where we want to? Are we going to respect the faith of those who are Muslim?

Right now, they're feeling afraid. And I'm concerned about the sensitivity issue. The sensitivity to 59 Muslim families who lost somebody also on 9/11, there's a sense of an association with the American-Muslim community and the worldwide Muslim with those who attacked us. And I don't think we want to say that there is an association between all Muslims and those who attacked us.

The extremists from the caves of Afghanistan who use sort of brand of their religion to murder innocent people and a pastor with a church nobody heard of in Florida, burning the holy book of a billion people on the planet. I mean, these extremes you have to put aside and we have to say we want to respect the faith of Muslims who are Americans and respect that they are Americans. And any association between them and what happened to us on 9/11 is something we have to really put aside.

ERICKSON: Rev. Wallis, I would just have to say I disagree with you in that which you just did is conflate protests around the country that are very isolated about various mosques and this one particular mosque in New York city that 70 percent of Americans say they don't particularly want in that location because of very specific sensitivity issues. And I think to conflate it and say all this is against Muslims everywhere, I think it maybe fancy to do, but it's not intellectually honest because 70 percent of Americans specifically have problems with one specific mosque, not all the mosques around the country.


KING: Quick observation point. So, it's becoming increasingly clear to me over the last 15 minutes of this conversation that perhaps we have been spared a reprehensible event on Saturday, but we have not settled this conversation.

ERICKSON: You know, I wish I could get radical Muslims to come out in favor of prayer in school so the administration will follow --

BELCHER: Here's the thing. (INAUDIBLE) and you're right, you have a strong majority who are against this, but you also have a strong majority when you ask them, should you have the freedom to build your religious place of worship wherever you want, so they you do. That's the constitution. That's where --

BLACKWELL: I don't think the contradiction and let me just say to my good friend, Jim, who we've engaged in debate, you know, across -- this isn't before. You know Jim that I believe that you have the constitutional right to be theologically wrong, and I would hope that you hold that constitutional principle likewise. And so, if we can build this around the constitution and the constitutional, you know, privilege and right of freedom of religion, we can build a community that's based on tolerance and never ask anybody to step outside of their frame work of theology.

KING: Rev. Wallis.

WALLIS: Because Rauf, I think, is committed to them. And he said last night, all options are on the table here. He picked this location because it was a building available. He wasn't looking for a place that was two blocks away. Do four blocks make difference or five blocks? I think --

ERICKSON: But that's not what he said to "The New York Times." That's not what he said to "The New York Times," Rev. Wallis. Rev. Wallis, the developer and Imam Rauf both sold the building to "The New York Times" as being built at Ground Zero. Those were their words not my words when they were making their initial fund-raising pitches outside the United States.

KING: Clearly, we have not settled that debate tonight. We will continue that conversation. We'll track this big meeting on Saturday between the Florida pastor and the imam in New York. We'll see if perhaps they can at least make peace, if not make any kind of a compromise, and then we'll see what Pastor Jones does if he has told the imam has no plans to move that site.

Rev. Wallis, Ken Blackwell, Cornell, Erick, thanks for coming in tonight.

When we come back, today's top stories more on the mosque controversy, and, we'll have right here in the studio, a man who might have his sights on being the next Chicago mayor, and it's not the White House chief of staff.


KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Joe Johns with the latest news you need to know right now. Hey, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. An Iranian diplomat tells CNN U.S. hiker, Sarah Shourd will be released very soon. She and two male companions have been held prisoner for more than 13 months.

Capitol Hill employees owed $9 million overdue in taxes last year. "The Washington Post" also reports federal workers nationwide owe a total of $1 billion.

And former President Bush says the weirdest moment of his presidency was when a man threw a shoe. We all remember that at him in Iraq. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram quotes the former president is saying, it was like Ted Williams who said he could see the stitches on the baseball, it was coming at me in slow motion. Dude, I remember that. That was unbelievable. I'm so glad it didn't hit him.

KING: I'm glad it didn't hit him, but you know what? Whatever your thought of former President Bush, it showed he had good reflexes.

JOHNS: That's for sure. Yes, you know, football player there.

KING: Athlete.

JOHNS: Exactly.

KING: A lot of time on the baseball field. More of baseball guy than a football guy thing. He's enjoying it now. The weirdest moment of his presidency, I don't know about, but all right. Joe, thanks.

Still a lot more to come tonight. When we come back, we're going to talk to a man who will have a lot to say about who is the next Chicago mayor. Guess who want to be that person? Congressman Jesse Jackson is here with us tonight. We'll talk about whether the White House chief of staff will be the next mayor or whether it should be somebody else including or guest.

And more on the Koran controversy including more raise this question, is the media to blame for elevating the pastor of a tiny church in Florida into the middle of an international controversy?


KING: We learn today that the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is canceling a plan weekend visit to Chicago. The spokesman blames scheduling conflicts. However, a Democratic official tells CNN Emanuel wanted to avoid a media firestorm as he ponders running for mayor.

With me now is Illinois Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. Both he and his wife are mentioned this possible mayoral candidate. Welcome.

REP. JESSE JACKSON, JR., (D) ILLINOIS: John, good to be here.

KING: Let's just start there. Do you want to be the next mayor of Chicago?

JACKSON: I've not made that judgment. It's an exciting time in the city of Chicago. Mayor Daley for 21 years was the mayor of an extraordinary city and has done an extraordinary job. There's a lot of work that remains to be done in the city of Chicago. A lot of names have been bantered about. The mayor's announcement has shocked the political establishment in Chicago, and people are obviously gearing up and looking forward to a spirited contest.

KING: As you know, one of the names that has been speculated has been the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. You know him quite well. He said a long time ago that if Mayor Daley stepped aside, he would be very interested in the job. This morning, he got what you could consider at least a quasi endorsement from a guy who I think is still pretty popular in the city of Chicago. Let's listen to the president of the United States.


OBAMA: I think he would be an excellent mayor. He is an excellent chief of staff. I think right now, as long as he is in the White House, he is critically focused on making sure that we're creating jobs for families around the country and rebuilding our economy. And the one thing I've always been impressed with about Rahm is that when he has a job to do, he focuses on the job in front of him. And so, my expectation is he'd make a decision after these midterm elections. He knows that we got a lot of work to do.


KING: After the midterm elections but not too much time between those elections and when you have to get the petitions and the signature work done. If Rahm Emanuel decides the answer is yes, and most people who know him think that's where he's heading, and he has the president of the United States behind him, he also has more than a million dollar, he got $1.2 million, "The Washington Post" reports, left over in House campaign accounts that he could conceivably transfer most if not all to run for mayor, can you beat him?

JACKSON: Well, again, I have not made that judgment. But suffice it to say, if Rahm Emanuel does make the decision to run for mayor of the city of Chicago, it will become a national campaign. This will not be a local race run by local candidates just to meeting just local issues. It will be about urban policy. It will be about the president's agenda. He has served as chief of staff. The president's record will probably broaden that campaign. Given that the president was a state senator in my congressional district, he was a U.S. senator from the state of Illinois and he for two years now has a record that he has to run on, Rahm Emanuel will have to answer the question about those communities left behind.

KING: It seems to me what you're saying is you have some significant issues with the president and by extension Rahm Emanuel's urban policy.

JACKSON: He'll be running on his record --

KING: What have they done wrong? JACKSON: There is significant unemployment that are challenging many of our cities. There's a $650 million deficit in the city of Chicago. Urban America is demanding urban policy to put Americans back to work. The president is proposing more tax breaks for small businesses but the question is whether those tax breaks will put Americans back to work. The American people are not in the mood for more federal stimulus dollars. The opportunity presents itself between November 2nd, after the midterm elections, and February to have a national debate about urban policy and what the administration should be doing to put Americans to work.

KING: I want to read you something that your colleague, Bobby Rush, a member of Congress from the Chicago area said in a statement after Mayor Daley announced he would not seek re-election. "I must admonish the media to end its coordinated commentary on who will be the next mayor of Chicago. Whoever that person will be will have to come through my community and address my community and have an established record of working with my community on its many deep- seated problems. Before anyone is deemed an imaginary front-runner in this particular race." Mr. Rush, I believe, is the last politician to defeat Barack Obama in an election, if my memory is correct. What is he saying there to Rahm Emanuel and others?

JACKSON: There are communities that have been significantly left behind. Chicago is a tale of two cities. There's a growing downtown Chicago, it's expanding. But there's some communities where there is 60 people for every one job. There's increased violence. The Olympics decided not to come to Chicago for a reason. We're losing tourism. We're losing industries. We're losing dollars in the city of Chicago. So a broad based thoughtful conversation that includes a bottom up conversation about rebuilding urban America will be front and center in the city of Chicago. We don't want someone anointed from the outside who has not served or spent time in Chicago and coming to Chicago to tell us how to be governed.

KING: Rahm not spent enough time in Chicago?

JACKSON: Rahm as a member of Congress was the chairman of the Democratic congressional campaign. His job was helping house Democrats regain control in Congress. Not much time in Chicago. He's an outside Washington hand, he works in Washington. And so he has the big money. He has the fame, he has the potentially charisma. And don't get me wrong, Rahm has tremendous strengths that he brings to the debate. But there's some profound weaknesses and many of them are very local. This is an organization town and there will be a reaction.

KING: And let me ask you lastly to that point, there was an African-American mayor before Mayor Daley. When Mayor Daley came in a while ago, he did not have the best relationships with the community but he worked hard at it. Not perfect but he worked pretty hard at it. Is there a feeling among African-Americans, African-Americans in Chicago and particularly the African-American political community of which you are a leading member, that we should have another African- American mayor in Chicago? JACKSON: I think the people of Chicago want the mayor for all Chicagoans. They don't want the mayor who represents one side of Chicago. And so to Mayor Daley's credit, he did a tremendous job of coalition building of bringing people together. It's impossible to run as the mayor for Chicago as one individual. You run with the city clerk. You run with the city treasury. It needs to reflect all aspects of the city of Chicago. So there's significant credit to be given to Mayor Daley. But Harold Washington also made it very clear. If I'm going to run for mayor, you need to put up the money, show the money. This is a campaign that would believe very expensive. Rahm Emanuel in the contest, we're talking $5 million, $6 million. If the money is not there, it doesn't make sense to run just to tear the city apart. Harrold Washington says I have to build my base. Register 50,000 voters. In today's numbers, that's nearly 200,000 voters that need to be registered in Chicago to expand and protect the base, to expand the base. And then he said probably the most important words in politics, he said I must be allowed to move beyond my base, beyond African-Americans to speak to Chicago, which is Italian-American and Irish-American and Latino-American. I must be able to speak to the broad issues. Those who just want a black mayor are hissing the point. Those who just want a white mayor are missing the point. Harrold was a coalition builder and that's what Chicago is going to need.

KING: Appreciate you coming in tonight. When you make your decision, come on back.

JACKSON: Thank you.

KING: When we come back, how much are the media to blame for turning an obscure minister in Florida into an international controversy? Stay with us.


KING: Let's continue our conversation on today's top story, the pastor in Florida deciding to cancel the planned burning of Korans on the anniversary of 9/11. Pastor Terry Jones says he received a commitment of the developer of the mosque at ground zero would move it. As this story escalates, one of the big questions is how did this small pastor become at the center of an international controversy? With me to talk it over, Jackie Calmes and Jeff Zeleny of the "New York Times" and our own Joe Johns. I want to ask the question, how much are we to blame for this? And as I say, we, there are newspapers like "The New York Times" and there are television outlets like CNN. I'm going to guess it's more on the cable television side. As we start the conversation though I want you to listen to Colin Powell this morning.


GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET.), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Nobody ever heard of this guy, but once again, the media pumped him up. Now he's on morning talk shows. What is he doing on morning talk shows? This guy should be rejected. General Petraeus is right. There are a billion Muslims who are watching this mosque issue and they're watching what's going on in Florida. And they're wondering has America changed? Is America different? Whether he burns the Koran or not on Saturday, they already assume that America has changed, that they tolerate this kind of thing.


KING: Is this absurd as Colin Powell says or a legitimate story when approaching the ninth anniversary you have a pastor saying he's going to do this?

JACKIE CALMES, NEW YORK TIMES: In this media world and with the internet and 24-7 global, it was going to -- say the local television station filmed it, it would go viral immediately. You can't really ignore it. Do I like that it gets this much attention that somebody with a congregation of 50 can do something like this? No, but you can't ignore it either. But the media can be used to the other side and have people like Colin Powell speaking out. The president has now and maybe George W. Bush in Texas will come out.

KING: For the record, we covered it twice on this program briefly before tonight. We at CNN have covered it other programs. I'm not trying to play down our role in any of this, but when you get to a point where General Petraeus issued a statement, that's when the coverage went off the charts. When you have the commanding general in Afghanistan saying if this happens you are putting the men and women who serve under me at risk. He obviously did not do that casually. He felt a need to do that, but that significantly escalated this.

JEFF ZELENY, NEW YORK TIMES: It did without a doubt. This administration has been deeply concerned about this. He said, if you're watching. So the president himself escalated it. So yes we can talk about the media's role and perhaps he was given too much attention at the beginning. But the point is, if it had come before hand or afterward, it could have gone viral. So how the administration handled this is also interesting to watch. They were concerned about it, without question. So media or not, it is a genuine concern for the safety of the troops and other things.

KING: So the point where Secretary Gates decided to call this guy. I know some people are going to say why are you giving him the time of day? But his point was, if it saves one life with somebody who answers to me, I'll take the risk.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: When people go out and say the media shouldn't cover it, there are a billion Muslims watching this thing. So there are consequences to not covering a story like that. If this is a country with a free media, what are we doing not covering a story where you are taking the holy text of this huge religion and burning it up? So, yeah, the people in the United States can say don't cover a story like that. But the Muslim world is watching and they would have found it about it and would have had something to say about it.

KING: There's the old cliche and a good rule that sunlight is the best disinfectant. I want everyone to listen. Colin Powell mentioned why is this guy on the morning shows. Pastor Jones was on CBS and they're not the first to put him on. I'm not criticizing CBS. I want you to listen to this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do not want them to do as they appear to be doing in Europe. They appear to begin as they grow in numbers to push their agenda, to push Sharia law. What we are saying to them is that if they are in America, they need to respect, honor and obey our constitution and not slowly try to push their agenda upon us.

KING: I haven't traveled to Europe lately, but I've been there quite a bit. I missed that Europe. One of the challenges when people say things like this, is to say it's not right.

CALMES: There was an interesting item today in "The Washington Post" where you would think with the combination of this Koran controversy together with the controversy about the Islamic center near ground zero that the outside world might get the impression that Americans in general have turned strongly anti-Muslim. And Andy Cole of the Pew Foundation Research was quoted as saying there's no sign of that in his surveys and polls. Yes, it's not as positive as it was when we were united after 9/11. But there was no significant shift against Muslims among Americans in general.

KING: As we watched the media and the political debate, I asked this question of the more political group at the top of the show. I want to put it to the more neutral folks. Would this be any different if George W. Bush had been president and this was on the fifth anniversary instead of the ninth anniversary?

ZELENY: I think it would have been different in some respects. This is unfolding against a backdrop, people have questions about President Obama. This seems to me that it's much more of a ripe environment for some type of controversy or conversation like this. The fifth anniversary of 9/11, as well as the fourth and the third, was still very much more solemn. The further we get from that date, it seems it's not him becoming as solemn as it was. I would be surprised if this would have happened in that respect if president Bush had been in office, which I think wouldn't it be interesting if president George W. Bush had something to say publicly on this?

JOHNS: I have asked around, would George Bush or his administration had the cojones to go out and go to court and ask for a temporary restraining order to keep this from happening? And what would America have said about that? My guess is, conservative America would have more been with him than against him. But in the event that Obama had done something like that, he would have gotten a whole lot of pushback from the right about civil liberties.

KING: A quick break. When we come back, we'll turn the page. The president has a big event tomorrow, a white house news conference as he tries, tries to change the economic psychology of the American voter.


KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Joe Johns again for the latest news you need to know right now. Joe? JOHNS: John, new developments at the Florida church where a pastor has canceled plans to burn Korans Saturday, because people representing a New York imam agreed to move a planned mosque from ground zero. Just now a Florida imam who is asking as the pastor's go between tried to clarify things.

IMAM MUHAMMAD MUSRI, ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA: Neither one of us spoke directly to the imam in New York, and neither he made any commitment to move it. What his office made a commitment to is to give us an opportunity to meet with him and I very specifically said I want to come and I want to bring Pastor Jones with me, and they said if he cancels this event, we would welcome him to come and discuss.

JOHNS: You know, John, one of the interesting things as I talked to Ibraham Hooper with one of the big Islamic Hooper with one of the big Islamic organizations here in town just a little while ago, and he's making noises, like they don't like the idea of this linkage between burning Korans and the Islamic center in New York. They don't see that as a good trade off at all you know calling it things like religious blackmail and so on so they're trying to keep it separate.

KING: And so, before we turn the page to political issues, it seem what is we have here is the event is canceled on Saturday, which I think we can all -- we're not to supposed to celebrate in our business, but I think we can break the rule on this one and we can celebrate that. But we don't know what's next, and apparently he did not -- Pastor Jones said he had a quid pro quo, apparently not.

ZELENY: Looks like you're right. But since he has gotten so much attention on this, who's next that will be getting attention on this? Is this sort of setting the groundwork, laying the groundwork for the next pastor who has a congregation of 25 people to do something?

KING: Or will he get a meeting and walk out of it if they stick to the "we're not moving plan" and say that's it and try to turn it into something bigger. So for better or worse, we'll keep an eye on this. Let's turn the page. Tomorrow the president will have a news conference at the white house. That's a pretty rare event in this presidency. He has been out a lot this week, in Ohio to do his economic plan. He had an economic event in Wisconsin before that. And let's set the stage for tomorrow by going, first, a little back in time. Early in the administration, a guy named Jeff Zeleny, who happens to be right here today, asked the president about a mistake, had he had any mistakes, and the president was asked a similar question this morning. Listen.


OBAMA: If you're asking, are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I'm sure I make a mistake once a day. If you're asking, have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: I will say George got a more succinct answer than you got, Jeff, back in time there. But, look, jokes aside, 54 days from an election, the fact that they're putting the president out there again on the national stage, they are trying very hard to do what?

CALMES: Well, to get his message across, because the Democrats in general are a babble of messages. They have, you know, at this stage, the polls are such and we're this close to the election, it shows the independents voters have pretty much left him. What he needs to do is rally the base. And they've felt a little rudderless through the summer. So with the speeches he's given this week in Wisconsin and then near Cleveland, he has sort of given -- he's sort of helped rally the base, by coming out clearly, finally, after a summer of sort of like dancing around, about whether he's for or against extending the Bush tax rates for the wealthy. He's against that.

KING: He's against it, yet many of his party's candidates out there are now against him. And so, can you rally the base at a time there's so much confusion or disagreement in the Democratic ranks?

ZELENY: I think this base is not quite sure what to do. On one hand, you know, they want his money. He contributed -- or he said he was going to give money to all the re-election committees. On the other hand, he's only campaigning in urban areas, in cities. He's not going to many places in the country. What are voters to think? You know, almost a dozen, probably more than that, Democratic candidates have come out against him on extending the Bush tax cuts. I think the base is confused. What they're trying to do tomorrow at this press conference, amid other things, is sort of fire up the flare that they need these Democrats. The white house -- the Democratic National Committee has just announced tonight that the president is going to do four giant rallies in states across the country to try and sort of turn out these first-time voters. We'll see if it works. There's no sort of precedent for some of these non-reliable voters to come out in midterms, but it's all they have left for President Obama to really put his --

KING: And Joe, I was just out, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, African-Americans, sort of yawning about this election. College students saying, what does it matter to me? Rural area where is the president worked so hard in 2008, they're not for him right now.

JOHNS: And in a nutshell, you talk to people around Ohio, which is where I lived when I was a kid, you get the feeling there are a bunch of Obama surge voters, if you will. People who went to the polls because Barack Obama was going to be the first black president or whatever and they were the excited about that. And the question is, how does the president get those people in in the polls when his name's not on the ballot? And no matter what else you say, that's the bottom line. Sure, they're not excited because he's not on the ballot. I mean, I don't know what will happen in four -- in two more years when he's on the blot, but for now, it's sort of an uphill battle.

KING: He's got other things to worry about. Jackie Calmes, Jeff Zeleny, Joe Johns, thanks for joining us. We'll all be watching tomorrow. We'll have special coverage here live on CNN in the morning. If you want to watch the president's news conference, start your day right here. And here's a question, are you willing to pay more if it helps the environment? Pete on the street is raising that question next.


KING: Coming up on the top of the hour, let's check in with Rick Sanchez for a peek at what's coming up on "RICK'S LIST" prime-time. Hey, there.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: John, we just talked to our guys down in Florida who have been in contact with Imam Musri and we understand there still may be another development in the story. We'll try to clear this up, as best we can. We'll do so in a couple of minutes with a special edition of "RICK'S LIST." John, back to you.

KING: Paper or plastic? You hear it all the time at the grocery store, but now it's a question for voters and for lawmakers. California just struck down a bill that would have made the state the first in the country to ban plastic bags altogether. Well, our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick hit the streets to see how you feel.


PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: What if they charged you for plastic bags? Nickel, dime?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I wouldn't pay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess that depends on how bad I need a bag.

DOMINICK: What do you think about charging a nickel or a dime for plastic bags?


DOMINICK: You like that idea?



DOMINICK: You hate plastic bags?


DOMINICK: Why? Why do you hate them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because they contaminate the ambience.

DOMINICK: Contaminate the ambience?


DOMINICK: That was deep.


DOMINICK: When you go to get groceries, do you use the recyclable bags?


DOMINICK: I didn't believe you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You should believe me.

DOMINICK: Do you have nylon bags for the groceries?


DOMINICK: Was that a lie?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's a good idea to charge. I don't think it's a good idea that I would pay that.

DOMINICK: Miss, do you have a plastic bag to pick up the dog doody?


DOMINICK: Where is it? May I see proof that you have it? How do you feel about plastic bags? Do you have any plastic bags?


DOMINICK: Why not? You don't like plastic bags?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have plastic bags at my house.

DOMINICK: What do you use your plastic bags for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I use my plastic bags so my dad can pick up coffee and my dogs.

DOMINICK: John King, you're a big-time Washington, D.C., celebrity, so I imagine you don't even go into the store, but when you do, do you get the plastic bag or do you bring your own, sir?

KING: That is so not true. I go grocery shopping all the time, because I love to cook, Pete, so I have to go myself, and I have the bags in the back, the cloth bags in the back of my car. I sometimes forget them, but I do have them. George W. Bush was telling an audience yesterday he had to use plastic bags to scoop up after Barney. When you're a former president, that's what happens. That's all for us tonight. "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME" right now.