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February 2004

Taking Flock to the "Nth Degree." Earlier we aired a story by Chicago bureau chief Jeff Flock. It turns out that was his last story for CNN. The news, I admit, caught me by surprise. See, Flock is one of the originals. In 1980, the first day CNN went on the air, he was there. And he's been there, here, and everywhere ever since.

Hurricanes and floods, crashes and conflicts. In bad times, and in good. Jeff Flock has covered it all. In the CNN newsroom, his name is also an adjective. It's a flock piece, they say, and everyone knows what that means -- smart, sensitive, original. Those adjectives describe both the reporting and the man. Television is a medium without a memory and forgets fast and remembers little. We however will not forget Jeff Flock. Reporters, like anchors, come and go, but the good thing about TV is you can also come back. Somewhere, sometime, somehow, I hope he comes back on the air. After all, there are still a lot of important stories to tell and no one tells them like Jeff Flock does. Jeff, we've been lucky to have you as long as we have. From all of us at 360, thank you.

Taking billionaires to the "Nth Degree." Congratulations are in order. J.K. Rowling, the mother of Harry Potter, is now officially obscenely rich. Rowling premiered today on the "Forbes" annual list of world's richest people. She no longer has to worry about what those measly millionaire moguls might think.

Reading the "Forbes" list is always a little depressing. 27 billionaires are under the age of 40. That doesn't make you feel lazy I don't know what will. Turns out New York City is bursting with billionaires. 31 live here. I like to imagine them all hanging out at Starbucks freeloading off the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

By the way, the founder of Starbucks may have a grande fortune but he is not yet a coffee bean billionaire. Moscow has plenty of billionaires, too. 23 live there although truth be told, I think a couple of them are in prison. Out of 587 billionaires on the "Forbes" list, 326 of them are self-made. 16 were even high-school dropouts. Kids, don't get too excited. Most of the dropouts I know not even close to being billionaires.

After reading the "Forbes" list it's best to remind yourself that money does not buy happiness though I'm beginning to think a billion bucks in the bank probably does help ease the pain.

Taking passion and profits to the "Nth Degree." From Hollywood, the holy land of hype, comes word that it may only take a couple of days for Mel Gibson to make back the $25 million he ponied up for "The Passion." Of course, people who have 25 million to spare probably aren't all that worried about making it back. But it makes you wonder. What were all those pundits pontificating about?

I mean, they'd said it was a big financial risk for Mel Gibson. As always, conventional wisdom is proven wrong. When you think of it, why shouldn't it be big-box office? It's had 2,000 years of advanced publicity. And the property, as they say in Tinseltown, is proven. Movie marketers, of course, haven't left anything to chance. They have been zealously pushing "Passion" products, T-shirts and nails. Can a crown of thorns be far behind?

Mel Gibson may have made a movie based on his beliefs but leave it to Hollywood to turn a story about the Almighty into a celebration of the almighty dollar.

Taking friendships to the "Nth Degree." Used to be a friend was someone who'd give you the shirt off his back. But these days it seems things are more complicated. Especially among people who don't need an extra shirt. The current true test of friendship seems to be what kind of pal will you be in court? Jayson Williams' friends have been devastating on the stand, contradicting what the former NBA star said happened the night his chauffeur was shot to death.

And then there's Mariana Pasternak, Martha Stewart's best friend. She got on the stand and said Martha told her Sam Waksal of Imclone was dumping his stock. Then Ms. Pasternak tried to take it back saying she may have just imagined that conversation. Not all of Martha's friends have been witnesses, however. Rosie O'Donnell and Bill Cosby, for instance, have been showing up in court to sit behind her and show their support. It's sad, really. Nowadays you don't know who your friends are until you're indicted. If it comes to that, will Michael Jackson's chimp be behind him in court or up there on the stand biting the hand that fed him?


Taking playing dead to "The Nth Degree." Yesterday a very popular figure at the White House had a series of strokes. Knowing that there could be no recovery, those in charge regretfully did what they had to do.

On the advice of their vet, president and Mrs. Bush put Spot, the English springer spaniel, to sleep. In human years, Spot was almost 100, had lived a full life, loved the snow and his playmate Barney. Spot had nipped at the heels of high and mighty, barked and movers and shakers, been scratched by celebrities, bright and beautiful, and leaders of countries, great and small.

It was time.

To those cynics who say all the publicity Spot's death got was just an election year plea for sympathy, I'm running for reelection and my dog is dead, we say, have a little heart. It was Harry Truman who said, "if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." As of yesterday, sad to say, President Bush is down a friend.


Tonight, taking Moyers to the "Nth Degree." A legendary news man is stepping down. Bill Moyers has said he will leave his weekly PBS news magazine now at the end of the year. He plans to write a book.

I've never met Bill Moyers, but I sure have learned a lot from him. For some 30 years now, Moyers has been on TV changing TV. Reporter, analyst, documentarian at CBS, NBC, PBS. Thoughtful, is the word most used to describe him, though I'm sure those who disagree with him may use more colorful adjectives. In this medium of sound bites, in this age of pop punditry, Bill Moyers is different; he speaks in paragraphs. And while he may not wear a flag pin on his lapel, a stauncher defender of democracy would be hard to find.

When I graduated college and didn't know what to do with my life, my mom suggested I follow my bliss, a phrase she picked up from a Bill Moyers interview with Joseph Campbell. I admit, I wanted some more concrete advice, but in retrospect, it was pretty good.

We have been lucky that Bill Moyers has been following his bliss as long as he has. His legacy is unrivaled and he's not close to being done yet.


Haiti to the "Nth Degree." In an age when the U.S. faces problems at home and abroad, it is easy to forget about the small ones. Haiti is a very small country, but its problems are getting bigger every day. Armed gangs have taken over whole cities. Legitimate opposition figures have gone into hiding, people are suffering. That, of course, is nothing new in Haiti. Unemployment, illiteracy, poverty are a way of life. Whether it is his own fault or not, President Aristide has done little to improve things. The country is a hub for drug traffickers shipping cocaine to America. A new tide of refugees in rickety rafts may soon wash up on our shores. It is easy to ignore the suffering in Haiti, easy to forget a neighbor's problems can quickly become our own.

Tonight, taking punctuation to the "Nth Degree." Remember that fuss budget of a English teacher you had. Turns out she was right, punctuation does count. Late yesterday, a judge told groups wanting to stop San Francisco from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples that they made an error in their filing.

"The way you've written this," the judge said, "it has a semicolon where it should have the word or." He went on to say, "I am not trying to be petty here. That semicolon is a big deal."

He's got a point. Imagine if good old Patrick Henry, instead of "Give me liberty or give me death" had instead said give me liberty; give me death. See the problem?

And what about the old love or leave it bumper sticker. Your replace the or with a semicolon and, you've got America, love it; leave it. Talk about little things meaning a lot. People were married today who otherwise might not have been all because of a comma wearing a dot for a hat. < 2.16.04

Tonight, taking sucking up to the "Nth Degree." Today is the birthday of one of the most despised leaders of our time, Kim Jong-il. He turned 62 and his party made Oprah's 50th look, well, small. One party-going party hack called Kim the sun of the 21st century. That's sun, S-U-N. Another called him, quote, "the most prominent statesman in the present world." Present world meaning the Bizarro made up that's North Korea. The vice president of North Korea's parliament pulled no punches either. He said, quote, the great personality of Kim Jong-il as a political elder as a political elder in the present world has been exulted by his unusual leadership ability. He's definitely right about the unusual leadership part.

So what do you give a tyrant who has everything including nuclear material? Apparently, the answer is bull. A heaping helping of it.

Tonight, taking rock n' roll rebellion to "The Nth Degree." Last night, Justin Timberlake, still under fire for exposing a breast other than his own appeared at the Grammy Awards. And like a latter-day Jim Morrison unleashing his own personal lizard king, Timberlake told the world where they could stick it, unapologetically using the tough language of the streets. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, PERFORMER: What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, it's good to see the spirit of rock n' roll rebellion living on. You have to ask whether Timberlake took it a little too far last night, saying whatever he wanted, no matter how outrageous. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIMBERLAKE: I know it's been a rough week on everybody. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Look, you can excuse the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) spokesman, if you want. We all know the hardships he's endured, like getting reduced to tears on "Punk'd." But if Timberlake continues on this rash, crazy, out-of-control path, couldn't he trigger a backlash? It may sound like an impossible nightmare, but for all we know, the networks could react by telling performers what they can and cannot say. Lawyers and PR flacks could end up running the music business. I don't know about you, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


Tonight, taking Pakistan to "The Nth Degree." Shortly after September 11, President Bush informed the world that the time had come in essence to choose up sides, but right now, internally and externally, Pakistan is getting pulled from all sides and is starting to look like the geopolitical version of Stretch Armstrong. See?

In addition to blocking U.S. troops from conducting full searches for Osama bin Laden, Pakistan has now pardoned Abdul Qadeer Khan, who may have had the support of Pakistan's military when he committed the minor infraction of sharing nuclear secrets with Iran, North Korea and Libya, two-thirds of the axis of evil.

Now, I'm not very good at math, but two-thirds sounds like a lot to me. While many of us were munching on freedom fries and complaining about the French Pakistan was reportedly still sending nuclear love letters to Libya. Yes, Pakistan did support the war in Afghanistan, and that support was crucial. But if the U.S. can't rely fully on allies like Pakistan, who can it rely on? I mean, aside from Saudi Arabia.


Tonight, taking delays to "The Nth Degree." CBS is putting the Grammys on a delay so the network can bleep words it doesn't like and block images it doesn't want. ABC is adding the Oscars to the list of live shows it does on a five-second delay. You might think this will shield America from errant breasts and references to same. What if the new delays have an unintended consequence?

What if celebrities now feel they can do and say whatever they want because someone else will clean it up. For instance, I know we're taping this segment. So what's to stop me... (STATIC)

Hey, calm down. Calm down people. It was only an aardvark. In any case what happens if the 5 second delay gets used up, then the America is at the mercy of it's big celebrities once again. You think five seconds would be enough. I've got two words for you, Jackson -- Five.

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