Damage Control

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," May 5, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Prisoner scandal. Presidential response. Arab reaction. The most powerful man in the world trying to calm a firestorm in the Arab part of the world.

Will this public relations move do any good? David Corn of The Nation says, no, it will not. But former New York Senator Al D’Amato says, yes, it will.

Senator, why do you think it will?

ALFONSE D’AMATO, FMR. NEW YORK SENATOR: Well, we have to. It is a terrible, terrible hurtful blunder. It is a catastrophe public relations-wise, and the president has to go on TV. He’s going to have to go on again, I think, as we discussed, Neil. He’ll have to go on Al-Jazeera, and he’ll have to say this is not the American way.

CAVUTO: Why didn’t he do Al-Jazeera? Did they not invite him or did he not want to be on there?

D’AMATO: I think two things. Probably, he did not get invited. And secondly, he may be skeptical about the kind of questions that may come.

But I think we have to do it, face up to it. It’s not just good enough for a general. And you heard the general over there say this is terrible, I apologize. And I don’t see anything wrong in the president apologizing on behalf of the American people, because we are all shocked, and we are not happy about that. And those who did commit this act, they don’t represent the American way.

And the only way we can demonstrate that is to concluded this investigation, or to bring it about as quickly as possible, bring those culprits responsible to trial in a public way so that the Arab world sees that we do follow through and we are not just empty windbags. We believe in democracy and fair play and fair treatment. So right now, it is a disaster, but the president has started down the road to turning this around.

CAVUTO: David, did the president start on the road?

DAVID CORN, THE NATION: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I agree with some of the sentiments of the senator, but I have to say that after the president told the world that there were massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, after saying that it would be a cake walk -- he didn’t say that, but others did -- after showing there was poor planning about what to do and how to take care of Iraqis after the invasion, and after these pictures come out, I think anything the president has to say on the subject will not convince anyone in the Arab world and any Iraqi that they should think differently of the United States.

What will convince them is a set of different actions from the United States. We heard in the report from Kelly over in Baghdad that they -- this one fellow wanted to see trials, wanted to see accountability. Maybe at some point in time once that happens, people will get the sense that America is truly serious about dealing with this. But I think just the president, by going on air with these two Arabic networks, one which is funded by the U.S., will have absolutely no impact whatsoever on how Arabs and Iraqis view this controversy.

CAVUTO: Al, the way I look at the controversy is, yes, with this appalling imagery we are getting and more, I guess, to come, is where was the outrage, certainly in the Arab world, when our hostages were being taken, or, for example, those four contractors, were being burnt, picked part, axed and then hung? I just wonder whether we have a double standard there.

D’AMATO: Of course there is, absolutely. You are absolutely right. There was no outrage. As a matter of fact, there were Arabic folks out there applauding, cheering, as these people were killed, and then their bodies desecrated in the most horrific manners. And there was no outrage expressed by leaders to any great extent that this was wrong.

But we’re not going to change those who hate us. But we will make it possible for those who may be open-minded by demonstrating -- and I think it is important that we demonstrate that we do follow the rule of law. And while the president may not have convinced a significant group of his sincerity now, I think it is our continued following through, demonstrating by way of, yes, even having a public trial -- and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, as it relates to this -- I think it is necessary.

And I think the president should look to Al-Jazeera and say, we don’t condone this. Use the Arabic network.

CAVUTO: But here’s -- David, I just wonder whether something you said is actually going to prove true here. There is such antipathy toward everything on America, this president, the White House, that no matter what he does -- and he can come out and apologize every day, day in and day out -- that nothing’s going to change this sentiment that is building. What do you think?

CORN: Now, listen, the president keeps saying we are in Iraq to fight for freedom. And people can debate whether that is this real mission or not. But nevertheless, a poll taken before this story broke showed that 57 percent of Iraqis -- this is a Gallup poll -- want the U.S. to leave, even though 53 percent think it may not be better if the U.S. leaves.

So there is a great resistance and antipathy toward the U.S. and the occupation. And I think events like this only feed that. And it’s going to be really hard to get around things like this.

CAVUTO: But David, to be fair, when people are polled on whether they’re better off now than they were before, a hefty majority say they are better off.

CORN: Yes, but the interesting thing is, even though they say they’re better off, they still want the United States to get out of there. I think that shows...


CAVUTO: But my point is they want their cake and eat it, too, right? So, I mean, we can’t win for winning, that is what I’m saying.

CORN: Well, that may be right. But you mentioned before the double- standard. But we put ourselves in this position. And we have a higher obligation.

D’AMATO: But you are arguing to a totally different point, David. The question is whether or not the president should have gone on. He had to go on, because if he didn’t go on, the world community, whether or not they believe him, or whether or not the Arabic community believes him or not, the world leaders, the world community would have said the American leader had a responsibility to decry these actions.


CAVUTO: The bottom line, Al, you’re saying it is a mess now but it could and likely will get better.

D’AMATO: It will.

CAVUTO: And David, you are saying it will get messier, right?

CORN: Well, I’m saying it may not even make a big difference in the big picture. I agree with the senator that it was the right thing to do.

CAVUTO: All right.

CORN: I just don’t think it’s going to have much consequence.

CAVUTO: David, thank you very much.

Alfonse D’Amato, always good seeing you.

Thank you both.

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