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Israeli Airstrikes Continue; Oprah Duped Again

Aired December 29, 2008 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin tonight with breaking news: new explosions in Gaza, fresh Israeli airstrikes, going into day four of what Israel's defense minister is calling all-out war, war to the bitter end against Hamas, countering Palestinian rocket attacks with airstrikes, going after Hamas leaders, quite literally, where they live and Hamas members where they gather and work, which is often in civilian-populated areas.
Hamas rockets are too imprecise to target anyone specifically. They are being fired indiscriminately into civilian areas -- all of this while protests are erupting on Arab streets, ground troops massing on the Gaza border, the Israeli election season heating up, and of course Barack Obama just three weeks shy of taking office -- day four of the latest battle in a war for the region that has now been going on for 60 years -- 60 years and some dangerous days yet to come.

On the ground for us, following late developments, is Nic Robertson. He joins us from Jerusalem with more.

Nic, what's happening?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest strikes came in the last few hours in Gaza, more than 20 missiles impacting the area, some of them hitting a government compound, three buildings leveled in that compound, one the foreign ministry run by Hamas, another an internal security building run -- again run by Hamas.

So far, five Israeli civilians have been killed, one Israeli soldier killed, more than 300 missiles, Israeli missiles, fired into Gaza.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): Chaos and panic in the moments after an attack, Hamas security forces the target in a third day of Israeli missile strikes in Gaza that have so far killed more than 350, according to Palestinian medical sources -- among the dead, 60 civilians, according to the U.N.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a massacre. This is a bloodbath that is unprecedented.

ROBERTSON: Israel began the strike Saturday, angered by a surge in rocket attacks from Hamas militants in Gaza, as a six-month old cease-fire expired. It is Israel's biggest offensive against Gaza in 40 years.

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): We want peace. We have stretched our hand in peace many times to the Palestinian people. We have nothing against the people of Gaza. But this is an all-out war against Hamas.

ROBERTSON: But the end is nowhere near in sight, and Hamas seems to be finding its war footing, firing twice as many rockets Monday than Sunday.

Israeli Defense Forces released this video, showing what they say are Hamas fighters loading rockets on a truck. They are hit by an Israeli missile. Nearby, in Gaza, a wounded man is carried from an orchard where rocket launchers targeting Israel can be seen hidden among the trees.

But, despite Israeli efforts, many rockets are getting through. In Ashkelon, six miles from Gaza, residents run for cover. They have 15 seconds to hide when the siren sounds. Some much-needed medical supplies have been allowed through Gaza checkpoints that have been mostly closed for the past 18 months. But the military noose around the tiny coastal strip is tightening. More tanks have been moved in, 6,500 reservists called up.


ROBERTSON: And, across the border, in Egypt, there have been anti-Egyptian government demonstrations by demonstrators saying that the Egyptian government is siding with the Israeli government, not supporting the Palestinians.

To the north, in Lebanon, Hezbollah, led by Hassan Nasrallah, that fought a month-long war two years ago with Israel, also calling thousands of demonstrators on the street in support of the Palestinians. And, in London, as well, demonstrators there trying to breach a wall set up by the British police to get to the Israeli embassy to shout their frustration and anger about what's happening in Gaza -- Anderson.

COOPER: Nic, what is the situation actually in terms of getting information out of Gaza? Are reporters there able to get in?

ROBERTSON: Reporters can't get in at the moment, Anderson. The Israeli government won't even let -- let us get close to the area where those troops are massing around the border area. It's making independent reporting in this conflict -- independent reporting of this conflict -- particularly difficult at the moment.

COOPER: All right, Nic Robertson, appreciate it. Thanks, Nic.

To give you a better idea of what Israel is dealing with, here's the "Raw Data" on Hamas. The group took over Gaza back in June of last year, after winning parliamentary elections the year before. Dating back to 1987, during the first Palestinian uprising, Hamas has never wavered in its commitment to Israel's destruction, and is considered a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union, and, obviously, Israel.

The organization is believed to have between 15,000 and 20,000 troops, thousands of short-range rockets, and ample funding, some of it coming from Iran.

So, here in New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is demanding an immediate cease-fire -- the White House, on the other hand, merely calling on Hamas to stop firing the rockets. With just 23 days until the end of the Bush administration, there appears to be little appetite left for the kind of peace-dealing that dominated the final days of the Clinton years. Instead, this crisis seems headed squarely for the new Obama administration.

More on that now from Ed Henry.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The prospect of full-blown war between Israel and the Palestinians could hardly come at a worse time for Barack Obama. With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tensions between India and Pakistan, not to mention the nation's financial crisis, Mr. Obama's plate is filling up faster than most incoming presidents have ever seen.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Well, there are a few more biblical plagues that could occur, but not much else. It's a good thing he named his team early, because they're going to need every day and every hour before January 20 to get ready.

ACOSTA: And Middle East experts say the crisis in Gaza could have ripple effects: more suicide bombers, more radicalism in the region.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be higher on the agenda than they had previously thought. You're quite right.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I'm here on this trip to reaffirm the special relationship between Israel and the United States.

ACOSTA: During the campaign, then Senator Obama got personal when he stood firm on Israel's right to self-defense.

OBAMA: If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my daughters sleep at night, I am going to do everything in to my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.

ACOSTA: Israeli leaders haven't forgotten it.

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): He said; If someone were to fire a missile on my house while my two young daughters are sleeping, I would do everything I could to stop him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's clear that the Israelis have political cover from the Bush administration. And what they're essentially doing is putting the incoming administration on notice that they have taken note of what the president-elect has said.

ACOSTA: And the next administration may not offer much of a change from President Bush's policy on Hamas. Incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a hard-line position on Hamas before the Israeli lobbying group AIPAC during the campaign.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Until Hamas renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel, negotiating with Hamas is unacceptable for the United States.


COOPER: Obviously, that was not Ed Henry. That was a Jim Acosta piece.

We are going to more on the fighting in Gaza when 360 continues, digging deeper with Ed Henry -- he will join us -- Middle East scholar Reza Aslan and political analyst Hilary Rosen.

Let us know what you think of what's happening. Join me on the live chat now at, and check out Randi Kaye's live Webcast during the break. She's already started that.

Next, taking a shot at Barack Obama using a song called "Barack the Magic Negro." And the person giving the song as a gift -- get this -- wants to run the Republican Party, and he's not exactly apologizing. We will look at the growing fallout tonight, decide for yourself if this is fair-game satire or deeply offensive.

Also tonight, the author whose Holocaust lie did more than just fool Oprah Winfrey and a lot of other people. Tonight, it's breaking hearts. We will show you why.

And meet the new member of the Palin family, Bristol's baby. As you will hear, he's got a familiar-sounding name. We will tell you what it is -- coming up.



BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF: These are one of about 50 tunnels here in Rafah we're told are actually operating at the moment. This particular tunnel goes 400 meters inside Egyptian territory. Now, they say they don't smuggle just weapons and ammunition, but also medicine and even spare parts for cars.


COOPER: No one covers the region like Ben Wedeman. That was him back in March in one of the tunnels that Israeli forces are now trying to destroy as they pound targets in Gaza, our breaking news tonight, in a region again approaching the breaking point, a region full of paradoxes, not the least of which is that Hamas itself a freely elected terror group.

Digging deeper now with Ed Henry, Hilary Rosen of "The Huffington Post," and Reza Aslan, author of "No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future Of Islam":

Reza, you think the timing of the Israeli response has a lot to do with U.S. presidential politics. How so?


I mean, I think there is a general idea in Israel -- and perhaps throughout the rest of the Arab world -- that things are going to be different with a President Obama than they have been with a President Bush.

There's no question that, regardless of -- of what takes place in this conflict, that there's going to be unconditional support from the Bush administration. And that might be the case with President Obama. We're not sure yet. We're not exactly at a place where we know what exactly his view and his foreign policy towards the region is going to be.

But, nevertheless, there is some question about it. I would also say that it has to do with politics in Israel itself. As you know, there's an election coming up in January. The current party, the Kadima Party, is seen throughout the country as -- as somewhat weak when it comes to Hamas and -- and the issue of terror in general.

And this is an opportunity, I think, for them to flex their muscles in a -- a time in which it's going to be very important for them to look strong and -- and tough against Hamas.

COOPER: Hilary, are the Israelis right to wonder if Obama is going to treat Israel different than the Bush administration has?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No, I think that Israel will receive unconditional support from a President Obama when it comes to defending itself against Hamas.

I think the issue, though, is, you know, that there needs to be a -- an agreement for a Palestinian state. Barack Obama campaigned on the idea of having a peaceful Palestinian state, living side by side within the -- with the state of Israel. And, to do that, you have to go beyond Hamas. You have to deal with this more as a -- as Palestinian issue, and not just as a -- an issue of the immediate violence.

And I think you're going to see him be much more engaged, probably through Secretary of State Clinton. And I think, because they can't do that now, they have to sit by the sidelines, and let the Bush administration have this sort of laissez-faire attitude. They can't change U.S. policy until they get in office.

COOPER: Ed, it was interesting. We heard Israeli leaders actually using Barack Obama's words about, you know, protecting his own family if he was in that situation, to -- to talk about their military action.

How does the Obama camp feel about his words being used in that way? Have -- have they commented?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I asked them that very question, and they wouldn't comment. They're trying to stay above the fray. They're trying to run this out until January 20, when he's officially sworn in, before they have to weigh in.

But there's a lot of pressure on Barack Obama right now, because a lot of world leaders have sort of moved on from George W. Bush. They want to hear what Barack Obama would do differently. And, frankly, as you have already heard, his approach to Israel might not really be that much different to President Bush's.

When he was there this summer, he specifically said during a -- a spate of violence, that, if Hamas rockets were raining down on his home, with his young daughters there, as you noted, he thinks Israel should respond. That's pretty much exactly what President Bush has been saying.

And President Bush's policy over the last eight years has not helped achieve a peace agreement. So, it's hard to tell right now what Barack Obama really can do differently that would actually move the ball forward. It looks like the situation is spiraling right now -- Anderson.

COOPER: Reza, where is there room between Hamas and Israel for some sort of agreement? I mean, unless Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist and -- and stops firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas, it's hard to see how any kind of a deal can be struck.

ASLAN: Well, the truth is that the more elemental problem is to get an agreement not between Hamas and Israel, but between Hamas and Fatah, between the Gaza and the West Bank, because the idea of the two-state solution and of a -- of a stable, economically viable Palestinian state is simply a pipe dream, unless we can figure out a way to create some kind of accommodation between these two parts of the Palestinian government.

I will say one thing about Obama. Without question, he's going to be unconditionally supportive of Israel and its right to defend itself, as he should be. But I think that what Obama brings to the table that previous presidents have not is, well, let's just say, a bit of an extended honeymoon.

There is an idea, in large parts of the Arab world, that perhaps his more global perspective will allow the United States to be a bit of a fairer moderator, a -- a fairer intermediator between these two -- two groups.

And I think that, unlike any other president, Obama has an opportunity to say to the -- the Arab League and to the Saudis and to the larger region in general that he's willing to come to them with an open mind, but that the window of opportunity is small, and that they better take advantage of it now, stop being an obstacle to peace. Otherwise, this is the last chance that they're going to get.

ROSEN: Reza raises an...

COOPER: It's interesting, Hilary, though, not just being a fairer moderator, I mean, being a moderator at all.


COOPER: I mean, the Bush administration could not have done any less, I think, in terms of trying to negotiate some sort of settlement over the eight years of the Bush administration. They basically had a complete hands-off policy.

ROSEN: I think that's exactly right.

And -- and Reza raises a very good point, which is that, you know, Hamas was elected in -- in 2007, many people believe, because of the despair of the Palestinian people not feeling that there was an alternative to leadership that didn't exert some, you know, violence.

And, so, to the extent that President Obama engages early and that Secretary of State Clinton engage early, they will -- they will believe that there are alternatives to the Hamas solution. And I think that kind of hope is something that -- that the Palestinians haven't had in a long time.

And we saw in Israel over the last two or three days that there is a large faction of Israelis who really don't want to see the Israeli government invade Gaza. They don't want to see an escalation of this war, because they understand that -- that that carries a lot of risks, that it's very hard to pull back from it.

COOPER: And, Ed, yet, at the same time, just as we saw in the battle against Hezbollah, it's very hard to stop these kind of small rocket attacks from the air, unless you have some sort of ground action. And that is a whole other level of conflict.

In terms, Ed, of -- of Senator Hillary Clinton, I mean, how -- is there any sense of -- if she is in fact confirmed as secretary of state, how active she will be? I mean, is this going to be priority number one for her?

HENRY: Absolutely. I think she will be extremely active.

But there have been reports out saying that a lot of people in the Arab world think she's tilted more towards Israel -- her supporters say that's not fair -- but that she may not be seen as an honest broker. So, she's going to have a hard time pushing forward on this whole process.

And I also think, while some people may be optimistic that, all of a sudden, a new American president will magically bring Mideast peace, they may be forgetting that there's a fundamental problem here. If the Israelis and Palestinians can't come together at its core, anything a U.S. president, Democrat or Republican, does is probably not going to solve the problem. You're right that President Bush did mostly have a hands-off policy. He waited very long to even get started in the process. But, in fairness to him, there's real no -- really no evidence that active U.S. involvement will really make, you know, the key difference, unless these parties can actually get together.

As everyone's been pointing out, the cease-fire was broken. U.S. had nothing to do with that. And the U.S. now basically is having a hard time trying to get the cease-fire back together. So, there's no real evidence that U.S. presidential leadership by itself is going to solve this thing -- Anderson.

ROSEN: Well, there's...

COOPER: And, Reza -- to Reza's point again, it's not just a question of Israel and Hamas, or Israel and Fatah. It's Hamas and Fatah coming to some sort of understanding over -- in terms of who the Israelis can go -- we are going to have to leave it there.


COOPER: Ed Henry, Hilary Rosen, Reza Aslan, appreciate it. Thanks.

Up next, have you heard the song mocking Barack Obama, "Barack the Magic Negro," it's called? The guy who thought it would make a perfect gift wants to run the Republican Party, even though some call it flat-out racist. We will have details next. You can make up your own mind.

Also, new developments in a mystery at sea -- a woman goes overboard. Did she fall? Did she jump? Was she pushed? Some new answers tonight.

And, later, Sarah Palin is a new mother and now a new grandma. We will tell you about her first grandson when 360 continues.


COOPER: Just ahead, outrage over a song about the president- elect, a song that uses the word "Negro" -- at the center of the controversy, the man who wants to run the Republican Party. That story is ahead.

But, first, Randi Kaye joins with us a 360 bulletin -- Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, in British Columbia, searchers have found the body of seven missing snowmobilers caught in two avalanches yesterday. Their search for the eighth missing man will resume tomorrow. Three others survived that catastrophe.

According to "People" magazine, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is now a grandmother. The magazine says 18-year-old Bristol Palin gave birth yesterday to a seven pound, four ounce boy, the baby's name, Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston. The father, Levi Johnston, said last fall he and longtime girlfriend Bristol plan to marry in 2005. Billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian has sold off all his remaining shares of Ford Motor Company. Ford is widely considered the healthiest of the big three automakers. Kerkorian owned a 6.5 percent stake in the company, and, in June, offered to support Ford's turnaround efforts with more capital.

A Pennsylvania family had a scare on Christmas when a stranger emerged from their attic wearing their clothes. The man, who surrendered to police, apparently had been hiding in their home and stealing from them, Anderson, for several days.


COOPER: That is creepy.

KAYE: Isn't it? I think it gives a whole new meaning to coming home for Christmas.


COOPER: Oy. Disturbing.

All right, time for "Beat 360" winners, our daily challenge to viewers to come up with a caption better than the one that any of us around here could think of for a photo that is on our blog.

Tonight's picture from Honolulu, where president-elect Obama was spotted at Kokonuts Shave Ice and Snacks at the Koko Head Marina shopping mall. There you see him ordering a -- I guess that's -- I don't know -- a shaved thing.

KAYE: Some ice.


COOPER: Our staff winner tonight is David, who quipped: "Order here, pay here, but where do you want me to stand with my shirt off?"



COOPER: Our viewer winner is Charles from Harbor Springs, Michigan.

His winning caption: "Yes, I will have the Illinois special, all ice with a nut at the top."

Charles, your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way. Congratulations.

Play along tomorrow at

Still ahead: the man who wants to run the Republican Party under fire over a song tonight -- Have you heard about this? -- over a song called "Barack the Magic Negro" -- some people outraged. Others say it's just satire. You will hear it for yourself, and you can decide. Also, Oprah Winfrey duped again by an author who claimed to be telling his true-life story, a Holocaust survivor admitting his memoir was fiction. Why did he lie?

Plus, a cruise ship mystery deepening, new details tonight about the poor woman who fell overboard off the coast of Mexico on Christmas Day.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Barack, the magic Negro, lives in D.C.


COOPER: That song, which aired on Rush Limbaugh's radio show months ago, has ignited a new political firestorm. The cut is called "Barack the Magic Negro." Some call it a parody. Others consider it racist, or at least highly offensive.

So, why did Chip Saltsman, the man you see there, who wants to be the next head of the Republican National Committee, include the song on a C.D. he mailed out as a Christmas gift to members of the RNC? Saltsman is hardly a political novice. The question is, kind of, what was he thinking? Was he being racist, insensitive, just plain dumb, or -- or are some people just missing the point of political satire?

Jim Acosta has the song and the "Raw Politics."


CHIP SALTSMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIR CANDIDATE: We have already got a big crowd here for Governor Huckabee.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Chip Saltsman made a name for himself as national campaign manager of Mike Huckabee's upstart bid for the White House.

SALTSMAN: I'm officially announcing my candidate -- candidacy for Republican National Committee chairman.

ACOSTA: Now a candidate for chairman of the Republican National Committee, Saltsman is doing damage control after mailing RNC members a controversial C.D. loaded with racially-tinged songs, one of the tunes aimed at the next president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Barack, the magic Negro...


ACOSTA: A crude parody of the children's classic "Puff the Magic Dragon," the song first touched off a brief firestorm when it aired on Rush Limbaugh during the campaign. Limbaugh blamed the media for stoking the controversy.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Every one of you out there that think you have got something here on "Barack the Magic Negro," I'm going to try to help you and save you.


ACOSTA: Saltsman defends the C.D., telling CNN: "I think most people recognize political satire when they see it. I think RNC members understand that."

But current RNC chairman Mike Duncan says he's appalled in a statement to CNN: "The 2008 election was a wakeup call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party."

JOHN AVALON, INDEPENDENT POLITICAL ANALYST: There's a crowd of conservatives that takes a special pride in being anti-P.C. What I don't think they fully appreciate it is, it comes across somewhere between being indifferent to hostile. And that's how they have gotten in the larger problem they now face, preaching to an ever smaller choir and looking for votes only in a group that is increasingly old, white and rural.

ACOSTA: A concern echoed by Colin Powell, who recently singled out Limbaugh as part of the party's problem.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Is this really the kind of party that we want to be?

ACOSTA: Liberal media critics say the issue is bigger than Limbaugh.

KARL FRISCH, MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA: It's unfortunate, but it's not surprising. This -- this type of rhetoric, this type of hate speech and fear-mongering happens every day on conservative talk radio.

ACOSTA (on camera): One Republican who is coming to Chip Saltsman's defense is Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state and an African-American who is also running for the top job at the RNC.

Blackwell blamed the media, telling CNN -- quote -- "Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race."

Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well, the RNC is feeling plenty of aftershocks from all this.

Let's talk strategy with our panel. Joining me again, Hilary Rosen, CNN political contributor and editor at large for "The Huffington Post," also Ed Henry, in Honolulu tonight, and, in Los Angeles, former radio talk show host and best- selling author Larry Elder.

Larry, let me start with you.

As you just heard in Jim Acosta's piece, Ken Blackwell, who is running for the RNC chairmanship, isn't offended. He says it's essentially a media-made controversy and that people are being hypersensitive. What do you think?

LARRY ELDER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It's much ado about nothing.

Let's remember the genesis of this. There was an article, Anderson, in "The L.A. Times" called "Barack the Magic Negro" -- it was written -- was not written by a conservative -- in which he made the argument that the reason people appeal to Barack Obama is that he's not offensive, he's not scary, he's not a criminal, and that's why whites like him.

Limbaugh then did a parody to, as you pointed out, "Puff the Magic Dragon," but the parody was a Sharpton-like singer. And what the -- what the Sharpton-like singer was saying is, "I'm unhappy that all these white people like Obama, because, if Obama wins, what the hell am I going to do for a living?"

And, so, that's what this was. If anybody ought to be offended, it's -- it's Al Sharpton.

What bothers me, Anderson, is this whole piece. Democrats say things that are racist, or at least racially insensitive, about Republicans all the time. Donna Brazile, who works for your network, once referred to the Republican Party as having a "white boy attitude."

Howard Dean once said, "Well, if Republicans were here at this convention, Democrats -- blacks were -- Republicans were here, the only blacks here would be serving tables."

Claire McCaskill running for Senate said George W. Bush let people suffer and die on rooftops in Katrina because they were poor and they were black.

Charlie Rangel, the head of the House and Ways and Means Committee...

COOPER: You're saying a double standard?

ELDER: ... said the Republicans want taxes. They don't say "N" word or "S" word anymore. They just say, "Let's cut taxes."

They make blatant racist appeals all the time. But you let a Republican do a parody, and the fit hits the shan [SIC]. It's nuts, Anderson.

COOPER: Hilary, your take.

ROSEN: Well, two things. Unfortunately, Larry, the facts end up tripping you up on this one, which is that, of several hundred RNC members, there's only two or three African-Americans. This is just -- it's just not an inclusive party.

The second point I would make, really, is about this song, which is -- it's one thing for entertainers and columnists to try political satire. It does not work with politicians.

This guy is trying to be the leader of the Republican Party. He's trying to demonstrate that this is an inclusive party, that they understand, you know, that America's got to move forward together. Every message that gets sent with political satire ends up being alienating, not inclusive. And it's just -- it just shows a real tin ear, I think, to the messages that Republican Party leadership need to show right now.

COOPER: Larry, I want you to respond, but before I do, Ed, I just wonder. What do you think Obama camp's take on all this? I mean, earlier on, when I think -- when Limbaugh played this, the Obama camp indicated, you know, it wasn't all that concerned, I think, if I'm correct.

HENRY: Yes. They're basically not commenting, because they basically say, "Look, we don't want to dignify it."

And the Democrats I've spoken to today basically say, "Look, Republicans took it on the chin in the last election, specifically with African-American and Hispanic voters."

And regardless of the politics back and forth, using the word "Negro" in a song like this seems like a bad idea coming out of the last election, given what happened, given the historic victory for Barack Obama, first African-American president, obviously. But then also, again, really poor numbers for Republicans among minority voters. Seems like a bad idea. Seems unlikely he's going to win the RNC chair.

COOPER: Larry, just politically, do you think it's a smart idea that this guy did this?

ELDER: Well, I'd like to respond to Ms. Rosen, if I could.


ELDER: First of all, 30 percent of Asians voted for Republicans; 30 percent of Hispanics voted for Republicans. It is not an all-white party.

And it's open.


ELDER: You don't have to have a $5,000. You don't have to have a $5,000 membership. If you believe in low taxes, if you believe in peace through strength, not strength through peace, if you believe in family values, if you believe in a government takeover is a bad idea, come on down! The water's fine.

COOPER: All right. But Larry...

ROSEN: That's not really the issue.

COOPER: Let's not make this a commercial for whether or not you should join the Republican Party if you're a minority. Just -- Larry, just politically, do you think this was a wise idea for a guy who wants to run the RNC to put this out?

ELDER: What bothers me is Republicans have to walk on eggshells, lest they be perceived as being racists. Democrats can say things like Hilary did: "The Republican Party is run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about," and that's not a problem.

They make appeals, basically, by saying, "These guys over here don't like you. They don't like blacks. They're bigots." They say stuff like that all the time.

Charlie Rangel said of George W. Bush, "He is our Bull Connor." Bull Connor is a southerner who sicced water hoses and dogs on black civil rights leaders. It is outrageous. Nobody seems, Anderson, to have a problem with that.

ROSEN: This is something you guys did to yourself.

ELDER: I'm sorry? I'm sorry?

ROSEN: This is something you guys did to yourself. This is -- this guy distributed this himself. This is no Democratic, you know, trick on Republicans. He has distributed this himself.

ELDER: It was -- Ms. Rosen, it was -- Ms. Rosen, it was satire. And I don't think you want to go over the racist history of the Democratic Party.


ELDER: The party that was opposed to the 13th, the 14th, the 15th amendment. The party that founded the Klan.

I'm not defending Republicans' insensitivity in the last two years. They were wrong.

ROSEN: What are you defending?

ELDER: If you want to go over the history of the party, the Democratic Party is a party, historically, that has been antithetical to black history (ph).

ROSEN: We're talking about whether this was politically stupid in a year where inclusion and support of African-American people is particularly significant.

ELDER: It was a joke! It was a joke.

COOPER: We're going to leave it there.

ELDER: And it was a joke on Sharpton. If anybody ought to be angry, it's Sharpton.

COOPER: Larry Elder, it's good to have you on. Hilary Rosen, as well. Ed Henry, as well. Thank you.

ELDER: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up, riveting mystery at sea. Their fellow passengers onboard this cruise ship said the couple liked to party hard. Now the wife is missing, presumed dead. Did she slip? Was she pushed? Or did she jump overboard? New details ahead.

And a Holocaust love story that sounded too good to be true. Oprah raved about their extraordinary romance, shattered into a million little pieces. That and an update from Gaza, coming up.


COOPER: New day of Israeli air strikes on Gaza. Updating you on our breaking news tonight. That's a live picture right there. This time, war planes targeting -- oh, it's not live. I'm sorry. That's from a short time ago.

Israeli war planes targeting a Hamas government compound, leveling at least three buildings, including the foreign ministry. More bombs falling elsewhere across the territory.

An IDF, Israeli Defense Forces, spokesman telling CNN that Israel continues to target Hamas leadership and the foot soldiers responsible for a recent barrage of rocket-fire attacks that continue tonight.

Nic Robertson is in Jerusalem with the latest -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the targeting that's going on at the moment overnight in Gaza does appear to be, in a way, to try and alleviate any -- Any potential civilian casualties. Targeting at night means there will be very few -- very few people out on the streets.

We know from the U.N. that -- in Gaza that only about 60 of the people of the more than 370 people killed so far have been civilians. Perhaps that's why we saw quite a number of strikes in the last hour or so -- Anderson.

COOPER: Do -- how can Israel try to lesson civilian casualties? Now I've heard reports -- or we saw during the war against Hezbollah they would drop fliers in neighborhoods, telling people to leave those neighborhoods if they were near a -- in that case, a Hezbollah compound.

Are they doing similar things? What kind of precautions can they or are they taking? ROBERTSON: Well, it does seem to be that these sort of overnight strikes would be one precaution. And we've heard the foreign minister here, Tzipi Livni, be very, very clear and explicit.

She said, look, if you're hiding or you're somewhere where you're seeing fighters, you're seeing weapons, then leave that area. Because these are the people, these are the things that we're targeting.

So the Israeli government is putting the message out very, very clearly to people. You're not the target. It's the militants that are.

COOPER: Is there -- is there any -- I mean, how does this thing end? What is the end game here in the next couple of days? Or does this become a ground conflict? What's the likelihood of actual ground invasion?

ROBERTSON: You know, I think most people here are saying that this is not going to be a couple of days. This could be weeks.

Nobody's really sure about the ground invasion. Is this a bluff? Nobody can get close enough to kind of see what the maneuverability of the troops is. Does it look like they're about to go in?

But the bar's been set very high. The government said, "Look, we're going to stop Hamas firing these missiles." And the air strikes so far aren't working. So the bar is very high.

What do you do? If you go in and get embroiled in an urban guerrilla warfare where the roads may be mined already, knowing that you may come in down those roads. This whole conflict could get much, much more bloody.

COOPER: and we saw just how difficult it was against Hezbollah once ground operations began. Nic Robertson, appreciate the reporting again. Thanks, Nic, from Jerusalem tonight.

Now to a mystery on the high seas. A Florida woman celebrating her one-year wedding anniversary vanishes during a Christmas night cruise. Now, authorities suspect she fell off the ship, but the question is: was she the victim of foul play or not?

Let's have the latest now from David Mattingly.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dusting for fingerprints, searching for clues. FBI investigators combed the Norwegian Pearl after it arrived in Miami over the weekend.

When the cruise ship docked following a seven-day trip, all the passengers left, all except one: Jennifer Seitz.

(on camera) Authorities fear the 36-year-old Florida woman is dead. Surveillance video apparently shows her plunging off the ship as it sailed near Cancun on Christmas night. The tragedy stunned fellow travelers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm really shocked, because there was no announcement. There was no precautions of any kind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's so many different crazy stories going on the ship.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): The mystery begins Thursday around 8 p.m. That's when the security tape apparently records the woman's fall. Her husband, Raymond Seitz, did not report her missing until after 3 a.m., at least seven hours later.

During the cruise, Jennifer and Raymond Seitz attracted attention. Here's what one passenger told "The Today Show."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, they were loud. They were, I consider wild. They were there to have a good time like everybody else on the cruise ship, but THEY stood out a lot more than other people.

MATTINGLY: In a statement, Norwegian Cruise Line says it is cooperating fully and added that "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the guest during this difficult time."

While the FBI continues to determine if a crime was committed, the woman's family says she may have killed herself, writing she had previous emotional issues. They suspect she chose an unfortunate ending to her life.

Several years ago, Jennifer, an online reporter, was profiled by her own TV station after undergoing surgery. She talked about the operation and about the future.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Somebody special in your life now?


MATTINGLY: David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.


COOPER: Well, Oprah Winfrey is in a place once again where she never exactly wanted to be. Duped by a couple's unbelievable Holocaust love story. How was she and so many others suckered in by a fake?

And then, as 2008 fades to black, our very own list of some pop- culture milestones this year. There was Miley Cyrus, although I can't figure out who she is or who Hannah Montana is. I get them confused. And a lot of other great pop-culture moments. Tom Foreman will take a look at that. Stay tuned.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HERMAN ROSENBLAT, TOLD STORY OF LOVE IN CONCENTRATION CAMP: ... in the towers. And they hear, they shoot us. So we didn't talk. And I didn't have nothing to say, anyway. All I was interested is getting the apple.


COOPER: That was Herman Rosenblat, a Holocaust survivor, telling how his incredible love story began in a Germany concentration camp with an apple from a girl across a barbed wire fence, the woman who would later become his wife, sitting there.

His story captured the heart of Oprah Winfrey and a lot of people around the world. Mr. Rosenblat has written a memoir. His book was about to be released, and there was talk even of a movie. But tonight it appears his remarkable story was just that: a story, a work of fiction. Oprah was fooled; so were a lot of other people.

The question is, why did he do it? Up close tonight, here's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's one of the most poignant love stories ever told. A boy in a Nazi concentration camp, a girl who tossed apples over the fence to help him survive. A chance meeting more than a decade later. A marriage that's lasted 50 years.

ROMA ROSENBLAT, WIFE OF HERMAN ROSENBLAT: It looked like, you know, they hungry. I threw the apple over, and I threw out a piece of bread.

H. ROSENBLAT: She was my angel. She was the angel my mother sent me. Because my mother told me in my dream that "I'm sending you an angel."

KAYE: When Herman and Roma Rosenblat's love story was first made public 13 years ago, Oprah featured them on their Valentine's Day show. She called it "the single greatest love story in 22 years of doing this show."

The trouble is, it was just a story. It wasn't true. Oprah was duped, just like she would be years later by James Frey and his memoir, "A Million Little Pieces."

But it wasn't just Oprah. Herman Rosenblat told his story on CBS and Lifetime. A children's book was written about it. And Penguin's Berkley Books was set to release "The Angel at the Fence" in February. A movie was in the works.

But now, Rosenblat's publisher has pulled the plug after receiving new information from his agent that the love story was made up. Professor Kenneth Waltzer never bought Rosenblat's story.

KENNETH WALTZER, PROFESSOR: The idea of a prisoner being able, autonomously, to approach the fence, not just once, but every day at the same time, none of it seemed plausible. That fence was right next to the S.S. barracks. So to go to the fence, which was also punishable by death, was to risk death.

KAYE: Waltzer says he warned Rosenblat's agent back in November and says he told the editor the story is at best embellished and, perhaps, invented.

(on camera) There are some grains of truth. Professor Waltzer says Herman Rosenblat was in a concentration camp and did meet his wife on a blind date in New York City in the 1950s.

But the professor says during the war, Rosenblat's wife, Roma, was hiding with her family about 200 miles away from the camp where Herman Rosenblat was in prison, behind the now-famous fence.

(voice-over) So why would a Holocaust survivor make this love story up? In the 1990s, Herman Rosenblat was shot. In a statement released through his agent, Rosenblat said that, in the hospital, he dreamt that his mother told him to tell his story. When he came out of the hospital, his business was gone, and he began to write.

Rosenblat wrote, "I wanted to bring happiness to people, to remind them not to hate, but to love and tolerate all people. My motivation was to make good in this world. In my dreams, Roma will always throw me an apple, but I know now it is only a dream."

A dream for Rosenblat, a nightmare for his publisher, which refused to comment on his process for fact-checking memoirs.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Still ahead, the latest on the air strikes in Gaza.

Plus, she wasn't an actual candidate, but she played one on TV.


TINA FEY, COMEDIAN/WRITER: You've got Alaska here and this right here is water, and that up there's Russia. So we keep an eye on them.


COOPER: Tina Fey doing a better Sarah Palin than, well, perhaps, even Sarah Palin. Just one of our favorite pop-culture moments of 2008. Tom Foreman takes a look, just ahead.


COOPER: Madonna, she's 50, but she was No. 1 in 2008. Her Sticky & Sweet tour raked in $105 million, making it one of the top- selling concerts of the year. Britney Spears and her lip-synching tour did not come close. She did, however, earn a spot on our special year-ending list. So did some other celebrities. And we're saluting them, in a way, for their achievements and perhaps their embarrassments.

Tom Foreman takes a look.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The culture went pop again this year, just as it always does with celebrities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a good year for pop culture. It was exciting.

FOREMAN: It was certainly exciting for -- oh, my -- Miley Cyrus. The 15-year-old star who put the Hannah in Montana found herself in hot water.

PEREZ HILTON, CELEBRITY BLOGGER: Easily, my favorite celebrity of 2008 was Miley Cyrus.

MILEY CYRUS, ACTRESS/SINGER: I'm just here to help out with what I can.

HILTON: Why? Because she was somebody new to talk about.

FOREMAN: Britney Spears last year took our Worst Comeback Award. This year, give her the Best Behavior Badge for all the headlines she did not make.

It was not all happy returns. Worst publicity stunt of the year...

DAVID BLAINE, MAGICIAN: Mentally, pretty good.

FOREMAN: ... magician David Blaine magically producing yawns by hanging upside down in Central Park.

DANA GOULD, COMEDIAN: The trick that I want David Blaine to do, and I'm challenging him here: go away.

FOREMAN: But the worst moment on television: Rosie O'Donnell's "Rosie Live," dead on arrival.

HILTON: It aired on the one of the most watched nights of television, the evening before Thanksgiving, and only about 5 million people tuned in.

AMY POEHLER, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy.

FEY: And I can see Russia from my house.

FOREMAN: The best moment on TV this year: every time Tina Fey took on Sarah Palin.

FEY: And now I'd like to entertain everybody with some fancy pageant walkin'. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think some of it probably was a little over the line, but overall, it was all in good fun, and I thought she was hilarious.


COOPER: I don't think the Rosie thing was that bad. I don't know. At least she tried something new.

You can see the rest of Tom's year-end special, "All the Best, All the Worst," New Year's Eve at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern.

Actually, didn't watch the Rosie thing, so probably shouldn't say.

Anyway, 11 p.m. Eastern, join Kathy Griffin and me live in Times Square. We'll be joined by correspondents around the world, showing you New Year's celebrations around the world. Also, musical guests, including My Morning Jacket, 3 Doors Down, Lil Wayne, Lady Gaga, and others.

Still ahead, a new addition to our "Dramatic Animal Video" collection. Here's a hint: it's got a seasonal theme, next.


COOPER: All right, Randi, time for "The Shot." Any fan of this program knows that we like -- we like the animal videos toward the end of the program. Something to make you laugh before you go to bed.

We've got quite a collection this past year. We're adding a new member of our honor roll tonight. But first, a look at -- there's our creepy cat. Our look back at some of our favorite "Dramatic Animal Video" from the year.

Here, of course, is Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel.

KAYE: Yes.

COOPER: Twiggy, of course, is a perennial favorite.

Then came Whiplash, the cowboy monkey, riding a dog at a rodeo. We like the hat and the little chaps the monkey wears.

Also one of our personal favorites, the chimp on a Segway. That one we like. We saw that this year.

KAYE: Very good at that.

COOPER: We got this from one of those Japanese television shows we also like to watch. The chimp handles the machine pretty nicely until about the end, when it jumps off the Segway, and they all crash into the bush. And oh, it is so funny, everybody laughs.

All right. Tonight, the new, exciting new -- the newest animal video, Morry (ph), a sleigh-riding Lab. KAYE: Cute!

COOPER: Keeping his balance. He's making his way down the snowy hill. There you go. We got this from an iReport out of Springfield, Wisconsin.

KAYE: Look at that. No snow suit or anything.

COOPER: I like that it's from an iReport, too. So if anybody else has their dogs or animals that do some tricks, hopefully, they'll videotape it, send it to us. There you go.

KAYE: A bit of a wipeout there at the end.

COOPER: You can see all the most recent "Shots" at our Web site,

A lot more to come in the next hour, including the latest from Gaza. New Israeli air strikes arrive with the morning, and Palestinian rockets keep landing in southern Israel. We'll check back in with Nic Robertson and look at how an Obama administration may handle the crisis.

That and more, when 360 continues.