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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Obama and Islam; Dr. Laura Quits
Aired August 20, 2010 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm John Roberts, in for Anderson Cooper.
Tonight: the starting new figures on how many Americans believe, falsely, that President Obama is a Muslim. You have heard plenty of rumors, innuendo, even supposed confessions from the president himself -- tonight, the facts and how they got so distorted, including firsthand testimony from one of Mr. Obama's pastors. We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.
Also, more of my conversation with Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who is leaving the airwaves after going on a rant in which she used the N- word 11 times.
Reaction tonight from the woman on the other end of the line.
And should the N-word ever be used? Two views, one from comedian D.L. Hughley, another from the Reverend Al Sharpton.
But, first, here is Randi Kaye.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, John.
Tonight: a key fact that may be getting lost in the heated debate over the Islamic cultural center and mosque planned near Ground Zero, a fact you may find surprising, maybe even stunning. A mosque is already operating at that site, two blocks north of Ground Zero.
We can tell you tonight, the second Friday of Ramadan, people are there right now praying.
Take a look. This video was shot inside the mosque by "TIME" magazine within the last week or so. As you can see, the space is carpeted wall to wall, and it has prayer rugs. It's open Monday through Friday. And depending on the day and time, you may find a few people praying or, on a Friday, especially during Ramadan, maybe even several hundred.
That's a fact that may be getting buried beneath all the noise and all that bitter rhetoric.
"Keeping Them Honest," does that fact change the debate? Should it?
Susan Candiotti was at the site today. And, for the politics, Ed Rollins, Republican strategist and CNN political analyst, joins me. Good to see you both.
Susan, let's start with you. You were there today.
People were demonstrating. Did they have any idea, do you think, that there were people praying inside?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's a fact that's probably lost on a lot of people.
The demonstrators who were there, though, on this particular occasion were actually supporters of this mosque. They were demonstrating for religious freedom, as their signs indicated. And, at the same time, people were teeming out of the building following that particular session of prayers on -- during this holy month of Ramadan. So, it didn't to the handful of demonstrators who were outside because they supported what's going on.
But I don't think most people realize that, really, since last November or December, in fact, people have been worshiping there.
And, Ed, that's what I want to ask you, because this has become a real national, hot issue.
ED ROLLINS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: International. International.
KAYE: International issue, exactly. You have Sarah Palin tweeting about it. President Obama has weighed in about it. The bloggers are all over it. The local congressmen are all over it.
Yet, do they realize, we want to know, that there is a mosque already being used there?
ROLLINS: I don't think they realize it.
You know, one week ago, when the president made his little announcement at his dinner, it became an international event. And he could have talked in terms of religious tolerance and what have you, which I think everyone appreciates the right of any religion to kneel on their prayer rugs and do whatever.
I think it's building the structure. I'm a Catholic. If I want to go to Central Park and have a mass or what have you, it's OK. If they want to build a cathedral, then it's a different story.
And I think it's the mosque. It's the 15-story mosque, itself, on that border that basically is bothering people. I don't think anybody objects to the people praying. And, obviously, the more prayers that are said for those that lost their lives, the better it is. But I think, at the end of the day, it's that physical structure.
KAYE: And do you think that physical structure, the mosque, the Islamic center, will ever be built? ROLLINS: I don't think it will ever be built. I think the bottom line is, it will be too controversial. The spotlight is now on it. Where the money comes from, if they're talking about 100 -- they could build today if they had the $100 million. They don't have any structure that stops them, political structure, what have you.
Raising the money, where the money comes from is going to be scrutinized. And I think, realistically, by the time this thing gets escalated, the unions in this town will not build it.
KAYE: Nobody wants to touch it?
ROLLINS: Nobody wants to touch it.
KAYE: Susan, what do you think? I mean, I heard it said, not on this -- on this channel, this network, but I have heard it said that -- that the mosque and the Islamic center is a command center for terrorism.
This imam has been in this neighborhood now for nearly 30 years, longer than the Twin Towers were actually there. Is...
CANDIOTTI: And the rhetoric really seems to have heated up, hasn't it?
KAYE: I mean, is there a sense of fear there about this imam?
CANDIOTTI: You know, in the neighborhood, no. For the people who live there, who work there -- and I talked to a number of people in that surrounding area -- no one has had any issues.
However, when you start to talk about -- for example, Ed, you mentioned some of the union people who are working down there, the construction workers around Ground Zero, which, keep in mind, that's a good two blocks away from this site, some of them expressed some fear that perhaps it would mean that fewer people might come down to Ground Zero, even after it is developed, if, in fact, the Islamic center is built, because they might make some -- continue to make a connection there and it might make them fearful.
Others say, that's really ridiculous and shows intolerance.
KAYE: And, Ed, when you -- when you hear somebody like Republican New York Congressman Peter King say he doesn't want the imam to be raising money from extremist countries or unsavory -- those are his words -- unsavory sources, how do you think that kind of fear and outrage has changed the political dynamic here?
ROLLINS: Well, I think -- and I have great respect for Peter. Peter King is a great -- great man.
But I think the reality is, is there's a mystery to all this that goes on. And, unfortunately, this country has always kind of had a -- a bogeyman, an enemy. The Russians were for a long time. Communism, China sometimes get mentioned on this.
Right today, every time you watch TV, there's some kind of thing going on where some mosque is the -- is the instigator, totally unfair to -- to the religions and what have you. But a lot of religions are mysterious. Catholicism is mysterious. Mormonism is mysterious. And there's just not as much tolerance right now.
And I think what this is going to do is escalate the -- that fear factor. And I don't think that's good for those who practice that religion or for Americans as -- as -- as well.
KAYE: It is amazing, though, tonight, to see hundreds praying there while all the hysteria...
ROLLINS: Right. Right.
KAYE: ... continues to swirl around this story.
All right, Ed Rollins, Susan Candiotti...
KAYE: ... we will leave it there.
ROLLINS: Thank you very much.
KAYE: Thank you both.
KAYE: We will of course continue to follow developments in this debate -- now back to John Roberts.
ROBERTS: Thanks, Randi.
Up next tonight: the Islamic center and mosque planned for Lower Manhattan. You have heard the allegations about the imam and the money that he's raising to build it, allegations of ties to terrorism. In just a minute, we will bring you the facts.
Also, the truth about President Obama's religion -- how so many people have got it so wrong about his faith. He is not a Muslim, but you might be shocked at how many people believe he is.
And the Dr. Laura controversy, her use of the N-word, and what the woman she said it to over and over again thought about it.
ROBERTS: Plans to put an Islamic center and prayer space just two blocks from Ground Zero blew up this week into a full-fledged national uproar.
Yet, in all the political back-and-forth, all the anger, all the radio talk show chatter, we uncovered some key facts that are being overshadowed. Now, whether you agree or disagree about the right to build the center, and whether it's the right thing to do, we do think that you deserve the simple truth about the place and the people trying to build it.
Randi Kaye is "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.
KAYE (voice-over): If you believe all the hysteria about how the mosque near Ground Zero is going to be financed, you would think Osama bin Laden was writing the check.
Republican New York Congressman Peter King is demanding the mosque's imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, be investigated to make sure there are no -- quote -- "unsavory connections."
King on FOX News July 13:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)
REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: It's important, I think, that we know the genesis, the origins of this mosque, who is behind it, where the money comes from. You know, a lot of money seems to be coming in from overseas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE (on camera): Coming in from overseas? If you dial down the drama, as far as we can tell, not a single penny has come in from overseas, or anywhere else, for that matter. That's because no money, none, has actually been raised to build the estimated $100 billion Islamic center.
(voice-over): Listen to what the wife of the mosque's imam told one New York City radio station July 15.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO)
DAISY KHAN, WIFE OF IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF: We have not begun the capital campaign for this project as of yet. We are looking at particular bonds. We are looking at institutions. We are looking at private donors. It's going to be a mix of funding sources that will put this project together.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KAYE: Reverend Bob Chase has known Daisy Khan and Imam Rauf about for a decade. He just met with Daisy this week and tells me they still haven't started fund-raising.
When it does start, he plans to help raise money for the mosque from people of all faiths here in the U.S. and, yes, internationally, too. That has prompted headlines like this.
(on camera): Is there any reason to believe that any of the money financing this mosque and this Islamic community center is coming from terrorists?
REV. BOB CHASE, HELPING RAISE MONEY FOR MOSQUE: I don't think that there would be any possibility that there could be terrorist money. And, beyond that, what they stand for is to have a center that rejects terrorism.
KAYE (voice-over): Daisy Khan also has said she's willing to show where all the money comes from. And though she made that promise more than a month ago, there are still questions.
Just today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said -- quote -- "There is a need for transparency about who is funding the effort to build this Islamic center."
(on camera): Despite the misconception that fund-raising has already started for this mosque, there is some nervousness about this. According to their own audit, as of June 30 last year, the American Society for Muslim Advancement, the umbrella organization behind this project, did receive more than $575,000 from the Qatar government fund.
One expert who tracks this stuff told me most of the Muslim projects here in the U.S. are funded from outside the U.S., including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and, yes, home to most of the 9/11 hijackers, Saudi Arabia.
(voice-over): Still, Reverend Chase says that should not be a red flag.
CHASE: Imam Feisal is a global citizen. And nowhere has anybody said that there wouldn't be international money that would ultimately support this effort, nor do I think there should be that kind of prohibition.
KAYE: Clearly, not everyone agrees. And considering there's no indication a single dollar has been raised for the mosque, this part of the debate has only just begun.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
ROBERTS: As hot as the mosque story has gotten, there was more fuel for the fire this week: new polling from the Pew Research Center showing 18 percent of Americans believe, falsely, that President Obama is a Muslim.
In just a moment, you will hear from a leading Islamic scholar, as well as a church pastor who frequently counsels the president.
First, though, Tom Foreman separating the falsehoods from the facts.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't become a Christian until many years later, when I moved to the South Side of Chicago after college.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The poll showing a growing number of Americans believing Barack Obama is Muslim caught even the researchers off guard.
(on camera): Were you surprised by the results of this?
ALAN COOPERMAN, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: Yes, I was. And I -- but I was less surprised by the increase in the percentage of people who think Barack Obama is a Muslim than I was surprised to see that, even among his supporters, groups like Democrats or African-Americans, that the percentage who think he's a Christian has dropped, and it's dropped by substantial numbers.
FOREMAN (voice-over): So, why did that happen? The president has suggested his name, Muslim father and childhood in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, are part of the problem. And political realities have fanned the fire.
REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: God (EXPLETIVE DELETED) America -- that's in the Bible -- for killing innocent people!
FOREMAN: First, in the heat of the campaign, even as he successfully courted Christian voters, candidate Obama suffered a very public break from his longtime Christian pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who was denounced by many as a radical.
Then there was his infamous comment about communities devastated by high unemployment...
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
OBAMA: And it's not surprising then that they get bitter, and they cling to their guns or religion.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FOREMAN: ... suggesting to some that he's never clung to religion and couldn't identify with anyone who has.
Second, as president he reached out to the Muslim world with visits to Egypt and Turkey.
OBAMA: Assalamu alaikum.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
FOREMAN: But pundits have suggested he's not been as aggressive about maintaining relations with older, more Christian allies.
(on camera): And, third, the vast majority of people who say the president is a Muslim told Pew they learned that through the media and the Internet. And YouTube is filled with video clips offering alleged proof.
(voice-over): A popular one comes from a campaign interview with ABC News, in which he seemingly confesses.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 7, 2008)
OBAMA: You're absolutely right that John McCain has not talked about my Muslim faith.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Some sites stop it right there, but the whole clip reveals that's not what he meant at all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 7, 2008)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christian faith.
OBAMA: My Christian faith.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN (on camera): Still, the president and his family are almost never seen anywhere near a church and even though the White House is once again saying that he prays daily, talks with ministers and takes his beliefs very seriously, as the president's political popularity drops, America's faith in his faith is falling, too -- John.
ROBERTS: A discussion next with a scholar of Islam in America and one of the president's pastors.
Also, you will hear from Dr. Laura and the woman she dissed.
ROBERTS: Here's some surprising, maybe even troubling, statistics contained in a new "TIME" magazine poll. Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running from president.
And "TIME" magazine's polling put the percentage of people who believe, falsely, that President Obama is a Muslim is at 24 percent, nearly one in four people.
I talked about all that with Professor Akbar Ahmed -- he's the chair of Islamic studies at American University -- and Joel Hunter, the senior pastor of Northland Church and a spiritual adviser to President Obama.
ROBERTS: Pastor Hunter, start us out here. How did it ever get to this point?
(LAUGHTER) JOEL HUNTER, SPIRITUAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, the president's decision to keep his faith more private and more personal also has a downside.
While he's very active with several of us, the fact that he is not going very public in a visible way, and, therefore, not defining his spiritual life, per se, allows others to step into that vacuum and define it for him. And there are many gullible and many maliciously gullible people around.
ROBERTS: Ambassador Ahmed, the White House has been dealing with this rumor for years now, but, even so, when this poll came out, White House spokes -- spokespeople felt they needed to come out and twice during the day knock it back.
Why does the White House need to even spend one second on this? What's -- what is driving it? What's really behind this?
AKBAR AHMED, ISLAMIC STUDIES CHAIR, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think they're being too defensive, John, because it's the environment, the social environment in which we are living. To suggest that President Obama is a Muslim, which he is not -- he is a Christian -- he has said that again and again -- is really to associate him with Islam.
And Islam today has an atmosphere around it of distrust, of hatred, of paranoia. And the tragedy is that that is the real target, the bigger target. That's what we're seeing on the global stage. And we're hearing Islam is evil. It's equated to Nazism and so on.
ROBERTS: Ambassador Ahmed, you and I talked via e-mail on this a couple of nights ago, after we had Pam Geller in here, who swears up and down that the 9/11 hijackers were practicing a -- quote -- "true form of Islam," when other people, including White House spokesman Ari Fleischer after the 9/11 attacks, said it was a perversion of Islam.
The type of Islam that the 9/11 hijackers were practicing, how would you characterize it?
AHMED: John, by simply answering that my parents -- my mother is of descent of aristocracy of nobility My father is descended from sages and Sufi saints of Islam, and they have a thousand-years background of Islam.
For them, Islam means the Koran, which is defined -- which defines God as rahman and rahim. That's compassionate and merciful. The prophet is defined as a mercy unto mankind. My father believed in this and practiced it. My grandfather did this. And so do I.
For me, this notion of Islam being evil and hurtful and vicious and violent is rejected, whether Muslims are doing this or whether other people are interpreting Islam in this manner.
I really think other people who are defining Islam need to sit back and let Muslims define themselves. Whether they agree with this violence or not, that is the debate. I, for one, would totally reject it. ROBERTS: And, Pastor Hunter, finish us off here, if you would.
Of course, all of this has risen to the surface again because of tensions over the proposed mosque at Ground Zero. It's not the only one, though, that is facing opposition. There's a mosque in Nashville, Tennessee, that has been protested, one in Temecula, California.
You know, the administration, the Bush administration -- and we know that you were a spiritual counselor to President Bush as well -- said again and again and again, this is not a war against Islam; it's a war against terrorists.
Is that message not getting through?
HUNTER: No, it's not.
As a matter of fact, it's a war against our own founding principles when we discriminate in the free expression of a religion. And so we have got to guard our Constitution. We have got to guard who we are as a people. And that's the real focus here. Today, it's Islam. Today, it may be Buddhism. The next day, it may be Christianity.
And so we have to be very, very careful about how we handle our fears and how we address differences.
ROBERTS: Up next: the "Big 360 Interview" -- Dr. Laura Schlessinger on her racial rant. She used the N-word 11 times in a conversation with a caller on her radio show -- my interview with both of them coming up.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about the N-word? Now, the N-word's been thrown around.
DR. LAURA SCHLESSINGER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Well, should the N-word ever be used? Two different views from comedian D.L. Hughley and the Reverend Al Sharpton -- when 360 continues.
KAYE: I'm Randi Kaye with a 360 news and business bulletin.
Authorities are crediting the sharp eye of a Forest Service worker for the capture of two fugitives at an Arizona campground. Escaped prisoner John McCluskey and his alleged accomplice, Casslyn Welch, were surrounded by a SWAT team after a tip from a park ranger. Authorities say the pair has now been linked to a white supremacist group. On the run for three weeks, McCluskey and Welch are suspected of killing a couple in New Mexico earlier this month.
New hope tonight for peace in the Middle East. Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to hold direct peace talks in Washington this September, the first time since 2008. In an announcement tonight, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the talks are intended to resolve -- quote -- "final status issues around Middle East peace."
And unemployment took a turn for the worst last month, with higher jobless rates in 14 states. The report out today was gloomier than in June, when unemployment eased in more than half of the country.
Meantime, the national unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.5 percent.
That's the latest.
John Roberts is back right after this break.
ROBERTS: By now, you have heard that conservative radio talk Laura Schlessinger, AKA Dr. Laura, is giving up her radio show at the end of the year because she wants to -- quote -- "regain her First Amendment rights."
She made the announcement after coming under attack for using the N-word repeatedly on the air. It happened when a caller, an African- American woman, complained that her husband's friends, who are white, make racist comments in front of her.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about the N-word? Now, the N-word's been thrown around.
SCHLESSINGER: Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
SCHLESSINGER: I didn't spew out the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) word.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
SCHLESSINGER: Right. I said that's what you hear.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And everybody heard it. SCHLESSINGER: Yes, they did.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope everybody heard it.
SCHLESSINGER: You -- they did. And I will say it again.
SCHLESSINGER: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is what you hear on HB...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, what makes it...
SCHLESSINGER: Why don't you let me finish a sentence?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
SCHLESSINGER: Don't take things out of context. Don't double -- NAACP me.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Did she spew it or did she not? She used the N-word 11 times during that call. She later apologized for it, but now seems to be claiming that she is a victim because of the outcry over her remarks.
She joined me for the "Big 360 Interview."
ROBERTS: You said that you're leaving your radio show to regain your First Amendment rights. How did you lose them?
SCHLESSINGER: It's the atmosphere in America today, where there is very little debate and just the attempt to silence voices that somebody disagrees with.
ROBERTS: But -- but is -- doesn't -- does this go beyond being disagreed with? I mean, you said something that was very offensive.
SCHLESSINGER: Well, yes. And I was trying to make a point about the hypersensitivity of racial issues. And I made it the wrong way. I instantly realized I had blown it, took myself off the air.
I had to finish the hour, which was 15 minutes, and took myself off the air for the last hour, wrote an apology, sent it to L.A. Radio, gave it on my radio show. And so I was about 48 hours in front of the news media bringing it to anybody's attention.
ROBERTS: If you blew it -- I know that if I said the N-word once, that would probably be the last thing that I ever said on CNN. You went on to say it 11 times. You said that you -- you blew it. You agree to that.
Should you not suffer the consequences for blowing it?
SCHLESSINGER: But that was the point. The point was how -- how race relations are in our country today with the sensitivity, but I was certainly not calling anybody...
ROBERTS: Right. But we talked about race...
SCHLESSINGER: Sir, sir.
ROBERTS: We talk about race relations on this program, on our network all the time, and I don't think the "N" word has ever been said in full on CNN, at least not by any of our anchors.
SCHLESSINGER: I said I was wrong for doing it.
ROBERTS: Correct. But you seem to be -- and correct me if I'm wrong, Dr. Schlessinger -- saying that you've taken yourself off of your radio show because other people are not allowing you your First Amendment rights, even though you were wrong to have said what you said.
SCHLESSINGER: My decision was not based on this incident. My decision has been percolating for about a year, when I realized more and more that, like Nancy Pelosi saying we should investigate people who have a problem with the mosque being built at Ground Zero, investigating these people?
ROBERTS: That's not what she said. What she said was it would be good to have the same...
SCHLESSINGER: I'm just pointing out...
ROBERTS: ... it would be good to have the same -- she said it would be good to have the same transparency.
SCHLESSINGER: It would be good if I could finish a sentence.
ROBERTS: I'm sorry. But you're being inaccurate in what you're saying.
SCHLESSINGER: All right.
ROBERTS: I'm just trying to correct the record here.
SCHLESSINGER: Well, I apologize for being inaccurate.
ROBERTS: She said that -- she said that, in the same way that there should be transparency behind the mosque funding, there should also be similar transparency behind the people who are opposed to the mosque.
SCHLESSINGER: My point is that, when I began in radio, there was discussion and debate. And now there are organizations, like Media Matters, who exist for the sole purpose of silencing voices, not debating. That is my whole point.
ROBERTS: And there are many people here at CNN, myself included, who have been the target of Media Matters. Also on the other side, been the target of Newsbusters, talking about the conservative side of things. And every once in a while, they do actually give us props if they agree with something that we've done.
Is that just not the environment that we're all subject to out there? Do you feel that you're unfairly being singled out?
SCHLESSINGER: I think -- no, I never said I was unfairly being singled out. I said there's a growing atmosphere in our country. Media Matters doesn't have me as the focal point of their lives. They're there waiting to pounce to silence voices. I'm talking about silencing voices rather than debating. And I'm going to bring my voice and my ideas to venues where affiliates and sponsors can't be hurt by people who want to silence voices. That is my total point.
ROBERTS: Most of this controversy is over the "N" word, but there were some other things that you said during that broadcast that other people found even more troubling than the "N" word. Such as when you said, quote, "I really thought that once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown, and I don't get it."
Some people thought that was really a racist point of view.
SCHLESSINGER: I don't. I think that was an observation.
ROBERTS: Another statement that you made, you say, quote, "Without giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for Obama simply because he was half black. It was a black thing."
Lincoln Mitchell of Columbia University took particular exception with that, suggesting that there was maybe five more points of the black vote that went to President Obama than went to candidate Gore back in 2000. So, how could you make a statement like that?
SCHLESSINGER: The point that this woman made is her racist statement that whites are afraid of the black man taking over America. I think that was a pretty racist statement. My response to that was that blacks make up about 12 percent of the population. So, he was voted in by whites.
ROBERTS: One other point, Dr. Schlessinger. The woman called you, asking a personal question, saying her husband, who's white, his friends were saying things that she felt uncomfortable with. Looking to you for advice. You really kind of came down on her. And I'm wondering why you responded to her like that.
SCHLESSINGER: Well, have you listened to the entire call?
ROBERTS: Yes. Yes, I have.
SCHLESSINGER: Oh, now I think, if her husband's friends were calling her a horrendous word, she would have led with that. But she didn't. She led with "They asked me a black point of view." So I'm even wondering, if you heard the call, why you would think I wasn't trying to help her?
SCHLESSINGER: I really was trying to help her. Clearly, if that was her concern, that they simply asked her for a black point of view, then it would seem reasonable from a psychotherapist point of view that she is being hypersensitive. That it went askew is my fault. And I have taken total responsibility and have apologized for that.
ROBERTS: Well, that was Dr. Laura's take, just one side of the story. We also talked to the caller who reached out to Dr. Laura for advice. She identified herself during the call only as Jade. Her actual name is Nita Hanson. Here's here take on what happened.
ROBERTS: You heard what Dr. Laura said just a couple of moments ago, where she said that you thought that you said something very racist when you said that "whites are afraid of the black man taking over America." Her words, "I think that was a pretty racist statement." What do you say?
NITA HANSON, CALLER: I don't believe that was a racist statement at all. I didn't call anyone out of their names. You didn't hear me saying anything about a race. And that was honestly how I felt because of the experience I have had out there in the world.
But, that's how I honestly feel that -- but I went on the show to talk about a problem with that I was having in my relationship. Did I think this was going to end up happening? No.
There's nothing wrong with freedom of speech, but when you're disrespectful and you call people out of their names, hurtful names that you know where they came from, you know what they mean, and you know how hurtful they are. And you're going to say them, and you still try to justify what you said, is not right.
ROBERTS: Do you think that her First Amendment rights are being denied?
HANSON: No. She could say what she wanted to say. The problem is, Dr. Laura -- Dr. Laura got caught saying something she shouldn't have said, and she didn't expect the backlash.
ROBERTS: So what do you make of this argument then, Nita? That she is saying, "I was trying to make a point, and there are all of these other organizations who simply exist to try to silence voices like mine, and that's why I'm taking myself off the air." What do you say to that response from her?
HANSON: She doesn't want to take responsibility for her actions, obviously. She said those words. So, why now is she trying to go back and say, "Well, everybody else is blowing it up. Everybody else is blowing it up"?
This woman has been around long enough to know this word hurts. And she continues to say it, not once, 11 times.
ROBERTS: Now, the way that she set this whole thing up was she said that you called up looking for advice, because your husband's -- your husband, who is white, his friends were asking you about a black point of view. I listened to the call over and over again. I didn't quite hear you explaining that.
So let's play the tape, and then we'll get you to talk about it. Let's listen to how the call started.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHLESSINGER: Can you give me an example of a racist comment? Because sometimes people are hypersensitive. So tell me what's -- give me two good examples of racist comments.
HANSON: OK. Last night, a good example. We had a neighbor come over, and this neighbor, every time he comes over it's always a black comment. It's, oh, "How do you black people like doing this and do black people really like doing that?" And for a long time I would ignore it. But last night I got to the point where it...
SCHLESSINGER: I don't think that's racist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: They were saying things that eventually were getting under -- eventually getting to you.
HANSON: Correct. The stereotypes. We have to stop stereotyping people because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation. I wanted -- I made a call to find out how I could deal with this type of conversation that continued. Not just in my house, but it continues on television; it continues wherever I go. I wanted to know how to handle that. And that's why I was asking her advice.
ROBERTS: So Nita, were you surprised? I mean, obviously, you call into Dr. Laura's show, you're going to get some push back. Were you surprised, though, with the degree that -- to which she pushed back against you?
HANSON: I was very surprised. I mean, you know, it's OK to have an opinion, and say -- but when you go on to say hurtful things, words that you know hurt people, and you -- somebody tells you, "OK, I'm offended," and you continue. This woman continued. And you could hear the anger in her voice. I couldn't get a word in edgewise. I was just stunned.
I had been a fan of Dr. Laura's for a long time. And this wasn't the first time I had called in for advice.
ROBERTS: What was the first experience like? HANSON: You know, she's always been a little, you know, rough around the edges, but I respect -- I respected her opinion. I don't always -- I didn't always agree with what she had to say, but I respected her enough to keep on listening to what she had to say.
ROBERTS: And now?
HANSON: Because she wasn't always -- I have no respect for this woman and just how she's trying to say it's somebody else's fault. It's the media's fault. It's this person's fault. It's that. This is the very same thing I am trying to get across now. It's time for us to start respecting one another and start getting along with one another.
ROBERTS: All right. Well, that's a lesson we can all take.
HANSON: And I just called for advice. Thank you very much, sir.
ROBERTS: And we're digging deeper. Should the "N" word ever be used? Tonight, two different views on that. My interview with the Reverend Al Sharpton and comedian D.L. Hughley.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
D.L. HUGHLEY, COMEDIAN: The problem is, we never get to have the discussion where people get to honestly and openly say how they feel and take the slings and arrows that come with that. I'm willing to do that. I'm willing to have people disagree with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: And later, five years after Katrina, New Orleans rising, how one couple is rebuilding their home by themselves, and for the first time they see how the floodwaters destroyed it, when 360 continues.
ROBERTS: We're digging deeper tonight on the latest backlash over the use of the "N" word, this time by radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger. She used it 11 times during a recent call. It is possibly the most incendiary word in the English language. Should it be used at all, or should it be put to rest for good?
Actor/comedian D.L. Hughley and the Reverend Al Sharpton had a lot to say about it.
ROBERTS: D.L., I want to start with you. I want to play a little piece of sound of you on the Jay Leno show, where you were using the "N" word, then ask you about it. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Man, it is a horrible word, but it describes some people I know so perfectly. Everybody got that one dude every time you see him coming, "Oh, this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) here, goddamn."
Look at all the white people: "I wish I could say that." You can. Just don't do it here. Do it in your car like you always do. (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Just to clarify, that was from D.L.'s show.
You used the "N" word several times in that bit. Why did you choose to use that word?
HUGHLEY: But not 11.
ROBERTS: Yes, not 11. No.
HUGHLEY: Well, I was struck by two things that Dr. Schlessinger said. One was that you turn to, you know, HBO, and you see young comics using that. And I was struck by the fact that I was one.
And the other fact is that people alluded to the fact she used it 11 times, that that was probably a lot of the crux of the argument for a lot of people, like as if there's an "N" word quota, like if you said it one time that would be enough. But to me...
ROBERTS: But the question is, why do you use it? Because I've been to -- I've been to comedy clubs where it's used at least 100 times.
HUGHLEY: It has -- it has absolutely no power over me. I refuse to -- I -- I don't -- that word has -- has been around certainly longer than Def Comedy Jam or me, or any black comedy itself.
And to me, with respect to anybody who feels differently, that word literally has no power over me. I refuse to give somebody, somebody that I'll never meet or understand a qualifier.
ROBERTS: Reverend Sharpton, what do you say to that?
SHARPTON: I mean, D.L. and I have had this conversation before.
SHARPTON: And we respectfully talk about it. I think the word shouldn't be used by anyone. I used to use it. A lot of us used to use it. And I think that, at some point, when we started talking about burying it, National Action Network and others, it was because, to me -- it's not a question of having power over me. We can't be the only ones in America that there's no derogatory term for. There's a derogatory term for every ethnic group and every sexual group.
But if the "N" word is permitted for us, even by us, then what word then denigrates us? And I think if you're going to have a society where, in the music world and other worlds you can't say certain words, but you can say the "N" word, it means that you can say anything you want about us. If the "N" word is not the bad word for blacks, then what is it?
ROBERTS: Well, as you said, there are derogatory words for every ethnic group and sexual orientation, even. And some of those groups are embracing those words. Derogatory word for women is being embraced by some groups. Derogatory word for homosexual is being embraced by some groups. They're making it hip to take the power out of the word, as D.L. was talking about.
SHARPTON: And a lot of people in those groups disagree with that. Why is it my job to take the power out of a bigoted word? Why do I have to do that for someone? To say, "I tell you what."
It's almost like saying to take the power, John, out of you hitting me, I'm going to take your fist and hit me with your fist. My obligation is to stop you from hitting me, not to take the power out of the punch.
HUGHLEY: Here's my -- here's my problem with the -- with that word. Whether it's Dr. Laura or whether it's Mel Gibson, there's a celebrity every -- celebrity du jour, the celebrity du jour every week, every -- certainly regularly. There's a celebrity or somebody used this incendiary word. And then you'll have me or Al Sharpton on discussing it.
Obviously, this word -- this word has been buried or resurrected more than Jesus Christ, obviously. I mean, so obviously, people have different approaches to it.
Now, I won't pretend like my vantage point is the pervasive one. I can say this: I never understand what the end goal is. I never understand -- is it so that it is erased from the American lexicon, so that we -- so what is the end game? Because America pretends to be one thing and does another.
All you have to do to see how America really feels is to go on any chat room and watch it devolve into racial conversation, and I think it's because we pretend to have feelings that we don't. We pretend that things are in politics and we feel those ways. And we never really have honest conversation, because everybody is so afraid, to put it flatly.
The one thing I can say about Dr. Schlessinger, she said how she feels. And the one thing I disliked about her is that she retreated from the animus that came with it. Say how you feel, hear the argument, and then you move on.
And I think that the problem is we never get to have the discussion where people get to honestly, openly say how they feel and take the slings and arrows that come with it. I'm willing to do that. I'm willing to have people disagree with me, and I'm willing to...
ROBERTS: Let's let -- let's let Reverend Sharpton get a final word in here.
SHARPTON: The end goal must be to that you have to have one standard. If we're going to have some words that refer to some groups banned or not used, even in music, then we should have a standard for everyone.
If we're not going to have a standard for blacks, we shouldn't have a standard for anyone. And I think that's what I'm saying. Let's have one standard.
I agree with D.L. on one thing. I think we need an honest discussion. I think we need to be straight up about it. And that's why when I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about the word, I asked them, would you put out records that would say this about certain groups and name them? They said no. Well, how do you have a standard for some, and there's no standard for me?
HUGHLEY: I would...
ROBERT: We've got to go, D.L., but thank you so much for joining us. Great discussion. And we can continue this at another time.
HUGHLEY: All right.
ROBERTS: Next week, Anderson returns to New Orleans on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Just ahead tonight, one family's story of rebuilding. They had to gut their ruined house after the storm. But until now, they hadn't seen the pictures of their cherished home under water. It's a powerful moment that we'll show you, just ahead.
ROBERTS: August the 29th will mark five years since Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans. Up to 20 feet of water flooded a suburban neighborhood where the Woods family had settled a half century earlier to raise a family.
That family recently sat down with Soledad O'Brien to see for the first time just how hard they had been hit. And seeing what they could have lost helped them to cherish what they were able to save.
AUDREY WOODS: And you press play.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We sit down with Audrey and Melvin Woods in the house they rebuilt to show them footage of Pontchartrain Park after the Katrina flooding. They were joined by their children and grandchildren.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It went that high up? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.
A. WOODS: See, Mel? I didn't dream it was that high.
O'BRIEN: They are stunned by what they see.
A. WOODS: Wow! Wow! That's our house.
O'BRIEN: For the very first time, they're seeing their own house under water.
RHEA WOODS: Ooh, God. Wow! You know, you thought -- you knew it was high, but we never actually saw it. And to see it -- I had no idea. Just knowing -- just knowing how bad it was.
WAYNE WOODS: It never goes away. I think about how close we came to losing our parents and...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't see how we're sitting here. I don't see how we're sitting in the same house.
A. WOODS: That's our house.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Every child of yours is literally sobbing, and me, too. And your grandchildren.
A. WOODS: Right.
O'BRIEN: And you're not crying.
A. WOODS: No.
O'BRIEN: Why not?
A. WOODS: Because we made it.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Within a year, 74-year-old Audrey and 81- year-old Melvin were gutting their house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had on these white suits with white masks.
O'BRIEN (on camera): They're in their 70s.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And they're hauling out pieces of sheet rock. My father, with a cane carrying a piece of sheet rock out, and I remember them calling, saying, "Do you know what your parents are doing? They're gutting the house by themselves."
A. WOODS: Our closing statement.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): A record of the Woods' initial down payment, $465, was one of the few things in the house to survive the flooding. But when it came time to rebuild and refurnish their home, the projected price tag was staggering: over $300,000. It's a common tale in New Orleans. The money offered to them by the Road Home, the federal program set up to help Katrina victims, coupled with their homeowners' insurance, was nowhere near enough. The Woods were forced to take out a loan for more than $120,000.
A. WOODS: And it's still tough, wondering how I'm going to repay that loan, because I know that I won't in my lifetime.
ROBERTS: Pretty dramatic, what happened to their home. And you look at their reaction, too. Were they eventually able to rebuild? And what about their neighbors? Have they come back?
O'BRIEN: Yes. Absolutely. They were one of the first people on their block who came back early on. And the neighbors here and there. That's really why we wanted to explore Pontchartrain Park as the focus of our documentary. Because Pontchartrain Park was this middle-class African-American neighborhood, 93 percent home ownership.
Why were they in the 30 percent return rate, among the slowest in the entire city of New Orleans? Why were they among the slowest to come back when they were solidly middle class? It was a question we wanted to explore.
ROBERTS: And can you give us a hint as to the answer that you found?
O'BRIEN: Well, it's a happy ending. The documentary is called "New Orleans Rising." That's a little bit of a tip. But it's been a struggle, and we'll show you a little bit of the struggle and some of the heroes who have stepped in to help.
ROBERTS: All right. Terrific. Looking forward to it. Soledad, thanks so much.
For more about the Woods' story, be sure to watch "New Orleans Rising" with Soledad Saturday and Sunday, August 21 and 22 at 8 pm here on CNN.
And please tune in next week, Wednesday, August 25, through Friday, August 27, to AC 360 for our special coverage, "In Katrina's Wake: Building Up America." Wednesday through Friday on AC 360.
I'm John Roberts. Thanks so much for watching tonight. Have a great weekend.
ROBERTS: Thanks for joining us. I'm John Roberts in for Anderson Cooper. Tonight, starting new figures on how many Americans believe falsely that President Obama is a Muslim. We've heard plenty of rumors, innuendo, even supposed confessions from the president himself.