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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Top Stories of 2011 Reviewed

Aired December 23, 2011 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN HOST, "JOHN KING USA": Merry Christmas. Please stay safe and enjoy your family. We'll see you soon. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": Thanks, John. Food evening and welcome to "11 for 11" OUTFRONT's top stories of the year. From courtrooms to catastrophes, it was a year of high drama and dramatic change for America and the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: It was a year of extremes, of terror in the sky, and tragedy on the ground --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, 911, there is a shooting at the Safeway where Gabrielle Giffords was.

BURNETT: There were also the celebrations from Buckingham palace to Egypt's Tahrir square, and it all unfolded before our eyes. We mourned, we marveled at the moments that defined the year and changed everything. And tonight, we look back and OUTFRONT.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: We begin with the saga of Amanda Knox, the American exchange student convicted in Italy of murdering her British roommate. Knox was vilified by some in the Italian press, but she insisted was innocent and on appeal said DNA evidence would prove it. The appeals case lasted for months with millions around the world watching as a thing and pale Knox awaited her fate.

And then in early October Knox listened as the verdict was read. The judgment was clear, the conviction overturned, and as Knox sobbed Twitter and the Internet around the world lighting up to talk about that verdict. Knox immediately flew home to Washington state to start her life over. Shortly after that I spoke to her dad, Kurt Knox.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: How is Amanda doing?

KURT KNOX, FATHER OF AMANDA KNOX: Well, it she is doing remarkably well. It's almost like she has not missed a beat with the family, and that is nice to see.

(END VIDEO CLIP) How is she handling her adjustment?

KNOX: She is adjusting and reconnecting with the family and friends and sisters and so on and so forth. So it seems to be really working out favorably right now, and hopefully it will continue in that direction.

BURNETT: It sure does. Has she thought, and it seems almost obscenely early to ask, but so many are curious, does she plan to go back to school, or has she thought at all about what she might do next?

KNOX: Well, you know, with this whole circumstance, and what she experienced I think that at some point in time down the road she is going to be some type of an activist for wrongfully convicted people. And, you know, she does quantity to finish her degree through the University of Washington. And it is a matter of, you know, when that gets to work out and, you know, how she continues to progress.

BURNETT: Well, we all hope that she does. It is an amazing story. I wanted to ask you one more question, Kurt, if I could.

KNOX: Sure.

BURNETT: There is a report that her stepfather asked her old boyfriend to Seattle, and obviously, he is someone who knows what she went through. He was in prison as well. Are they still communicating with each other at all?

KNOX: Well, yes. They actually sent mail back and forth while they were in there, in prison and in their incarceration, and you know, they have stayed in contact. And it is a true statement that they were invited to come to Seattle, the family, and Rafael is going through the same thing as Amanda and needs to get reconnected. At some point in time, they may come over and that would be nice to see.

BURNETT: Thank you, Kurt, for speaking with us. I know your time is more valuable than ever and we hope to hear from you again and good luck.

KNOX: Thank you very much for having me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And from the international murder trial we head back home to the number 10 story of 2011, the massive and deadly tornado that destroyed Joplin, Missouri. It happened in May. The tornado, one of the most powerful ever recorded, an EF-5 on that scale, and it swept across the city, a twister that obliterated nearly everything in the path. Buildings and homes reduced to rubble and entire neighborhoods gone. Lives were lost. More than 150 people died.

But then, incredible stories of hope and survival. Thousands of Americans from around the country came to Joplin to pitch in and rebuild. Mike Woolston is the mayor and he joined me to talk about life since that tornado.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Mayor Mike Woolston, thank you for being with us.

MIKE WOOLSTON, JOPLIN, MISSOURI: You're welcome.

BURNETT: What do you remember most from that day?

WOOLSTON: I guess the thing that I remember most, Erin, is the amount of destruction. The event happened before 6:00 on a Sunday evening and by the time I was notified and got down to the emergency operations center, I spent the rest of the evening and the all night there.

About 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning the city manager and the fire chief and I went out to get a visual assessment of the damage and the power was out and you could not see anything other than the headlights of the vehicles. So as you drove down the streets that you had driven down 20 years, you could recognize a house from the corner or maybe the second house from the corner, but you virtually felt like you were in a place that you were not in before, because all of the visible landmarks you were used to were gone.

BURNETT: And how does it look now? How far have you come?

WOOLSTON: It is different. We have the degree cleaned up by August 7th, and everything on the ground, and we have started the demolition process and worked through that, the buildings that could not be rehabilitated economically or uninhabitable from a safety standpoint.

BURNETT: And how are some of the families? I know you have spent time with them, the people who died, and one of the worst national disasters that we have ever had.

WOOLSTON: I guess that the families are coping. I think we were terribly fortunate even though you talk about the destruction and the loss of life that we did have, we could very easily in my mind had maybe 1,000 or 2,000 deaths. If the storm had veered south and hit the second hospital, and our high school public class was just graduating and if they had the event at the high school rather than the university, the high school was totally demolish and that could have easily been 1,000 to 1,500 folks there. If it was a Monday in the day time rather than Sunday evening, we had a couple of other school buildings destroyed, one being an elementary and another school building less than two years old. The students in those buildings if it had come at a different time or the storm took a different path, we could very easily have had a devastating loss of life.

BURNETT: Truly amazing American story. Thank you Mayor Mike Woolston, for being with us.

WOOLSTON: You're welcome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And coming up on this special edition of OUTFRONT, the royal wedding. We will take you to that fairy tale day in London when Kate became Princess Catherine. I watched. You probably did, too.

Also, over and out, the mission in Iraq, nine years later what the end of the war means.

And courage -- the triumph of Gabby Giffords. The young man who saved her life comes OUTFRONT as our countdown of the top 11 stories for 2011 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Welcome back to OUTFRONT's "11 for 11," out countdown of the biggest stories of the year. We started the hour off with the release of Amada Knox and the devastating tornado in Joplin, Missouri. Now, number nine. This was watched live by two billion people on TV, people including me and likely you. I remember watching Princess Diana's wedding. Well, it was a love story with a lot of pomp and circumstance and everybody loved it. It was a beautiful day in May. We are talking of course of the royal wedding and the moment that Kate became a real princess. Here are some of the highlights of what was really an unforgettable day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: I loved all of it, especially at the end with the cheering and the little girl was doing that. It was a great day.

From the royal wedding we turn now no the number eight story of the year, although this is one that actually began nearly nine years ago. That is the war in Iraq. Earlier this month, that mission came to an official end for the United States of America. And 4,487 service members were killed in the war. It is now technically over, but the cost and the consequences will be with us for years if not decades.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Twice as long as America's involvement in World War II and just as polarizing as Vietnam, the mission in Iraq will be debated for generations to come. It started with bombs over Baghdad, shock and awe is what it was called. Saddam Hussein was toppled and executed. For eight years, eight months, and 26 days, Americans served their country and many paid the ultimate sacrifice. More than 4,500 American troops died, and it is believed at least 100,000 Iraqis perished in the war.

On December 15th, the battle came to an official end with a ceremonial casing of the colors. For the troops a message of honor and courage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will leave with great pride, lasting pride, secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people begin a new chapter in history.

BURNETT: But was the mission accomplished? Some military experts say that the U.S. left too soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In my judgment, we could have used the next few years training and developing the Iraqi security forces so that those hard won gains that our soldiers have achieved would be permanent and not speculative.

BURNETT: And that is all anyone can do, speculate on what's next for Iraq while looking back on what unfolded during nine long years of fighting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Former vice president Dick Cheney was a key decision maker in the beginning of the war. He defended the war to me, saying he criticized President Obama for how he handled Iraq and American policy in the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, (R) FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: If you look at the broader area out there, we are now in a situation where we are pulling all off of the troops out of Iraq, period. No stay behind force. He's trying also to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan. After he put forces in on a surge basis he's taking them out early. And it generally looks like a U.S. withdrawal from the region.

And you add to that the fact that the Iranians are actively pursuing nuclear weapons, I think it diminishes the U.S. presence, it reduces our leverage, and it in effect will significantly alter our position in that part of the world, and I think that is a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: The number seven story of the year is one that was hard to image at first. Remember that enormous wall of water triggered by an earthquake measuring 9.7. That was the tsunami that destroyed Japan. It also created a nuclear crisis for the country, Fukushima. Thousands perished in the disaster and the scenes were hard to believe. They are the images that we will never forget from this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god. That is the biggest earthquake to date. It is still going. Oh, my god, the building's going to fall!

(SCREAMING)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via translator): I thought that Japan would disappear. I thought that Japan would disappear under water. I have no idea what I will do next or where I will go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: And next on this special OUTFRONT, the will to survive and the remarkable story of Gabby Giffords. The intern who saved her life cradling her head in his hands comes OUTFRONT.

And Casey Anthony, what some consider the trial of the decade.

And i-everything, the genius of Steve Jobs, his life and legacy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We are counting down the top stories of 2011 tonight. There were a lot to consider. We made our choices, but we want to know yours as well, so let us know what you think were the biggest stories of the year. You can go to the Facebook page or of course on twitter, and let us know. There may be ones that we didn't think of.

But we are up to number six right now. She may not call herself a hero, but Gabby Giffords we can all agree is that. A woman marked for death by an assassin and going about her daily life of being a public servant, now a symbol of courage and hope frankly around the world.

For Gabby Giffords, the January morning began as an official meet and greet. But then the handshakes gave way to horror. She was shot in the head at close range in a rampage that left six dead, including nine-year-old Christina Green. Giffords was in critical condition, and at the time there were conflicting reports as to whether she was alive or dead. She was rushed to the hospital and surgeons operated for hours and saved her life. Her recovery is nothing short of remarkable.

And four months after that tragic day, Giffords was flown to Florida. She watched the launch of space shuttle Endeavor which was commanded by her husband Mark Kelly. And then in an unexpected and emotional return to Washington, Giffords returned to the House floor to vote on the debt ceiling, and there she was. Everybody was taken aback. Her condition continues to improve. She is someone that we are all going to be watching.

We want to go back now to that day in January when Giffords was clinging to life. By her side, the one who rushed to stop the bleeding was Daniel Hernandez, an intern in her office. Many credit him for saving her life, doing the opposite of what people told him to do. They said to run away from the shots, but he ran towards them and toward her. I spoke to Daniel Hernandez about the shooting and his future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: All right, Daniel, thank you so much for coming to tell your story.

DANIEL HERNANDEZ, INTERN WHO HELPED SAVE LIFE OF GABBY GIFFORDS: Thanks for having me. BURNETT: It is a story that fascinates so many people, and when I started to read about you and I read every piece I could not stop either. But tell me, again, what you remember happening that day.

HERNANDEZ: You know, January 8th is a day that I think will be something that I will always remember and those of us in Tucson, Arizona, will remember for a really long time. I was helping the congresswoman as an intern at that point. I was actually managing the line. So every person, every victim who passed away or who was injured, I had a conversation with because I was letting people in as they came in.

About 10 minutes until the event, being 30 to 40 feet away from where the congresswoman was, we ended up hearing the shots fired. Someone yelled "gun." And that's when I ended up dropping what I was doing and going to the front of the line, because I knew if there were people who were going to be injured, it would likely be the front of the line where the congresswoman would be.

And then I got to the congresswoman, and she was shot once in the head, and still alert. She was still conscious, and I used my bare hand at this point because I didn't have any other tools to try to and stop the blood loss as much as possible until the emergency medical services arrived. And I stayed with the congresswoman talking to her, keeping he alert until about 10 minutes when the emergency medical services were cleared to come into the scene.

BURNETT: I know that you have -- people have talked about you as a hero and you have said I'm not a hero a lot of times. I guess I know it is hard to say that about yourself, right. You can't sit here and say that.

BURNETT: It is hard to disagree with the president, but I am doing it.

BURNETT: But you were. It is amazing what you have done and you have spoken to her a couple of times since then and what did you talk about?

HERNANDEZ: Well, they have not been lengthy conversations. I have not had the opportunity to see her, and the last time I saw her was January 8th as I left the ambulance, because I rode with her from the site to the trauma center. And the last time I saw her, she was carted in, but for eight hours I was under the impression that she had been passed away because I was sequestered to be questioning by the authorities. And the last thing I heard was a nurse come out after gabby went in and they said she's dead. And they took me away from a separate area, because they didn't want me to hear something from the nurses or passing by and that changing the quality of the testimony that I would give to the authorities.

BURNETT: So, how has this changed your life? I know you were there, and one of the things that speaking even more to me is this is not at the moment that you knew someone well, because you had just started to be an intern, and this was the instinct to go. But you were new there. HERNANDEZ: Well, I was new on that side. I had worked on a Congressional campaign in 2008 and in 2010 I worked for a state legislator who worked in her congressional district. So we developed a little bit of a friendship. There is by no means a close friendship at that point, but it is someone I admired, but it didn't matter at that point. I think the thing that was most important for me was to do the thing that I could do the most amount of people.

BURNETT: Do you see a career of politics for you?

HERNANDEZ: Heck no. I have enjoyed the role I have had. However, I think being 21, I have no idea what I will be doing in the next six months and let alone the next six years or 10 years. But I know I want to keep helping others, whether that is as an advocate to do lobbying like I have on higher education or K-12 education or running for office, I don't know what it really holds in the future. But I know that for right now I am content exactly where I am. There is too much politics on the school board and I can't imagine going any further than that.

BURNETT: Thank you, Daniel, so much.

HERNANDEZ: Thank you so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Just an amazingly inspirational story of someone choosing to go into public service to make a difference.

Next Casey Anthony, did she actually get away with murder?

And then the violent end of a brutal dictator.

And remembering the visionary. The 11 stories of 2011 come back OUTFRONT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We are back with the OUTFRONT special, "11 For '11," the biggest headlines of this year.

And now, number five: Casey Anthony. One of the most talked about, watched and shocking stories was that of the young Florida mother. Casey is now a free woman who lives, though, in hiding and perhaps even fear.

The question remains: did she kill her daughter, Caylee? Prosecutors said that the evidence proved that she did and, for weeks, millions of Americans -- and I mean millions and millions -- were glued to every step of this trial on their televisions. The trial played out until a dramatic ending.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT (voice-over): She was one of the most despised women in America, Casey Anthony, accused of murdering her daughter, Caylee. But in a verdict that stunned the country, acquitted of a crime.

The story began in 2008 with a chilling 911 call from Caylee's grandmother.

OPERATOR: 911, what's your emergency?

CINDY ANTHONY: I found out that my granddaughter has been taken. She has been missing for a month. Her, her mother finally admitted that she's been missing.

BURNETT: Casey said her daughter had been abducted by a nanny. But police didn't believe her and charged her with murder. Two months later, Caylee's remains were found near the family's home.

Three years later, what some called the trial of the decade began, with Casey facing a possible death penalty if convicted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Casey's death allowed Casey Anthony to live the good life, at least for those 31 days.

BURNETT: The testimony was shocking, with accusations of incest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, I never would do anything like that to my daughter.

BURNETT: Experts claimed Casey put Caylee's body in her car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you immediately recognize the odor that was emanating from the piece of carpet in the car?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would recognize it as human decomposition.

BURNETT: Was Casey a loving mother or a cold-blooded killer? In the end, the defense said the jury must weigh the evidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to have an abiding conviction of guilt.

BURNETT: And then, with millions around the world watching, Casey stood up to hear the verdict.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As to the charge of first degree murder, verdict as to count one, we, the jury, find the defendant not guilty so say we all dated in Orlando, Orange County, Florida, this 5th day of July, 2011, signed by, foreperson.

BURNETT: Outside, crowds reacted in shock and anger. And in a few days, Casey walked out of jail a free woman, but facing a reality that many believe she got away with murder.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: 2011 brought us Casey Anthony. But it leaves us without Steve Jobs, who died in October. The passing of Steve Jobs is our fourth story in our "11 for '11" countdown. An innovator and an entrepreneur who ushered in the computer age, he turned Apple into -- well, Apple -- the Apple that is part of all our lives. He showed us the power and reach of great ideas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVE JOBS, FOUNDER, APPLE: Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone.

BURNETT (voice-over): Steve Jobs changed the world one touch at a time.

JOBS: You can do multi-finger gestures on it.

BURNETT: He was the visionary of black turtleneck and Levi's, an inventor whose genius defined the digital age.

JOBS: Amazing and the screen literally floats in midair.

BURNETT: Born in San Francisco to Syrian parents and put up for adoption by his mother, Joss was a prodigy, a college dropout who found the calling with computers, and he started Apple in his garage with friend Steve Wozniak.

JOBS: We think a lot of them are going to get into the home, but we like to say they're going to get there through the garage door.

BURNETT: With the mouse and the Macintosh, Jobs would revolutionize the tech industry. He made computers user-friendly, but as a businessman was forced out of Apple, only to return as a CEO later with a stunning second act.

That began with music.

JOBS: We are calling it --

BURNETT: That was followed by the iPhone and then the iPad.

JOBS: It is just like this.

BURNETT: And Jobs became an icon.

In a commencement speech at Stanford University, he shared his passion with a younger generation.

JOBS: You got to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever, because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off of the well-worn path and that will make all the difference.

BURNETT: The public achievements for this modern-day Edison were extraordinary, but in private, Jobs was battling pancreatic cancer.

JOBS: I'm going to take this morning and talk about the iPhone.

BURNETT: He appeared thin and had a liver transplant.

JOBS: This is our new MacBook Air. BURNETT: Eventually, the disease forced him to step down as Apple CEO. And in October, with his family around him, Jobs died. He was 56 years old.

News of his death spread instantly on the very devices he invented.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything that I used, my computer at work, my computer at home, my iPhone, my iPad, my iPod, I mean, I don't think there is anybody out there who does not touch an Apple product on a daily basis.

BURNETT: It is a lasting legacy.

(on camera): So, do you think that America is still a place that will come up with the next Google? The next Apple? It's a question on a lot of people's minds in the era when people are reflecting on Steve Jobs and his creative ingenuity gone forever.

ERIC SCHMIDT, GOOGLE CHAIRMAN: America is the best innovator in the world today, and that's going to continue. We have 18 of the top 20 research universities, and it's still possible for a couple of graduate students and a faculty member to invent something to change the world.

BURNETT (voice-over): A system that became an inspiration for the world, thanks to Steve Jobs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Well, next the top three stories of 2011. One of them is the end of Moammar Gadhafi. But do you know what the others are? Well, we'll unveil them, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We are back with our look at the top 11 stories of 2011.

Well, it's been a big mix of headlines. There was the acquittal of Casey Anthony, the tsunami in Japan, and the courage of Gabby Giffords.

But we are now up to number three, the Arab Spring and the awakening that just spread across the Mideast like wildfire.

I was in Tunisia in early January when the protesters first took to the streets. The clashes were bloody and deadly, but they ended with a revolution. The president fled the country. The transition was relatively peaceful.

I was also in Egypt for the uprising. These are some of the pictures that I took in Cairo. It begun with a few people and led to a massive people's protest.

One of the things I remember right there, the mass prayers in the center of Tahrir Square, with thousands and thousands of people, even little children, praying. They were demanding change and vowing to stay until Mubarak was gone. There was a lot of violence there until he was overthrown.

And then there was Libya and Gadhafi, and the violent end to the brutal dictator. I talked about the Mideast uprising with Nicholas Kristof of "The New York Times." I began by asking him about the death of Gadhafi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: So, a lot has been made about Moammar Gadhafi, how he fought and how he came up out of that pipe and apparently was killed execution-style if not executed. What do you think happened?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES: I think he was executed. I think it is appalling. I don't think we're going to have any success convincing most Libyans that that was an atrocity. There are going to be more human rights abuses by more of these quasi-democratic regimes.

I mean, in Egypt, we've seen that already with the military, behaving you know Mubarak without Mubarak. There's going to be more of that, but I think it's gradually going to dissipate and I should hope so.

BURNETT: You've recently spent a lot of time in Bahrain.

KRISTOF: It breaks my heart, I mean, because it is the place that the government most ruthlessly and kind of most successfully broke the back of the Arab Spring democracy movement, and it is our ally. And, you know, here we are, and we correctly protest human rights abuses in Iran and Syria and Libya, and this is our ally doing this with our weapons.

BURNETT: And let me ask you about that, because they tried to say, well, look, we are coming out of this, we are going to reform the monarchy, and we are going to put out a human rights report, and it's going to say negative things about things that what we did. So, look, we are transparent, everything is fine.

Since that report came out, you went back to Bahrain and what did you see?

KRISTOF: Yes. Well, they arrested me. They detained me, I should say.

Look, there is no doubt that the king has made some real reforms at the margin, and the report was a real thing. They have eased a hair.

But at the end of the day, this is still a despotic regime refusing to provide anything close to free elections and daily firing tear glass at peaceful pro-democracy protesters. And these are American tear gas shells that are being fired everyday, occasionally killing people.

BURNETT: So, where do we go from here? What happens next?

I mean, when you look at the overall Arab Spring. You got the case of Bahrain. You also have Egypt, which is so full of hope, and now has a lot more economic despair than they have before and a lot of uncertainty over whether democracy is going to yield something the West likes or really doesn't like.

What do you think happens?

KRISTOFF: Well, you know -- I mean, it's very fashionable right now to focus on all of the messes all over there, and, you know, it's true. The democracy isn't messy. But I really think that this year is going to go down in history that the 1776 and 1789 where those historic years for America and France and 1989 for Eastern Europe.

And I think that 2011 is going to be the same kind of historic year for the arrival of unpredictable, messy, troubling, you know, problematic democracy.

BURNETT: You look at Washington if you want to see how problematic and messy --

KRISTOF: You know, sure. Our voters are going to choose the wrong people, and think they're doing it right now with the support of the Islamist parties in Egypt, absolutely. But, you know, we do this in the U.S. and it's going to be more difficult for the U.S. But at the end of the day, the problems of democracy are far better than the problems --

BURNETT: You are optimistic. I like that.

KRISTOF: Yes. I mean, optimistic in the sense that I think we're going to be facing a new kind of problem that are better than the old kind of problem.

BURNETT: All right. So, what about Syria? That is the big question mark out there right now. And --

KRISTOF: I should confess that I kind of changed my mind on that. I used to think that the regime was going to be able to stay in power, that essentially for the biggest part, if the regime is willing to shoot its people, then it stays on top. And the problems for Egypt and Tunisia was basically the army wasn't going to shoot people, and in Syria, it is. And I thought that that was going to be enough for Assad to stay in power.

At this point, there's enough outside pressure, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are determined enough that Assad will leave, that I think they will have their way. It may be a coup d'etat. It maybe and what is increasingly looking increasingly like a civil war, I don't know.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Nick Kristof, thanks as always.

KRISTOF: My pleasure.

BURNETT: We're following you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And there are some places in the Middle East that, so far, have been relatively immune, at least certainly to regime change. Among them, Saudi Arabia and some Gulf States.

Just a few weeks ago, I traveled to Dubai where I sat down for an exclusive interview with the leader of Dubai and the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who shared his thoughts on the revolutions sweeping the Mideast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: So, what is your view of the Arab Spring?

SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN RASHID AL-MAKTOUM, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: I said that in 2004. I said please change or you will be changed.

BURNETT: You were talking about the Arab governments.

SHEIKH MOHAMMED: The Arab governments. The Arab Spring is the people who waited for a long time, and some governments are saving themselves and not saving their people. And their people want to work, and they want to something.

And the other day I spoke and I said that we start the Arab spring 40 years ago and it is still spring going ahead in the United Arab Emirates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: We will see what happens in the United Arab Emirates and the rest of the Middle East in 2012.

But now we are up to the second biggest story of 2011, the death of Osama bin Laden. The terror mastermind and leader of al Qaeda, he ordered the September 11th attacks, of course, and the blood of thousands of American lives on his hands. Bin Laden had eluded justice for years, that is, until May 1st when the elite Navy SEALs Team 6 tracked him down at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed him.

Chuck Pfarrer is a former Navy SEAL, in his own words, takes us through his own words of how the group took out the most wanted man on earth. He begins with the two choppers approaching the compound under the cover of darkness. And remember, this all unfolded at break-neck speed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHUCK PFARRER, FORMER NAVY SEAL: The helicopters went into a hover to provide sniper cover throughout the entire compound. The lead helicopter then landed successfully on the roof of Mr. Bin Laden's residence, and then it happens just about as fast as it takes me to tell you. The doors came back and SEALs jumped from the helicopter onto the roof. They jumped from the roof on to the roof of third floor terrace. There, the sliding glass doors were open. They surged down the hallway. Mr. Bin Laden's head body guard, his son, Khalid, 21 years old, bounded up the stairs, he was shot and killed on the third floor landing.

The door to the hallway pops open, Mr. Bin Laden sticks his head out, rather comically slams the door, and then the SEALs called Geronimo, which means I have seen the target.

The SEALs set up on the door, they kicked it in. And within the space of about four seconds, Mr. Bin Laden shoved his wife Amal at the assaulters, two shots were fired and one was amiss. One grazed Amal bin Laden's leg. Next two shots were fired, one struck him in the head and killed him. The other one struck him in the heart.

The time on the target now 90 to 100 seconds.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: That is incredible.

Well, we have gone through 10 of the 11 biggest stories of 2011. So, what is number one on our list? Well, that is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Welcome back to the "11 for '11," OUTFRONT's look at the biggest stories of 2011.

And we are at number one, that is the economy. From Wall Street to Main Street, it's been the topic that continues to drive the conversation. It is the issue that matters most to everyone. What we have seen, how lawmakers in Washington promise to create jobs and spend, well, all their time fighting with one another. We haven't gotten much done there this year.

The economy, though, is front and center. It's playing the biggest role in the race for the White House.

So, let's bring in our guest. Andy Serwer is the managing editor of "Fortune"; John Avlon, familiar to everyone here; Jim Bianco, a member of our economic strike team and president of Bianco Research.

OK. The economy.

ANDY SERWER, MANAGING EDITOR, FORTUNE: Yes.

BURNETT: Lots of disappointments from Washington. Eight close to government shutdowns and a debt ceiling debacle, and a downgrade.

SERWER: The first half of the year, we had hope. We got into the summer, and then there was the impasse of the debt ceiling. Washington really, totally, totally blew it, undermining confidence in the economy, sending the signal out globally. And the result was the downgrade by S&P. First time it ever happened in the United States. What a total debacle.

BURNETT: And, Jim Bianco, this is something that does matter big time going into next year, that downgrade and the complete and utter dysfunction in Washington, right?

JIM BIANCO, BIANCO RESEARCH: Absolutely. The economy is going to continue to be the top story next year, barring some other unforeseen incident. And whether or not Washington can help or hurt the economy through tax cuts, through spending bills, through at least giving clarity beyond the next week, it's going to be a big deal. And right now, we don't have any of that.

BURNETT: I like it -- clarity beyond the next week.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, that's what we have been missing.

BURNETT: Yes.

AVLON: We've got short term political thinking instead of long term thinking about our national interest. And we've seen it over -- you know, the political saw, people vote their wallet. Well, it's a lot bigger now. I mean, the economy determines the entire psychology of the nation.

What we have seen in Washington over and over again is a fiscal crisis that is compounded by political crisis, by this gridlock. And it's made our strategic competitors around the world question our capacity to self-govern. That's where it starts getting scary.

BURNETT: Jim Bianco, do you think we are at risk of another recession called a double dip, or someone was calling for this week, which was a triple dip, which actually worried me because we haven't had the double one yet. But my point is, an incredibly negative outlook. Is it merited?

BIANCO: Yes, it is. If you actually go back, the recession technically ended June of 2009. By most measures, this is probably the weakest recovery we've had in 40 years. So, we never really got this economy going in any way, shape or form.

Now, you've got gridlock in Washington. You've got a slow economy here -- a potential crisis in Europe, a slowdown in China. And there's a lot of cross current that the economy is not ready to handle.

If we were growing strong, we had unemployment low, we could look past a potential slowdown in China, or a crisis in Europe. But right now, those things could capsize our economy as we move into 2012.

BURNETT: And he uses the word "capsize." The Europe situation is huge.

SERWER: Right. BURNETT: And China is actually now, there have been small stumbles. Right now, the world is really resting on China.

SERWER: That's absolutely true and that's scary because we are relying on this giant superpower with very little transparency. You know, so far, they propped us up because they have been allowing the consumer part of their economy to expand, which means they'll be consuming goods as opposed to exporting, because that hasn't been working as our economies are weak.

But, you know, if they hit the fan, people are concerned about real estate there. If that's trouble, then the whole world is in a world of hurt.

AVLON: And it just underscores. I mean, in our era of globalization, think about the impact of a double-dip recession if Europe collapses. If it goes down further, it's devastating to the president's re-election.

And this also raises really interesting questions about the limits of sovereignty in our era, because the president has only limited control over the global economy. And yet his political fortunes are completely tied to things he can't control directly.

BURNETT: That's right. And now, what about this -- just thinking here about the Jon Corzine situation, MF Global, biggest bankruptcy since Lehman Brothers.

SERWER: Right.

BURNETT: So, as they try to put up some silver lining here on the cloud that we're all talking about, it didn't cause the banking system to capsize. We handled it. But you got Jon Corzine here, we don't know what's going to happen, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs. No one is going to jail.

SERWER: Right.

BURNETT: You have the Occupy Wall Street movement with a real frustration and an "us versus them" conversation going on.

SERWER: People are concerned, Erin. On the left, people are concerned about fairness. That's Occupy Wall Street. People are concerned about responsibility on the right, that's the Tea Party. There's a lot of angst, a lot of anxiety, uncertainty, fear.

And, you know, what's underlying it all? It's the economy and it's the inability of politicians to face it, and handle it and take charge.

Look what's going on with the Republican candidates. There's so much uncertainty as to who is going to get that nomination. That's a reflection of what's going on in the public discourse.

BURNETT: Jim Bianco, can this economy handle what a lot of people think might happen? John Avlon, I think, is one of them, which is it's a kick the can down the road Congress and Washington, all the way through the election, as in no major policy gets done, no big bills get passed, can we handle that economically?

BIANCO: I don't think we can. The economy is not really generating the job growth that it needs to. Yes, people are leaving the work pool. So statistically, the unemployment rate is coming down. We are growing barely at what economists call the potential for this economy.

And while we look domestically, I think the story at least in 2012 is going to be what could happen at least foreign to us. Europe is still a problem unresolved and it could get worse for them and it could affect us here. China, the slowdown there could definitely affect us as well, too.

So, the president might be looking at what's happening in the economy. Congress might be looking at what's happening in the economy. And then all of a sudden, something from overseas comes and all of the sudden, the game has been changed.

So, no, we are not quite ready for it.

BURNETT: All right. Let me ask all three of you then, to wave the magic wand. If you could wave a magic wand, one thing could happen in 2012, that would turn around our economy. What would it be?

SERWER: Number one, Europe, the domino standing back up. In other words, each kind of starting to pick up and fear of a crisis in the eurozone abating. That plus, some transparency in China. That's not going to happen.

AVLON: A bipartisan, long-term plan to deal with the deficit and the debt.

BURNETT: You are going for a grand bargain. I guess I did say magic wand.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: Because that's what needs to get done, to really put our economy on a stable, long term fiscal prism. We need to deal with the deficit.

BURNETT: Jim Bianco?

BIANCO: I'll second both of those, and I'll just go with something a little bit more modest. How about a plan so we don't have to use the word shutdown between now and the end of 2012, which we use about three weeks these days?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.

BURNETT: That would be miraculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hear you.

BURNETT: And at this time of year, we are allowed to talk about miracles. All right. Thank to all three.

BIANCO: Thank you.

BURNETT: Appreciate it.

And thanks to all of you for watching the special edition of OUTFRONT. Have a wonderful evening and a very happy holiday.