Tonight, story telling to "The Nth Degree." You know the famous tale of 1,001 Arabian nights? Shahrazad, a beautiful young woman is forcibly married to a lustful king who likes a fresh wife every night. He has his way with them, then does away with them. Shahrazad figures to avoid that fate by spinning fantastic, fascinating, cliff-hanging stories, stories continued from night to night. The idea, stay alive by keeping the king's interest alive. Remind you of anyone who's been in the news recently? Well, according to one Iraqi official, Saddam Hussein is talking, telling stories about the $40 billion he says he hid in international accounts. Maybe it's true. Maybe it's not. But a $40 billion story is a good thing to have up your sleeve in case you need, oh, you know, maybe an extra pack of smokes or a new toothbrush. It's the old "I know something you don't know" maneuver. If we're on the right track, if Saddam really is a mustachioed Shahrazad, spinning tales to stay alive, who knows where this may lead. Perhaps he'll soon claim to be privy to other bits of information. Where Jimmy Hoffa's body is buried. Who made those crop circles in England. The real identity of Deep Throat. Maybe even the secret of the Bermuda Triangle. Sure, there's plenty of real information he could divulge, and let's hope that he does. But facing an uncertain future, all interrogators may get out of him are tales worthy of the Arabian nights.
Tonight, starting fresh to "The Nth Degree." You know what the people of Naples and Rome in Italy do on the last night of the year? They throw their old furniture and pots and pans out the window so they can start fresh on the morning of the 1st. I know it sounds a little crazy, but we actually liked the idea, though I think it needs some modification before Americans can adopt it. If you live in a high-rise in New York, for instance, you can't send your old sofa sailing down 20 flights. So here's what we suggest. Let it be not household, but mental clutter that gets tossed away at the end of the year. Write out all those stale ideas, those preconceptions, those moldy assumptions. The notion you picked up as a kid and haven't re-examined since. Come on, we all have them. Write them out on slips of paper and set the slips on the windowsill for the first breeze to carry away. You might throw in all those failed resolutions as well while you're at it. On the last night of the year, the cities of America would look like snow globes just turned right side up. The sky thick with inscribed paper flakes. Hey, it's worth a try.
'Twas "The Nth" before Christmas, we finished our jobs. Not a creature was stirring, not even Lou Dobbs.
The Nielsens were tracked by the suits with great care. In hopes the good ratings soon would be there.
The anchors were nestled all snug in their beds while personal assistants brought rugs for their heads.
When outside the set there arose such a clatter, I clapped on my lights and said, "oh, what's the matter?"
Away to the window the camera pans, revealing a gaggle of CNN fans. "Hey Cooper, where's Gupta, where's Hemmer, that vixen, where's Woodruff, where's Carlson, where's Carville or Blitzer?"
I spoke not a word but went back to my work, and read all the copy then turned with a jerk.
And lifting a finger made clear to the mob, that stalkers are not a fun part of this job.
I sprang to my feet, to my crew gave a whistle. And the fans, they took off like a patriot missile.
But they heard me exclaim, "at least, next time, name me." Happy Christmas to all and to "The Nth Degree."
Tonight, the fog of truth to "The Nth Degree." The truth about Saddam Hussein's capture seems to get murkier by the day. Some news outlets, citing unnamed sources, say Saddam may have spat on a U.S. soldier who promptly replied with either a fist or a rifle butt. Now, that's different from the initial version, in which Saddam gave up saying, "I'm willing to negotiate," to which a U.S. soldier replied, "President Bush sends his regards." Now there's even another report in some papers overseas that says Saddam had already been captured by Kurds and was really only handed over to the U.S. So why the lack of clarity? Well, this certainly is not the first time. Remember Jessica Lynch? Early reports made her out to be a mini-Rambo, shooting Iraqis left and right. But you could argue those reports came out of the fog of war. But according to President Bush, major combat operations have ended. So isn't it about time somebody flipped on the de-fogger of truth for the windshield of war? We don't need cute stories and made- up made for TV heroes. Reality will do just fine, thanks. Fog of war? How about a low-pressure system of truth, rolling in just about now. At least then you wouldn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Tonight forgiveness to the "Nth Degree." In a courtroom without cameras in Virginia today, the families and friends of those killed by Lee Boyd Malvo made victim impact statements. Testimonies about the pain they still endure. Yesterday we heard similar statements made to Gary Ridgway, the so-called Green River Killer.(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was only 17 years old. She was murdered by that animal sitting over there who we have to call a man. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Victim impact statements. It's a dry term that doesn't come close to revealing the courage it takes to make them. When you've suffered a loss, a crime, hate of course is understandable. Yesterday, however, we were reminded that forgiveness is also possible. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are people here that hate you. I'm not one of them. I forgive you for what you've done. You've made it difficult to live up to what I believe and that is, what God says to do, that is to forgive.(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That man's daughter was murdered by Gary Ridgway.
Forgiveness is something you hear a lot about in this holiday season, a cliche written on a Hallmark card. These trials, these statements are reminders to us all that the true gift of forgiveness is not just something you give to those who have wronged you, the gift of forgiveness is something you give to yourself as well.
Tonight, taking the trial of the century to the "Nth Degree." The world can expect two massive trials to get under way next year. The trial of Michael Jackson and the trial of Saddam Hussein. In case they go on simultaneously, we don't want anyone getting the two confused. After all, each of them had at least one palatial home with secret hiding places that ended up getting searched by U.S. officials. And each in their own way became famous by making millions dancing to their own tune. However there are several important differences Saddam had a U.N. embargo and while Jackson had a contract with Sony. Saddam tried to kill the president's father and while Jackson tried to smuggle the king's daughter. Jackson dangled his son of the balcony, Saddam had his son-in-laws assassinated. No one has been able to find Saddam's WMDs and no one wants Jackson's CDs. Saddam gave his loved ones weird names like Uday and Qusay, while Jackson gave his loved ones normal names like bubbles and blanket. As we enter the new year, let's be sure to keep these two trials in perspective.
Tonight, listing badly to "The Nth Degree." As we approach the end of the year, we've noticed that just about everyone has become obsessed with lists. Later this week, "People" magazine unveils its best and worst of 2003 issue. And tonight, Barbara Walters will air her 10 most fascinating people special. But you know, if we've learned anything this year, it's this: As long as you employ the right number of stylists, makeup artists, and public relations flacks, you don't really need to be intriguing to be considered intriguing. So tonight, we've compiled our own little list. This year's most remarked upon unremarkable people. Number four, Ashton Kutcher. His conspicuous conoodling with the equally unremarkable Demi Moore had tongues wagging endlessly this year. Sure, "Punk'd" was great, but now it's gone. No one remarks much about Kutcher's movies, ironic because they are remarkably bad. Number three, David Blaine. Truth is, we've always found Blaine unremarkable. On ice, on a poll, in a hole, or in a box. Doesn't much matter. We did find it remarkable Blaine's box stunt managed to conjure up genuine emotions from British people this year. Many of whom, well, loathed him. We expect plenty of more unremarkable things from Blaine in the new year. Number two on our list, Trista. We're glad Ryan finds Trista remarkable, but frankly we don't see it. Sure, her obsession with pink is kind of interesting. But the show, the shower, and the wedding were all just too much. The only thing that would be remarkable is if once the cameras are gone, the love still remains. And finally, the most remarked upon unremarkable person of the year, Paris Hilton. Congratulations. We used to think she was just spoiled and vapid. But now with that video and that reality show, we know she is.
Tonight, playing defense to the "Nth Degree." One of Saddam Hussein's daughters told an Arab-language news network that she wants to hire the best legal team possible for her dad. Understandable, I suppose. That's what families are supposed to do. True, dear old dad killed her husband, but you know what they say. Blood is thicker than, well, other people's blood. Mark Geragos is, of course, the obvious choice. Saddam's case could make Michael Jackson's case look as simple as, well, Scott Peterson's case. But he's probably busy these days. Saddam could call Johnny Cochran or Gloria Allred, maybe Mickey Sherman. I'm not sure they need publicity that badly, though. The first thing any smart lawyer's going to do is get Saddam cleaned up, showered, shaved, deloused. Good bye military fatigues and berets. Hello kinder, gentler defendant. It would be too easy for Saddam to plead insanity. The man took on the U.S. after all. He likes a challenge. Given his waistline and sagging jowls, a Twinkie defense may be possible. Or there's "The Matrix" defense. No, I'm not sure that ever made it to Baghdad. These days, lawyers seem to like to go after the victims. Sure it's hard to besmirch the character of hundreds of thousands of people you've had killed, but, hey, that's what paralegals are for. Frankly, we can really only think of one man who's perfect to defend Saddam. He's experienced, unemployed, and is as creative as they come. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, all rise. It's only a matter of time before Baghdad Bob is back.
Tonight, taking shrinking territory to the "Nth Degree." So there he was, a fellow who once had the entire country of Iraq for his playground, north to south, east to west, all up and down, both banks of the Tigris, room to spare. Room to spare and rooms to spare. Palaces to pick and choose among with pillars and carpets and gilded bathroom fixtures and every one with room upon room upon room. A swaggering dictator could wander for days all under one roof. Even when the roof was made of earth, it wasn't really so bad. Those famous bunkers of his were reportedly pretty plush. A guy could still stretch out, could still tell himself he was doing fine with all the modern conveniences and plenty of closet space. Maybe it was less room than he was used to, but, hey, there was room enough. Until, at last, there was no room at all. The country and the palaces and the bunkers became a single hole grave deep, just wide enough to lie down in. Saddam Hussein still had a roof over his head, yes, a roof not quite as big as the TV screen behind me. Sometimes the real word writes its own "Nth Degree."
Tonight, the end of dictatorship, to the NTH DEGREE. All day you've no doubt heard from pundits and pollsters, politicians and professors, but really today's story is all right here in this picture. A ruler once followed and feared is now a man, broken, belittled, checked for lice, probed by a U.S. soldier. We've seen tyrants tumble before. In 1945 the people of Italy brought their own brand of justice to Benito Mussolini. That's him dangling from the end of a rope. Adolph Hitler ended his reign of terror barricaded in a bunker. The image of his charred corpse never quite quelled rumors that he survived the war. Television has made the cost of dictatorship easy for every one to see. That's how Romanian strongman Nicolae Ceaucescu ended up in 1989. Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was captured in a predawn raid. Once the bruiser of the Balkans, he now faces a higher authority. It would be comforting to say that the way these dictators met their ends proves that evil cannot triumph over good, but of course nothing is that simple. Pol Pot, a man who unleashed a genocidal madness on Cambodia never was brought to justice. He died of natural causes in 1998, 20 years after being toppled. And Ugandan dictator Idi Amin finished his life living in tranquility, exiled with his four wives in Saudi Arabia. There are of course plenty more unjust rules still out there. Some U.S. enemies, others American allies. But for today, at least, let's hope the message to all of them is clear. It might take time, the cost may be high, but in the end justice will be served.
Carol Costello in for Anderson
Bill Hemmer in for Anderson
Tonight, taking the Nobel Prize to "The Nth Degree." Two researchers share the Nobel Prize in medicine today for their contributions to the development of magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. Since the news of their prize was announced, another MRI researcher has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an unprecedented ad campaign, arguing he should have won as well. Raymond Damadian has been quoted as saying, "had I never been born, there would be no MRI." Much of the scientific mainstream seems to disagree. But Damadian makes a compelling argument, especially when you look at the images we put together to simulate what today's world would be like if, in fact, he had never been born. Chilling images, indeed. But maybe I'm biased. After all, I know what it's like to get shut out for a prize you clearly deserve. Twice in my lifetime, in fact, I had a solid shot at one of the world's most prestigious awards. I lost for no reason, except I didn't have the same connections as the winners -- specifically, "Shakespeare in "Love and "A Beautiful Mind." But do I cry about it? Well, yes, a little, sometimes in the lonely hours of the night. But the point is, I look to the future. After all, maybe Dr. Damadian will win a different Nobel Prize for something else, like his theory that the world is only 6,000 years old. Good luck with that.
Tonight, taking bad news to "The Nth Degree." Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean for president today. Not only did Mr. Gore pass over his own former running mate, Senator Joe Lieberman, turns out he didn't even call Lieberman before word got out. No call, not even a card. Look, it's hard giving bad news to anyone, especially someone who helped you get the Jewish vote and distance you from Clinton. They don't make greeting cards for that kind of thing. But why not? They have cards for cats these days. Why not politicians? So tonight, we're proud to introduce the 360 line of political greeting cards. Don't know how to tell your running mate he's no longer he's no longer you're running favorite? Try this card: "Deepest condolences on the loss of endorsement, due to several factors, most notably your position on the war in Iraq." At 360, we got cards for every political occasion. "Get well soon. You blew it in Iowa, but New Hampshire is just around the corner. Pull yourself together, or your shot at the nomination is dead." Or my personal favorite: "Thinking of you, but unable to endorse you, because you pandered too much to the party faithful in the early primaries to be a viable candidate." Whatever your Machiavellian political needs are, we think there should be a card for you.
Tonight, taking budget cuts to the "Nth Degree." "Newsweek" reports Osama bin Laden told the Taliban he's cutting their funding in half. The Taliban will now have to get by on 1.5 million a month instead of $3 million. So here at 360, we decided to come up with belt tightening measures the Taliban might employ during these lean economic times. First, of course, as tough as it is, they have to consider streamlining. And yes, that's going to mean layoffs. Lots of people would benefit from a slimmed down Taliban. And with a good job retraining program, former members could turn their experience in oppression, into solid managerial skills in the professional sector. Second, the Taliban are going to have to raise taxes. Yes, it's a burden, but if some Taliban companies go under, that's a price we are willing to pay. Third, borrow, borrow, borrow. Yes, it's increasing the Taliban's deficit which means future generations of Taliban will struggle under crushing mountains of debt, which of course is a good thing. But finally it may sound small, but it's time for them to eliminate all unnecessary travel. In fact, if you ask me, they should stay put exactly where they are.
Tonight, taking celebrity feuds to "The Nth Degree." You may have heard about the latest dustup between Howard Stern and Don Imus. Imus did a bit insulting Stern's girlfriend, Beth Ostrosky, prompting Stern to phone into Imus's show, call Imus a name, and then friends revealed details about his daughter's sexual past. Imus replied, quote, "Why don't you just keep your mouth shut, OK, punk?" and then hung up on Stern. Now some listeners might have mistaken it as a sly homage to the legendary Lincoln/Douglas debates, but it got me thinking about celebrity feuds. See, in the days of Hamilton and Burr, famous people used to settle their beefs with pistols. It's only marginally better today when the weapon of choice is P.R. flacks at 10 paces. Public feuding is unnecessary at best and hurt at worst. When it's used as a way to generate publicity, it's just downright annoying. And that realization made me look deep inside myself and decided that -- you know what -- it's time for me to make amends and put aside my very public, very tawdry feuds.
So, Lee Iacocca, I'm calling a truce.
All is forgiven, Mr. Mandela. We're cool.
Bono, you can keep the pen. And you know what? It was never about that anyway.
As for you, Britney...
Oh, we're out of time. I'm sorry. We're out of time. We're going to have to do more of this next week.
Dr. Kissinger, call me. We'll talk. I think it's time.
Tonight's flying Air Force One to "The Nth Degree." Air Force One's secret flight to Baghdad last week included a thrilling moment of suspense, when it seemed the mission could be compromised if a British Airways pilot blew the plane's cover. Here's how the White House first told the story. A British Airways pilot radioed "Did I just see Air Force One?" Air Force One replied, "Gulfstream 5," a smaller aircraft. The pilot seemed to sense he was in on a secret and replied simply, "Oh." Later, the White House said Air Force One had merely overheard a conversation between a pilot and the tower, diluting the aura of suspense and excitement the story had given to the president's trip. So what really happened? Well, "AC 360" has located a fictional black box that recorded still another version that never happened. The tape may shed some light on things. Listen.(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PILOT: I dare say, did I just see Air Force One?
AIR FORCE ONE: Negative. No president here. Over.
PILOT: You look like Air Force One. Come back.
AIR FORCE ONE: Concorde.
PILOT: You are not.
AIR FORCE ONE: UFO? Over.
PILOT: How can you be unidentified if you've identified yourself?
AIR FORCE ONE: Gulfstream 5?
PILOT: Oi, I don't bloody care! But if you're trying to keep it secret, you've got Air Force One in big bleeding letters on the side, now, don't you?
PILOT: Oh. Roger.(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That, of course, is a made-up version, but just tonight CNN has learned that the White House has changed the story again, saying the incident did not involve a British Airways pilot, but a pilot who may have had a British accent.
So to sum up, the current official version, something happened involving a plane.
Tonight, taking illusions to the "Nth degree." Some parents in Mirimar, Florida are upset with the first grade teacher for what she told the class about Santa Claus. Frankly, these parents need to face reality. The teacher did her job. She gave kids the facts. And the kid are going to find out the truth sooner or later. See, as a journalist, I understand we have an obligation never to lie, even if it means looking them right in the eye and telling them that there is, in fact, really no, you know, the beard and the reindeer are -- a guy can't fly around -- you know, I didn't think it would be this tough. I wonder why that is. I don't even know those kids out there. Maybe the problem is not that we don't want to shatter kids' illusions about the world. Maybe it's just we don't want to shatter our illusions about kids. Frankly is that too much to ask this holiday?
Tonight, taking Disney to "The Nth Degree." Disney's board met today, following the very public resignation of two board members who apparently felt that the wonderful world of Disney wasn't big enough for them and chairman Michael Eisner. It's a small world, after all. One departing board member, Roy Disney, sent a blistering letter to Eisner. And we want to make sure that the board understands exactly what Roy Disney is saying because it's definitely not "Hakuna Matata."
First, he accused Eisner of, quote, "micro-management." Now, even those of us without an MBA know what management, and micro means small. So what exactly is micro-management at Disney? Well, CNN has learned that, in the past, Disney management has used small people, some of whom are seen here in this video, not only to work as miners but also to sing and dance, a clear OSHA violation. Second, Disney's letter also claimed that under Eisner's leadership, the company has, quote, "lost its focus, its creative energy and its heritage." What he's saying is that Eisner is no longer, in layman's terms, the fairest of them all. When Disney writes Eisner, quote, "I once again call for your resignation or retirement," that's legalese for saying he wants the woodsman to find Eisner and cut out his heart. And when he signs off with "sincere regret," what he really means is M-I-C-U in Hades, K-E-Y, why? Because profits are down. L-O-U-S-E.
Finally tonight, a life lived to the Nth degree. Gertrude Ederle's long life came to a peaceful end at a nursing home in New Jersey yesterday. Ho-hum, you might think. A woman lives to be 98. She can't have been much of a risk taker. Yes, well, think again. Gertrude Ederle was one of the great daredevils of the 20th century, the first woman to swim the English Channel. It was 1926. The weather was so bad, Ederle had to zigzag through 35 miles of cold, rough water. It should have been a 25-mile trip. But she did it covered in grease in 14 hours and 30 minutes, 2 hours faster than the fastest of the five men who had done it before her. Gertrude Ederle had been losing her hearing for years, but the Channel settled the matter. Back in New York, she could see the wild ticker-tape parade the city threw her in America's name, but she couldn't hear the screaming crowds at all. With all the extreme sports these days, all the high-tech equipment, it seems to us there may be some confusion about what a hero actually looks like. We're dwelling on these images of Gertrude Ederle to clear up the confusion. This is what a hero looks like.