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Fox News Network The Big Story with John Gibson Transcript

Location: Unknown

November 5, 2003 Wednesday

HEADLINE: Interview With Al Sharpton

GUESTS: Al Sharpton

BYLINE: John Gibson, Carl Cameron


ANNOUNCER: Ahead on THE BIG STORY, home again. The U.S.S. Nimitz cruises into San Diego Bay. 6,000 sailors back from a grueling tour of duty in Iraq.

And the first four days in November the wettest in recorded history in Wisconsin. Milwaukee blasted with rain, causing havoc for motorists and bikers, too.

But first, breakdown in the Dean machine. The candidate gets caught up in racial politics.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I started this discussion in a clumsy way. This discussion will be painful. And I regret the pain I may have caused either to African-American or Southern White voters in the beginning of this discussion.

ANNOUNCER: Can the Dean campaign stay on course or is this a major blowout?

"Flapping in the Breeze. Dean Gets Tangled in the Confederate Flag," that's today's BIG STORY.


ANNOUNCER: And still ahead, Bill O'Reilly factors in the Reagan legacy.

Lethal weapon yard sales.

And the world's worst serial killer.

Now live from New York, here's John Gibson.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean stirring up a campaign controversy over the Confederate flag, getting hammered over an offensive remark, offering no regrets but no apologies. Chief political correspondent Carl Cameron live in Washington. Hi, Carl.

CARL CAMERON, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. This was a remark that Dean has been making over the course of the campaign in the last several months. He was saying that he wanted to be the candidate of Southern pickup truck driving, gun toting folks who had Confederate flag stickers on their windshields, because he argues that he will give them health care and, he says, Republicans won't. About a week ago, he changed the rhetoric a little when he was asked about his A rating from the National Rifle Association and his 1990's opposition to the Assault Weapons Ban. Then, he said, look, I still want to be the guy for the folks who back the Confederate flag. For that, he has been pounded by his rivals and by many in the Democratic Party.

Last night, in the debate in Boston with his fellow rivals, all of them took shots at him. Al Sharpton took one of the harshest.


AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENT CANDIDATE: You are not a bigot, but you appear to be too arrogant to say I'm wrong and go on.


CAMERON: Last night Dean tried to go on, but by many accounts much of the rest of the debate featured a lot of Dean stumbles, because he seemed to be brushed back by all of this. Sharpton was not alone. Today, Dean planned to give a speech on his decision whether or not to opt out of the publicly funded federal campaign system, but he had to start the speech dealing with the Confederate flag issue. No apology, per se, but he tried to back-pedal a little. Here's how he put it.


DEAN: I started this discussion in a clumsy way. This discussion will be painful. And I regret the pain that I may have caused either to African-American or Southern White voters in the beginning of this discussion.


CAMERON: Dean hopes to put it behind himself with that, but there will be more criticism. Already some of his rivals have said that his mea culpa was pretty mediocre and he needs to do more. As for the public campaign financing, Dean is leaving it up to his supporters to decide in an online election over the next three days whether or not he should bail out of it. Under federal law, candidates can get partially matching funds from Uncle Sam for the donations that they get if they agree to spending limits. It's $45 million for the nomination race.

But President George W. Bush has opted out. He's already raised $100 million en route to a goal of about 190. And Dean argues that if he is capped at $45 million and President Bush has $100 plus and Dean's the nominee, he will get flattened, outgunned in cash by a better than 4-1 margin. So Dean is essentially asking and urging his supporters to give him their permission to opt out. For years, Dean has been a staunch supporter of the public campaign finance system. Now he wants to be the first Democrat to skip it—John.

GIBSON: Carl Cameron, Carl, thank you very much. For many in the black community, the Confederate flag is a red flag, symbolizing all the landmines laid down for years in racial politics in the South. Reverend Al Sharpton certainly seemed to rattle Dean last night. Today's big question, Reverend, can Howard Dean be the Democratic candidate for African- Americans?

SHARPTON: Well, I think that to give the signal that he sees something acceptable about people who carry Confederate flags is something that will in my judgment rub many Democrats and many Americans wrongly. On the one hand, we cannot call Trent Lott out on embracing Strom Thurmond's 1948 Dixie campaign. We cannot call others out and then say that it's all right to act as though there's nothing wrong with carrying a Confederate flag, a flag that stands for lynching and other things. It's wrong.

GIBSON: Let's say that he had his foot in his mouth mentioning the Confederate flag, but the overall problem of appealing to people in the South who have gone over to the Republicans, can he do that? How would you recommend the Democrats do it? How would you do it?

SHARPTON: I would certainly recommend we do it. I would do it several ways. One, I would talk about the economic issues. I would talk about how the Republicans have divided us on race rather than looking at the commonality of the economic burdens that we have. But you cannot do that by raising a race issue like the flag, which offends the people who are already with you. You cannot build a big tent by offending the people already under the tent. Secondly, I would further organize, and register and galvanize those communities that are already inclined to support you, for example, African-American voter registration participating in nonpartisan trial.

In South Carolina, there are 208,000 unregistered Blacks alone. The Republicans just won the governor's race by 40,000 seats. There's a lot of untapped people that are not on the so-called conservative side that we have not galvanized, organized or registered. So there's a lot of ways of approaching the South without having to try and placate and identify with people that want to wear racist emblems.

GIBSON: Reverend, do you think there's something inherently flawed about Howard Dean or any candidate who won't say, I was wrong and backtrack off of a statement that has caused a lot of trouble?

SHARPTON: I think there is a problem. I don't know how deep it runs. But as I said during the debate, Bill Clinton, we challenged him during the '92 primaries about being a member of an exclusive white country club. He apologized and resigned. Jesse Jackson apologized for a misstatement said off the record that he wasn't really saying in a way that Dean said. There's nothing wrong with errors and apologizing. There is something wrong with insisting that people's sensitivities are out of step rather than maybe you rubbed them wrong. You must remember, this came up in the debate last night from a young man in the audience who said he was offended. This didn't come up from the other candidates. This young man was offended. And that ought to matter to them.

GIBSON: Reverend, before I run out of time with you, what about the issue of Howard Dean's money? He's now putting it up to his Internet supporters to vote on whether he should opt out of the federal system, which funds campaigns and go it alone on his own money. In the past, he said he would jump on any Democrat who did such a thing. And now he appears to be changing his mind. Should he enter the system, stay in the system, where he has to accept federal funds?

SHARPTON: I think that we all should do what we say. I think we have to beware of people that have a pattern of continuing to change things. I also am disturbed when I read in "The New York Times," for example, today that if he and Kerry does that, this may ruin the whole campaign reform- public finance system. I think that's bad for progressives, that's bad for people everywhere, because that renders us only able to have wealthy people run for office. And that's not good for America.

GIBSON: Lastly, Reverend Sharpton, a new poll from Pew Research saying today that 2004 shapes up to be as evenly divided as the year 2000 for the presidential race, and that both sides are more hardened in their positions than they were in 2000. What does that mean for this race in 2004?

SHARPTON: It means that we're going to see a very—in my judgment - - clear choice in America. I just think that in order for us to get the right choice, the Democrats will have to be firm as to what they represent. From the preliminary view of those numbers, it seems that the Republicans are a lot more firm on where they are than we on the Democratic side are. And that might be because you can't send a blurred message. You have to send a clear message to get a clear response.

GIBSON: Reverend Al Sharpton, thank you very much. Appreciate you coming on.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

Content and Programming Copyright 2003 Fox News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2003 FDCH e-Media, Inc.

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