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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

White House Declares War on FOX News; How Safe Is Swine Flu Vaccine?

Aired October 12, 2009 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: The White House declares war on FOX News, suggesting it's an arm of the Republican Party. So, what happens when a president takes on the media? Richard Nixon tried it. It didn't work out so well for him. Did this president just get sucked into a no-win battle?

Also tonight, "Digging Deeper": Rush Limbaugh, he wants to buy a stake in the Saint Louis Rams. He has the money. He's also got a history of making some charged remarks about NFL players, 70 percent of whom are African-American. Should the league keep him out? Two sides square off tonight. You be the judge. I will referee.

Plus, the swine flu vaccines are arriving, but so are conspiracy theories and scare talk about getting vaccinated and even about the virus itself. For instance, is the virus manmade? Will the vaccine harm your kids or pregnant women? 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta is here to separate fact from fiction. He's "Keeping Them Honest."

First up tonight: the White House taking on FOX News. It has been simmering for months with veiled remarks. This weekend, it became open name-calling warfare, the White House communications director calling FOX News a de facto arm of the Republican Party.

Now, you can agree or disagree with that statement. And that's for you to decide. But, true or not, is this a wise strategy for the White House? In a moment, we will hear from several White House veterans, including two who worked in administrations that took on the press in much harsher ways than this and lost.

First up, though, details from Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the raging war between FOX News and the White House, the president's team chose CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" to launch its latest salvo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "RELIABLE SOURCES")

ANITA DUNN, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: The reality of it is that FOX News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNBC, JUNE 17, 2009) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have got one television station that...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: ... is entirely devoted to attacking my administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: After months of sparring, the White House is now openly calling FOX biased, as in this rant about the president's Nobel Prize.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "RED EYE")

GREG GUTFELD, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: The Nobel Committee wants him to succeed, for they're smitten with this -- quote -- "citizen of the world," a man who puts the globe before his country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: A prime target, Glenn Beck, who last summer called the president a racist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FOX & FRIENDS")

GLENN BECK, HOST, "GLENN BECK": Who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I don't know what it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't say he doesn't like white people. David Axelrod is white. Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, are white.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Another FOX host challenged Beck, and a boss said Beck was speaking for himself, not the network. Still, FOX was cut from a round of presidential interviews.

The White House says the president will talk to FOX again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "RELIABLE SOURCES")

DUNN: But let's not pretend they're a news network, the way CNN is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Good strategy? Maybe not.

"Washington Post" media critic and CNN host Howard Kurtz:

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: When White House officials hit FOX News hard, they get a lot of cheering, I think, from their FOX- hating base on the left. But, at the same time, it's a very highly rated cable channel that the White House, one way or another, has to learn how to deal with. FOREMAN (on camera): FOX seems fine with the controversy, noting growing ratings and suggesting the White House is just blaming others for its own political problems.

"FOX News is the target of their attack mentality," a network official says. "Perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues that voters are worried about."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No reporter from "The Washington Post" is ever to be in the White House.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Other presidents have taken on the media, some for worse, some for better.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 1982)

SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS: And, in talking about the continuing recession tonight, you have blamed the mistakes of the past and you blamed the Congress. Does any of the blame belong to you?

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, because, for many years, I was a Democrat.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: But, these days, Washington is a take-no-prisoners town, and neither side in this war is backing down.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, somebody once said never argue with a man that buys ink by the barrel, or, in this case, has a lineup of talking heads who don't mind talking loudly and often.

With that in mind, we're joined tonight by senior political analyst David Gergen, CNN contributor and "New York Daily News" columnist Errol Louis, and K.T. McFarland, a veteran of the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations.

David, is -- is this a smart move by the White House?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Not one I would advise, Anderson.

The -- the frustration is understandable. The venting is understandable. Taking on the media directly from the White House is not. It's not been a winning strategy in the past.

I was there with Nixon. Remember Bill Safire's line about the nattering nabobs of negativism...

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: ... which was used by the president against the press and lives on today.

But what happens, Anderson, is, not only the points you make about the last barrel of ink, but the other thing is, the White House is sort of up here at this level, and FOX News is down here. The press is down here.

When you go after, so it's White House vs. FOX News, you elevate FOX News to -- you not only help spike their ratings, but you give them a -- a -- a stature that is equal to yours. That diminishes you and lifts them.

That is not a particularly smart strategy. Far better to have this come out of the Democratic National Committee, or, as Reagan did in that clip, far better to handle it with humor.

COOPER: Yes, Errol, you disagree, though.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I think -- I mean, I think it makes all the sense in the world to -- to reorient.

I mean, what's -- what's -- if you look at the fact, for example, that they're denying some interviews to FOX, but, at the same time, they're giving those interviews in one case to Univision. So, you know, reach out to Latino voters and put aside the voters that you don't necessarily think you're going to -- you're going to get to.

I mean, the Obama administration has said that they did a series of interviews -- or tried to -- with FOX back during the campaign because they were trying to reach out to undecided voters, and that the whole for those, that the -- the airtime on those interviews just got cut to nothing, so that they were getting nothing out of it. This is an extension of that same problem.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: K.T., you're a frequent guest on FOX.

KATHLEEN TROIA MCFARLAND, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I'm a frequent guest on FOX. And I can tell you, they're not a arm of the Republican Party. That is absolute nonsense.

But the other thing to remember is, how many people watch FOX? I mean, more -- with all due respect, more people watch FOX than MSNBC and CNN combined.

So, for the president and his team to say, we're just going to have a -- you know, a boycott of FOX News, they're missing a lot of potential voters. And, if the president is so confident -- and he is a very articulate and very persuasive guy -- he's missing a golden opportunity.

COOPER: We have got to take a quick break.

We're going to have more from David and Errol and K.T.

Let us know what you think at home right now. Is taking on FOX something the White House should be doing? Join the live chat at AC360.com. I just logged on.

Also tonight, the blitz against Rush Limbaugh -- he wants to buy into the NFL, but a few players are protesting and promising more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Of the things that is going around out there is that black NFL players will boycott playing the game if I am an owner in the league.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Two views to night: the Reverend Al Sharpton, who wants to meet with the NFL about Limbaugh. Also joining us, NFL great Mercury Morris.

And how you would like to be face-to-face with an iguana, a vicious raccoon, even a monster python? It is happening more and more, people and animals crossing paths in Florida. People are even getting hurt, getting killed. We will take you up close and spend some quality time live with a python.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We're back talking about the Obama's administration declaration of open warfare on FOX News. It came right here on CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "RELIABLE SOURCES")

DUNN: When he goes on FOX, he understands he's not going on it really as a news network at this point. He's going on to debate the opposition. And that's fine. He never minds doing that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was White House Communications Director Anita Dunn talking about the president.

Earlier in the program, you heard her say that FOX -- quote -- "operates as the research arm or communications arm of the Republican Party."

Back now with me, David Gergen, Errol Louis, and K.T. McFarland.

Errol, you say fine for the White House not to -- or to kind of declare war on FOX in this way. Why, though, is it fair for them to do that to FOX, and, yet, they go on MSNBC, which could be argued is the liberal equivalent of FOX News? And -- and, yet, they agree with their politics, so they go on that.

I mean, if you're against partisan news, shouldn't you say, well, we're not going to go on any partisan news?

(CROSSTALK)

LOUIS: I don't know if that's the point.

I mean, in fact, if this is a war, who fired the first shot is an interesting kind of a question. When FOX goes and styles itself as the voice of the opposition, or you see them sort of working with this political pact which put on these 9/12 parties, and you see a FOX producer whipping up the crowds, when you see them that deeply into partisanship, which is fine -- if that's how they choose to build the audience, you know, God bless -- you don't necessary have to play along with that.

Or, as I think we heard her say, we will treat them as what they say they are. They're the voice of the opposition, and that's how they should be treated.

(CROSSTALK)

MCFARLAND: You know, come on. Show some guts here. If they have got -- if they're afraid of FOX News, well, how are they possibly going to deal...

LOUIS: No, not afraid, not afraid. What's to be afraid of?

MCFARLAND: Well, why aren't they going on?

(CROSSTALK)

MCFARLAND: What an opportunity they have thrown away.

LOUIS: If FOX want to be the voice of the opposition and wants to sponsor rallies and have producers out there whipping up crowds, you don't necessarily have to give them an interview. I mean, if they're not going to carry presidential addresses on their news network...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: By the way, I'm not in the position to be defending them. But, for accuracy sake, they did discipline that producer. They said she was a young producer just new to the job. So...

MCFARLAND: Yes, she was an intern.

But here's the thing. If they're afraid to go on FOX News because they think they're going to get badly treated, then how are they going to sit down and negotiate with Ahmadinejad or Chavez or Kim Jong Il in North Korea? These are some really tough guys. And, so, grow a thick skin. Or they're not going to -- I mean, if David Gergen, who had the same job that Anita Dunn did in the Reagan administration, he never would have come out and criticized...

(CROSSTALK)

MCFARLAND: ... never would have done that, David, would you?

COOPER: David, do you think this is -- this is about being thin- skinned on the part of President Obama or people in the White House?

GERGEN: Well, look, Anderson, I don't think that they're afraid of FOX News. They just hate them, you know, and some of the people who represent FOX News. And they just hate what they have done to them and some of the criticism.

When you're called a racist, it's understandable you get angry. And that's what they have been called by -- by one of the top people at FOX. So, I understand the frustration.

But, to go to Kathy's point, I don't think you don't deal with it in this way from the White House. Find some other people outside the White House who can make your case for you. But it's far better in the White House to spend your time trying to accomplish things, trying to govern, and sort of flick this off. Do it with humor. Do it...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Because it's -- because it's not just the White House saying this, David. The White House has also put, I understand -- I haven't seen it myself, but, from what I have read, put on their Web site things about, you know -- quote -- "FOX News lies."

I mean, it seems like they're taking the next step, which is actually directly, you know, kind of talking about things that are being said on FOX News.

MCFARLAND: They should go on the main event.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: I think that they -- I think they should focus on governing, and, as I said, let this go. And I just don't think they get anywhere.

FOX is always going to have the last word, because, inevitably, the White House has got other things to worry about. And FOX is -- they're going to drive up the ratings, which is not in their interests. And they -- and it's -- as I say, I think it diminishes them.

There are -- they have got far bigger things to worry about than FOX News. I think they -- you know, when they get the accomplishments under their belts, they get health care -- they ought to be focusing tonight on getting the Senate Finance Committee to pass out that bill tomorrow. That will be a big accomplishment on health care, not about this stuff.

It is not worthy of a lot of White House time.

MCFARLAND: It's a diversion. It's a diversion.

And, you know, look, they're dealing with Afghanistan. They're dealing with Iran and nuclear weapons. They're dealing with the economy. They're dealing with health care issues. And to take the national attention span and turn it to FOX News, when FOX News is just doing its job, is really a diversion.

COOPER: It's also, Errol, for FOX News, the greatest advertising -- I mean, this is exactly, I'm guessing, what, you know, some of the folks at FOX News like.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Oh, Roger Ailes is living this.

LOUIS: Oh, yes. I will tell you, there's a possibility that both -- both sides are getting what they want.

I mean, for the White House, this enables them to sort of paint an enemy and to sort of name who they want as their opponent, the way they did with Rush Limbaugh, the way they sometimes play off Michael Steele and the RNC, but, oftentimes, they will just ignore him.

And, here, they have this -- this -- this group that has made one gaffe after another. I mean, there this other time that they falsely reported he had educated in a madrassa, and all that was a mistake. So, had to dial that back.

And, so, for a lot of people out there who have seen a trend in the way news is reported out of FOX News, it enables them to say, look, they're against me.

And politicians from Nixon to Reagan to Bush have all sort of benefited from this. And this will be one more instance.

COOPER: So, David...

MCFARLAND: But -- yes, but if you're somebody who is watching, you're a FOX News viewer, how you are feeling right now? You have just been insulted by the president of the United States. And that's a big mistake.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: David, final thought.

GERGEN: Well, if -- if you're Roger Ailes, if you're Roger Ailes sitting there at FOX, you've got a big Cheshire cat grin on your face. You just love this, to have the White House come into this thing. You know, he -- they need to get out of this and get back to governing. That's where -- that's the high ground for them.

COOPER: We're going to leave it there.

David, Errol, and K.T., appreciate it.

MCFARLAND: Thank you very much.

COOPER: Thanks a lot.

Straight ahead tonight: the efforts to stop Rush Limbaugh from owning the Saint Louis Rams or being a part owner. Some players say they won't play if that happens because of Limbaugh's past remarks about African-American players. We will talk with the Reverend Al Sharpton, who wants to sit down with the NFL, and NFL great Mercury Morris weighs in.

Also later tonight, "Keeping Them Honest" -- 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta answering questions and rumors and myths about the H1N1 flu and the new vaccine against it. There's a lot of scary talk out there. We're going to separate the fact from the fiction.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Coming up: Will Secretary of State Hillary Clinton take another run at the presidency? She was asked that question. We will tell what you she said.

But, first, some other important stories. Erica Hill has a 360 news and business bulletin -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a deadly day in Pakistan, where a suicide car bombing in a crowded market has killed at least 41 people, wounded dozens more. This is the fourth attack by militants in just a week, the target, a military vehicle in northwest Pakistan.

In Florida, a teenager rushed to the emergency room after being set on fire -- detectives say the 15-year-old boy was doused with gasoline, than lit on fire by another teen. The boy jumped into a pool to put out the flames, but has burns on 80 percent of his body. Family members believe the attack was retaliation for getting another kid arrested for stealing a bike.

A 360 follow for you tonight -- Richard Strandlof, the man who claimed to be a decorated Marine veteran, who said he was a 9/11 Pentagon survivor, but was exposed as an impostor, arrested on Friday by the FBI on a charge of stolen valor.

Before his lies unraveled, Strandlof formed a nonprofit group to help veterans and actually used that platform to help campaign for politicians. You may recall he admitted right here on 360 back in June he had made it all up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 10, 2009)

COOPER: You said you served two-and-a-half tours in Iraq with the Marines. In fact, you were never a Marine. You were never in Iraq, correct?

RICHARD STRANDLOF, CLAIMED TO BE U.S. VETERAN: This is correct, Anderson.

COOPER: And you claimed you had gone to Annapolis to the Naval Academy. You did not go to Annapolis, correct?

STRANDLOF: That is correct, Anderson.

COOPER: And you claimed you were at the Pentagon on 9/11. You told a very dramatic story about being in the Pentagon on 9/11. You were never there?

STRANDLOF: That is correct as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Now, if convicted, he faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

A bombshell from the insurance industry just one day before a health care reform vote. A report from the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans finds the Senate Finance Committee's health care bill would drive up costs to consumers, but the White House and Democrats calling the report biased, saying it failed to factor in provisions designed to lower costs to lower- and middle-income families.

And, for the first time, the Nobel Prize in economics awarded to a woman -- Elinor Ostrom is a political scientist at Indiana University. She shares the award with fellow American Oliver Williamson, who is an economist. Ostrom is the fifth woman to win a Nobel this year. It is the highest tally of women ever, Anderson, and, frankly, a fine showing, I think.

COOPER: Absolutely. I like the tie-dye T-shirt, also. See that in that picture?

HILL: Super-hip.

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Super-hip.

Up next, a Monday night football fight: Rush Limbaugh vs. some players and critics, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, who says Limbaugh should not be allowed to become an NFL owner because of comments he has made about African-American players and about the NFL. Limbaugh says he is not racist. Take a look, what he's saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

LIMBAUGH: I'm colorblind. I have reached the point where everybody professes we need to go. I treat everybody equally. Nobody is -- in the political arena, I don't care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Also ahead, wild animals on the loose in the Florida suburbs, everything to pythons to iguanas. What's going on in Florida? John Zarrella investigates tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, he's one of the most popular and controversial voices in America. Now he wants to be part of an American tradition. Rush Limbaugh announced last week that he is partnering in a bid to buy the NFL's Saint Louis Rams.

And critics are rushing to block the sale, and some players have already come forward saying they would not play for a team owned by the conservative radio host.

On his show today, Limbaugh fired back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

LIMBAUGH: One of the things that is going around out there is that black NFL players will boycott playing the game if I am an owner in the league, which, of course, is patently absurd. But this is being reported. And it's designed to affect the outcome of all of this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Also today, the Reverend Al Sharpton sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, saying -- quote -- "Rush Limbaugh has been divisive and anti-NFL on several occasions, with comments about NFL players, including Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb. And his recent statement that the NFL was beginning to look like a fight between the Crips and the Bloods without the weapons was disturbing."

Reverend Sharpton joins us along now, along with former Miami Dolphins running back Eugene "Mercury" Morris.

Appreciate both of you being with us.

Reverend Sharpton, why shouldn't Rush Limbaugh, like anybody else, be allowed to own a team, if he can afford it?

AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I think the question is whether or not the NFL is going to have standards.

I think, when the Players Association came out this weekend and said that they objected because he was divisive, clearly, if you have someone that has attacked the players, you have someone that is going to be one of the 32 owners, if he was approved, that would decide on a proposed walkout next year by the 32 owners.

You have to have some standard to say, but, wait a minute, this guy has offended the people that generate the money. This guy would be sitting there deciding on a walkout that affects 100,000 employees at stadiums and all kinds of businesses. This is very sensitive position.

COOPER: Eugene, should -- should Rush Limbaugh be allowed to own a team, part-own a team?

EUGENE "MERCURY" MORRIS, FORMER NFL PLAYER: Well, I don't think that Rush Limbaugh should be prevented from jumping into their, because, if he thinks that it's so easy to go in there and have a team just because you have the cash, that's one thing.

But to get guys to go out and play for him because they want to, it's a different era now than the 1960s. I came from the '60s. And now I'm in my 60s. And this Limbaugh is in the same situation. He doesn't realize the hornet's nest that he's about to get into. So, I say let him go in there and see what it's like to actually have to deal with these same people who he's talking about.

COOPER: Reverend Sharpton, do you believe Rush Limbaugh is racist?

SHARPTON: Race has nothing to do with it. He has offended the players, whether they be black or white.

When you say these people are like Crips and Bloods without guns, I mean, nothing in my letter referred to race. I'm talking about, you are going to disparage these people's character and now I want to be one of the owners that will decide their contract, decide their future.

I think maybe Mr. Morris and I may agree on outcome. I think he's right. To put him in a hornet's nest at a time when we're going to be making crucial decisions, I think the NFL would be doing itself and those that support it a disservice to have someone who has expressed that kind of opinion on the people involved to be sitting at the table, when we're going to see these crucial decisions, which is why I think the Players Association came out over the weekend and made the statement they did.

COOPER: I don't know much about how football teams work with the owners. In your experience, does it matter who the owner is, in terms of whether or not they have good relationships with the players?

MORRIS: I think back at -- there was a time when that -- when football reflected society.

When I played in the '70s, it was an un -- it was an unwritten thing that it would be 75 percent of the players would be white and 25 percent of the players would be black. And that carried itself from George Halas all the way through the '70s. Now, when the need came for them to have more black ballplayers, there were no black quarterbacks when I played. There were no black centers when I played, because those were positions of power. And, at that particular time, in the undertow of things, the white -- the white society did not want a black man running things.

But, for goodness' sake, we have got a president now who is the quarterback. And I think that that's what's bothering Limbaugh the most, is that the guy who is calling the shots here in this country is a black man. And, so, how can I have some power? Well, let me buy some -- some people, and then I can put who I want in there, rather than who's the best person there.

COOPER: I want to play for our viewers some of what he said today, actually, about -- about you, Reverend Sharpton, getting involved in this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

LIMBAUGH: Now, this saddens me as well. This disappoints me. I know Reverend Sharpton. Sharpton is better than this. He knows better than this.

You know, I didn't judge Al Sharpton's fitness to be in radio when he wanted to earn an honest living, for once, given his well- documented past, the author of the Tawana Brawley hoax. I -- I believe in freedom, second chances. And I also don't discriminate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: Well, neither did I bring up his admitting drug use and other things when he remains on the air. We're not talking about being on the air. We're talking about whether or not he should own a team and make decisions for people that he has depicted as thugs and gangsters.

Secondly, he doesn't have to go back 22 years to the Tawana Brawley case. I have done a lot more cases since then. I think it shows how desperate he is to really not deal with reality.

COOPER: Al Sharpton, Eugene Morris, appreciate it. Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So, what do Rams fans -- Rams fans think about their team's new potential owner? You can go to our Web site, AC360.com, for reaction. And, also, let us know what you think. There's a live chat happening now, a couple people weighing in on the blog about it. Go to AC360.com. Log on.

We would love to hear from you.

Still ahead, a 360 autopsy: Who killed a 133-year-old American company and wiped out thousands of jobs? We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.

And a new single by Michael Jackson makes its debut, but it is really new? You can be the judge yourself.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, I want to tell you about the death of an American company and a question: is Wall Street's buy-out boom to blame?

Last year, the Simmons Bedding Company laid a thousand employees, a full quarter of its workforce. It's about to declare bankruptcy now. The recession hasn't helped, but there's also this. Simmons has had a half dozen owners over the last two decades, and it's about to be sold again. That bankruptcy filing is part of the deal.

So who's behind the deal? Randi Kaye tonight is "Keeping Them Honest."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's what some call the dirty little secret of corporate takeovers. A private equity firm buys undervalued company, using mostly borrowed money, then sells that company for a profit. At that point, the company is ruined, in some cases, bankrupt. And, yes, it's all legal.

"Forbes" magazine columnist Dan Gerstein.

(on camera) Should Americans be concerned about this?

DAN GERSTEIN, COLUMNIST, "FORBES" MAGAZINE: Every American should be losing sleep over this story because of what it says about how corrupt capitalism is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Assuring you the undisturbed night's sleep.

KAYE (voice-over): Losing sleep over the story of Simmons Bedding Company, an American icon founded more than 130 years ago. Today, Simmons is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Simmons' filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission show ever since the equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners or THL bought Simmons in 2003. The bedding giant increased its debt by more than $700 million. Why? THL issued loans against Simmons, using the company's assets as collateral. Even as Simmons was headed towards bankruptcy, THL pocketed $77 million.

How in the world does that happen? We had the same questions.

(on camera) We came here to Boston where Thomas H. Lee Partners is based for some answers. "Keeping Them Honest," we wanted the firm to tell us why Simmons racked up so much debt under its watch and why the firm borrowed even more when Simmons was already strapped for cash.

(voice-over) The firm would not give us an interview but did e- mail us a statement. THL says it added, quote, "sustainable and significant value to Simmons, including four new manufacturing facilities." The firm cited sales growth of 40 percent. But SEC filings paint a different picture.

We asked Maureen Spollen, an accountant with no connection to either THL or Simmons to look at the financials.

MAUREEN SPOLLEN, ACCOUNTANT, MIG CONSULTING: The year before they acquired the company, $290 worth of debt.

KAYE (on camera): And that's 2002. And then in 2003, what did they have?

SPOLLEN: Seven hundred and seventy million dollars worth of debt. So it's more than double.

KAYE: And then if you jump ahead to, say, 2005?

SPOLLEN: It's over $900 million.

KAYE: In debt?

SPOLLEN: In debt.

KAYE: And then the end of this year?

SPOLLEN: Over a billion.

KAYE: So in the six years that THL has owned Simmons, the debt has, what, tripled?

SPOLLEN: It's tripled.

KAYE: And all this is legal?

SPOLLEN: Yes.

KAYE: What isn't included on Simmons' balance sheet is a loan from 2007 for $300 million. The firm issued this massive loan, creating even more debt for Simmons to pay out, just so THL could pay itself hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends. Add that to earlier dividends, and THL recouped all of its investment plus $77 million in profit.

GERSTEIN: They were bleeding big chunks of that capital out and putting it in their pocket, rather than having it go to the company. There isn't accountability. And as a result, they get away with financial murder.

KAYE (voice-over): In a statement, THL suggests the economy is to blame for Simmons' financial mess, saying, quote, "The entire bedding industry was hit by an unprecedented, cataclysmic downturn."

Don't blame the economy, says Gerstein.

GERSTEIN: It's because they were so loaded up with debt, they didn't have the means to weather the storm. And it's a good, you know, indictment and a cautionary tale for what's going wrong with our economy. They were doing something that is pretty common in the industry.

KAYE: standard, maybe. Risk free? Definitely not.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Boston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: A program note for tomorrow. Our special series, "Politicians Behaving Badly," begins with a case against South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. How much trouble is he in? Is it a matter of ethics or more? Joe Johns and Candy Crowley put his actions under a microscope. "Politicians Behaving Badly" starting tomorrow here on 360.

Coming up next, wild animals on the attack in Florida? Pythons, raccoons, even iguanas, believe it or not. We'll get the name. We'll tell you where and why people are at risk. And not only will zoologist Rod McGill be joining me; he brought some company, as you can see. Maybe the python brought him. I'm not quite sure. We'll find out.

Also, Hillary for president? Like secretary of state -- the secretary of state was asked if she's going to run again. We'll tell you her answer, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In Florida, a 74-year-old woman was recently mauled by a pack of raccoons. The animals apparently went ballistic when she tried to shoo them away from her door. The injuries were serious, indeed.

More and more Floridians are crossing paths with wild animals and bearing the scars. We wondered what is behind all the attacks. Tonight, John Zarrella goes up close.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Florida, the usual suspects are increasingly unusual. Not even human.

LT. LISA WOOD, VENOM RESPONSE TEAM: We managed to pull it out of the weeds and take it into custody.

ZARRELLA: This python, found at a Miami nursery, 13 feet long. In Tampa, a family of attackers, all wore masks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm at my neighbor's house who was just attacked by some raccoons. She was cut very badly.

ZARRELLA: Raccoons made their getaway after injuring an elderly woman.

KRISTI TURNER, NEIGHBOR: We used to be able to let the children just play in the backyard. And I just don't feel safe doing that anymore. ZARRELLA: Seven-year-old Madison Wells (ph) would agree. She has 23 stitches in her foot, courtesy of an iguana.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought I was going to be dead. It wasn't fun.

ZARRELLA: Near Pensacola, an emu like this one clawed a woman who got too close.

So what's going on? Why are animals on the attack?

RON MCGILL, MIAMI METRO ZOO: First of all, if you run into anything in the wild, leave it alone.

ZARRELLA: The problem, says Miami Metro Zoo's Ron McGill, is animals and humans are colliding more because of the continuing loss of wildlife habitat. On top of that, the climate is perfect for exotic species that shouldn't be here at all, like this python.

(on camera) Yes, that, that is a load.

MCGILL: Oh, yes, it's a load.

It's a load. It's a big snake.

ZARRELLA: Wow.

MCGILL: This place has become the Ellis Island of exotic species. Because so many animals come through here. First of all, exotic species is a big port where they enter. But then so many people keep them as pets. And they either escape or they're released, and then they start to thrive.

ZARRELLA: Like the bufo toad that excretes a poison that can kill a dog, and this fearless night nole (ph).

(on camera) Oh, yes.

MCGILL: And they're aggressive.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): And iguanas, they're everywhere: sunning in a tree, hanging out in the grass near a canal. And they don't scare easy.

(on camera) But I can problem pop over here, because I don't want him to come after me. But, look, we can come right up to him right here. And look how close before he actually takes off.

(voice-over) With no way to eradicate flourishing nuisance species, wildlife experts say confrontations are only going to increase. Within a decade or two, Florida might be a zoo on the loose.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Monstrous -- monster pythons, iguanas with attitude, poisoned toads? How worried should humans be?

Joining me now from Miami is zoologist Ron McGill.

Ron, in this piece John said that Miami could become a zoo on a loose. Are things really that bad? Are things really getting out of control?

MCGILL: I'll tell you, Miami is basically the Ellis Island of exotic animals, Anderson. You know, we've got everything from all kinds of parrots, giant toads, giant lizards, giant snakes. They're all over the state right now. And this is something that's been -- it didn't happen yesterday. This is something that's been developing now for many years.

COOPER: Well, is this due to urban sprawl? Or is this people, you know -- I remember John did a piece a while ago about people over the years releasing snakes into the wild, pythons that have just kind of, you know, exploded over the years.

MCGILL: Well, the urban sprawl is what caused more confrontation with these animals. But the fact is that these animals were originally brought in as pets. A lot of them were either released, have been -- have escaped.

Because of our environment down here, I mean, they don't know that they're not in their native habitat. They're in a habitat with this heat and humidity. And they're reproducing very successfully. So we're getting a lot of these animals now throughout the entire southern part of the state.

COOPER: You do know you have a snake around your neck, don't you?

MCGILL: Yes, this is an albino Burmese Python. This is an animal that is almost identical to the animal that tragically killed that little 3-year-old girl in the center of the state a few weeks back. These are animals that people keep as pets. But many people don't do the research to understand that this is going to get to be over 20 feet long, can live over 20 years, and can, in fact, become very dangerous.

COOPER: So what -- I mean, with something like that in the wild, I mean, clearly, they don't want to have an encounter with a human being. How do you avoid them? What do you do if you do run across them?

MCGILL: Well, the best thing is if you see one, stay away from it. There's no such thing as a snake that's going to chase you down. If it does, these things can't go more than about 5 miles an hour.

That being said, they're ambush predators. Don't be walking along tall grass along waterways, because if one gets you and wraps around you, you know, a snake 10 feet or longer can easily incapacitate a human being. And when the panic factors kicks in, that's when people lose the fight.

COOPER: Some people are saying -- and I've read some accounts that Hurricane Andrew, that after Hurricane Andrew, many animals' enclosures were broken, and the animals were freed that way. Do you buy that?

MCGILL: Well, I think there's a certain truth to that, for sure. I mean, so many people here get these animals as pets. We had aviaries full of birds. And a lot of the animals escaped.

We've certainly have seen a huge increase in the numbers of these animals seen out in the wild now here in South Florida since that hurricane. So there probably is some semblance of truth. But it's something that's been happening over many years.

COOPER: And what happens to a lot of these animals when they get caught?

MCGILL: They get euthanized. I mean, the bottom line is, there's no place to really put them. The state has a program underway right now where they've got licensed trappers out there, catching things like pythons.

When they get caught, they get as much data from them as possible to see if they can track them down. They euthanize those snakes.

But the bottom line, Anderson, is that these snakes and a lot of other exotic animals are in Florida forever. You're not going to wipe them out. You know, something short of a 10-, 20-day freeze, deep freeze in the southern part of the state, these animals are here forever.

Think twice before you decide to get an exotic pet. Thank you for your time.

Next, vaccine fears. Some parents and pundits are against the swine flu vaccine. Should you be worried? Should you get your child vaccinated? Should you be vaccinated? Three-sixty M.D. Sanjay Gupta is "Keeping Them Honest."

And Michael Jackson's new song is being released in advance of his movie. But how new is it really and exactly why is it released now? We'll play the tune for you to night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Three new studies out today show that the H1N1 swine flu virus can cause otherwise healthy younger people to develop severe respiratory failure. Those results are consistent with previous research.

The government officials are urging younger people and other high-risk groups to be vaccinated against the swine flu. But a lot of people said they aren't convinced that the H1N1 vaccine is safe or necessary. And now a number of rumors about the vaccine and the virus are adding to the confusion. Want to cut through a lot of the rumors. Three-sixty M.D. Sanjay Gupta is here to try to separate the facts from the fiction.

A lot of the -- one persistent conspiracy theory out there is that this was created in a government lab somehow. You've been to the place where the first victim came down with it.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean they call the young boy, the 5-year-old boy, patient zero. They believe that this is the first patient with it.

You know, it's hard to believe that this would be a constructed in a laboratory. I mean, I've heard those same rumors as far back as even May or June. But we looked into that quite a bit and found no evidence of that.

There are some things that they look for, specifically, that would make something more like laboratory or manmade versus naturally occurring. And all the markers, so to speak, really seem to indicate this is a naturally occurring thing.

COOPER: The other belief that's out there is this is not -- it's not safe, this vaccine. That it hasn't -- there hasn't been enough time to properly test it.

GUPTA: You know, and it's one of those things. I tell you, I wish there was more safety testing on a lot of things that we recommend people put in their bodies. There's no question about that.

But you got to remember, when it comes to flu viruses overall, every year they make a new vaccine. And when it comes to seasonal flu, they decide on a strain, some point in the late winter or early spring and then they make the vaccine all summer, and then it's available in the fall. So you get the safety testing over the summer. That's what we get with seasonal flu vaccine, which has been around for years.

And so it's the same process by which they made the H1N1 vaccine. So, you know, it's a different strain. But the same vaccine overall. Could we have four years of testing? No. Because four years from now, it will be a totally different strain. So this is based on some really, really well-founded knowledge at least.

COOPER: Another belief out there, that if you have the seasonal flu vaccine, that that leaves you more susceptible to the H1N1 virus. Is there any truth to that?

GUPTA: Well, that seems false. There was a Canadian unpublished study that, I think, really started a lot of this. You know, you look at lots of different factors. You look at people who get the flu shot. You look at the people who are getting H1N1. You try to see if there's any link.

And one study, again, that's unpublished and not really peer reviewed, they said that perhaps there was a link. That if you got the seasonal flu, you were more likely to get H1N1. But as we looked at it, showed it to folks at the World Health Organization, our sources over there, it looks like it's just one of those confounding things. It doesn't actually link. People just sort of made the links where they didn't exist.

COOPER: There's another fear out there that this vaccine, H1N1 vaccine, will -- in pregnant women will cause miscarriages.

GUPTA: Well, that seems to be false, as well. And again, we're talking about the seasonal flu vaccine that's been studied over years, now with a slightly different strain. So there's no indication, at least in the early safety testing, that that's true. That's not good enough for a lot of people, which I completely understand.

But if you go back and look through the years of seasonal flu testing, it doesn't seem to be true either. That you get an uptick in miscarriages.

COOPER: Is just, you know, trying to stay healthy and taking supplements enough to -- is that good enough, and you don't need the vaccine?

GUPTA: I wish it were. I mean, there's something, certainly, to be said for a robust immune system, you know, being as healthy as you can to sort of counter any infection that might be thrown your way.

But I think you and I both know that that's sometimes not good enough. As healthy as you might be, you can still get sick.

This appears to be a pretty -- you know, a pretty virulent virus. It really gets in there and takes hold and can make otherwise healthy people sick. And Anderson, as you pointed out, otherwise healthy people can also die from this. For the most part people who have dying have had underlying illnesses. But healthy people have been affected, as well.

COOPER: All right. We'll leave it there. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks.

GUPTA: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Do you know as much as you should about the H1N1 flu vaccine? Can you tell the fact from the fiction? Go to AC360.com right now to take the quiz on the vaccine.

Let's get caught up on some other important headlines. Erica Hill has our "360 Bulletin" -- Erica.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, a wild bar shootout. It was all caught on tape. Check this out. It happened in Toledo, Ohio. It happened late Thursday night.

Police say a botched drug sale turned into a fistfight and then escalates into a gun battle. At least 20 shots were fired. Incredibly, no one was hurt. I'm still not sure how. Police are still searching, by the way, for five suspected gunmen.

Roman Polanski's attorney says the director is tired and depressed. Polanski was arrested in Switzerland two weeks ago. He's facing extradition to the U.S. for raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she will not run for president again. In fact, Clinton said no three different times when asked about the possibility by NBC's Ann Curry in an interview which was broadcast today. Secretary Clinton also brushed off suggestions that she's being marginalized in the Obama administration.

And Michael Jackson fans, this is it. The late King of Pop's new song now available online. Although it turns out may not be quite as new as originally thought.

A hip hop singer Sa-Fire recorded a song, titled, "I Never Heard" in 1990, which had the same melody and lyrics. She said on her Web site today it was actually written for her by Jackson and Paul Anka.

Regardless, it's something Michael Jackson fans have been waiting for. So, Anderson, "This is It."

(MUSIC: "This is It")

COOPER: There you go.

All right. Time for "The Shot." Tonight's "Shot" is a moment of pop star and actor -- by the way, on that song, I read that they found it, like, in a box among his possessions.

HILL: Yes. Randomly there.

COOPER: And they sort of re-engineered it. I guess they only had the track and -- I don't know, I guess, what you call the piano or something.

HILL: Yes. So these are the kind of things you want to find when you're going through that stuff. Oh, good, we've got another hit in the making. Let's release it.

COOPER: They have no idea how many other songs they may have, because they haven't really gone through their archives in a systematic way. So, no doubt, there will be more.

HILL: There will be more popping up, I think.

COOPER: Right.

Tonight's "Shot" is a moment pop star and actor Jesse McCartney probably wants to forget. Let's just say there was a little something missing from his rendition of the national anthem at a NASCAR race in California yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSE MCCARTNEY, POP STAR/ACTOR (singing): O, say can you see by the dawn's early light, whose broad stripes and bright stars...

HILL: Wait a minute.

COOPER: Oh, yes. If you're going to forget the words, you know, do it at, like, a soccer match. But not at NASCAR. You know?

HILL: No, not so much.

COOPER: Yes. I guess the good news is that being in a boy band is no longer the most embarrassing thing he has done.

HILL: Yes.

COOPER: Actually, I have no idea who he is.

HILL: I was going to ask that.

COOPER: I actually read that. I have no idea who he is.

His -- though in fairness to this young person, his performance isn't probably the worst thing we've seen in a major sporting event. That title goes to the one and only Roseanne Barr -- remember -- back in 1990.

HILL: Ooh.

COOPER: Enjoy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSEANNE BARR, COMEDIAN (singing): And the home of the brave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Yes. That was the last ten seconds.

HILL: Lovely.

COOPER: Yes. We don't need to see that again.

HILL: No, we probably don't.

You remember this one? I actually feel bad for this girl. But hey, we'll just show it again. We call her hockey girl around these parts. Take a look. It's tough to forget.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Sorry. Dawn's early light. Oe'r the flowers -- sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: She's going back to get the words, apparently, there. And then this is the worst part, poor girl. Yes.

COOPER: Ooh, I forgot about that part of it.

HILL: Yes.

COOPER: Ohh.

HILL: I feel for her.

COOPER: Oh, I can't watch.

HILL: I do.

COOPER: But I do kind of want to watch.

HILL: I know.

COOPER: I can't watch but I can't stop watching.

HILL: It's one of those things. It's like a train wreck.

COOPER: Let me see her fall again. Is that possible?

HILL: I think we've seen the fall enough.

COOPER: We've seen her fall enough? All right. We don't need to see her fall again. All right. Yes, that was -- that's sickening to suggest that, Erica Hill.

HILL: Oh, yes, sure! All on me.

COOPER: Who is that other person?

HILL: Jess McCartney?

COOPER: Who is Jesse -- oh, there. See. Erica, we did not need to see that again.

HILL: Yes, yes, yes. Blame it all on me.

COOPER: That is just cruel.

HILL: Nice little old me.

COOPER: There is one, though, I remember where somebody was singing, couldn't remember the words, and then the whole crowd, like, joined in and helped them out. And it was kind of...

HILL: See, now that's the true spirit of the national anthem, coming together.

COOPER: Right. Exactly.

HILL: Remember that the next time you're at an event and someone forgets the words, people.

COOPER: Sure.

You can see all the most recent "Shots" at our Web site: AC360.com. No more people singing, we promise.

Much more serious stuff at the top of the hour. The Obama naming names and calls FOX News an arm of the Republican Party. Is that a good strategy? We'll right back.