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Michelle Obama's 50th; Was Iraq War Worth It?

Aired January 15, 2014 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Welcome, everybody, to "AC360 Later."

Tonight, what first-responders saw on the scene of that fiery plane crash in San Francisco. Also, was the war in Iraq worth it? A fresh wave of violence there raising some new questions. And, later, actor Richard Dreyfuss on his new life as an Oxford academic, plus Michelle Obama's 50th and the latest installment of who wants to be France's first lady, the girlfriend or the mistress.

You can join the conversation by tweeting with #AC360later or weigh in at We will show your comments at the bottom of the screen.

With us tonight, chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, journalist Alison Stewart, author of "First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America's First Black Public High School," and also political commentator and GOP consultant Margaret Hoover joining me at the table.

There's plenty to talk about tonight, starting with a unique view of the crash of a Korean 777 airliner, Asiana Airlines, on approach to San Francisco International Airport. The images were captured by a first responder's helmet cam and a robot-mounted camera.

They show nearly everything, including one truly horrifying moment. A young woman who actually survived the crash wound up on the ground outside, but did not survive the rescue.

Drew Griffin joins us at the table tonight, because the story and the images are so compelling, we're breaking format a bit. And we're going to play his entire report right now. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that one.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a dramatic crash caught on tape, a tumbling Asiana Airline Boeing 747 crashing at San Francisco's International Airport last July.


GRIFFIN: But it would be this video emerging only now, months after the crash, that is becoming the most disturbing of all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop, stop, stop. There's a body right -- there's a body right there, right in front of you.

GRIFFIN: A body right in front of airport rescue truck number 10, this body. And according to the San Francisco medical examiner, it was in fact a living body, ignored by firefighters, who failed to check.

Sixteen-year-old Ye Meng Yuan had somehow escaped her seat in row 41 of the aircraft, apparently walked or was carried from this escape slide and came to rest here, lying in a fetal position, but alive. And as you can see in this emergency vehicle camera, firefighters walk around her, pass by her, even directed a fire truck past her, and not a single firefighter checking her pulse or even seeing if she was breathing.

JUSTIN GREEN, FAMILY ATTORNEY: It's unthinkable. It's unimaginable, because the first thing that -- the first priority of the firefighters or any rescue personnel is saving lives.

And the first step in triage is to take the pulse, check the respiration. That was never done. And the video, which I think is the best evidence of what happened, shows at least five firefighters who saw her, who understood she was there, and none of them did the basic step of checking if she was alive.

GRIFFIN: Attorney Justin Green, who represents the Ye family, has filed a claim against the city of San Francisco based on reports from the fire department, the city and the NTSB, but mostly based on this video evidence.

According to the claim, rescuers breached their duty of care to Ye Meng Yuan and were grossly negligent. The video is from a firefighting phone truck that pulled up to the scene within minutes after the crash.

There doesn't appear to be any chaos or confusion. And at one point, a firefighter leaves the vehicle to help guide the truck around Ye's body.

(on camera): This is a firefighter with his hand up.

GREEN: Right.

GRIFFIN: This is her.

GREEN: That's right.

GRIFFIN: He's saying...

GREEN: There's a person...

GRIFFIN: Body there.

(voice-over): A warning made all the more clear in a helmet camera on one of the firefighters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a body right there, right in front of you. GRIFFIN: According to the claim, firefighters notify a lieutenant, but are told to move on. In the video, that is just what truck number 10 does. As fuel leaks from the left wing, unit 10 sprays foam on the ground. Minutes later, as smoke begins to emerge from the fuselage, unit 10 circles to move into position, apparently ignoring or forgetting the body on the ground.

And, at this moment, right here, the fire truck rolls over Ye Meng Yuan's head, and she is killed.

GREEN: The tire of the truck went right over her head.

GRIFFIN: It would only get worse. The complaint alleges a firefighter arriving late to the scene jumped in another rescue vehicle, number 37. A rescue vehicle not equipped with any infrared device to identify living bodies, and without any spotter, maneuvered into the area where Ye Meng Yuan was located and again rolls over her body.

GREEN: That's right.

GRIFFIN (on camera): So, she's run over twice.

GREEN: She's run over twice by two different trucks.

GRIFFIN: I can't imagine what the parents think.

GREEN: Well, the parents -- I mean, part of what you have to understand, too, is in China, they're really only supposed to have one child. This was the family's only child, a girl who was a star student, who was the focus of their lives. Everything that they did was poured into this girl and her future. And that was taken away because of some terrible mistakes and inaction by the firefighters.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Ye Meng Yuan was come together U.S. for summer camp, described as outstanding student, musician and a class leader who dreamed of becoming a television newscaster.

JOANNE HAYES-WHITE, SAN FRANCISCO FIRE CHIEF: I particularly want to express our condolences and apologies to the family of Ye Meng Yuan.

GRIFFIN: Last July, after it was determined rescue vehicles killed Ye, the San Francisco fire chief apologized profusely. The explanation then was of a chaotic rescue scene and foam covering Ye's body. The video now being released shows a much different picture. And the city of San Francisco and its fire department have now declined comment, citing pending litigation.

The Ye family remains in China, waiting to go find out what if anything can explain why their daughter is dead.


COOPER: It is truly horrific. Drew Griffin joins us here at the table. Also, our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, is joining us by remote. Drew, let's start off with you.

The family, obviously, they are suing, they want money. They also want more than that.

GRIFFIN: Well, they absolutely are filing a claim against the city and they're asking the city to settle this case and it's for monetary damages.

But their attorney says, above all, they want to send out a warning to all rescuers, reminding them of what is basic in rescuing, in crash scenes. Check the bodies. Don't just assume because a body is laying on the ground at a crash scene that that person is dead. Check the pulse, check the breathing, do the triage that they're all trained in.

COOPER: Jeff Toobin, you have a different take on this, though, which is that, look, the firefighters are concerned about a larger catastrophe possibly happening, a larger number of casualties, and in a triage situation, the plane exploding -- in a triage situation, they maybe overlook an individual because they're concerned about greater casualties.


And I don't want to diminish this tragedy at all and the loss of this girl and the pain that her parents are going through. But let's be clear.

What's happening now is a lawsuit to try to extract millions of dollars from the taxpayers of San Francisco, and I think to fault the firefighters, who are in an extraordinary situation, who are looking at a giant airplane that might blow up and kill hundreds of people. That might excuse a horrible mistake that they made in where they drove their fire truck.

So the idea that the firefighters are necessarily civilly liable is not a conclusion that I'm ready to draw based on the evidence in Drew's really excellent, interesting, but ultimately inconclusive piece.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, with all due respect and always respect to you, Jeff Toobin, people sue in this country at the drop of a much lighter hat.

I mean, this is a major case that people would expect some kind of reparations and damages to be held. I have seen a lot of emergency individuals in warlike situations, and that moment that you have been given, that video, there was nobody screaming and shouting. It didn't look like chaos at the moment.

And somebody pointed to that person, and they just didn't go to that person.

COOPER: Are they suing the airline as well?



GRIFFIN: There is a lawsuit against the airline as well. But this is a separate -- and it is a claim. It is not a suit at this point. But it probably will become a lawsuit if the city doesn't settle.

But, to your point, Christiane, there wasn't really chaos at the moment. And if you look at the timeline, at the point when the foam is being sprayed and the plane actually is catching fire, everybody is off that plane. Most of the people, only three people died on this plane.

AMANPOUR: And what is the explanation for them saying that the body was covered in foam, when most clearly it was not?

GRIFFIN: That was the explanation they gave early on.

AMANPOUR: Right. But why did they say that? The people who were standing there knew that it wasn't covered in foam.

GRIFFIN: I don't know if they didn't do their due diligence in terms of an investigation at that point.

When that determination was made, we're only talking two weeks after the accident. Now the video emerges and clearly shows that that body was not covered in foam.

ALISON STEWART, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST: Drew, how did this video come to the lawyer, to the family's lawyer?

GRIFFIN: This is all the result of NTSB, city of San Francisco's own investigation, and this was made to the attorneys available through the government investigations that are going on.

And this will be part of the NTSB's investigation. They will look at not only the crash, what caused the crash, why the pilots failed to land openly, but also the response. And all of this video -- and I'm told there's even more of it -- will come to light when...


COOPER: Again, just to play devil's advocate, we don't know -- for all we know, whoever laid her body down there said, yelled out, she's dead, and the first firefighter, not believing she was dead, then the others assumed she was dead. We're not sure...


AMANPOUR: Did they lay her body or did she slide out?


GRIFFIN: One of the great mysteries is, we still don't know how she got there. She was in the back of the plane.

TOOBIN: I think we need to point out that there are several different time periods stitched together. That's how we do television. We edit down the tape.

But if we are doing this in a legal setting, people are going to have to know what happened first, who said what when. That's important to know. And I think to condemn the firefighters and say they were grossly negligent and the city of San Francisco should pay a great deal of money, you need to do more investigation than we have done. The lawyers we spoke to have a very clear agenda, and we need to take that into consideration.

HOOVER: It does feel a little misplaced that there isn't some shared culpability in terms of the litigiousness towards the airplane and the pilot, because she wouldn't have been there if this...

COOPER: Well, also and we know now from the initial investigation that cultural differences and cultural issues in the cockpit contributed to this crash.

The pilot was concerned about glare off the runway, but didn't want to wear sunglasses because he thought it would be insulting to his fellow pilots in the cockpit. And there was an instructor in the cockpit. And the pilot had concerns, but didn't want to voice those concerns because he thought it would be ad -- would be impolite.

AMANPOUR: Have you read "Tipping Point," Malcolm Gladwell, who speaks about this phenomena of crashes with Asian airlines. This is unbelievable.


COOPER: It's infuriating to think that something as ridiculous as cultural differences and sensitivities in a cockpit could contribute to a crash. It's unbelievable.

GRIFFIN: But, look, guys, I just want to get back to your point oft facts of this and to your point, Jeffrey.

We know from the San Mateo coroner, who did the medical exam on this person, that she was alive laying there. She was alive. And she was alive with non-fatal injuries. That was the point of the coroner's report. And she died because a truck ran over her.

So, whatever the circumstances were, had a fireman, a rescue -- a policeman, anybody just taken her pulse and pulled her out of there, she would be alive.


AMANPOUR: Why did a truck run over her? They knew she was there.


GRIFFIN: Well, that is what we don't know. TOOBIN: That is obviously a very important fact.

But I don't think anyone should lose sight of the fact that the people who are responsible for this poor girl's death are not the firefighters who were trying to save the people on that plane, but it was the incompetent, inexcusable pilots who crashed this plane on a clear day on an empty runway.

COOPER: Listen, we have got to take a break.

Drew, appreciate the report. We're obviously going to keep on top of it.

Coming up next, new evidence that America's only remaining prisoner of war is alive, the first proof of life in nearly three years. This is an American sergeant who was captured in Afghanistan. We will be joined by a journalist who just spoke with his family and who himself survived more than seven months as a captive of the Taliban.


COOPER: Welcome back to "AC360 Later."

The Pentagon is studying what's apparently a new video of the only American who is currently a prisoner of war. You probably didn't even know there was an American being held prisoner of war. His name is Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He was seized in Afghanistan in 2009, is believed to be in Pakistan held by the Taliban.

Now, this is video that was released in 2010, the last time he was seen. We're not showing the new video.

Back with the panel, also Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Rohde. While in Afghanistan doing research for a book, David and two associates were kidnapped by members of the Taliban. After more than seven months of captivity, he and one colleague escaped. The third got away a short time later.

Minutes ago, I understand you actually talked to Bowe Bergdahl's family. Do they have any new information? How are they doing?

DAVID ROHDE, FORMER TALIBAN PRISONER: They don't. They are struggling.

And all I can say is that if Bowe is anything like this family, he's an incredible young man. His mother is very sort of graceful and strong. It's been killing her the last 4.5 years. His father has this big beard that he's grown. People see video of him. He's done that because Bowe has a big beard. I had a big beard.

They make you grow one as a prisoner. And it makes him feel closer to Bowe to have that. His cell phone is on the time in Pakistan. So, they're just an incredible family trying to survive this.

COOPER: Do people -- do they want people to see the video? It's always tricky. Families often don't know how to -- what do you do in this kind of situation?

ROHDE: They're very happy, I think, with the American military and the effort they have done to bring Bowe home. And they just want what's going to bring Bowe home.

COOPER: Right.

ROHDE: So, we don't -- we talk about people.


STEWART: What have they asked you? What have they asked you? What are they seeking from you?


ROHDE: What they're seeking from me is that I can sit here today. It was much shorter time for me. It's seven years -- again, he's been there four-and-a-half years. I'm here. I'm alive. I'm home.

I was reunited with my wife. We have a 3-year-old daughter now. And I think just seeing me gives them hope that he can get through this.

STEWART: You're a beacon...


AMANPOUR: David, the parents have been themselves in touch with the Taliban. They did actually get fed up with the U.S. efforts to get their son back. And, as we know, the son has kind of been almost like a pawn in these fruitless negotiations to get five Gitmo prisoners released in return for Bowe Bergdahl.

And this has obviously stalled. And he's a bit of a victim at the moment in that. Is his father still in touch with the Taliban or the people who he thinks have captured Bowe?

ROHDE: I don't know.

And I just don't go into those kinds of things with him.


ROHDE: But I think that it's very clear -- I would be shocked, all the time that's gone by, the money and manhours the Taliban have put into guarding him, they want these five prisoners. Is the administration willing to do a deal?

AMANPOUR: Well, and that is the question, because a lot of pressure from Congress any time you try to do a deal like that. Oh, you're capitulating to terrorists.

But how did they get this video? This is not a propaganda video, apparently. It's not like the Taliban sent it out. How did the military get this video? And why aren't we showing it?

ROHDE: I don't know. I think it's good that there's a video. Any proof of life is positive.

COOPER: Proof of life.

ROHDE: And it's a good sign.

COOPER: How did you get through? I mean, it is my greatest fear to be kidnapped and held like this. Day to day, how do you get through?

ROHDE: You -- look, to me, it's this -- it's very similar if you were diagnosed with cancer one day. You are forced to face your own mortality. You're forced to realize you don't know what's going to happen.

And, finally, you have got to realize that you don't have any control. And the human mind just helps you get through.

COOPER: But you're not with friends. You're not with family.

ROHDE: It's true. You're very isolated. It's unbelievable he's held out for this long.


STEWART: Do your captors explain to you why they're keeping you alive?


STEWART: It's been so long. I'm wondering, like, what do they say to you?

ROHDE: The downside of all this and the honest thing is they're completely delusional about what they will get.

For me, they wanted $25 million in cash and 15 prisoners from Guantanamo. With Bowe, it's now down to simply these five prisoners. But he's not alone. Warren Weinstein, a 72-year-old aid worker, is held captive in the tribal areas of Pakistan. A young American woman named Caitlin Coleman, who may have had a baby in captivity, is there.

And there's currently 30 journalists, about half of them foreigners, kidnapped in Syria. This is an al Qaeda tactic that Ayman al-Zawahri urged people to start doing in 2012. Again, how is the administration going to respond?

HOOVER: So, were you confident about the U.S. government's efforts to find you and to help you escape or...

ROHDE: Once you are taken into the tribal areas of Pakistan and other places like this around the world, there's nothing anyone can do to help you.

The Pakistani military will not go into the tribal areas of Pakistan, separate discussion, but a really serious issue. This has been going on since 9/11. We have given them $17 billion in aid. So, I knew people would try, but unless the Pakistani military is going to confront the Taliban, he's stuck.

AMANPOUR: David, you have basically laid out that they're not interested in seeing you or any captives die. They want to get what they can out of them.

But, apparently, from what we have heard, Bowe Bergdahl's health looks to be deteriorating.

ROHDE: That's the latest thing from this video, that it is deteriorating.

And, again, the positive sign is that they're releasing this video. Maybe they do want to make a deal finally. And the question is, what will the administration do?

COOPER: And I want to point out the video we're showing is actually an older video. We haven't shown the newer one.


AMANPOUR: Why are we not showing it?

COOPER: I don't think we have just cleared it yet. So, we're still working on it.

Let's talk a bit about America's war in Iraq, at least 61 people killed today across the country. It doesn't really even make headlines -- 8,000 people killed in 2013, killed in bombings and shootings, suicide attacks, ethnic, sectarian reprisals. And Fallujah, where so many Americans fought so bravely, so many died, it's now back in the hands of violent extremists affiliated with al Qaeda.

Nearly 4,500 Americans lost their lives in Iraq. Countless more were wounded or suffer from PTSD. According to a Brookings Institution study, it cost American taxpayers $1.7 trillion. So, with all this country endured and all the country is now enduring, a lot of people are now asking, was the war worth it, or did we pull out too soon?

I want to bring in Mike Doran, a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Mike, when you see the bombings, when you see the death tolls going up now, when you see Fallujah in the hands of al Qaeda extremists, was it a mistake? Did we pull out too soon? How do you see it?

MICHAEL DORAN, SABAN CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY: Well, as somebody who served in the Bush administration and who supported the war, I have got to say that's probably the question that I really hate the most, because, if I'm to be totally honest, I have a lot of doubts, as I think anybody who has looked at this now does.

And we can't escape the fact that what we expected from the war and what actually happened were two very different things. We can't escape the fact that in the last poll I saw, over 60 percent of Americans think it was a mistake. But, as I say, having served in the Bush administration, I always feel like that question is a little bit like, are you still beating your wife, that if I say, yes, I have regrets or I have questions about whether it was really worth it, then I feel like I'm buying into a whole narrative and a whole set of criticisms of the war that I don't necessarily agree with.

But I think definitely there were mistakes all along the way in the Bush administration and the Obama administration, and we need to take stock.

COOPER: Also, just this conversation is not to take in any way away from the sacrifices made by American forces and by other forces there.

AMANPOUR: No, but we need to talk about that, because actually those sacrifices have been put in some jeopardy now. You can talk to Marines who fought in Fallujah. It was the worst battle since Vietnam.

COOPER: Yes, it was incredible.

AMANPOUR: And we have talked about how deadly and costly it was.

COOPER: Not just street by street. It was house by house, inch by inch.


AMANPOUR: And to see the black flag of al Qaeda flying over Fallujah again is a humiliation.

COOPER: So, did the U.S. pull out too soon?


COOPER: You believe they did?


AMANPOUR: I do believe, not to pull out too soon, because they were in any event going to pull out, but there was no successful attempt to keep a proper force there to prevent against this kind of thing.

And everybody can argue why, and the Iraqis didn't want and this didn't want, but that's what you do when you have troops there, when you have an embassy there, when you have expended so much blood and treasure. You negotiate properly and keep a force there to protect your investment.

So Iraq, in my view, was just damned because of the mistakes of the Bush administration and going in. Fallujah was the most terrible thing. We all covered it. But there was a surge. America doubled down, put more troops in. It worked. Joined with the Sunni tribesmen, the awakening. It worked.

And now, because they have pulled out and because of the vacuum in Syria, which has given rise to al Qaeda again, the whole thing is going to hell.


COOPER: Do you just put the blame on Syria and the U.S.? What about Maliki and the regime there?

AMANPOUR: Precisely. So, that is the second and most important thing to talk about as well.

When the United States pulled out, they said we are leaving this country on the road to a stable democracy. Everybody knew Maliki was not somebody who was democratic. And he's proved it over and over again.

Yes, the lion's share of the blame perhaps lies with Maliki, because he so alienated the Sunni tribes that they in Fallujah would rather stand with the al Qaeda than see the government groups go in.

HOOVER: So, Ryan Crocker said recently that disengagement, the price of disengagement is actually more -- has greater consequences than intervention.

AMANPOUR: Correct.

HOOVER: Right. This is exactly what you're saying.

AMANPOUR: Only after you have intervened.

HOOVER: Right.


COOPER: Well, David, what do you think?

ROHDE: Well, we have to engage is the thing.

There's almost a hangover from Iraq. We need to move past Iraq. Engaging doesn't mean a ground invasion with 150,000 troops.

AMANPOUR: Exactly.

ROHDE: There's more things you can do. You can train Iraqi troops. You can train Afghan troops. You can have special forces.

I feel like we have got to move past Iraq. And this administration raises Iraq constantly.


AMANPOUR: You say that. Iraq is the reason why -- we have moved so far past it, that nobody has intervened in Syria, and al Qaeda has grown up again. That is the point.

COOPER: What do you see now, given all that's happened, rather than looking backward, what do you see as the steps forward? How do you deal with what's happening in Iraq now and I guess, by comparison, Syria?

DORAN: I think the epicenter is Syria.

Maliki has made a lot of mistakes and we definitely have to be engaged with what's going on in Iraq. But the center of disruption in the region right now is Syria. And we are nearly totally absent from that conflict.

AMANPOUR: Not totally absent.

DORAN: But just a word on Iraq.

I think the starting point there -- I totally agree with everything that Christiane said. And I think the starting point is not to accept Maliki's narrative. His narrative, which he's trying to sell to us, is, it's either me or al Qaeda. There's no other opportunity, there's no other alternative.

And there are other alternatives. We just have to go back to what -- to the surge and the sons of Al Anbar and look at that as a model and engage with all the different elements in the Iraqi spectrum to create an alternative other than what we're seeing right now, which is greater polarization.

COOPER: And, frankly that's the line given by just about every ruler in the world. It's either me or the flood.

We have to leave it there. Mike Doran, it's good to have you on, David Rohde as well. Thank you.

DORAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Just ahead, something completely different, first lady Michelle Obama days away from a milestone birthday, in an interview with "People" magazine, she talked candidly about the big 5-0 and getting older. Botox even potentially came up.

We will talk about that ahead.


COOPER: Welcome back. First lady Michelle Obama turns 50 on Friday. In an exclusive interview with "People" magazine, she talks about the half century mark and some of the nitty-gritty details of aging. Her exercise routine is changing: more yoga, less cardio. She hasn't ruled out Botox, apparently. And she can see herself as a grandmother one day.

Joining the panel and me tonight is Sandra Westfall, Washington bureau chief of "People" magazine. Great to have you here. So you sat down with the first lady for about 25 minutes. This is, what, your 12th interview with her?


COOPER: So how -- facing 50, how big a deal is it for her?

WESTFALL: You know, it was -- she's dancing into her 50s, and she -- actually, they approached me about doing the interview. They knew people would be focusing on this moment in her life, and she wanted to use that as an opportunity to send a message to women, that, you know, it's -- it can only be uphill from 50. And she wanted to spread the word about what she's doing for her health.

COOPER: The thing about Botox has gotten a lot of headlines. What did she say about that?

WESTFALL: You know, I gingerly asked her if she had a philosophy on enhancements.

COOPER: Is that how you phrased it?



WESTFALL: You know, "Not that you need it, Mrs. Obama." But -- and she was game. She says, "You know, I think women should believe free to do what they need to do to feel good, as long as they're doing it for the right reasons."

HOOVER: What's so surprising about that...

COOPER: She says she hasn't planned on it but hasn't ruled it out.

WESTFALL: Yes. She says, "I don't see myself going that route, but I've also learned never say never."

HOOVER: I think it -- it's picked up a lot of traction because it doesn't seem congruous with her other beauty philosophies, which are very natural. I mean, she's a great role model for girls in that she doesn't obsess about what she eats. She exercises. She goes gets her mammogram. She gets her -- she's just a very earthy, all-natural, very beautiful person. So the Botox piece and the plastic surgery question feels very -- almost incongruous with her philosophy.

COOPER: I think it was a wise answer. Because there have been -- we know there have been plenty of people in the public eye who said never, never, never, and then, you know, as the numbers creep up, suddenly it changes.

WESTFALL: Well, if she looks at her mother at 76, and if she's got those genes, she knows she's never going to really have to face this question.

STEWART: Does she feel funny (ph) about her daughters' emotions? Usually, they're so protective of the family.

WESTFALL: I have always found that she battles this inner sharer when talking about her girls. That, you know, she just can't help herself. And, you know, there have been interviews afterward where the staff comes and says, you know, she -- she wishes she hadn't said that or they worry they, you know, have embarrassed Malia. So if anything, you know, she almost -- she tries to reign it in. But you get them talking about their girls, and they just can't -- they can't help themselves. It's like sitting around talking with other parents.

AMANPOUR: She did something interesting today. She gave a speech, a presentation that her 50 plus and the rest of White House years are going to be dedicated to education, to getting kids through high school, and to really, you know, helping her husband realize his goals of improving, you know, test scores and getting into college.

And they're pretty bad. I mean, the latest figures show, you know, only a third of high-school students doing, you know -- even getting into college and terrible SAT scores. And, you know, there are millions of jobs going, not just here but in Europe, as well, and the kids are not trained to take these jobs.

COOPER: She also talked about stuff, something which first ladies kind of rarely talk about when they still are facing several years. She talked kind of life after the White House.

WESTFALL: Exactly. And previewing what you just talked about, that that's going to be an issue for her. She wants to do more international travel in the second term.

COOPER: She had a book on the table?

WEST: Yes. She used to have a coffee table book. She said she can't find it now, which seems to drive her a little crazy. But the girls really have always loved coffee table books, and it was the 100 most beautiful places on the planet. And she says she just wants to be able to pick one and say, "Let's go."

But she also talked about this -- this idea that she wants to -- one of her issues after the White House will be getting especially girls all over the world the opportunities that she had, you know, to get herself to Princeton, get herself to Harvard.

COOPER: How has she changed? I mean, you've interviewed her 12 times, probably more than, really, anybody else I know of. How has -- even before she was in the White House, how has she changed? Is she a different person now than the person you first met?

WESTFALL: You know, I went back and looked at my first interview in 2007. And honestly, the only difference that I was struck by is that her makeup has gotten more professional. Look at our first...

COOPER: Probably a little better dressed, too.

WESTFALL: Yes, yes, yes. But honestly, that was the only difference I -- I could pick up. She maybe was actually a little less unguarded.

COOPER: Really? That's interesting.

WESTFALL: Now. And it usually happens in the reverse, right? You get into the White House, the walls go up, and you turn inward and you get more guarded. STEWART: But I think as women when you get into your 40s and into your 50s, you don't care anymore. You know who you are. You're going to say what you want to say.

WESTFALL: Unless you've got the West Wing breathing down your neck.

HOOVER: You alluded to that in the article, though, that she is most comfortable, and she says she's getting even more so. And that maybe by the time she's her mother's age, she'll be as confident as her mother is.

WESTFALL: Definitely. And comfortable. She said her mother, you know, every single day does exactly what she wants to do, says what she wants to say without apology and that that's where she hopes to ultimately get herself.

STEWART: Mrs. Robinson is a cool lady.

COOPER: And she does want grandchildren?

WESTFALL: She does. And I felt a little funny asking her about that. Because, you know, it's presupposing that 50 is really old. And she jumped...

COOPER: Which it isn't.

WESTFALL: Exactly. She jumped right in and said, "Believe it or not, I actually have already started to think about that," because she can start already to envision her daughters going to college, getting married and having careers, and she's starting to picture herself as a full-time caregiver.

AMANPOUR: I'm fascinated by what they're going to do in the two years after the White House, when Sasha hasn't finished high school. They're not going to move. What is a presidential couple going to do in Washington?

WESTFALL: Interesting. They can't go at the Watergate now. No, they haven't made that decision. Sasha will have a vote on that. I don't think they've taken the vote yet.

COOPER: I'm enjoying 50, I've got to say. It's 3 1/2 years away. Enjoying it.

AMANPOUR: That's just such an advertisement that you're not 50 yet.

COOPER: No, it's not. It's an advertisement that I'm so lame that I'm already thinking about it. That's what -- that's what it is.

AMANPOUR: Fifty's great.

COOPER: Really?

AMANPOUR: Yes. It's great.

COOPER: I don't know. AMANPOUR: I don't know.

WESTFALL: I'm looking forward to it in about ten years.

COOPER: Listen, Sandra, thank you so much for being with us. It's a fascinating article, in "People" magazine now.

Up next, one of Hollywood's biggest actors on his life as an Oxford academic and where it led him. Richard Dreyfuss takes our fifth chair right after this.


COOPER: Welcome back. Richard Dreyfuss is one of the most successful actors of his generation, starring in classic movies such as "Jaws," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "The Goodbye Girl" for which he won an Oscar for Best Actor.

But the actor has turned away from show business and turned scholar. These days, among other things, he's the driving force behind the Dreyfuss Initiative, which seeks to remind Americans of the importance of teaching civics to schoolchildren. He also spent four years studying at Oxford University.

Back with our panel, we're very pleased to have Richard Dreyfuss. It's great to have you here.


COOPER: I find this kind of amazing and really cool, because it's very rare for somebody to leave a business that they have been so successful in, at a very successful time, and do something else that they're incredibly passionate about. And I think it's really a cool thing to do. You -- were you nervous about leaving?

DREYFUSS: No, no. I adored doing something for 40 years, and if you do something for 40 years, you're allowed to stop doing it. And I -- I like it, but I like my country.

COOPER: There's a lot of people who don't stop -- a lot of people who hang on until, you know, far past the time they maybe should have stopped in terms of something.

DREYFUSS: My daughter wrote a novel about a desperate actor trying to get back. And about a year later, I said, you know, "The novel hurt."

And she said, "Why?"

I said, "Because it wasn't true."

And she went, "Dad."

And I said, "Think of it. I went to Oxford for four years. You can't do both."

COOPER: Why Oxford? What did you do at Oxford? DREYFUSS: I was a senior advisory researcher at St. Anthony's College, and I was doing -- I was trying to figure out the damage being done by the absence of civics, and it's huge.

And the problem is, or one of the problems, is that civics itself is -- is a boring word that deals with an urgent problem, and if it's not dealt with, we're not going to get out of this century.

COOPER: So you're talking about kids aren't learning American history, the Constitution?

DREYFUSS: Right. And neither are the office holders or the president or corporate people or industry or military.

AMANPOUR: Did you come up with a -- with a program, with a plan, what?

DREYFUSS: Yes. You have to have the youngest of our kids develop affection and pride and love of country. And then you teach them reasoning with logic, clarity of thought and expression. And then critical analysis, which needs some emotional maturity to exercise.

AMANPOUR: Did you see a difference between the gap you were trying to fill here in the United States and English kids, British kids, where you were (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? Was there a difference in their attachment to civics?

DREYFUSS: They were kind of like Americans. They don't really figure on being called English or British, or -- but I didn't care about that.

STEWART: Was there a catalyst? Were you seeing a kid texting during the Pledge of Allegiance that made you realize that civics was the thing that you really felt...

DREYFUSS: Here's what I felt was in any newspaper, in any city, you can see stories about crimes being committed by the corporate world or the military or the president or somebody, and you don't see any stories about anyone being held accountable.

And also, when you looked at the newspaper's front page, you don't understand one story on that page. You don't understand the trillions of dollars on Wall Street. You don't understand the mortgage scandal. You don't -- you don't understand anything, and that means we're completely failing our children, which means that, at a certain point in the future, they will turn to us and say something that has never been said. They're going to say, "How could you have abandoned us like this?" Because they're not being prepared at all.

COOPER: Do you think your kids will lead a better -- I mean, you know, most generations in America have always had the expectation that the subsequent generation will lead a better life, will have more opportunities. Do you have that confidence for your kids?

DREYFUSS: Well, let me ask you all: When you think of the future of the country, are you comfortable and easy and confident? Or are you uneasy and uncomfortable?

AMANPOUR: Worried. Because most people answer that question in the negative. Most parents say today that they do not believe in the American dream still exists for their generation, and that their kids won't do what American generations generally do, and that is do better than them. And that is pretty shocking, especially from those of us who come from overseas, because this is what this country is all about.

And then we were just talking before you came on about the state of education. It's a pretty big crisis. Michelle Obama has decided that that's what she wants to focus on: high-school students and not just civics but educational proficiency. And if that's lacking here in the greatest and most powerful country in the world, it is pretty troubling. It is.

DREYFUSS: What do you think the mandate of public education is? Why do we have -- why do we spend public money on public schools?

AMANPOUR: To prepare us, and to prepare our children to be responsible citizens and to be able to go out and contribute to our society.


AMANPOUR: By learning.

DREYFUSS: I would say this: It's to develop intellectual skill sets, and it means that you want to develop what is called the agile mind so that you can bounce from subject to subject and take care of whatever life throws at you.

And we are not only not doing that, but I asked the chancellor of the University of Virginia, "What's the -- what's the mandate of public education?"

And he said, "I don't know."

I said, "Well, 900 kids are going to walk in here in two minutes, and I'm going to ask you that question." And he left.

AMANPOUR: The chancellor of the education here in New York, huge article about her and her mandate, which is very similar to what you're saying.

HOOVER: A moment ago, you said "civics because I love my country." Where did your love of country come from?

DREYFUSS: My parents and their -- my grandmother and her grand-aunt, who assassinated Czar Alexander. And my mother -- my grandmother was a witness to the Triangle factory fire and went to work for Eugene V. Debs. And I have been political my whole life.

And I always promised myself that one day I was going to say, in a book, I was going to say, "I was not born in 1947. I was born in 1881 when all of the stories started that developed my moral character." AMANPOUR: But in your lifetime, you've had that experience. You look back to the Kennedy era, I believe, and feel that that was the last time there was a real enjoinment of civilians, kids, grownups in a sort of a national purpose.

DREYFUSS: Yes, yes.

STEWART: Where do you put economics into this? Because I spent the last five or six years in the D.C. school system dealing with kids who go to school hungry and come home to no parents or foster homes or don't have homes. Asking those kids to be civically engaged is asking a lot.

DREYFUSS: Well, especially if they take Home Ec out of the curriculum.


DREYFUSS: They do take the necessary classes out of the curriculum, so you don't have any knowledge of civic authority. We are the sovereign in this country. Nobody knows it, and therefore, nobody raises their hand and says, "Mr. President, answer the question." No one does that.

And I went to the Press Club, and I made a speech. And I said, "I was thinking of asking the people that were here how many of you thought you were heirs to Edwin R. Murrow, and then I decided not to ask because I'd lose my sense of humor."

And Tim Russert raised his hand and said, "Richard, why am I a villain?"

And I said, "You're a villain, Tim, because you don't ask the question for the fourth time. And that's your job."

AMANPOUR: Tim did. Tim was one of the standouts.

DREYFUSS: No, no, he wasn't. And I would say -- I would say that -- and I said it that night. I said, "When the one person who did do her job was exiled," and Tim said, "Well, what would we have done?"

AMANPOUR: Who are you talking about?

DREYFUSS: And I said, "Helen Thomas." And I said, "You don't have to show up at the next press conference." I mean, everyone knows that everyone is lying. Everyone. Politicians, everyone.

AMANPOUR: There's quite a stormy confrontation going on in the White House press room these days. Certainly, Jay Carney and the ABC White House correspondent, former CNN and John Carter (ph) are always going at it. And people are reminded of the days of Sam Donaldson, who would never let Reagan, you know, walk past a rope line without shouting questions about it.

COOPER: But there is a tendency in a lot of these interviews, especially with people who cover politics a lot, maybe they ask two questions and then you just kind of move on.

There's nothing more infuriating as a viewer to be sitting there. You end up yelling at the screen, saying, "Just keep -- just keep asking that one question if they're not going to answer." There's nothing more infuriating than somebody just refusing -- or answering the question they wish they were asked...

DREYFUSS: You remember Jon Stewart coming on CROSSFIRE? We're going to take our children to that -- to that experience at the museum, because he was so brilliant. He nailed them both.

And the next day, commentators from the left and the right attacked him. And I think that we have built a media of distraction. We do sound bites and distraction. We don't deal with the issues. And we are satisfied; we're going to a dinner party and knowing only the sound bite.

COOPER: I also think a lot -- I mean, you've talked about it, a lot changed when, you know -- when news had to start to make profits for corporations, back in those days. I like to remember asking Walter Cronkite a year before he died, "What were your ratings?" And he looked at me like I was insane. He had no idea what his ratings were.

We actually -- speaking of which, have to take a quick break. We'll be right back with stories you might have missed today. I'll ask the panel "What's Your Story?" We'll be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back. Time now for "What's Your Story" where the panel shares a story that you or I might have missed.

Richard, what's your story?

DREYFUSS: I -- I addressed the 50 chief justices of the state supreme courts, and I said, "I'm going to ask you a question and you tell me whether I'm crazy. If you received a notice from your local TV outlet that said from now on, TV -- traffic congestion news would be on a $4 surcharge, you would hit the roof, right?"

They all went, "Right."

I said, "Because it's news, right?"


"So is politics. You can't profit from politics. You must cover it, but you cannot profit from it. And so all of these media people who take a cut from the TV ad buy, that's called a conflict of interest. But we are not a country of law anymore."

COOPER: You don't believe that?


COOPER: You don't believe that we're a country of law? DREYFUSS: I know we are not. Did we impeach a president who lied and got us into a war? That we did not call a war? We've been doing that for years.

I would like to see at least committees that overlook the president's movement. And you cannot -- Lyndon Johnson lied. Bush lied, and you can't just let it go.

COOPER: Do you believe President Obama lied?

DREYFUSS: About what?

COOPER: Benghazi, about a lot of things that...

DREYFUSS: I think all politicians do that, but not -- not avoiding the Constitution. There's a bigger problem.

And also when President Bush said, "Don't sacrifice. Don't think of sacrificing. Go shopping." That's an insult to every man and woman who ever sacrificed their lives in earlier wars. That's an unacceptable thing.

AMANPOUR: Talking about sacrificing lives, there is unbelievable video out of North Korea, the most unlikely place, North Korea. PBS did an amazing documentary, watching now people pushing back against the state. Physically, this woman pushing a police officer who was trying to deny her the right to make a little money -- that's really, really interesting.

COOPER: ... "Frontline."

We're out of time. Richard, great to have you on.

Thank you, everybody on the panel.

That does it for us. We'll see you tomorrow.