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NPR Fires Longtime Analyst; WikiLeaks Releases More Secret U.S. Military Documents

Aired October 22, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, breaking news, political headlines straight ahead.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's begin with the breaking news right now.

Tens of thousands of secret Iraq war documents are posted online by the whistle-blowing Web site WikiLeaks. There are stunning new revelations about civilian casualties, abuse of detainees and Iran's growing role inside Iraq.

Let's bring in Michael Gordon of "The New York Times," who is a national security writer who has been poring over these documents now for some time.

How long have you been looking at these documents, Michael?

MICHAEL GORDON, CHIEF MILITARY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I would say certainly for a couple of months.

BLITZER: A couple of months. And WikiLeaks had an arrangement with "The New York Times" that allowed you to see them first; is that right?

GORDON: Well, the only arrangement is WikiLeaks made the material available to "The New York Times." There is not a partnership. We do not accept editorial guidance from WikiLeaks.

We have made our own decisions, by the way, Wolf, as to what to post. And we haven't posted thousands of documents. We have probably posted about 20 documents.

BLITZER: All right, well, talk a little bit, because I know they have got the similar arrangement "Der Spiegel" in Germany and "The Guardian" in England.

The Iranian involvement with Iraqi militias, we know there has been an involvement, but now you're getting new information. Tell our viewers what you are learning. GORDON: Well, I think it is actually quite significant, Wolf, because it has been asserted certainly during the Bush administration that Iran had a role in providing lethal support, weapons, training in Iran for Shiite militants who fought American troops and Iraqi troops, but some people had said this was really sort of a White House spin.

And what you see in the reports -- these are ground-level reports never intended to be made public -- is that it was a fairly widespread phenomenon of great concern to the American military and really a very genuine threat to American and Iraqi forces.

And, by the way, there is an account in here of an episode of a firefight along the border with Iran between Iraqi and -- Iranian and American forces.

BLITZER: And these are U.S. documents, just to be precise. These are not Iraqi documents, right?

GORDON: These are sort of tactical field-level American military...


BLITZER: By U.S. military commanders?

GORDON: By -- no, really at the field level. These are tactical-level reports which we have worked through conscientiously.

And the ones we have posted, we have vetted, tried to remove information that would jeopardize military operations or lives. And, indeed, we went so far as to tell the Pentagon in advance what we were going to post by way of documents and to ask if they had concerns about this.

BLITZER: And did they tell you they did?

GORDON: Well, they said they did not like the fact that "The New York Times" was going to reveal classified material, but they had no additional cuts to propose beyond the ones we already made.

BLITZER: I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent. Michael, don't go away.

Chris Lawrence is standing by over at the Pentagon.

I want to play for both of you this statement that the WikiLeaks founder made and then we will discuss. Listen to this.


JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: I think the message of this material is powerful and perhaps a little easier to understand than the complex situation in Afghanistan. We are talking about much higher death figures.

So, our Afghan -- release documented the circumstances behind the deaths of some 20,000 people in six years in Afghanistan. This material covers those same six years, with the exception of two missing months, and documents the deaths of 104,000 people. So we are talking about a five-times greater kill rate in Iraq, really a comparative bloodbath, compared to Afghanistan.


BLITZER: What are officials at the Pentagon, Chris, saying about this latest dump from WikiLeaks?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are just as furious now, Wolf, as they were just a few months ago when WikiLeaks released those Afghanistan documents.

The big difference this time is that during -- when the Afghanistan documents got dumped, they didn't know that the names were going to be included, so they had to scramble afterwards. This time, they have had a team of about 100 people reading over potential documents that they thought might be released, trying to zero in on some of those names.

I just spoke with Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell and he estimated that there were thousands of names of Iraqis who had cooperated with U.S. forces over the past six to seven years.

BLITZER: So, Michael, how concerned should U.S. officials be that these Iraqis who cooperated, worked with the U.S., could be endangered right now because their names are on this Web site?

GORDON: Well, I don't know, because I don't know what WikiLeaks in fact is going to do with this material.

I just know how "The New York Times" handled it and we made an effort to extract such names to take out the names of any informants, to take out the names of in fact low-level American officers, to remove tactical information that could be of benefit to the enemy.

That is what "The New York Times" did. what WikiLeaks plans to do with the documents, I can't say.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about this other revelation, the American hikers who the Iranians say crossed the border from Iraq into Iran and were then picked up. One has since been released. Two others remain in an Iranian prison more than a year after they were arrested.

What are we learning from these new documents?

GORDON: Well, there is a single report in the nearly 400,000 tactical-level reports that I could find that referenced these hikers.

And it was on the day that they were apprehended. And what is very interesting about it is that asserts -- and it was done by American military command in the north -- that they were detained on the Iraqi side of the border by the Iranian forces. And there are any number of instances in which Iranian border forces were very aggressive in defending their border. And, by the way, this is consistent with some media reports. "The Nation" magazine had an investigation over the summer which reported this.

Now, we all know -- you covered the Pentagon -- that first reports are sometimes wrong. But that is what this report asserted. And it also makes clear that they were by no means -- they were no intelligence operatives. You can just tell by the way the American military scrambles to try to find out what is happening that they were not on an intelligence mission.


BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, I hope you can still hear me where you are.

But this whole Iranian involvement in Iraq is an extremely sensitive issue, because, from the U.S. perspective, they have tried to play it down, but it looks, as Michael Gordon, who has gone over these documents over the past few months, is now reporting, it is much more robust than a lot of people thought.


And I can tell you, Wolf, I was just at one of those outposts back in September where U.S. forces have some of their last remote outposts very close to the Iranian border.

And we had field-level commanders telling us that the Iranian influence and aggressiveness down there is extremely high, that they have a lot of influence in some of the towns in Iraq that are right along the border.

The question I would have for Michael is, so much has been made about Iraq being President Bush's war, but how many of these incidents that you have read in this report happened after President Obama took office?

GORDON: Well, it is an excellent question. And we did look into this and in fact it is in our coverage and in the documents we made available.

And, in fact, there are instances in which Iranian-supported militants were very active during President Obama's term in office. In fact, there is one report that speculates they may be turning up the heat a little bit to create the narrative that these Shiite militants are driving the Americans out of Iraq.

And there are also cases in which with the American forces, special operations forces in concert with Iraqi special operations forces have gone after people they thought were working for Iranian intelligence.

So this shadow war has continued in the Obama administration. BLITZER: Now, we all remember the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib that occurred years ago, but there is other information in some of these U.S. documents that have now been leaked to WikiLeaks suggesting that there is more, what, U.S. abuse of prisoners and other Iraqis? What is going on?

GORDON: No, it is not quite that, Wolf. But it is a very interesting article by my colleagues.

And it is -- what it is, is, the United States forces are leaving Iraq and we are handing over our prisoners to the Iraqis. So what is happening with the prisoners in their custody? And there are of reports that Iraqi prisoners in Iraqi custody in Iraqi prisons have been abused at the hands of Iraqis and roughed up and beaten.

And what the field-level reports show, that in some instances American forces intervened to try to stop this, but what the reports also indicate, according to our news article, is that in some instances the United States did not intervene that actively.

And this is important if you think about the future of Iraq. What is going to happen when the American forces are gone and all of these people are in Iraqi custody?

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence has a question for you as well.

Go ahead, Chris.

LAWRENCE: Yes, just following up on that again, and I just spoke with Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, and he was explaining sort of the process by which, when these incidents come to light, the U.S. military then refers them up the chain of command to Iraqi authorities.

In reading through these documents, was that the sense that you go, that U.S. forces were made aware of what was going on with some of these prisoners, but then just passed on the information to Iraqi officials?

GORDON: I think what Geoff Morrell has explained is the way the process is supposed to work and intended to work and in some instances does work.

And I think what the article indicates and what the documents indicate is that it is not clear that it in fact did work like that in all instances and there may be some cases in which it did not work as the process was intended.

BLITZER: Michael, you and I go way back to the Pentagon. We were both Pentagon correspondents during the first Gulf War, what, almost 20 years ago or so. And you have gone through these documents now for the past few months. Eye-opening for you?

GORDON: Well, I am working on a book on the Iraq war. It is like my third on the Iraqi saga, so I'm a bit of an Iraqophile. It did not change my fundamental understanding of the war, why the surge was successful, what residual problems remain, what sectarian issues still confound Iraq, so it was not revolutionary in that sense.

However, in its granularity, in its detail, it did reveal episodes of which I had been personally been unaware and it confirmed things and added information to kind of themes that I was already familiar with. So I think they can be valuable if they are properly handled and if people take the care to redact from them information that could be -- do genuine harm to security.

BLITZER: And I know "The New York Times" took that care. I am not sure WikiLeaks will take that care. That is why there is deep, deep concern right now about the safety of a lot of Iraqis who cooperated with the U.S.

But that story, I suspect, will unfold in much greater detail in the days and weeks to come.

Michael, thanks very much for coming in.

GORDON: All right. Thank you.

BLITZER: And, Chris Lawrence, thanks to you as well.

NPR under fire right now for firing the journalist Juan Williams. Critics say National Public Radio showed more bias than he did. We are going to have a debate this hour.

And a powerful typhoon triggers raging floods and traps hundreds in their cars. We have got dramatic pictures.

And would Jeb Bush support Sarah Palin if she ran for the president of the United States? Here's his two-word answer: You betcha.


BLITZER: Devastation in Taiwan after a powerful typhoon triggered deadly mud and rock slides that trapped hundreds of people, flooded streets and put cars underwater. The storm is churning across Eastern Asia. They are bracing for a direct hit in southern China.

CNN's Chad Myers is joining us now from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta.

What is the latest, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, Wolf, we always say, don't focus on the center of the line. Focus on the cone and here is why.

There is Taiwan. There is Megi. It is going to head out on up into China. Taiwan never got a direct hit from this typhoon, which is a hurricane, which is a cyclone. They are all the same thing. They are just named different things if they're in different oceans.

So, here is Taiwan. The ocean current brought in an awful lot and the spin of the storm brought in all the humidity. It hit that spine of Taiwan, which is the mountain range in between and it just rained for days even with the storm missing Taiwan completely.

Here are the pictures, cars you can't see the tops of. All you can see are some of the antenna sticking out of these cars. It was so much water in Taiwan and they did not even get the weather at all. They didn't get the eye.

Now, Luzon down in the Philippines did get the eye. And it is going to move up into China. An awful lot of people live through here as well. Here's Hong Kong. Here's Taipei, Taiwan. And it's going to move right up here as a Category 1 hurricane tonight and into tomorrow. And then it's going to slow down and make more flooding in China.

This is a mess here. We don't talk about too many typhoons in the Pacific, but when they are this big, this thing, remember, had a measured wind speed by hurricane hunter aircraft of 199 miles an hour before it hit the Philippines.

And then for us, this is Wednesday, way up here, and that is the Gulf of Mexico. Richard could be in the Gulf of Mexico before then. We will keep watching that for the U.S. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chad, thanks very much for that report.

A nuclear submarine runs into trouble off the coast of Scotland. We are going to tell you what happened.

Then we will have much more on the controversy over NPR's firing of an analyst about comments he made involving Muslims. I will be joined by two leading activists. They're on opposite sides of this issue -- a major debate coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: More fallout from the firing of an NPR on-air analyst over comments about Muslims. Brian Todd standing by. He will update us. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: National Public Radio is under fire right now for firing the longtime analyst Juan Williams. Williams, who is also a FOX News analyst -- with a brand-new multiyear deal, by the way -- set off alarms Monday with comments about Muslims and terrorism, spoke with Bill O'Reilly on "The O'Reilly Factor."

Here's the clip.


I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralyses, where you don't address reality.

I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I have written about the civil rights movement in this country, but when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb, and I think they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

Now, I remember also that, when the Times Square bomber was at court -- I think this was just last week -- he said, the war with Muslims, America's war with Muslims is just beginning, the first drop of blood. I don't think there's any way to get away from these facts.

But I think there are people who want to somehow remind us all, as President Bush did after 9/11, it is not a war against Islam.



BLITZER: NPR fired Juan Williams pretty quickly after that, saying he crossed the line. But now NPR itself is taking a lot of heat, especially from conservatives.

Brian Todd is looking into this for us.

Brian, the uproar continues.


And one way, Wolf, that the right is turning up the heat is by focusing on NPR's money and the fact that it gets some of its funding from taxpayers.


TODD (voice-over): The political fallout now intensifies for NPR for firing analyst Juan Williams.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: He explained his feelings, and the guy gets fired because it doesn't fit the left- wing dogma that you have to follow. And we put taxpayer money into that censorship program.

TODD: Other Republicans, including Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee, who both, like Williams, work for FOX News, called for an end of government support for public radio.

Senator Jim DeMint says he will introduce a bill to end taxpayer subsidies. He says the firing of Williams just shows NPR promotes a one-sided liberal agenda. An NPR executive said the qualms Williams expressed about seeing Muslims on a plane were grounds for dismissal.

VIVIAN SCHILLER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: His feelings that he expressed on FOX News are really between him and his, you know, psychiatrist or his publicist, or take your pick. But it is not compatible with a news analyst on -- with the role of a news analyst on NPR's air.

TODD: NPR's Vivian Schiller later apologized for that remark, but Williams called it a low blow on ABC.

WILLIAMS: I expressed a genuine feeling that I have in that situation. I am able to discern exactly what a feeling is, as opposed to what is a, you know, a public position and an ability to report and to hear what others are saying.

TODD: NPR denies that their broadcasts have a liberal agenda and they say very little of their money comes from the government anyway, about 1 or 2 percent in grants awarded by the government's foundation, another 6 percent or so that local stations get from the government and then pay to NPR for programming, roughly $13 million on a budget of $160 million.

But NPR's private donors are also inviting criticism. George Soros just gave a $1.8 million grant last week, the stated purpose, hiring more state and local reporters. But Soros is politically active billionaire who mostly gives to causes on the left.

And while an NPR spokeswoman said donors don't affect their editorial content, Soros' contribution adds fuel to the fire for critics who call the broadcaster leftist.


TODD: And many of those critics say, if so little of their money comes from the government, why not cut the chord altogether?

A spokesman for NPR rejected that suggestion and reiterated their news content and editorial decision-making are kept entire separate from funding -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And explain why Senator DeMint, among others, talks about $400 million of U.S. taxpayer money going to public radio and television.

TODD: Well, you have got to figure out how that is divided up. Most of that is not going to NPR. It's going to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds individual stations and also funds programmers like PBS.

Now, PBS airs shows like "Sesame Street," but it also airs shows like "Frontline," documentaries, news documentaries. Some critics say "Frontline" also leans left, but NPR -- excuse me -- PBS denies that it does.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

Let's continue to assess what is going on. Was the Juan Williams firing an unfair or unwise move by NPR?

Let's turn to Howard Kurtz. He hosts CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" that airs Sunday mornings. He wrote about this story today for The Daily Beast, where he's now the new Washington bureau chief.

Howie, thanks very much for coming in.

I read your piece on The Daily Beast today. Did NPR do the right thing by firing Juan Williams?

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, NPR should not have fired Juan Williams. This was not a bigoted statement. A little bit of an unsettling statement, but NPR has bungled this from beginning to end. The explanation doesn't quite add up. He's an analyst, but he shouldn't give his opinion, and it looks like NPR -- the perception here that NPR is close-minded, doesn't want opinions that deviate from the liberal line while FOX News looks open-minded, because it's a right-leaning network that has a liberal commentator in Juan Williams.

BLITZER: I mean, I've been following the NPR-Juan Williams relationship now for some time. And I was convinced immediately that NPR was simply looking for an excuse to get rid of him. They've wanted to end this joint venture between NPR and FOX for some time, haven't they?

KURTZ: Yes, I think NPR has been very uncomfortable with having Juan Williams on programs like "The O'Reilly Factor," and there has been pressure for other NPR people to get off FOX.

I think the venue where Juan Williams delivered these remarks on FOX News was really more important in this whole controversy than the substance of what he said. But even from that point of view, NPR could wait until it wasn't pledge week and quietly not renewed Williams' contract, but instead, really has turned him into kind of a celebrated victim. Not much of a victim, because he just got a $2 million deal with FOX, but a victim of political correctness and gave itself a big black eye, particularly handing ammunition, Wolf, to those on the right who say that it is a left-leaning organization, which of course, is unfair to some of the journalists and hosts there who try to report the news straight.

BLITZER: Does NPR feel comfortable with their White House correspondent, Mara Liasson, appearing on FOX?

KURTZ: Just some months ago, Wolf, NPR more quietly tried to persuade Mara Liasson not to appear on FOX. She appears on FOX as a reporter. She's not as opinionated as Juan Williams. That's not her role.

But it does show you that, I think, NPR probably does get some heat from some of its listeners who don't like FOX News and don't understand why National Public Radio personalities are appearing on FOX News. And then, as Brian Todd mentioned in the set-up, at the same time, what an awful timing this is to take almost $2 million from George Soros to hire 100 new reporters, even though NPR can insist, well, it doesn't affect the substance of what we do. The perception is awful. George Soros is a left-wing philanthropist who gives money to liberal organizations. And this, again, hands more ammunition to those who think that NPR shouldn't get any government money at all, however small that percentage may be, and who think that it has become a liberal outfit.

BLITZER: Should a news organization like NPR accept money from George Soros? And then the second part of the question, accept money from U.S. taxpayers?

KURTZ: Well, on the first one, I would say no. George Soros may be a very nice guy, but he is so closely identified with one side of the political spectrum. Certainly, if a news organization had taken a comparable amount of money from some conservative titan, a lot of liberals would be raising questions about that. I think he shouldn't take money for a news organization from anybody who is so partisan, so openly partisan.

On the government funding question, you know, that's a fair debate to have in a time of great deficits. Does NPR and PBS really need this money?

But I don't think that the decision should be driven by just this incident over Juan Williams, although certainly Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and other people associated with FOX and even John Boehner, who could be the next House speaker, raising questions about that federal subsidy. I think that should be decided and debated separate and apart from this Juan Williams controversy.

BLITZER: All right. Howie Kurtz, thanks very much.

Don't forget that "RELIABLE SOURCES" with Howard Kurtz airs Sunday mornings, 11 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN. He's going to have a lot more on this story, coming up Sunday.

We also have a lot more coming up this hour. The Council on American Islamic Relations was one of the first to criticize Juan Williams' remarks on the Bill O'Reilly show. One of the top leaders is standing by. He'll debate what's going on with conservative Cliff May. Stand by for that.

And would Jeb Bush back Sarah Palin for president of the United States? Jeff Bush's answer: two words, "you betcha."

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


BLITZER: Let's dig deeper right now in the firing of Juan Williams over at NPR.

Joining us now, Ahmed Rehab. He's the executive director of the Chicago chapter of CAIR. That's the Council on American Islamic Relations. And Cliff May, he's the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Thanks to you and to Cliff for coming in. Let me play the little clip. This is a shortened version of what Juan Williams said on "The O'Reilly Factor" that got him in trouble with you. Listen to this.


JUAN WILLIAMS, FORMER NPR COMMENTATOR: Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country, but when I get on a plane, I've got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.


BLITZER: All right. That's the little clip. Earlier, we gave it some more perspective. Why did that so upset CAIR?

AHMED REHAB, CAIR: Well, let me follow up on the last segment, in answer to your question. This is not a debate left versus right or conservative versus liberal. This is a debate of rational versus irrational.

And Mr. -- himself, Juan Williams himself was the first to admit that his views, while honest -- and I can see that they're honest -- were irrational. So the question to him is what do you do about your irrational points of view?

You also -- you also have intellect, and it's -- it's incumbent upon you, the onus is on you to let your intellect overcome irrational sentiment or emotional feelings.

BLITZER: Specifically, tell us -- tell us why CAIR quickly issued a statement expressing its deep concern over those remarks. Explain why this so...

REHAB: These remarks, well, they didn't anger us, but disappointed us. These remarks were problematic, because they were, in a sense, stereotypical. He's talking about Muslims at large, and Muslim garb. He's talking about identity and not action.

To me, terrorists are a problem because of what they do. They're not a problem because they're Muslim. Muslims who are not terrorists, who are not intentional terrorists or are not engaged in any violent activity or any extremism are not what we ought to be talking about when we're talking about threats. They ought not to make us nervous.

And so Mr. Juan came up there and started to talk about Muslims at large in a stereotypical fashion, much like on this very same network, Rick did the same thing. Rick Sanchez was also fired from CNN.

BLITZER: What about that, Cliff? Go ahead and react to what you just heard from Ahmed. CLIFF MAY: Well, the difficulty here, Wolf, I think, is the following. It's -- Juan Williams if you followed his work and if you listened to what he said, there is nothing bigoted, there is no stereotyping.

Why is he saying he has become afraid of Muslims? The fact of the matter is we have had literally thousands of terrorist acts committed since 9/11, and the important part is not that they were committed by Muslims though they were, but that they were committed by people who said they were acting in the name of Islam. And that has caused a fear among a lot of people.

And I'm not necessarily sharing that fear. I was in Pakistan not long ago. I was in Iraq not long ago. I was in Afghanistan. There are people there who are absolutely as opposed to terrorism as you or I, but there are those there who think that terrorism is justified, because Islam needs to win in the struggle it's in with the infidels, with the west, with America, with Israel, et cetera.

So this fear should be discussed in a rational way, rather than have what happened here, which is that CAIR wrote a pretty angry letter to NPR, and I think that letter intended to get him fired and in fact did. What Juan was doing was starting a conversation we need to have.

BLITZER: Well, Ahmed, respond to that. Was that your intent to get him fired from NPR?

REHAB: No. Our intent was to engage with our own freedom of speech to express how we feel about his statements. And a lot of the defenders of freedom of speech, quote, unquote, like Mr. May here, unfortunately, they approach freedom of speech on a one-way street. It's a two-way street. He does have ever right to express his emotions and his feelings, which is what he did. We have every right to respond, which is what we did.

The outcome was left in the hands of NPR and NPR alone. We did not tell them what to do. We have no power to tell them what to do. All we can do is express our own feelings, which is exactly what we did.

MAY: You did. And I would call on NPR to rehire him. I wonder if you wouldn't do the same thing right here and now, because we need him in the debate, and we need NPR in the debate. We don't need the message that NPR has now sent, which is that you cannot discuss these issues. It's just not allowed to discuss your fears or your opinions of the fact that we have a problem, and not at least in the Muslim world, but in the Islamic militancy.

REHAB: Mr. -- if Juan Williams admits that his views are irrational, the question to him is what is he doing about his irrational? What is he doing to make him rational?

MAY: Well, look, we've got to be honest about this, and I think you can be. We have had thousands of attacks by Muslims acting as Muslims in the name of Islam. That has made people worry that maybe there, the Muslims they see, are part of that movement. Part of those organizations, part of those regimes.

We do have in the -- in the Muslim world regimes, movements, and organizations that are dedicated to killing westerners and infidels. You do agree with that?

REHAB: You're making -- you're making correct statements, factual statements.

MAY: Yes.

REHAB: But you're making them in order to draw false conclusions. The problem here is one of scalability. Al Qaeda is the problem. The extremist network that supports it is a problem. Muslims at large are not. If we fail to distinguish between the specific and the general, we will continue to have a false premise.

MAY: I agree. I agree.

BLITZER: Let me -- let me -- hold on.

REHAB: Please, let me add this. Let me just add this, that we had what happened in Fort Hood, which was a American-born Muslim, a psychiatrist and a major in the Army. We had Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam here in the Washington area who everyone thought was a moderate turned out to be an al Qaeda member. This is going to cause people to be suspicious. That is unfortunate. That is bad. And that's why we do need to discuss exactly what Juan was discussing: how do we know who is a moderate and who is a radical?

REHAB: He came on Bill O'Reilly and he just said that he had these irrational fears. Neither of them engaged in trying to help each other overcome these irrational fears. You now are admitting that these are suspicions and these are problematic. Again, you're not telling me how what you're doing about overcoming those, you know, false suspicions about people at large. That needs to be part of the discussion.

It isn't just to come out and say, "Well, hey, these are honest views." You know what? All forms of racism in some ways are honest. People are honestly bigoted. People are honestly confused. We need to overcome that. We have an intellect over our to irrational fears.

MAY: I don't think that's irrational. I don't agree that it's irrational. Would you not agree that, within the Islam world, within the Islamic community, there is a problem with terrorism, with militancy and with extremism as expressed, yes, by al Qaeda, also by the Taliban, also al Shabab, also Hezbollah, also Hamas. And I could name ten other organizations like that.

REHAB: Right. Look, yes, I agree that these are problems, and you know who else agrees? The great majority of Muslims. The majority of the people that Mr. Williams is afraid to sit next to on the plane. And that's the problem. He is unable or unwilling to distinguish between the problem and the solution.

BLITZER: I've known Juan Williams for a long time, and he is definitely sympathetic, Ahmed, to the problem that Muslim -- American Muslims who are decent, honorable citizens. He's very -- the irony of all of this, he is somebody who's been sympathetic to your concerns and now he's been fired by NPR, which is, you know, something that a lot of us who know Juan, and I've known him for many years find, you know, very ironic. And I assume you appreciate that, as well. You know his views.

REHAB: Let me be clear. I don't think he's a bigot. A statement that he made can be seen as bigoted. I think it's definitely prejudiced. I don't think he is a bigot as a person. And I think that hat he needs to do is be more responsible about when he expresses his irrational perspectives, and he admits that they're irrational, he needs to employ his intellect to overcome the irrational sentiment, as explained to people how to do that.

MAY: Let me -- let me just make this point. You had -- there was, recently, a cartoonist in Seattle who decided maybe through freedom of speech we should have an "Everyone Draw Muhammad Day," and that was offensive to some people, so she withdrew it. An American- born imam said she should be killed for that, and she has had to disappear. This is the reason some people get frightened. They're frightened if they say the wrong thing they'll be targeted. Irshad Manji, who by the way...


BLITZER: Hold on, hold on. Hurry up, guys. But quickly.

REHAB: CAIR reached out to Molly Norris. Molly Norris withdrew the cartoons not because of -- that they offended people; because she saw that people on the far right wing were exploiting her honest attempt to get a discussion going in order to draw bigoted expressions themselves.


REHAB: ... that reason. When she was attacked, we stood by her.

MAY: You stood by her? She has disappeared. She has gone into hiding. She is afraid of militant Islamics...

REHAB: Look, I get hate mail all the time, and I could go into hiding, too, and that was her decision for all the safety.

BLITZER: All right, Cliff. Hold on, hold on. We've got to -- we've got to -- we're going to leave this for another day, unfortunately, but a good discussion.

Ahmed Rehab, thanks very much for coming in. Cliff May, thanks to you, as well. Clearly, this is a sensitive issue. I'll just leave it with the thought that Juan Williams has got a job. He's going to be just fine. He's working at FOX, and I'm sure he'll be very successful there.

MAY: It's NPR that should be ashamed of itself, I have to say. BLITZER: All right. Well, NPR has its own -- NPR has got a lot of its own problems right now as a result of the way it handled this -- this incident. Clearly, a huge blunder in terms of the PR and the way they've handled it. All right, guys, thanks very -- thanks very much.

A California ballot initiative on legalizing marijuana for recreational use, it's generating a lot of buzz. Stand by.


BLITZER: The former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, was interviewed by CNN's John King earlier today. Listen to this.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Here is what one of our Facebook fans, Kyle Hunter, asked me to ask: would he endorse Palin for president if he does not run himself?

JEB BUSH, FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Well, A, I'm not running. And if Sarah Palin is the nominee, and she's running against Barack Obama, you betcha.

KING: What about -- do you see right now -- you say you're not running. I take you at your word for that, sir. When you look around, do you see a kind of Republican? I know you don't want to get the name business right now, but a kind of Republican profile that you think this is the profile we want to run up against Barack Obama in 2012?

BUSH: Big and bold and aspirational that has a positive agenda that will compare, I think, favorably to that of the president's. We can't -- as Republicans, we can't just be against the president's proposals. We have to offer up compelling alternatives that are 21st century oriented that deal with these huge problems that we faced in -- in -- across the board over the policy world.

I just think -- I think there's a yearning for that, and many of the gubernatorial candidates and soon-to-be governors will be -- will be acting on that. And I think that's going to encourage all of our candidates to be bigger and bolder and more inspirational.


BLITZER: John King's interview with Jeb Bush airs right at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA."

On November 2, California voters will decide whether or not to legalize marijuana for recreational use, what it means. We have more. That's coming up.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots."

In China, a man watches as a wave generated by a typhoon crashes onto the shore.

In Vietnam, a train has to stop because the rails were swept away by recent floods.

In a temple in India, a woman holds her son up to a famous Hindu poet.

And in California, a French poodle gets lathered and showered.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right at the top of the hour. When we come back, the fight over pot legalization in California. Even if voters say yes, could the federal government say no?


BLITZER: In 11 days, California voters will weigh in on legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Proposition 19 would allow possession of small amounts of marijuana and permit local governments to authorize and tax the sales.

CNN's Ted Rowlands has got more on what's going on -- Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a lot of interest in this, not only here in California but across the country. And both sides of this debate, although they don't have a lot of money, they're using that intense interest to get their message across to voters.


ROWLANDS: When a group of mothers for marijuana held a press conference in Los Angeles, news cameras were there, allowing the "Yes on 19" campaign to spread its message for free.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please vote yes. Yes on 19 for the kids.

ROWLANDS: Later the cameras were helping the other side, following President Obama's drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske at an event with "Celebrity Rehab's" Dr. Drew Pinsky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why add one more mind-altering substance that would become more accessible and more available?

ROWLANDS: Neither side in the battle over legalizing pot has a lot of money. Both are getting plenty of free air time, and both sides are using cheap alternatives to get their messages out.

TOM ANGELL, YES ON PROP 19: Well, there's obviously a lot of media interest in this issue, and that's enabled us to get our message out there to the voters we need to reach. We've also made great strides in using social networking technologies like Facebook and Twitter.

ROWLANDS: Both sides have produced TV ads, but neither has the cash to put them on television, so most of the videos are posted online.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In order to ensure our children have a bright and prosperous future, we propose that the revenue from the legalization of marijuana could be used to supplement the education system in California.

ROWLANDS: As of two weeks ago, "Yes on 19" had raised a total of just over $2 million. "No" had raised less than $200,000.

But in the home stretch, the "no" side has a huge advantage in terms of political support. Every major California candidate, both Democrat and Republican, is against legalizing pot, including Democratic candidate for governor, Jerry Brown, who said, "If the whole society starts getting stoned, we're going to be even less competitive."

President Obama is against 19, as is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who years ago was smoking pot on screen in his movie "Pumping Iron" and who recently reduced the penalty for possession to traffic ticket status.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pat, this is Ann (ph) with -- a volunteer with "Yes on 19."

ROWLANDS: The "yes" campaign says they're combating the lack of political support with a passion advantage. They say hundreds of people are volunteering to work phone banks and other events leading up to the vote.


ROWLANDS: The latest field poll has the "No on 19" folks leading by about 5 percent with a couple of weeks, obviously, to go until the election. All of this, Wolf, should be put in context, though, that even if 19 does pass, it is expected that the federal government will come in and try to stop it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

And tomorrow on the Saturday SITUATION ROOM, the first lady of California, Maria Shriver, she'll react. She'll tell us what she thinks of Proposition 19. Tomorrow, 6 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.