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THE SITUATION ROOM

Vioxx Decision; Terrorists Target Navy Ships; X-Ray Scanning at Airports; Palestinians Celebrate Israeli Withdrawal; Northwest Airlines Strike?; Could 9/11 Nave Been Prevented?; Catholics Online

Aired August 19, 2005 - 15:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where news and information arrive at one play simultaneously. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring us today's top stories.
Happening right now, literally, a verdict in the Vioxx case. A huge loss for one of the country's biggest drug makers.

Also happening right now, it's 10:00 p.m. in the Red Sea region. Rockets were fired earlier today at two U.S. Navy ships, the rockets landing in Jordan and Israel. Is al Qaeda behind these attacks?

In Gaza, also 10:00 p.m. Israeli troops earlier in the day bulldozing their way through burning barricades while Palestinians celebrate what they call an end of occupation.

And it's 3:00 p.m. here in Washington, specifically over at Reagan National Airport where new x-ray machines are letting security screeners do what's described as an electronic strip search. Is there a way to protect passengers' privacy though?

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BREAKING NEWS)

BLITZER: There's breaking news we're following right now in a major drug liability case. A Texas jury only moments ago has just found the giant pharmaceutical company, Merck, responsible for the death of a man who took their now pulled painkiller Vioxx.

Our business correspondents Ali Velshi and Allan Chernoff both standing by with details of what has just happened, let's start with you, Allan. What happened?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a huge defeat for Merck because on the face it appeared that this actually was a relatively weak case against Merck, the pharmaceutical giant.

You'll recall that Merck had withdrawn Vioxx last year after studies showed it could cause heart attacks or stroke in people who took the drug for more than 18 months.

Well, the person who passed away here back in April of 2000, Bob Ernst, had taken the drug for only eight months and he did not have a heart attack or a stroke according to the coroner. Nonetheless, the jury here has found Merck liable for his death and awarded his widow a total of $253 million, $24 million of that in mental anguish, $229 million of that punitive damages against Merck.

Bob Ernst, the person who passed away, he was a manager at a Wal- Mart, so he did not have a very large salary at all. Nonetheless, a huge victory for the plaintiffs here, Merck suffering a major defeat. And this really could open the floodgates for more lawsuits against Merck regarding Vioxx.

There are already about 4,000 lawsuits against the company and this clearly would encourage other people to file suit against Merck, a big defeat for the pharmaceutical company.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Allan, stand by.

Ali Velshi has also been following this very important trial. Ali, give us your thoughts on what has just happened.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: I think Allan put his finger on it. This wasn't thought to be as big a deal as it was for Merck because there are a lot more of these lawsuits following it. This is not good news for Merck but it seems to -- the markets seem to be reacting in a way that expected it.

Allan, one of the things about Texas is the old Fen-Phen trial, the old American Home Products, which has now become Wyeth. There was a $900 million punitive award, punitive damages awarded to the plaintiffs there.

Texas has a law that caps punitive damages. It's typical that this kind of thing would be pared down -- that the punitive damages of 200-plus million dollars is probably going to be pared back.

CHERNOFF: Sure. Most likely that that number would be pared down, without question. But here clearly the big news is that Merck has lost the case and this was a case that on the surface, again, Merck seemed to have a very simple argument and it clearly would have argued that Bob Ernst simply didn't apply, wasn't one of these people who should have been a victim of Vioxx according to Merck's scientific studies.

But, the jury has clearly gone against Merck and a huge victory for the attorney Mark Lanier. He's a relatively young man but considered one of the top litigators in the country. And he took this case on several years before Merck had pulled Vioxx from the market. After Merck did pull Vioxx then the flood of lawsuits came in. So, Wolf, again we're going to really see a lot more lawsuits being filed now against Merck. There's no question about that.

BLITZER: Ali, before both of you wind up, just remind our viewers about this controversial painkiller Vioxx. Merck on its own voluntarily pulled this painkiller in the face of some studies.

VELSHI: Yes. The issue is how much Merck knew about the dangers associated with Merck -- with Vioxx. It's a painkiller. It was widely prescribed as an arthritis drug. But it was commonly prescribed to people as a sort of a more effective drug than the over-the-counter painkillers that were out there.

Well, what happened is, it turns out that after some people suffered heart attacks the investigations led to some understanding that Merck might have known there was a risk and not -- and as limited as that risk may have been, not clearly articulated that risk to people who bought and used the drug regularly.

It did become a very popular painkiller. It's a class of painkillers. There are other ones on the market that were also pulled as a result of it. The issue here is how much pharmaceutical companies have to disclose in terms of the risks that they know of when they market a drug like this.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Ali and Allan, stand by. We're going to get back to both of you during the course of this program.

And just to recap, a Texas jury has ruled against the giant pharmaceutical company Merck and Company, liable now for $253.4 million damages and other expenses, the result of the once very popular painkiller Vioxx. More on the story coming up.

But there's other news we're following especially in the Middle East. A group tied to al Qaeda says it sent rockets streaming toward U.S. Navy warships in Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba. One of those missiles narrowly missed one of the ships. It struck a warehouse, killing a Jordanian soldier. Another missile landed in the neighboring Israeli port city of Eilat.

That's where we find CNN's Matthew Chance. He's joining us now live. Matthew what is the latest on this story?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORESPONDENT: Well, tonight, Wolf, security forces in Jordan just across the Gulf of Aqaba here behind me in the Port of Aqaba are conducting a big security operation, going door to door. They've sealed off the port area of Aqaba and have brought in military forces and police forces there in order to go door to door, to try and find the individuals they believe may have been responsible for carrying out these rocket attacks.

Three rockets were fired, as you mentioned, one narrowly missing a U.S. warship in the harbor just across the water there. It's now gone out to sea but, in fact, missing that warship. No U.S. personnel injured, instead striking a warehouse, killing a Jordanian soldier, injuring another one pretty badly.

Another two missiles fired, one at a hospital it seem,s or one that struck a hospital, no one injured there inside Jordan as well.

The other missile came across this airspace here, across this water and came into Israel, striking near the airport here in Eilat in the south of Israel, in fact directly hitting a taxi as it drove along the road, along the perimeter of that airport. That rocket though did not detonate, and miraculously the driver survived.

Nevertheless, obviously this is being taken extremely seriously, not just by the Jordanian authorities, but by the Israelis as well and by U.S. authorities who are, of course, looking now very closely in a coordinated fashion into how they can get to the bottom of these coordinated attacks.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Is there any indication, Matthew, where these missiles were fired from, these rockets -- whatever they were -- because for a lot of our viewers it will remind them of what happened in late 2000, the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen?

CHANCE: Well, it is very similar to that in the sense that this is really the first time there's been a significant attack against a U.S. military seagoing vessel since 2000 when the USS Cole, of course, was attacked by a boat laden with explosives. It blew a big hole in the side. I was actually in Yemen at the time covering that story when it happened. Seventeen U.S. service personnel died.

This was a very different kind of sort of device that was used though. These rockets are very long range. They're not very accurate, as demonstrated by the fact that they did not hit any of the targets, it seems. But nevertheless, it's probably caused a great deal of concern amongst the people who remember that attack five years ago.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance on the scene for us in Eilat, the Israeli southern port. Thank you, Matthew. We'll be getting back to you as well.

One of the last settler strongholds in Gaza was cleared out today. Israeli forces used bulldozers to break through flaming barriers at the main gate of Gadid. That is one of the Jewish settlements -- at least it was one of those Jewish settlements in Gaza.

Holdouts there agreed to leave if troops would carry them out one by one. That leaves only four of the 21 Gaza settlements still to be evacuated. The pullout has paused for the Jewish Sabbath. Israel's commander for the region says remaining settlements could be cleared by Tuesday.

Palestinians are celebrating the Israeli withdrawal.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is joining us now live from Khan Yunis in Gaza. We heard from the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas today as well, Ben. Update our viewers on how the Palestinians are dealing with this Israeli disengagement.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can say nothing else but they're celebrating. Many of them are saying good riddance to the Jewish settlers. We saw today, this afternoon as the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was at the Gaza International Airport, the only airport the Palestinians have, but one that's been closed since December of 2001 because of fighting. There he praised the Palestinian people for standing -- putting up through the years of the occupation. He praised them also for their endurance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMOUD ABBAS, PRES., PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (through translator): But these steps have come as a result of patience and sacrifices of our people, the martyrs, wounded, houses that were destroyed bulldozed, have together brought us the fruit that we are celebrating today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEDEMAN: Now, Wolf, as the Palestinian Authority is celebrating, right below us we have Hamas is celebrating. Now they're not necessarily celebrating the pullout. But what they're celebrating is a mass wedding, five couples who are in some way affiliated with the Islamic militant organization are being married. It's a very public sort of ceremony. This is the sort of thing that we're seeing all over.

Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, everyone is trying to show that they are there. They're leading up, of course, to the Palestinian elections that are due to begin or rather take place in January of next year.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Ben Wedeman in Gaza for us, Ben thanks very much for covering the story.

Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we can bring you lots of information simultaneously. Here's what's incoming right now.

We're following the shuttle. It's making a pit stop during its piggyback flight across the country, but will Discovery fly again on its own? We'll watch this story.

We're also watching another story right here back home as well, trench collapse, two men were trapped when a dig caved in. One was rescued. We're watching this story, this trench situation unfolding.

And a transformer exploded in downtown San Francisco earlier today, injuring one woman. Residents thought it was an earthquake or some sort of terror attack. It was neither. It was a transformer just exploding on its own.

It's time for you to weigh in on our big stories that we're covering each day. We call it the "Cafferty File". CNN's Jack Cafferty has a different question each hour and he's joining us now.

Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

I don't know if this is a big story but it's interesting. Battered spouses in North Carolina may soon be armed with more than a restraining order. Lawmakers in that state have passed a bill that would require courts to give victims of spousal abuse information on how to apply for a concealed weapon.

Supporters of the bill say restraining orders don't always offer enough protection. They want to help the victims help themselves. Opponents say this could end up causing more violence by bringing guns into already abusive relationships. The measure is scheduled to become law October the 1st unless the governor vetoes it. It would be the first law of its kind in the United States.

Here's the question. Should battered spouses be allowed to carry guns? CaffertyFile@CNN.com is the e-mail address should you care to respond.

BLITZER: I suspect you're going to get a lot of e-mails on this but I could be wrong, Jack. We'll see.

CAFFERTY: We'll see.

BLITZER: All right, Jack Cafferty with the "Cafferty File".

Still to come, x-ray vision. Airport workers given the power to see through our clothes. We'll find out why some are calling it an electronic strip search.

Also, John Kerry unplugged. He's speaking live in Seattle shortly. We expect him to be speaking on Iraq. We'll monitor to see what he says.

Plus, the sky explodes over Wisconsin, deadly twisters and damaged homes. We'll have the latest.

And a little bit later, a horrible story, a tiger attack. A teenage girl is killed while taking pictures with a tiger. We'll find out what went so terribly wrong.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In our CNN "Security Watch", the latest technology for airport passenger screening, which critics say amounts to an electronic strip search.

Jeanne Meserve of our CNN America bureau is joining us now live from Reagan National Airport here in Washington. It sounds very provocative, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does, Wolf. The hunt is certainly on for a better screening machine. But one of the most promising technologies is also one of the most problematic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTOPHER REEVE, "SUPERMAN, THE MOVIE": All right, Luthor, where is it? Where's the detonator?

MESERVE (voice-over): X-ray vision isn't just for Superman anymore.

REEVE: You diseased maniac.

MESERVE: An x-ray technology called Backscatter already used to see inside vehicles may soon be used to look underneath the clothes of travelers to reveal weapons, contraband and a whole lot more.

TIM SPARAPNI, ACLU: Superman with his x-ray vision never had it so good. This technology, actually this image is actually rather sort of cloudy and coarse compared to the others I've seen. You can literally read the wrinkles on a person's body.

MESERVE: And the machines can store images, raising fears that very private secrets could become very public.

MICHAEL FROOMKING, UNIV. OF MIAMI LAW SCHOOL: How secure are they going to be? Are they going to be encrypted? Who's going to have access to the tapes? Are they going to be passing them around for office parties?

MESERVE: To allay privacy concerns and clear the way for preliminary testing of Backscatter at the nation's airports, the Transportation Security Administration has been working with manufacturers to reduce the detail visible to a machine operator.

Bob Postle is with one manufacturer.

BOB POSTLE, AMERICAN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING: What you'll see is very much an outline of the person's image with no detail of anatomy whatsoever, with the threat images superimposed on that outline.

SPARAPNI: I do think this is an improvement.

MESERVE: But the ACLU's Sparapni would like to see an even less detailed figure.

SPARAPNI: Again, this is still a rather detailed silhouette of someone's body. Anyone who's had an amputation may be trying to obscure that. I think we'd still see details that are, you know, are intimate.

MESERVE: No pilot testing of Backscatter on airline passengers is scheduled. The TSA says it is the machine with the less detailed image will be used. Travelers will have the option of being patted down instead of being scanned. No images will be stored. Screeners will be separated from passengers and will see only the machine image. And screeners may only be allowed to scan passengers of the same sex.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: The TSA will be trying to determine if you blur the body you can still detect weapons. And some vendors tell us they do expect pilot testing by the end of the year in four U.S. cities, including Baltimore and San Francisco.

Wolf? BLITZER: All right, Jeanne Meserve, provocative indeed. Thanks very much for that report, Jeanne Meserve of our CNN America bureau.

And stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

Still to come, locked behind bars for life, the serial killer Dennis Rader going to prison.

Also, World Youth Day, the pope makes an historic trip with large crowds. We'll take you there live.

Plus, fruity politics. Find out why the price or orange juice may be getting a bit steeper.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Zain Verjee joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a quick look at some other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Ali Velshi is joining us from New York now. Ali, you got a quick update, first of all, on the markets?

VELSHI: Yes. The markets -- right now there's been some effect, obviously, with Merck. But that's not influencing larger markets. We've got both the Dow and the NASDAQ up a little bit with about half an hour to go.

We have eight-and-a-half hours, though, to that important deadline, Wolf, with Northwest Airlines and its mechanics who will be in a legal strike position at 12:01 Eastern Time. I've been keeping a very close eye on that. And right now we may have had a move that pushes them away from a deal, and that is a third party. The union that represents the flight attendants, Wolf -- 9,700 flight attendants -- has been taking a vote to decide whether or not to strike in sympathy with the mechanics if they decide to walk out.

Well, Northwest has always maintained that the flight attendants are not in a legal position to strike. The flight attendants say they are.

I've just received word from Northwest in response to a question. I asked them what their point of view is on this. And Northwest has said to me that they are -- they believe that the flight attendants are not in a position to strike and they are prepared to "use all remedies to enforce our legal rights" -- which means they may try and put them back to work. This is becoming a pretty hot topic, and we might see a strike at Northwest.

Before the show started, Wolf, I had heard that there was a 55 to 60 percent chance of this happening from people who are following it. This development may have upped that a little bit.

BLITZER: All right, we'll be watching that.

Tell our viewers what you have on THE TURNAROUND tomorrow morning, your program that airs 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

VELSHI: Eleven a.m. we -- every episode of THE TURNAROUND we go and spend three days with a small business owner somewhere in America. This time we went to Los Angeles to the home of a caterer, who actually operates out of her home. We took along with us a mentor, Hollywood's caterer to the stars.

They spent three days together and our small business owner picked up a lot of great tips about how to make her business more profitable, and you can watch that tomorrow at 11:00.

BLITZER: Eleven a.m. Eastern, 8:00 a.m. on the West Coast. Ali Velshi, thanks very much.

Coming up, 9/11 fallout. Was the ringleader Mohamed Atta linked to al Qaeda a year before the attacks? One of the 9/11 Commission members will be joining us, Tim Roemer.

Also, the pope prays in a synagogue, an historic visit to his homeland and a message. Are the evils of the past returning?

And the Shuttle Discovery hitching a ride, look at this, hitching a ride back to Florida. What an amazing shot.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In our CNN "Security Watch," could the 9/11 attacks have been prevented? A former member of a top-secret Pentagon intelligence unit says he tried to give a warning. Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer told us this week here in THE SITUATION ROOM that his unit had identified the ringleader, Mohammed Atta, and the other future hijackers a year before the attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. COL. ANTHONY SHAFFER, U.S. ARMY: We didn't know they were plotting terror attacks, but we did know they had linkages to the larger al Qaeda command and control structure. That was what was of concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Schaffer insists military lawyers wouldn't let his team, named Able Danger, meet with the FBI. Earlier I spoke with former Congressman Timothy Roemer. He was a member of the 9/11 Commission.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Congressman Roemer, welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM

TIM ROEMER, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: Good to have you here.

ROEMER: Good to be here.

BLITZER: This is the 9/11 Commission Report. It's a very, very thorough document, very long. Why was there no mention of Able Danger, this covert, this secret operation that was run out of the Pentagon that supposedly learned of Mohammed Atta and three of his associates a year before 9/11?

ROEMER: My name is on that. And as you said, a thorough, factually-based, evidence-based report. And while we had staffers that heard of Able Danger as far back as in Afghanistan in 2003, there was no mention of Atta's name connecting him to the three other terrorists.

BLITZER: Had you ever heard of Able Danger?

ROEMER: I had heard of Able Danger only recently. But certainly, as a member of the 9/11 Commission and certainly as a member of the Intelligence Committee, and very respectful and aware of the technologies of data mining, I think the question here, Wolf, is you said supposedly there is evidence of Atta being connected to these three other terrorists.

I'd love to see this evidence, because we do want to continue a factually-based and thorough report. If there is a chart, a spider web showing that Atta was identified prior to 9/11 and attached to these other terrorists, where is it? Where's the beef? Why didn't it make it to the lawyers in the Pentagon? Why didn't it make it to the 9/11 Commission when we asked for all of the factually-based information associated with Able Danger? Why didn't Lieutenant Colonel Shaffer take this to the joint inquiry, which was the first look at 9/11? Why didn't he bring it to us earlier?

I think those are all good questions.

BLITZER: As you know, we spoke with him here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I want you to listen to what he specifically said about the information that he said he and his colleagues at the Defense Intelligence Agency had, the special operations unit that had been created and the information they presented to your staff.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAFFER: I talked to the person who actually took the Pentagon's copies of documents over to the 9/11 Commission. They gave them two- briefcase size elements that they peer reviewed.

One of the issues here, Wolf, is that they did not do a rigorous investigation of the information.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Did your staff and the commissioners themselves fail to do a rigorous investigation of this information, of the so-called Able Danger unit?

ROEMER: We did not fail to do a rigorous examination. Rigor is based on evidence and facts. And if somebody would have presented to us a chart showing Atta connecting to these other terrorists, Wolf, Atta's name is like a cattle prong to us. That would have shot up our charts, as it should have shot up the charts in Able Danger and to the Pentagon when they discovered it, they say back in -- a year before 9/11.

Why wasn't this -- I have a couple questions. Why wasn't this information shared within the Pentagon? Why wasn't it shared with the FBI? And why wasn't it shared with the joint inquiry of the 9/11 Commission in a much more serious and expedited way?

We're looking for the facts, Wolf...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Colonel Shaffer says that he presented this information to some of your staff members, including Mr. Zelikow, in Afghanistan. It was, albeit, close to the time that you were about to wrap up your investigation. But he says that nobody pursued it. Zelikow - he says he asked him when he came back to Washington to follow up with more meetings, but he never had another meeting with Zelikow himself.

ROEMER: Well, here's what happened, Wolf. Lieutenant Colonel Shaffer met with three of our staffers and a White House executive branch person in Bagram in Afghanistan. None of those four people recall him ever mentioning Atta. He did mention Able Danger. Able Danger then triggered the staff to call back to our staff in Washington and immediately pursue a document request of everything associated with the intelligence activities of Able Danger -- we wanted to see what you did to try to track al Qaeda.

Then what happened. We got the documents -- some documents that I think he mentioned, a couple of briefcases full -- from the Pentagon in February of '04. Now, that did not include this chart that mentions Atta and the other three terrorists.

So still the evidence is not there, Wolf.

BLITZER: In the statement that you put out last Friday night, you say "The operation Able Danger itself did not turn out to be historically significant set against the larger context of U.S. policy and intelligence efforts that involved bin Laden and al Qaeda."

I think it's fair to say at this point more investigation needs to be done.

ROEMER: Absolutely. We proudly did this report trying to find out how al Qaeda attacked us and how we could do better. If there is a chart showing Atta did have this association with these three hijackers, we would have loved to have seen it. Wolf, it would have been in neon lights front and center on our 9/11 Commission Report, because our central finding in this report is agencies failed to share information internally, like the FBI, the CIA, and maybe the Pentagon in this instance, and agencies failed to share information with the FBI.

So, we would like...

BLITZER: We're out of time. Who should conduct this investigation?

ROEMER: I think Congress could investigate this. I think the Pentagon deserves to get to the bottom of this and produce the chart that shows Atta connected. And I think the White House supposedly got a chart from Congressman Weldon. If there is a chart, let's see the beef. Let's see the substance. Let's see the facts. And let's get to the bottom of this.

BLITZER: Tim Roemer, thanks very much for spending some time with us.

ROEMER: You're welcome. Happy to be here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: It's Friday, August 19. Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the pope is in Germany talking about the Holocaust and sending out a message to Jews and Christians.

And in Wisconsin, the bad weather is gone, but the worries have just begun. We'll tell you what's happening right now, after a series of terrible twisters.

And even if he admits it's a corny message, a farmer's field of love, and his message that's growing some food for thought.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a quick look at some of the hot shots coming in from the Associated Press. Still photographs likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow. Check these out.

In Wisconsin, a firefighter searches for survivors after a tornado swept through the area.

In Serbia, agricultural protests. Police officers stop a donkey from entering a government building.

In China, fake cigarettes up in flames. Authorities have confiscated 23 million fake cigarettes over the past seven months.

In Malaysia, a diver feeds a shark at the new aquarium in Kuala Lumpur.

Some of the still photos we're getting in from the A.P.

Pope Benedict XVI recalled the evils of the Holocaust today during a visit to a synagogue in his native Germany. In Cologne, Pope Benedict became just the second pontiff ever to have entered a place of Jewish worship. The first was his predecessor John Paul II. On just his first trip abroad, the new pope denounced the crimes of the Nazis and stressed the common roots of Jews and Christians.

We've been reporting on the pope's visit to Germany for World Youth Day. Another Roman Catholic clergyman also is reaching out to young people using some new technology. Our Internet reporters Jacki Schechner and Abbi Tatton are checking the situation online.

Ladies, what is going on?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The technology that we're talking about is called podcasting. And essentially what it is an audio file that you can download to your computer or to your portable music player, like an MP3 player or an iPod. The best way to describe it in layman's terms, it's like a radio broadcast that you can have and take with you and listen to at any time.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: And Father Roderick Vonhoegen is the podcasting priest who blogs and podcasts at CatholicInsider.com.

Father Roderick is joining us via web cam from Cologne in Germany. Father Roderick, thanks for joining us.

FATHER RODERICK VONHOEGEN, CATHOLICINSIDER.COM: My pleasure.

TATTON: Now the podcasts at your site cover everything from papal tradition to Youth Day to the Harry Potter books. What is your goal with this? Who are you trying to reach out to?

VONHOEGEN: Well, I would like to reach especially the non- Catholics. I mean there's a lot of material for Catholics. And I wanted to do something for all the other people out there and just let them share something of my enthusiasm and of my experience in my life with them.

TATTON: And how many listeners do you have out there?

VONHOEGEN: Well, I estimate about 15,000 for each show. And it's growing every day.

SCHECHNER: Now, clearly the church is steeped in tradition, Father Roderick, how have they been reacting, specifically the Vatican, to what you do?

VONHOEGEN: Well, when I started my podcast I was in Rome. And the pope, the previous pope fell ill, so I started to do a podcast about that. And I immediately went over there to talk with them about it, because I thought it could be interesting. And they were really, really interested. And they asked me to stay a bit longer in Rome. And two days later, they had their own podcast.

So, they told me, for us it's -- we have been on the forefront with media. You know, they were the first ones to have a radio station when -- Marconi Radio. So, they wanted to be on the forefront as well. So, they have been extremely supportive, and in their experimenting with it as well.

TATTON: Now, some of our viewers aren't going to be familiar with the technology here. Is it very expensive? What do you need? What do you carry around with you to do these podcasts?

VONHOEGEN: Actually it's extremely easy to do. I just carry around with me a mini-disc recorder, so it's a recording device, but you can use small flash players that can record, and a simple microphone, and that's all. So, for under 100 bucks you can have all the gear you need to make a podcast.

SCHECHNER: Father Roderick, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. And hopefully we'll keep an eye on all the CatholicInsider.com podcasts online.

Wolf, we'll send it back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Very, very interesting.

Let's go live right now to Angleton, Texas. We're hearing from the widow of Robert Ernst, Carol Ernst. She was just awarded $253 million from Merck in connection with Vioxx. She is speaking with her attorney.

Let's listen to her.

CAROL ERNST, SUED VIOXX MAKER MERCK: I give so much credit and thanks and praise to these 14 people who sat here day after day after day being away from their jobs or their family. And I appreciate their ability to listen to all the facts and to determine what the truth in this case was. I really appreciate all of them.

MARK LANIER, ERNST ATTORNEY: That jury worked incredibly hard at a personal sacrifice.

QUESTION: Did they tell you the $229 million number was because of the document?

LANIER: I have not had that conversation with them. I bet you dimes to dollars that it is.

QUESTION: What did they tell you about why they decided the case this way?

LANIER: We did not ask them that question. We have yet to have that discussion. But I'm sure a lot of them would love to talk to you and tell you about it themselves.

QUESTION: Mrs. Ernst, is there a message to overall drug safety to drug companies and consumers out there in a case like this?

ERNST: I hope this will be a wake-up call to all the pharmaceutical companies that not only physicians but individuals, the consumers, have the right to know what the risks are when you take a drug. And let the physician and the consumer make the decision whether or not they are willing to take that risk. It shouldn't be a risk that is decided we will take by the pharmaceutical companies.

LANIER: That's right.

QUESTION: Was the jury unanimous?

LANIER: Ten to two, 10-2. Ten for and two against.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the appeals courts that have been described as business-friendly (ph) in this state? And that Merck may try to go to them?

LANIER: Merck has already indicated to us that they think the appeals courts are in the pocket of big business and that they think the appeals courts will take away any verdict we have got. I think Merck sells our judges a little bit short.

BLITZER: And so there you have it. Reaction from Carol Ernst. Her husband Robert Ernst was a 59-year-old marathon runner who used to work at Wal-Mart. He was taking the arthritis painkiller Vioxx at the time of his death. A jury has just awarded her $229 million plus in connection with the once very popular drug, the painkiller Vioxx. An important story we're watching for you, our viewers.

Coming up, putting the squeeze on oranges. Why you may soon be paying more for your morning glass of juice.

And in Wisconsin, residents cleaning up after as many as 18 tornadoes slashing across the state.

The peace mom is gone, but anti-war protesters keeping up their vigil near the president's ranch in Texas.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's head back to the CNN Center. Zain Verjee is standing by with a quick look at some other stories making news. Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, there's worry and woe in Wisconsin right now. Residents are trying to put their lives back together after several tornadoes swept through the state yesterday. Devastated locals literally standing in piles of debris that was once their homes. Officials say the twisters destroyed about two dozen homes and tossed cars around like toys. One man is dead. The governor has declared a state of emergency.

A piggyback ride across country. A specially modified 747 took off from California's Mojave Desert today carrying the Shuttle Discovery. It's making several refueling stops before arriving at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida -- a trip that will cost NASA around a million dollars.

And a farmer in New York is trying to catch your eye using ears of corn. Look at this. He has planted a personal message in a corn field in shorthand. The literally corny message says he's looking for a single white female, got to love farming, it says. The 41-year-old divorced father of two planted his lovelorn message in the path of planes that are traveling from Rochester to New York City.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Zain, give us your bottom-line reaction. Is this going to work for this guy?

VERJEE: I don't know. But it looked remarkably like some of the pictures that people have done stories on, when you see, you know, that they allege that UFOs have come in here and landed on some cornfields and carved out some sort of interesting letters and shapes. So, I don't know if it will work, but I guess we'll find out whether it will do better than, I don't know, Match.com or something.

BLITZER: I think it's going to work for this guy. I just have a good feeling. Zain, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty standing by in New York with his e-mail. First of all, Jack, is this farmer going to get lucky?

CAFFERTY: Depends on your definition of the word lucky, Wolf, doesn't it?

BLITZER: Well, whatever your definition is mine.

CAFFERTY: Well, then, yes, he probably will.

Lawmakers in North Carolina passed a bill that would require courts to give battered spouses information on how to apply for a concealed weapon. Supporters of the bill say restraining orders don't always offer enough protection and that they want to help the victims help themselves. Opponents say that this could end up causing more violence by bringing guns into an already abusive relationship.

The question is this. Should battered spouses be allowed to carry guns?

Some of you are writing as follows.

Rex in Toronto, who used to write to me on that morning show I was on around here for a while -- I forget the name of it right offhand -- "Jack, in Canada we get divorced, we don't open fire. What the hell is wrong with you people?"

M. Bonnes writes, "Yes. Given that the law does not seem to guard the battered spouse very well, a gun for defense would seem appropriate. The spouse, most likely, will only use it against the battering spouse." Katie in Lanham, Marylan. "Battered spouses should be allowed to carry machetes.

Eugene in Boston, Massachusetts. "Sounds like a great idea. Give a gun to a person with children in the house, don't provide any training... just give them a gun, hopefully an automatic with a large clip. How many children will have to die before someone in the North Carolina legislature gets a clue?

And Mitch in Copperas Cove, Texas. "Absolutely not! Who comes up with these ideas anyway? So now the kitchen skillet isn't good enough. We have to turn our wives into Dirty Harriets."

That's all I have at this time, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. But it's only for this time, because we're going to be bringing you back in the next hour with more. Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Coming up: Prices get juiced. We'll tell you why the orange industry is hard hit and what it means for all of our bottom line. Ali Velshi is sanding by.

And an airline in the strike zone. Will your next flight be affected?

And when we go "Inside Politics," the former governor who wants to be a two-time governor from different states. We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've been reporting about that $229 million damage award for a woman in Texas. Merck, the giant pharmaceutical company, the loser in this case, speaking out right now.

Let's listen in.

JONATHAN SKIDMORE, MERCK ATTORNEY: As we said since the beginning, the scientific evidence did not exist to link Mr. Ernst death with Vioxx. It simply doesn't exist. He died of a cardiac arrhythmia, secondary to atherosclerosis. And there is no reliable scientific evidence linking those. The jury heard a lot of evidence, and part of our appeal will be the admission of unreliable scientific evidence on which the jury may have based and clearly they probably did base their decision.

QUESTION: Like what?

SKIDMORE: I don't want to get into details of all the witnesses. I mean, it's pretty clear some of the motions we filed throughout the case and some of the arguments we have to those of you that have been here throughout the trial.

And, you know, just looking at the expert opinions that were brought in by the other side alone, there wasn't a reliable scientific foundation in any of those to link Vioxx with his death.

QUESTION: Ted, a lot of people have said...

QUESTION: Can you explain the strategy on the appeal? You put out a press release, but I would like to have either of you gentlemen comment on what you're going to be appealing. I imagine that's what the next step is.

TED MAYER, MERCK ATTORNEY: Why don't you take that, Jon?

SKIDMORE: Yes, we will be appealing. We have to explore all the options as to what they will be. And there, you know, there are a number of things we will look at.

QUESTION: Some things were mentioned in the press release, though, I believe. Could you expand on that?

SKIDMORE: Well, I mean, the fact that we believe -- and I don't want to get into details right now. These are things we have to study and make decisions on, but part of the appeal will be based upon what we believe unqualified expert testimony allowed here in the case.

Another point is what we already discussed, were expert opinions that weren't grounded in science -- the type of scientific evidence that's required in the state of Texas to prove a causation case, particularly one such as this. You know, the standards are very clear and they have to be met. We believe plaintiffs did not meet their burden of proof in linking Mr. Ernst's death to Vioxx with any reliable scientific basis.

Those are a couple points. The other things are we believe admission of a lot of irrelevant information, particularly having to do with time periods not relevant to this and...

MAYER: Marketing information that had nothing to do with Mr. Ernst's prescription.

QUESTION: Ted, a lot of people, though, have said that going in this was a weak case, because it was an arrhythmia case and not a heart attack or a stroke. So, there's a lot of legal experts out there saying, well, if Merck can't win an allegedly weak case, what are they going to do when they actually come up against a heart attack or stroke where there are studies connecting the drug to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke?

MAYER: We believe in every case, the plaintiffs are going to have a higher burden to overcome.

BLITZER: All right.

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