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Three Tornadoes Hit Southeastern Virginia; The 'Wright' Stuff; Digging Deeper - Preaching Power; Planet in Peril - American Buffalo Under Attack

Aired April 28, 2008 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up at top of the hour in a few minutes Chad Myers on the tornadoes that have hit Virginia and Jeremiah Wright in his own words ahead.

COOPER: We are going to have in-depth coverage of the Jeremiah Wright story in just a minute including the preacher in his own words in the reaction of Barack Obama.

But first, breaking news, a string of tornadoes hitting the Norfolk, Virginia area; more than 200 people injured so far. The scope of the destruction, well, it is plain to see right there, not just power lines down or cars overturned, entire homes obliterated right down to the concrete slabs.

Chad Myers, our severe weather expert now with a handle on what hit them. He joins us now with the latest -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It must have been Anderson at least an F-3 tornado which means a 150, maybe 170 miles per hour and this thing just rolled through the city of Suffolk. And it actually hit drivers, as well, a smaller town closer to the Hampton roads area.

Earlier in the day, we knew it was a big storm. It came out of North Carolina and rolled right up to the north and the northeast, right into the Hampton roads area.

And this is that swathe of damage. Look at the middle of that swathe. These homes are completely gone. Anderson, you can only find the slab. And in fact, a slab tornado can maybe be an f-4, and then of course in Kansas and Oklahoma, it could be an F-5.

We will be out there tomorrow, the weather service will be out there looking to see what is going to go on with this, how big it was. At least right now we know the storm is offshore.

There are no more tornadoes today. The watches and the warnings there are all gone. But this was a devastating tornado.

And now earlier, two fatalities were reported by the AP. Then we kind of backed up on that and said, no, they can not be confirmed as tornado fatalities which is amazing when you see the amount of damage that people are only hurt, there are no fatalities yet confirmed. It is probably a testament of how good the warnings were today, the warnings were well in advanced to this tornado, 15 minutes notice for this storm as it hit this area.

COOPER: And Chad, you look at those when you see the rescue workers right there working in and around it, on these wide shots, you really get a sense of just how that tornado just cut through a neighborhood, homes on either side are fine, and then just this thin swathe of homes completely destroyed. It is just unbelievable.

We are going to continue to follow this throughout the hour. We are going to bring you updates throughout the hour on the storm.

But now I want to turn to another kind of storm, a political storm over the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. You have been hearing about it probably all day.

Barack Obama is on stage right now in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This is a live shot of the event. We're going to be listening to see if he talks about it. We will bring it to you if he does. They are waiting his arrival there.

This storm that kicked up over the weekend, it reached a climax today. Call it Hurricane Jeremiah.

If you are Barack Obama, with two big primaries a week from tomorrow, the last thing you want is your former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, back performing on the national stage. And perform he did today.

Slamming the media, praising Lewis Farrakhan, joking about being vice president, and revisiting his most inflammatory sermons.

16 years ago, Bill Clinton had so-called bimbo eruptions that nearly torpedoed his campaign. Today, the Obama campaign is fighting a pastor eruption, and politically, it is not much prettier.

CNN's special correspondent Soledad O'Brien is keeping them honest.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So Reverend Wright, the floor is now yours.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: After weeks of silence, a veritable media blitz by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. His tone at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., assertive.

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, OBAMA'S FORMER PASTOR: Black preaching is different from European and European-American preaching. It is not deficient, it is just different. It is not bombastic, it is not controversial, it is different.

O'BRIEN: Flippant at times.

REV. WRIGHT: Yes or no? No, have not heard the whole sermon, well that nullifies that question.

O'BRIEN: Provocative. REV. WRIGHT: I served six years in the military. Does that make me patriotic? How many years did Cheney serve?

O'BRIEN: And mocking of the media's coverage that has made him once again the top story.

REV. WRIGHT: The media was making a fool out of itself because it knew nothing about our tradition.

O'BRIEN: Why talk now? Wright said the attacks on him have really been attacks on the black church. His frustration at being boiled down to snippets and sound bites palpable.

REV. WRIGHT: I offered words of hope, I offered reconciliation, I offered restoration in that sermon, but nobody heard the sermon. They just heard this little sound bite of a sermon.

O'BRIEN: Sunday evening, the Reverend Wright spoke to a packed crowd at the annual freedom fund dinner of the Detroit NAACP. More than 10,000 people gathered; a friendly audience. He was clearly preaching to a receptive choir.

REV. WRIGHT: I am not running for the Oval Office. I have been running for Jesus a long, long time and I am not tired yet.

O'BRIEN: His theme, different is not deficient. His examples brought loud cheers from the crowd.

REV. WRIGHT: The University of Michigan and Michigan State University bands -- dang, dang, dang. Now go to a Florida A&M grumbling band.

O'BRIEN: Another difference, Wright says, is how whites and blacks learn.

REV. WRIGHT: African and African-American children have a different way of learning. They are right-brained, subject-oriented in their learning style.

O'BRIEN: Harvard Professor Ron Ferguson has been studying the achievement gap for a decade.

PROF. RON FERGUSON, HARVARD PROFESSOR: His point that different is not necessarily inferior was a valid concern. It is just that the evidence he pointed to is not very firm evidence.

REV. WRIGHT: Different does not mean deficient.

O'BRIEN: For Reverend Wright, it was a chance to be heard in context.

REV. WRIGHT: Now, analyze that.

O'BRIEN: But the political implications for the candidate he clearly supports --

REV. WRIGHT: If I were pushing one particular candidate, I would say, yes, we can.

O'BRIEN: The fallout for Barack Obama, as he heads into another closely contested Midwest primary in Indiana, far more uncertain.


COOPER: Soledad joins us now. It is, I mean, this campaign he is on, Friday, the television interview aired with Bill Moyers that was taped on Wednesday. Then yesterday, the NAACP, and then today the National Press Club.

For a guy who supports Barack Obama, he could not be doing any more damage to his candidate, could he?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, I think the way that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright thinks about it is, I am not running. Barack Obama is running. I am just his pastor. And people have been saying things about me and getting me -- this would be his take -- wrong, so I have to clear my name. They are attacking my church and my 8,000 parishioners.

So I need to speak up for those people because Barack Obama is one of 8,000 people who have come to my church. And so I think that he has made it really a great effort to say, you know, he is not -- he is not on the ticket, and he is not running for anything, and everyone has to remember that.

But, of course, the reality of politics is that this keeps the story in the news. And it will be interesting to see, really, what the fallout is for the candidate at the end of the day.

COOPER: Yes, we are going to talk about that a lot tonight. Soledad, thanks. Keeping them honest tonight, thanks Soledad.

Reverend Wright complained again today about being taken out of context. We are not about to do that tonight in part, because that is simply not who we are, but also because that is not who he is.

For better or for worse, Reverend Wright is not one-dimensional. And we think you deserve the full picture. So here he is at the National Press Club today and the NAACP dinner last night in his own words.


REV. WRIGHT: We are committed to changing the way we treat each other, the way we treat the latest immigrants, because everybody in here who is not an Indian do be an immigrant.

Some of you all came on the decks of a ship and some of us came in the bowels and the holds of the ship, but we all are immigrants. The way we treat non-Christians and folk who don't believe what we believe, we are committed to changing the way we treat each other.

The way Sunnis treat Shiites, the way orthodox Jews treat reformed Jews. The way Church folk treat other Church folk. The ways speakers of English treat speakers of Arabic. [speaking foreign language] please run and tell my stuck-on stupid friends that Arabic is a language, it is not a religion.

Barack Hussein Obama, Barack Hussein Obama, Barack Hussein Obama. There are Arabic-speaking Christians, Arabic-speaking Jews, Arabic- speaking Muslims, and Arabic-speaking atheists. Arabic is a language, it is not a religion. Stop trying to scare folks by giving them an Arabic name as if they are some sort of disease.

Maybe now as an honest dialogue about race in this country begins, a dialogue called for by Senator Obama and a dialogue to begin in the United Church of Christ among 5,700 congregations in just a few weeks, maybe now as that dialogue begins, the religious tradition that has kept hope alive for people struggling to survive in countless, hopeless situations.

Maybe that religious tradition will be understood, celebrated, and even embraced by a nation that seems not to have noticed why 11:00 on Sunday morning has been called the most segregated hour in America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have said that the media have taken you out of context. Can you explain what you meant in the sermon shortly after 9/11 when you said the United States had brought the terrorist attacks on itself? Quote, America's chickens are coming home to roost.

REV. WRIGHT: Have you heard the whole sermon? Have you heard the whole sermon?


REV. WRIGHT: No, no, the whole sermon. Yes or no. No, you have not heard the whole sermon? Well, that nullifies that question. Well, let me try to respond in a non-bombastic way.

If you heard the whole sermon, first of all, you heard that I was quoting the ambassador from Iraq; that is number one. But number two, is to quote the bible, "be not deceived, God is not mocked." "For whatsoever you saw, that you also shall -- reap. Jesus said do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your motivation for characterizing Senator Obama's response to you as, quote, "what a politician had to say," what do you mean by that?

REV. WRIGHT: What I mean is what several of my white friends and several of my white Jewish friends have written to me and said, they said, you are a Christian, you understand forgiveness. We both know that Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected. Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls, Huffington, whoever is doing the polls.

Preachers say what they say because they are pastors. They have a different person to whom they are accountable. As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I am still going to be answerable to God November 5th and January 21st.

That is what I mean. I do what pastors do, he does what politicians do. I am not running for office but I am open to being vice president.


COOPER: Reverend Wright drawing on a lot of comments on the blog as well tonight as always. I am online throughout the hour. Join the conversation. Go to

Up next, we are going to look at the political fallout. New polling in our panel and how Senator Obama undoes the damage, if in fact he can.

You will also be hearing more from Reverend Wright throughout the hour. Also, Reverend Wright called this controversy an attack on the black church, but is it really? We are digging deeper and looking at the traditions of the black church and the messages you hear from other African-American pulpits.


REV. WRIGHT: Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Black preachers we spoke to see an attack on Wright as an attack on their freedom to preach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is not preaching hate theology, and that should be a clear statement. It is not hate theology. It is a liberation theology.




REV. WRIGHT: Maybe this dialogue on race, an honest dialogue that does not engage in denial or superficial platitudes, maybe this dialogue on race can move the people of faith in this country from various stages of alienation and marginalization to the exciting possibility of reconciliation.


COOPER: Ironically, that is the kind of message that nearly everyone can agree with. It is also the message that practically defined Barack Obama's candidacy, until Reverend Wright's more toxic preaching derailed it.

New polling tonight shows serious erosion for Senator Obama. In our new CNN national poll of polls, he now has a four-point lead over Senator Clinton, 47 to 43 percent. That is down from 11 points in our last edition.

Now, how much of that is due to Wright and how much is simply a bump from Pennsylvania, we simply don't know. We do know the Obama camp is having a bad month and this week is not looking any better.

The "Raw Politics" now from CNN's Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sometimes the best way around something is through it.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He does not speak for me. He does not speak for the campaign.

CROWLEY: While his former preacher made headlines in Washington, D.C., Barack Obama was in North Carolina doing a bit of a mea culpa.

OBAMA: There are times where sometimes we get sucked into this whole negative thing. You know, people throw elbows at you, you start feeling like, I have got to throw an elbow back. But the problem is that it does not help you.

CROWLEY: He spoke at a town hall meeting in Wilmington for an hour and a half. They talked global warming, education, trade, and health care. Nobody talked about Jeremiah Wright.

REV. WRIGHT: I am not running for office but I am open to being vice president.

CROWLEY: But they are not laughing inside the Obama campaign. Though declining to offer a damage assessment, one strategist said, "no one can doubt at this point that Reverend Wright is for Reverend Wright."

The pastor's many speaking tours an untimely event for Obama, coming just a week before the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, and in the midst of his intense courtship of the white, working class vote.

OBAMA: I did not get in this race to run against Senator Clinton. I ran to run against unemployment. I ran to run against lack of educational opportunity. I ran to run against lack of health care and sub-standard housing and a war that we should not have fought.

CROWLEY: Obama is looking for a respectable showing among blue- collar voters. Part of Hillary Clinton's argument to superdelegates is he can not win a general election because he can not attract that constituency.

A constituency presumed the most likely to be turned off by Wright's words. The reemergence of the Reverend is exponentially harmful to Obama's mission. It gives Hillary Clinton another swing at it, even as she cries foul.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would not have stayed in that church under those circumstances. But I regret the efforts by the Republicans to politicize this matter.

CROWLEY: Somewhere between the high-minded campaign he says he wants and the conservatives he needs to win, John McCain repeatedly insists he does not believe Obama shares Wright's views, then disapprovingly talks about them.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I saw yesterday some additional comments that have been revealed by Pastor Wright, one of them comparing the United States Marine Corps with Roman Legionnaires who were responsible for the death of our Savior -- I mean, being involved in that. It is beyond belief.

CROWLEY: It is grin-and-bear-it time. A top aide says nobody in the Obama campaign has attempted to contact Reverend Wright.


COOPER: Candy, at this point, I mean, is there any connection between the Obama campaign and Reverend Wright, even on a back channel level? And if there is not, I guess, is there fear that in even trying to contact him that he is so far down a different road that he would kind of use that?

CROWLEY: No, I think it is more that they don't think it will do any good. I mean you have heard Obama say repeatedly, look he speaks for himself, I speak for myself; he is free to speak out. Obviously, they are not pleased within the campaign. Obviously, they don't think this helps them, and that is the best case scenario.

So, certainly, they would rather this not have come up now, but there is no attempt, either back channel or otherwise by the Obama camp that I can tell to try to get the -- you know to pull the reverend back, I mean the genie is kind of out of the bottle.

COOPER: Have you heard any talk among the Obama people of -- that they saw anyone feels he needs to say more about this? I mean he seems like what he came out today and said, it was sort of this impromptu kind of thing -- you know kind of, well, again, he does not speak for me. But we are getting a lot of e-mails from people saying, you know, Obama should distance himself more from this guy.

CROWLEY: I think what they are trying to do at this point, and remember we are about a week from those primaries here in North Carolina and in Indiana. What they are trying to do is say, listen, this campaign is not about me. It is about you. It is about how we can get things done for you. So it's not just an attempt to reach in to those working white class votes -- working class votes. It is also about saying, deflecting some of this, saying, this is not important, what's important is you and your jobs and the environment and your health care. So that's the tack they're taking right now. Whether it will work, I mean, obviously, at some point, Wright will no longer command the headlines.

Now, they would like that point to be sooner rather than later, but at this point, they seem to be saying, we're just going forward with our plan and that is to reach into that working class voting demographic and march on. Try to have a good showing in Indiana and North Carolina.

COOPER: All right, Candy Crowley thanks for that. So you heard Obama's response to Reverend Wright today in Candy's piece. But is that enough? We're going to talk to our panel about what Obama can, should, and will do now.

And later we'll update you on our breaking story tonight, three tornadoes hitting eastern Virginia, at least 200 people injured at this point; searches still underway. We'll have the latest ahead.



OBAMA: You've got a choice in this election about whether you want to continue the same old divided politics that we've been accustomed to, the same mudslinging, the same negative attacks, the same distortions and distractions. For the next nine years between -- well -- I am going to spend all my time talking about you and how we are going to make sure that you can live out your American dream.


COOPER: That's what Candy Crowley was talking about, the idea to try to pivot off the Jeremiah Wright, but so far his campaign seems stuck in this bear trap called Jeremiah Wright.

Yesterday on Fox News, Barack Obama called the Wright controversy a legitimate political issue. And as you saw in Candy Crowley's report, that was used by John McCain to discuss the Wright issue further. So what's next? What can Barack Obama do about it?

Joining us now: CNN's senior political analyst, David Gergen; CNN contributor Roland Martin; also Faye Wattleton, president of the Center for the Advancement of Women; and Republican strategist, Ed Rollins. Good to have you all on.

David, not only did Reverend Wright stand by his past remarks today. He also seemed to suggest that Senator Obama was insincere in distancing himself from him. How much more damage can this guy who allegedly supports Barack Obama do to Barack Obama?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's hard to imagine he can do much more, Anderson. His publicity blitz has been the dumbest, most selfish, most narcissistic act I've seen in politics in some 40 years.

Here we have for the first time in American history an African- American who might make it to the presidency, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright is choosing it to single-handedly do more than anyone else in the country to try to stop that candidacy and ruin that candidacy.

You know, Barack Obama had the real possibility of winning Indiana Tuesday of next week, winning North Carolina, and possibly bringing this to an end. It's clear tonight, that Indiana is now in jeopardy, and perhaps North Carolina. I'm hearing North Carolina, don't think so, but it could bring down that. So I don't think he can do much more damage.

COOPER: Roland, do you know what Jeremiah Wright is thinking and doing this? It's not just a one-day publicity blitz. It's Bill Moyers on Friday night, it's an NAACP event last night, it's another event today. I don't know -- does he have more speaking events scheduled?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know what, I don't know if he has more speaking events scheduled. I do believe that the Bill Moyers interview was very good for him in terms of explaining his views. Even the NAACP speech was not as bad.

Today, though, that performance at the National Press Club was really damaging. I talked to individuals who know him, who have known him for quite some time, who are ministers. They did not like what they see. They used words like horrible, devastating, pompous. They felt flippant. So it makes no sense whatsoever.

There's a fine line here to walk. He has crossed that particular line. So if he continues, he has to understand, it is indeed going to cause damage.

COOPER: But how can he not understand that already? How can he not know that?

MARTIN: Anderson, you're dealing with someone who marches to their own drummer. I know individuals who have talked to him, who pleaded with him, do not do this, do not go on this media offensive. I mean, I'm talking about folks close to him saying, you cannot do this, it is going to have an impact, you don't have to do it. He still chose to do it.

COOPER: I want to show our viewers just another sound bite from the press club event today and then talk to Faye about that. Let's watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some critics have said that your sermons are unpatriotic. How do you feel about America and about being an American?

WRIGHT: I feel that those citizens who say that have never heard my sermons, nor do they know me. They are unfair accusations taken from sound bites and that which is looped over and over again on certain channels. I served six years in the military. Does that make me patriotic? How many years did Cheney serve?


COOPER: Faye, what do you think he was trying to do today?

FAYE WATTLETON, PRESIDENT CENTER FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN: I think that he was using the platform for his own purposes and to present himself as some sort of spokesman for the African-American community. He's really gotten a lot of coverage for the kind of rhetoric that he's engaged in.

COOPER: He linked himself with basically the black church in America. An attack on him, is an attack on all black churches.

WATTLETON: First of all, let's just make clear that there is no national black church. There are many faiths to which the black community -- members of the black community serve and honor and respect. And so Mr. Wright does not speak as a monolithic leader for all black people engaged in their faith pursuits.

And that's really, really important to make the distinction. Unfortunately, I think that he's serving as a proxy for what we don't understand about Mr. Obama, unfortunately. He is filling in some of the gaps and perhaps that's really the danger that Mr. Obama is facing from his continuing to be on the public platform.

Frankly, that sermon today was more like being in his church than being in the National Press Club. So it was a remarkable event.

COOPER: He certainly had to pack the room with a lot of his supporters who were reacting as a sort of call of response.

Ed Rollins, Barack Obama is appearing right now at an event in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We're monitoring him to see if he makes any remarks on Reverend Wright. He did speak a little bit about it earlier today.

Does it surprise you with Candy Crowley reporting no one in the Obama campaign has reached out to him? Does that surprise you? Should they?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It certainly does surprise me. Obviously, there has to be someone in that church who is a major supporter of both who could go to him and say, you know, you're doing great damage --

MARTIN: They have.

ROLLINS: It's nice to say go read my whole sermon. That's great if you sit in a church for 90 minutes, but we live in a world of sound bites. And when you make comments that our country is just like Al Qaeda, only under a different-colored flag, or our marines are like the Romans who crucified Christ, those are inflammatory words. COOPER: Does it surprise you that Barack Obama -- I mean he gave a sort of brief statement today, that he hasn't really essentially distanced himself --

ROLLINS: He has to push him away. He basically -- he is fighting for his life, he's fighting for his candidacy and his presidency and he has to push him away. Barack Obama, fortunately or unfortunately is a very undefined candidate. He's a tremendous speaker, he's excited a lot of young people, he's a different kind of candidate, he's raised a lot of money, but he's still very undefined.

And if he gets defined by people thinking maybe he shares these thoughts, he has to basically push them away and distinguish himself and express, no, these are not my thoughts. I'm running to be the commander in chief. I want to lead this government, I do not want to tear this government down.


WATTLETON: I think the mistake that he made in his first defense to Mr. Wright was to claim that he was like an uncle to him. He had an opportunity at that moment to make a clean break. I think anything that subsequently happens will be seen as political expediency.

COOPER: David Gergen?

GERGEN: May I disagree with that?

COOPER: Yes, go ahead.

GERGEN: It seems to me on two things. One, he cannot -- I first thought -- I started out the day thinking he could pivot away from this. After reading the transcript of the National Press Club, there is no way. He has got to get back into this argument. Ed Rollins is absolutely right on that. I think it ought to be a one-two punch.

He's got to have black ministers and other leaders of the black community come out and take sharp issue with Reverend Wright on whether this is an attack on the black church and whether he represents, as Faye Wattleton says, the black church. He does not represent the black church in this country. It's unfair for him to sort of assert that leadership.

What Barack Obama has to do there is to come out and say, look I've already distanced myself from some of the more inflammatory statements. But he has to show anger, show anger, and show some inner steel on the question that Reverend Wright said today implied that Barack Obama does not believe what he's been saying; that when he distances himself, he doesn't really believe it. That he's only saying it for political purposes. He has to be angry about that.

COOPER: Roland, I've got to stop you for a second because we've got to take a break.

But we're going to have a lot more with our panel ahead. Roland Martin, David Gergen, Ed Rollins, Faye Wattleton will be joining us shortly.

Also ahead, we're going to check the latest on our breaking news out of Virginia where three tornadoes have triggered a state of emergency. The story is still unfolding

Plus, in California, a massive wildfire breaks through containment lines, forcing at least 1,000 people from their homes.

All that and more next on 360.


COOPER: An update now on the breaking story we're following in Virginia where three tornadoes have left behind extensive damage. You see it right there. The pictures tell the story.

Here's what we know. Officials say the twisters injured more than 200 people, damaged multiple homes and buildings. All the damage you're seeing is in southeastern Virginia.

Now, Virginia's governor has declared a state of emergency. The storm struck Suffolk, Colonial Heights, and Brunswick County. The Brunswick tornado was estimated at 86 to 110 miles per hour cut a 300- yard path of destruction. You can see underneath some of that rubble, rescue workers combing through the rubble.

The Suffolk twister was described as major tornado. It touched down just before 4:00 p.m. Eastern. There have been reports of people trapped inside their cars. Officials initially reported one fatality, but later learned it was unrelated to the storms.

Now, area hospitals are reporting a lot of cuts and bruises as well as arm and leg injuries. And with many power lines down, roughly 9,000 people are without electricity tonight. We're going to have more on the tornadoes coming up.

We'll also talk with an eyewitness who saw a twister right in front of her when she was leaving a Wal-Mart.

First though tonight's other headlines. For that, we go to Erica Hill with the 360 bulleting -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: In southern California tonight, nearly 600 firefighters are battling a wildfire in the San Gabriel Mountains. The blaze broke through containment lines overnight. It has destroyed almost 500 acres and at least 1,000 people have fled their homes in the foothills.

White House officials say an assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai underscores the need to keep the war in Afghanistan a top priority. Three people died in yesterday's attack. Taliban fighters targeted a state parade. Ten others were hurt. President Karzai was unharmed.

The Associated Press is reporting United Airlines and U.S. Airways are expected to announce a merger within weeks. Their combined forces could give them bragging rights as the world's largest carrier, possibly trumping that newly proposed Delta-Northwest deal.

And teen idol Miley Cyrus, you may know her as Hannah Montana, apologized to her fans for posing in just a sheet in an upcoming issue of "Vanity Fair." That portrait by Annie Liebovitz shows her with her back exposed. Cyrus says she is embarrassed; although, apparently at the time, she liked the picture.

COOPER: She liked the pictures and she had like her parents and all her minders there all day long at the photo shoot commenting on how nice the photos were.

HILL: Because they were digital so they could see the shots that were being taken.

COOPER: Annie Liebovitz is like one of the greatest photographers in the world. I've been photographed by her. The idea that she makes you do something is just absurd.

HILL: I'm with you.

COOPER: There you go. We'll see what happens to Hannah Montana.

HILL: Yes.

COOPER: Coming up, Reverend Wright claims the media firestorm swirling around him is really an attack on black churches. And the message being preached (ph). We're digging deeper.



REV. WRIGHT: This is an attack on the black churches. It's not Obama, McCain, Hillary, Bill, Chelsea; this is about the black church. This is about Barbara Jordan. This is about Benny Lou. This is about my grandmother.


COOPER: Defiant, destined to create even more controversy, Reverend Wright says his critics aren't lashing out at him; they're attacking black churches everywhere. We're going to let you judge for yourself if that's true or not.

Wright's remarks are giving us an opportunity really to learn more about black churches in America. Their traditions, their messages, and how they came to be that way.

CNN's Joe Johns is digging deeper.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At the heart of the controversy over Jeremiah Wright is the doctrine of faith. It's called black liberation theology.

WRIGHT: Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country --

JOHNS: Black preachers we spoke to see an attack on Wright as an attack on their freedom to preach.

DR. GAIL ANDERSON HOLNESS, GREATER WASHINGTON COUNCIL OF CHURCHES: He is not preaching hate theology. That should be a clear statement. It's not hate theology. It is a liberation theology.

When Jesus was around, they didn't respect Jesus. They were angry with him when he spoke the beatitudes on the mountain. They were angry with Martin Luther King when he was around and they didn't respect him. Now he's a great hero.

JOHNS: But a lot of black parishioners here on Sunday mornings was formulated as a response to the black power movement in the 1960s.

REV. RONALD BRAXTON, METROPOLITAN AME CHURCH: Christianity had to take up the flag of liberation. And that you could be black and Christian, because the Black Power Movement was saying that Christianity was white; European. We can be Christians. We can follow Christ, because Christ is a liberator. He was and is a liberator.

JOHNS: The Reverend Ronald Braxton is pastor at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., where president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton attended prayer services the morning of his inauguration.

This congregation has been here about 170 years. The building has been here about 120. I've attended services at Metropolitan since the mid-1980s. The sermons sometimes touch on social issues, but like most churches, it's generally about faith.

The AME Church ascribes to a black liberation theology and it can lead to some passionate sermons. But hate?

BRAXTON: Yes and no. Yes, it's hate. It is hate of a system, of a society, of a politics that will not treat all persons equal, that will spend billions of dollars to fight a war, but will not spend half of that amount of money to make sure that children have health care.

When you see day to day, and people come into your office, or come to your church, looking for a loaf of bread, mothers come in, can you do anything for me, Reverend, I need some help. They come to your bible studies, they come to your prayer services at night, and they stand at your door when you get there, it is hate for that kind of a system. Because you know within your heart that this country, the richest country in the world, can provide for her people, but she will not.

JOHNS: Metropolitan AME Church is right down the street from the White House and around the corner. The pastor here is highly politically aware and careful with his words.

But he concedes in the pulpit, preaching with that he can get so emotional, so passionate, that even he might get carried away like the controversial Jeremiah Wright.

While all black churches are different and most sermons are different, the debate over Jeremiah Wright may go on. But what many black churches share is a core belief that the preachers are there to stand up for social justice, even if that sometimes comes across as angry words.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: In his speech on race last month, Barack Obama said his church, like many black churches, embodies the black community and contains the bitterness and bias that makes up the black experience in America. I'm going to talk about that and other things political with our panel.

Joining us again, David Gergen, Roland Martin, Faye Wattleton, and Ed Rollins.

Roland, I cut you off before. You were wanting to make the point that people have tried to talk to Reverend Wright to ask him to stop.

MARTIN: Yes, I mean, Ed made that particular point. Folks involved with the Obama campaign, supporters, members of the church, other members of the clergy have been saying look, don't this do this, because you are indeed hurting the cause, hurting the campaign. He still chose to move forward with it.

He has to be sensitive to the reality, and yes, I understand defending yourself. I don't think anybody had a problem with the Bill Moyers interview, but if it's one after another and another and another --

COOPER: Is he writing a book?

MARTIN: You know what, first of all, he's written several books. I don't know if it's tied to this or whatever, but he's authored four or five different books in the past.

COOPER: If he's not writing a book now, it certainly seems like after three days of this kind of publicity, he's going to have a big book contract offered to him and then we're going to hear even more about him.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, Anderson, Reverend Wright is well- known in theological circles. It's not like he was some guy nobody had ever heard about.

COOPER: I can guarantee you his advance will be a lot bigger now than it ever was before.

MARTIN: It could be.

COOPER: Ed Rollins, just politically speaking, David Gergen was talking about Barack Obama needing to do something, needing to get other preachers out there. What do you do if you're counseling the Obama campaign?

ROLLINS: I think you have to do exactly that. The critical thing here is Barack Obama had a tremendous opportunity and still does to be the first African-American ever elected president. There's an awful lot of people in America who are unfortunately never going to vote for a black man or a black woman. There's an awful lot of Americans who are white who wanted to vote for a black American.

They would have voted for Colin Powell, they would have voted for this man, if he basically is true to the principles and is going to be the president for all the people. I think what the reverend was saying, it's a debate about race and where we're going from here. Jesse Jackson tried that, Al Sharpton tried that, others have, and there's no success to that.

The success is when you can bring whites and blacks together, talk about common issues, and lead the country effectively. What this country wants to know in this election, who can basically lead us and get us out of a war? Who can basically lead us and get us out of an economic crisis? And that's going to be, who's going to be the leader of all the people and not be divisive.

MARTIN: That's why he had to make that case. Obama had to make that case. It's not about Wright, it's about me. I'm the one who's running for president; not him. You're going to hear that consistently.

ROLLINS: And the mistake he made earlier, Roland, and I'll finish here, he kept saying, it's about you, it's not about me.

COOPER: And that sounds like what they're going to continue to say according to Candy Crowley.

ROLLINS: The reality is this is about leadership. And the messenger is every bit as important if not more so than the message. Ronald Reagan became a leader and his message basically became the party's manifesto. But it was because Reagan was perceived as a leader is why he got elected.

COOPER: We're going to hear from Faye Wattleton and David Gergen on the other side of this break. We're talking faith, politics, and the presidential election. We'll have more from our panel, coming up.

And later, terror from the sky; the latest on the tornadoes that devastated Southeastern Virginia tonight. We're continuing to cover the story, bring you any new developments. We'll also talk to an eyewitness, when 360 continues.



MCCAIN: I am of the belief that Senator Obama does not reflect the extremist statements that Reverend Wright has given, but I also understand why millions of Americans may, as Senator Obama said yesterday, view this as a political issue. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: John McCain addressing Wright's remarks, and at the same time placing it smack in the middle of the presidential campaign. As much as the candidates say Wright's comments represent his views and his views alone, the issue is not going away for Barack Obama. And that may be exactly what his challengers are hoping for.

Let's go to our panel one more time. Joining us again, CNN's David Gergen, Roland Martin, Faye Wattleton and Ed Rollins.

It is interesting, you hear John McCain say, kind of having his cake and eating it too. Saying, I'm not making this an issue, I'm not going to be talking about this, but I understand why people do, and this is out there, and Barack Obama himself has now said this is a political issue.

WATTLETON: It is a political issue and it's unavoidable at this point. While Mr. Wright has every right to preach his sermons in his church, when he does align himself with a presidential candidate, about which people really still want to learn a lot more, and are wondering, is this really how Mr. Obama thinks? Maybe that is what he thinks. Maybe he does agree with Mr. Wright.

I think that's the distinction he has to make. I think Roland has said it. Mr. Wright is not running for election, Barack Obama is. And the people need to hear a lot more from Mr. Obama about the specifics of what he thinks this is all about and where he wants to take the country.

COOPER: And Roland, I'm getting a lot of e-mails from viewers who are saying well, didn't Barack Obama a while ago say that he had talked to Reverend Wright after this whole thing broke and Reverend Wright seemed sorry that this had all kind of broken out in this way.

I'm getting a lot of e-mails saying, if he said that then, Reverend Wright, from how he appears today, doesn't seem sorry about anything.

MARTIN: Again, I mean, he is an independent voice who has made a determination that this is the track that he's going to go on. So that's exactly what he's doing.

Yes, Senator Barack Obama did make that particular point. Again, Reverend Wright has to understand the reality of the damage that he has caused. Sure, he is going to be a pastor after November 5th. Sure, the black church is still going to be there. But the reality is that he is affecting the presidency of his member.

He has the opportunity to be able to say, as a black pastor, that I, I am the first African-American pastor to, in essence, help someone to become president of the United States. I'm sorry, I understand your 36 years in ministry, but you cannot overlook the reality of how important that is to the history of America.

COOPER: David, it's interesting for both McCain and Clinton, they don't have to -- you know, they can just allow this thing to implode. They don't really have to even say anything about this. It has a life of its own.

GERGEN: Absolutely. But one of the things that Hillary Clinton has done in the last few weeks, she's proven she's a fighter. She will fight for the job, she's tough.

We may not like her tactics sometimes, we may not like what she says, but she's going to be out there fighting every day for it. Barack Obama has not shown that in this campaign. There's getting to be an ivory tower quality about this.

Now this man, this outrage has come along, and it may smother and block his chances to get to the presidency. And he's got to come out fighting. He's got to show some steel, flash some steel here.

COOPER: Do you think they get it?

MARTIN: Yes, they do.

GERGEN: I think that there's a frustration in the campaign that they don't know how to break out of this. I've heard from some of them too in e-mails, and I think there's a lot of frustration; they don't know how to do it.

I'm telling you, they've got to show that he's got the gumption, that he's got the fight in him that when something like this comes along, he can push it out of the way. People want a president who inspires, but they also want someone who is strong.


GERGEN: Who will protect the country and will fight for the country's values.

WATTLETON: And I think that that's a really, really important point. That if he cannot deal with this issue, and if he cannot segregate or separate himself from Mr. Wright very clearly and really disengage altogether, how is he going to handle the enormous complexity of the job that he is seeking to hold?

COOPER: And do you think that --

WATTLETON: And I also think that it's really important that we not get sucked in. This is one minister, one voice. He does not represent the black religious community. We are not a monolithic people. We have many, many different faiths and different traditions.

MARTIN: But, Faye, he is a significant voice within the black religious community and you cannot even doubt that. Look, I know a number of people across this country who respect him, who look to him --

WATTLETON: I am not suggesting that he isn't.

MARTIN: He is not just some guy that -- WATTLETON: I'm just suggesting that he is not the only voice.

COOPER: Ed, a final point from you?

ROLLINS: I don't believe this is Barack Obama's and I don't believe they're the black churches across the country. The sentiments are anti-American and very unpatriotic, and he ought to pay a price -- he ought to pay a price, not Barack Obama.

But if Barack Obama does not fight back and show that he can win, these superdelegates will move away from him in the closing weeks because she has proven in the last three weeks that she's a heck of a candidate.

COOPER: David Gergen, your final thoughts?

GERGEN: Well, I just think that ultimately this is not a story about Reverend Wright. This is ultimately a test of Barack Obama and his leadership, his inner steel.

COOPER: Interesting point. We're going to leave it there. David Gergen, Ed Rollins, Roland Martin, Faye Wattleton, good discussion; thank you.

Up next, an update on our breaking news. Three tornadoes strike in Virginia. We'll speak with an eyewitness that saw a warning on television and stepped outside into a black, swirling sky filled with rain, wind, and a funnel cloud. She saw the twister form right in front of her eyes and survived. We'll speak with her right after the break.


COOPER: Homes destroyed, communities literally blown apart. You see the video right there of eastern Virginia where three tornadoes struck tonight. We've been following the story throughout this hour.

Want to bring you an update on the latest. More than 200 people have been injured; in the cities of Suffolk and Colonial Heights plus Brunswick County. We're also getting reports that victims may be trapped inside some cars or under debris.

Joining us on the phone is Jeanne Hartley. She was an eyewitness who watched as the tornado formed right in front of her in Suffolk. Genie, I'm glad you're safe and your family is as well.

You saw the tornado form as you were leaving a Wal-Mart. What did it look like?

JEANNE HARTLEY, TORNADO EYEWITNESS: Well, we had just seen previously a couple of minutes before on a television in Wal-Mart, they were broadcasting a tornado warning for the counties in the surrounding area and Suffolk as well. We made our purchases, as we walked out to the door, and we were standing in the exit of doorway of Wal-Mart along with several other people, and we were looking out. And the sky had grown very, very black and right within a couple of minutes after we were standing there, the tornado was forming right before our eyes.

It was -- it was -- it was surreal. You know, you see these things on television, the Discovery Channel, et cetera, the documentaries of disasters, and it's quite remarkably different to see it in person.

And we had no idea how close it was, but it had to be forming very close to us. And what was so surprising, as well, was how quickly this amazingly powerful force formed in front of us. Because it was one minute the sky was darkening, and literally within a minute or less, in that time that we noticed the sky black, the tornado was formed.

It was there -- that's how fast it appeared to us. You know, I do not have a scientific mind as far as these things go, but it just appeared to me to form in almost no time whatsoever.

COOPER: And you finally left the Wal-Mart, as you're driving -- as you're driving through Suffolk, what kind of damage did you see?

HARTLEY: Well, we were just a couple of blocks from after where we had departed from the parking area, trying to head back to my daughter's home. There were trees down, there were several large trees that looked snapped like toys, like kindling, but these were huge trees. And this was just -- this was just maybe a block or two from where we were.

I didn't realize that it had hit that close. And then we saw houses, you know, destroyed, turning around there, and went down a cul-de-sac, saw more houses destroyed, and tried to go down another street, and my daughter encouraged my dad to turn around, and he was driving down another street, and we hit another area where there was debris --

COOPER: And is your daughter's house okay?

HARTLEY: Her house is fine, yes. But what really is incredible to see -- we've been watching your images on television, and the destruction that you've been able to reveal from the air is -- makes what we look like as if it was minor.

It was major damage, but in comparison, the kindling of buildings that you're showing in your pictures on CNN are astounding. Again, over 200 people injured. It's truly remarkable.

COOPER: I mean, it's a miracle that frankly no fatalities at this point. Let's hope that stays.

Jeanne, I'm glad your family is doing okay. Jeanne Hartley, thank you for calling in to us. Appreciate it.

Just ahead, our Planet in Peril; the American buffalo under attack once again. A controversial mass slaughter and you might be surprised who's backing it. Next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Now our Planet in Peril report. Tonight, we head to Yellowstone National Park where the largest land mammal in North America, the bison or American buffalo is facing a new threat. After rebounding from the edge of extinction last century, bison are now the target of a controversial livestock management plan which is a fancy way of saying they are being slaughtered.

Here's CNN's Dan Simon with the Planet in Peril report.


DAN SIMON: It's a sight once considered unthinkable in Yellowstone National Park. More than 20 bison loaded on to a truck and headed to a slaughterhouse. The killing has been going on for more than a decade.

But in the last few months, the numbers hit a record high. More than 1,400 bison, one-third of Yellowstone's population, rounded up and killed. Government officials devised the plan to prevent the spread of a disease. But the issue has become downright explosive.

MIKE MEASE, BUFFALO FIELD CAMPAIGN: There's never been a slaughter like this since the 1800s in this country of the bison and it's disgusting.

SIMON: The bison, or American buffalo as they're often called, were hunted and practically wiped out in the late 1800s, but today, Yellowstone is overflowing with them.

This right here is the problem, you can see a bison on the street. You have seen some cars having to dodge the animal. We obviously don't know where it's going to go, hopefully back into the park.

We were surprised to see one bison wandering through a neighborhood, but it's actually common in the winter.

AL NASH, YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK: Food is difficult and scarce to come by the end of the winter. They're leaving the interior of the park to lower places in part to look for food. There's limited tolerance for bison outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.

SIMON: Limited tolerance because of fears the bison carry a disease called brucellosis, a disease which causes pregnant animals to abort their young can spread to cattle. For ranchers, the stakes are high.

NASH: Montana has spent millions of dollars through the year to get brucellosis eradicated from our livestock, and to put that in jeopardy, no one wants that to happen.

SIMON: But critics call the killing an overreaction. They say there are no documented cases of bison giving the brucellosis to cattle. And most of the bison killed had never even been tested for it. MEASE: It's a hype, it's a hysteria, and it's not a fatal disease.

SIMON: For two conservationists the issue is so emotional that they chained themselves to a stairwell in Yellowstone's visitor center. They were arrested and pled guilty to a misdemeanor.

With so many killed the slaughtering for now has been curtailed to only those that cannot be herded back into Yellowstone. And under pressure, federal and state officials announced they will lease private lands where some bison can freely roam outside the park.

But it's just a first step. Hundreds each year are still at risk of being slaughtered and that will keep fueling the controversy over a national icon.

Dan Simon, CNN, in Yellowstone National Park.


COOPER: That's part of our weekly "Planet in Peril" report.

That does it for this edition of 360. For our international viewers, "CNN Today" is next. Here in America, Larry King is coming up.

Thanks for watching. I'll see you tomorrow night.