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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Italian Cruise Ship Continues to Sink; Jon Huntsman Drops Out of GOP Presidential Race; The Huntsman Factor; Tucson Schools Banning Shakespeare Play; ; Thai Police Find Cache Of Bomb Material; Rick Santorum Town Hall; O.J. Losing Miami Home; Snow Hits Seattle; Jon Huntsman Dropping Out; Evangelicals Back Santorum; Joe Paterno: I Wish I Had Done More; Sally Jenkins Got First Joe Paterno Interview; Actress Angela Bassett Honors MLK Jr Legacy; Clarence Jones Helped Dr. King Write "I Have a Dream" Speech

Aired January 16, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody. You're watching "Starting Point" this Monday morning. Some new details to get you right this morning about this shipwreck that happened in Italy.

The cruise liner saying it is the captain's fault. We know that rescue operations have been suspended this morning and that is because the cruise ship is slipping. We're going to take a look at exactly what that means. Does it mean the ship is actually going under? We'll update you on what's happening there.

Also, Jon Huntsman says he is dropping out of the presidential race, and he says he's going to back Mitt Romney but his support may not help where Mitt Romney might need it the most. We're going to take a look at evangelicals and who they're supporting this morning.

Plus, Joe Paterno in the wake of the Penn State scandal says to a columnist from the "Washington Post" "he wishes he had done more." That's a quote. We're going to talk this morning to the columnist who landed that interview.

Plus today we are celebrating Martin Luther King Day. We'll chat with Angela Bassett, the actress on Broadway in a play that is a modern day retelling of what happened on the last day of Dr. King's life.

Also, in the state of Arizona, an ethnic studies ban books literally locked up. One of those books was written by a guy named William Shakespeare. We'll talk about that as we get real.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. We've got some new developments to get to this morning. The cruise ship rescue mission has now been suspended in Giglio, Italy. The cruise ship is now slipping which we'll update you on what exactly what means in just a few moments but it sounds like that ship which has been listing on one side is now going under.

Italian prosecutors have ruled out at this point technical error. The CEO is apologizing. He says he believes it is human error, and the captain of that ship has been arrested and charged with manslaughter and abandoning his ship. The ship hit rocks, has 160-foot gash in one of its side. Many people think the other side looks the same way.

And 2,300 tons of fuel on board. At this point there is no sign of leakage. There are 14 people missing at least, including two Americans, and six people reported dead at this point. Passengers have been reliving as they tell their story it's a story of chaos and confusion. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIVIAN SHAFER, PASSENGER ON BOARD THE COSTA CONCORDIA: There wasn't anybody to help you. I mean, really, the passengers were loading the life boats by themselves.

RONDA ROSENTHAL, PASSENGER ON BOARD THE COSTA CONCORDIA: We had to go about four or five gates down before we found a life boat we could get in to and then the people were very angry that we got on that life boat because it was very crowded.

SHAFER: The crew was so young and you would have thought they would have handled it better. You would have thought they would have handled it better on shore, you would have thought they would have handles, you know, getting people off the boat.

BRANDON WARRICK, PASSENGER ON BOARD THE COSTA CONCORDIA: It was just bad. Like getting the life boats and nobody followed any procedure. The crew was yelling for people to wait their turn. And pretty much it was just a giant every man for himself to get on to the lifeboats. The first ones before they were even lowered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to CNN's Dan Rivers live in Giglio, Italy. I know the CEO of the company just did a presentation. What did he say about what's happening right now with the ship?

DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we understand just within the last few minutes it's still suspended, the search. There was concern from the firefighters aboard that the Costa Concordia was beginning to move on the seabed where it is behind me. That seabed is very shallow but then it shells away were steeply. I think there's obviously concern that if it continues to move around it may drop offer into that shelf and sink completely. And, as you say, with that huge amount of fuel oil on board that would be an environmental catastrophe here in these beautiful waters around the island of Giglio.

Elsewhere we're getting more from the lawyer or the prosecutor who is investigating the captain here. He remains under arrest, not charged yet but he's facing possible charges of manslaughter, abandoning ship, and causing a shipwreck which would be 15 years in prison if he was found guilty. They're examining the black box, a bit like a flight recorder on a plane from this ship. But they've indicated they think simply that he got too close to the shore, that he was on the bridge at the time, and that he left the ship while there was still a significant number of passengers on board. They have so far question more than 100 witnesses both crew and passengers to find out exactly what happened. But all indications are both from the Costa Cruise company and from the prosecutors that this wasn't any kind of technical problem. It was simply that they got too close and hit the shore, hit the rocks.

O'BRIEN: So Dan, that leads us to the question, but why, but why? Technically if GPS says there are rocks, are there any -- is there any speculation about why the captain might, in fact, have taken the route that would take you right by the rocks and closer to the shore?

RIVERS: Well, there seems to have been a bit of tradition with the Costa Concordia of coming past this little town because there was a link between the crew -- a former captain of the Costa Concordia that lives on the island. Some of the crew is from the island of Giglio so there was a tradition of them doing a kind of fly by almost, if you like, a sail by where they would wave and sound the horn to their friends on the island.

Now, whether they got a bit too complacent about it and got too close having done this for years, that's a possibility, or whether there's some other issue, we don't know. But certainly they came exceptionally close to this town and to the shore with devastating results.

O'BRIEN: Dan Rivers for us continues to update the story that we're watching closely. Thank you, Dan.

Let's get right to Ron Brownstein, CNN's political analyst and editorial director at the "National Journal" join us this morning. We're in the studio. Lights. The table makes some noise around us just so we feel at home.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: That's right, a lot of bad food. Steve Kornacki joins us, nice to have you. He's a writer for Salon.com. And Reihan Salam is the co-author of "The Brand New Party" joining us around the table. So hello. Good morning. I need coffee, too. We have no coffee.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You are wonderfully pippy.

O'BRIEN: You know, 18 cups of coffee will do that. Yes, I have.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: There's a secret to that. Let's start by talking about what's happened, the big news politically, which is Jon Huntsman is out. To me that's a headline and that's it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The baby size news.

BROWNSTEIN: That's news. Oh, no offense. It is a little bit of how can you tell. But, you know, he was running, you know, a very - they spent months and months and months in New Hampshire and ended up going to the exit poll winning 10 percent of New Hampshire Republicans. But like many other things in this race, it's a marginal advantage for Romney because one of the things was if Huntsman could get going they could split up the modern with part of the party and same way that the others are diverted. He's consolidating his side of the party even more and the other side remains fragmented.

O'BRIEN: Let's get to Peter Hamby, I know that you got this news late last night and we saw that come across. What do you think the impact is, divide and conquer on both sides or really, or, maybe it's just big old yawn and it doesn't matter?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, the impact, I think, down here in South Carolina at least, I'm in Myrtle Beach where the debate is tonight, is somewhat negligible. Huntsman doesn't have any money here. He hasn't caught on any measurable way after doing somewhat OK in New Hampshire, didn't do as well as he needed to do down here.

But again, Huntsman appeals to that moderate establishment leaning side of Republican party. What does it get Mitt Romney? Probably not too much, quite frankly. He needs to appeal to the Tea Party Republican base, the more con conservative and evangelical voters who have been skeptical of Romney for a long time. He is still having trouble picking up that support.

Lucky for him that side of the party is divided between several candidates. Huntsman doesn't have that much support in New Hampshire, so not really sure what he gets. He doesn't bring a big financial network to the table. And, quite frankly, him and Mitt Romney never really got along. Their families haven't gotten along and their staffs don't like each other one bit.

O'BRIEN: I'm stunned. I sit here stunned.

Let's listen who that he said back in November, just in November, about mitt Romney who he is now endorsing. This is Huntsman. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think when you're on too many sides of the issues of the day, when you don't have that core, when there's that element of trust out there, I think that becomes a problem. And I think it makes you unelectable against Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: One, does he have a point? And, two, is it just in this day and age that everybody knows you're going to say mean things and once they're a nominee they're going to say nice thing? McCain and Bush, the same thing happened.

STEVE KORNACKI, POLITICAL WRITER, SALON.COM: There is a very interesting and glowing personal history between the Romneys and the Huntsmans. I can remember the race --

BROWNSTEIN: They were quite close. KORNACKI: Sure. The two powerful names in Utah, and there was a point about a decade ago the race that made Mitt Romney's career, when he got elected as governor, he was in Utah a year earlier running the Olympics me thought the governor of Massachusetts, James Swift, was going to run for re-election in 2002 and he thought his future in politics would be Utah 2004. Jon Huntsman was looking at Utah in 2004. Mitt Romney came off and became the national star and Huntsman has been chasing him ever since.

O'BRIEN: Unfortunately, all of that interesting drama did not exist at all in the election because people would have been speaking more about Huntsman. No one talked about it.

REIHAN SALAM, CO-AUTHOR, "GRAND NEW PARTY": There was a lot wishful thinking about Huntsman. There are a lot of people who thought, hey, he's in this wonderful little niche. He's someone who represents this moderate pragmatic side of the party, as Ron had mentioned. The trouble is there was no there there. He wasn't actually able to compel an audience. He also had a conservative record he could theoretically run on an caught fire with but it just never happened.

O'BRIEN: Let me throw up a graphic for just a second. Let me throw up where Huntsman did well in New Hampshire was among unsatisfied voters. If you take a look at this you see Huntsman was leading that, 27 percent, then Ron Paul, which surprising, right. But Ron Paul was second to runts man on that unhappy, unsatisfied --

BROWNSTEIN: They have a big independent vote in New Hampshire. Huntsman, I think, had a problem with sequencing. His original message -- he was out of sequence with the party. Original message was Republicans had to recalibrate their message to reach out to a broader range of voters. That is the kind of message a party is open up after they win a defeat the way George Bush in 88 and Bill Clinton's message in 92. It's not a message a party is really open to after it has a big win like 2010. There were not a lot of Republicans came out 2010 saying we got to recalibrate our message because we're doing something wrong.

Once that cratered and he reinvented himself as a conservative, he was left with nothing. He won one in 10 Republicans in New Hampshire, not enough to justify going forward.

O'BRIEN: We have spent more time talking about Jon Huntsman than we did in Iowa the other day, which at the end of the day is the $64,000 problem he had. So he is out of the race. We can now move on.

Other stories making news this morning. There's lots to talk about. Let's get to Alina Cho. Good morning.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Here's what's happening. Thousands of people coming out of hiding to welcome Arab League monitors into Syria. They're even carrying them on their shoulders. Our Nic Robertson, one of the few western journalists allowed into Syria. He was there to witness it. A city has been under siege for weeks. Many people fleeing with their children. This coming as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivers a message to Syria's leader Basher al-Assad -- stop killing your people.

Two men now in custody in connection with the disappearance of Montana teacher Sherry Arnold. The married mother of two and stepmother of three vanished more than a week ago while taking a jog. A single running shoe was the only clue left behind.

It's the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the MLK Memorial in Washington. A ceremony there will kick off in an hour. The government has now said lit correct a paraphrased quote that is carved in stone on the memorial. The inscription says "I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness." The problem is, not an exact quote, and the poet Mara Angelou says taken out of context. "It makes Dr. King sound like an arrogant twit."

U.S. markets are closed for Martin Luther King Day, but markets overseas are reacting to the S&P's mass credit downgrade of European nations. European markets are mixed but pretty flat this morning.

And at the golden globes last night, silence was golden. The big winner was the black and white silent film "The Artist." The movie won three awards, including best musical or comedy. George Clooney picked up best dramatic actor in "The Descendants," Meryl Streep best dramatic actress in "The Iron Lady." Also a big winner last night, Michelle Williams for best actress for her role in "My Week with Marilyn."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE WILLIAMS, ACTRESS: I want thank the Foreign Press Association for putting in my hands the same award that Marilyn Monroe herself won over 50 years ago. I'm honored. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Michelle Williams looked radiant last night. A lot of talk about head bands last night, Soledad, on the fashion front.

O'BRIEN: I want to get one of those, a headband.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: All right, Alina, that's ahead this morning. We will talk a little fashion. Still to come this morning on STARTING POINT, we all move to South Carolina. We literally will move to South Carolina as we head there in a couple of days. What's the impact going to be from the Tea Partiers in South Carolina? The South Carolina GOP chair is going to join us next to look forward to that race.

Also, Joe Paterno is speaking out for the very first time since the sex scandal hit Penn State. We're going to hear how he handled the situation when he was first told about Jerry Sandusky. Reporter Sally Jenkins is going to join us. You're watching STARTING POINT everybody. Short break and back in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: The picture right there. Can we show that again? That was Washington, D.C., partly cloudy, 25 degrees. Only going up to 44 there, oh, it's pretty and cold.

Let's talk politics since we're looking at that shot this morning of the capital. The Republican field is now down to five as we told you. Jon Huntsman is bowing out today. The key will be just how the Tea Partiers and the Evangelicals in that state vote.

We've got Chad Connelly joining us this morning. He's the Chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for being with us. We certainly appreciate it.

CHAD CONNELLY, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. I wish you could join us for breakfast right here. We're having bagels and locks (ph) this morning.

CONNELLY: Yes.

O'BRIEN: In person one day soon maybe.

Let's talk about the impact that you think the Huntsman dropping out of this race really realistically has.

CONNELLY: Well, you know, Governor Huntsman ran a spirited campaign. And he had a great political team here in South Carolina. I'm not sure what kind of impact it will have. I mean, any time a candidate endorses another candidate is a good thing. I'm sure it's going grab a lot of news today and on the day of the big debate that I think is going to be pivotal in this whole campaign.

But I think his followers or whatever, his folks on the ground will probably disperse among the campaigns. And I don't know if Governor Romney will get the bulk of that or not.

O'BRIEN: Yes. It seems like Governor Romney might get the bulk of that. When you talk about the debate and you expect it to be spirited, give me a little projection. What do you think is going to happen in that debate? There's been so many debates - so, so many.

CONNELLY: Well, you know, I've been telling people this is just a third in South Carolina. And I was with my family over Christmas and we have four families since my wife and I were both widowed. And it was an interesting focus group actually because I was surprised that how few of them had actually seen an entire debate.

But now I think folks in South Carolina are tuning in. They're pretty focused on this. They're starting to really watch. So I believe it's going to be pivotal from the viewpoint that people are really watching now and they're making their decisions before Saturday's vote.

O'BRIEN: I love a man who uses his family as his research. That's very good thing.

Rick Santorum - I did the same thing with my family, too, extended families are good for that.

CONNELLY: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Rick Santorum has said that he thinks that anybody who is supporting Mitt Romney is crazy because he says he cannot win. I want to a little play a little bit of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And unfortunately, the man who is leading the polls here in South Carolina, if you believe them, is someone whose plan was the basis of Obamacare.

Now, in an election where this is the central issue, freedom, the traditional values of this country, of free people, free markets, free enterprise. Not top down government control. Why would the people of South Carolina put out there someone who we lose that issue with? Who's wrong on that issue?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Do you think that's a compelling argument, why would the people of South Carolina do that very thing? Because if you look at the polls, maybe we can throw up a graphic right here, Mitt Romney is winning at 29 percent. This is South Carolina poll likely primary voters. And it's Santorum is down, way down, at just seven percent.

CONNELLY: I thought it would be anybody's strategist and try to stay out of those as reads (ph) as much as I can.

But I think President Obama has been so bad for the economy, you know, here in South Carolina, he led the National Labor Relations Board attack a private business in Boeing. The DOJ, the Department of Justice, has gone after, you know, voter ID laws and immigration laws here.

So the folks in South Carolina are looking at a much broader picture than just one issue. And so I think that anybody we elect I've been saying is going to be better than what we have in the White House right now. And I think you're going to see the voters of South Carolina make a decisive vote on Saturday.

O'BRIEN: All right. Chad Connelly is the Chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. I'm sure we will see you when we head down to South Carolina on Thursday morning. Maybe we'll get you to come join us in a diner somewhere in that state.

Appreciate your time, sir.

CONNELLY: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Thanks for being with us.

CONNELLY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, he talks about sort of voters are not really one issue voters. But when you really poll people the economy, the economy, the economy seems to be the big issue. And I wonder if that's why Santorum is sort of lowdown because he's really been going with the sort of values and social issues.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, Santorum's theoretical strength once he emerged in Iowa was his ability to appeal to Sam's Club Republicans and blue collar Republicans with an economic message and economic background, the contrast very favorably with Romney theoretically for those voters.

But as you say, he has not been able to get to that message. He went to New Hampshire, got in an argument on day one with a college student about gay marriage, again, equated with polygamy, never got to his blue collar economic messages.

He's trying a little harder in South Carolina. He wrote a big Op-Ed piece. But the fact is he is not drawing any better among non-college or college Republicans in these early states which suggest that the profile that we all see in him voters aren't yet seeing in him.

IYER: Do you think it would make a difference in terms of Santorum if people started talking more about Mrs. Santorum, the fact that she was living with someone who is four years older than her, a doctor an abortion doctor? You heard about this story, right? This is a great story that's out there now.

O'BRIEN: Well - whoa.

BROWNSTEIN: Whoa.

O'BRIEN: Whoa. But before we even bring this story in which I know nothing about -

BROWNSTEIN: Right, me, neither.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, definitely.

O'BRIEN: I actually think that it seems to me -

IYER: Dr. Allen is his name.

O'BRIEN: -- but the question becomes, if Santorum is having a hard time getting his own message out, I mean, at what point are you saying that the people should start focusing on the spouses? Usually that sort of let out (ph).

SALAM: You saw that clip. I mean, the guy has a tone that is not a lovely, friendly, winning tone. And he's talking about this guy, if you believe the polls, you know, who is coming out ahead and just kind of this -

O'BRIEN: And I have to tell you that - but when I have attended, you know, across many states, many of these rallies and the people in the audience love it. I mean, I think there's a part in the - in the rally where you get serious and there's a part where you shout and there's a part where you make jokes. But in the audience people love - they think he is a great communicator. He comes across as very friendly.

(CROSSTALK)

IYER: He's hanging his hat on the social conservatism and if I think if - people's families are on the line here. You're saying you're using your family as a focus group. Their families are up for grabs. They have got to bring this out there that Mrs. Santorum right before she met Rick Santorum, she was living with Dr. Allen. He's in his 90s now. There were 40 years apart from each other, and he was abortion doctor.

O'BRIEN: I know nothing about that story. So I'm -

IYER: I am going to bring up my BlackBerry and show you.

O'BRIEN: That would be great to see. We'll talk more about that.

IYER: I'll do that.

O'BRIEN: We're going to take a break. We're going to "Get Real" in just a moment.

Did you guys see this story in Arizona? A school district that is banning books, Shakespeare, "The Tempest" is one of those books.

We'll take a look at that straight ahead when STARTING POINT continues in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Oh, I love that we change up the music a little bit. Thank you. Thank you. I'm going to do my TiVo moment. Thank you, lord, for changing the music. It's only into our third week.

It's time to "Get Real" this morning. We're going to talk to you about the largest school district in Tucson, Arizona, has officially ended its 13-year-old Mexican-American Studies program, ended last week, falling in line with the state ban on courses that promote, quote, "racial resentment." The district was in danger of losing millions, I think maybe a million dollars in state funding every single month if it didn't get rid of the program.

So according - and I should also mention it's a school district where 60 percent of the students come from Mexican-American backgrounds. So it was part of trying to comply, the school released - the district released a list of books that are now banned. A district spokesperson says banning the books means that they'll be cleared out of the classrooms, they'll be boxed up and they will be basically be locked away, that's a quote.

According to (INAUDIBLE), the list of banned books includes one which is called "Rethinking Columbus" with FAs (ph) from several Native American authors. There's another one which is called "Occupied America: History of Chicanos." There's also "The Tempest" written by William Shakespeare. And "The Tempest" is banned because administrators warn teachers about using anything where, quote, "race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes." I hate to talk about oppression. Let's just not discuss slavery.

IYER: And that's completely ignoring our history.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Slavery, servitude, of course, are central themes in "The Tempest" and it was written around the time that Europe was treating kind of the Americas like a little Monopoly board, just gathering everything up. Banning Shakespeare or really any book in 2012 -

SALAM: I see this all the district is interpreting the state's mandate.

O'BRIEN: It's pretty clear interpretation.

BROWNSTEIN: No. This is - this is a big fight. I mean, this does really goes with what I have called the brown and the gray. You got - Arizona is one of those states where the under 18 population is becoming majority non-white. The senior population remains overwhelmingly white and we see this kind of ethnic conflict and issue after issue.

This is the Republicans in the state legislature and now the Republican superintendent of schools state-wide (ph) that we have in the schools cracking down and trying to stop Tucson from pursuing an Ethnic Studies program that they believe encourages kind of ethnic division.

And you just see this kind of embedded conflict, generational and ethnic overlay that I think is going to be part of our politics in decades to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And a lot of it, too, is sort of a consequence that was brought up from the 2010 midterm elections last year. We've seen stuff like this, not necessarily banning books but stuff that's a little out there at the state level. Really, that's one of the stories of 2011 and it's because sort of that Tea Party Wing of the Republican Party took control in the primaries in 2010, then because of the climate had this great general election. And all of this is sort of real purity focused outsider Tea Party types took power in states and this is what we have.

BROWNSTEIN: And we've got very similar fight in Texas where 70 percent of the school - the K to 12 is non-white and a conservative majority on the Board of Education trying to -

O'BRIEN: People talk about what's happening as we saw the demographic shift happening, and we're going to see -

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Oh, we're going to take a break. I see people breathing to start talking. Let's stop.

We're going to take a break. We're going to actually talk a little bit more about this as we talk about the fight for the right.

Erick Erickson was at that Evangelical Summit that we talked about last week. And they said that originally that they thought maybe they wouldn't be able to come up with someone to support. Well, they ended up supporting Rick Santorum. We're going to talk about what happened in that meeting over the weekend.

Plus, Joe Paterno is telling his side of the story in Penn State scandal. We'll talk this morning with the columnist who landed that first interview with Joe Paterno. That's straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: OK, that music is all right, too. Welcome back, everybody. I'm picky. We don't want soothing. Soothing is bad first thing in the morning. Everyone goes back to bed with soothing. We want energetic.

It's 7:32 in the morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Coming up this morning, we're going to talk about Joe Paterno's first interview for the very first time in his own words. He's talking about the Penn State child sex scandal. It's what cost him his job.

We'll talk to the reporter who interviewed him this morning. Also, today is MLK day, Martin Luther King Day. Actress Angela Bassett will talk about this play on Broadway that she's been starring, which some people say is controversial.

I saw it, I love it, which a look of modern day look back at what Martin Luther King did on the night before he was killed. First though, an update on some of the stories that are making news. And Alino Cho has got that for us. Alina, good morning again.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again to you, Soledad. Rescue operations have been suspended at this hour in the Italian cruise ship tragedy.

The weather is making it impossible to safely board the ship, which is apparently starting to slip. Costa cruise line's CEO says human error is behind the accident that has left six people dead.

More than a dozen missing including two Americans. People onboard the ship described the scene of total confusion with the crew.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIVIAN SHAFER, COSTA CONCORDIA SURVIVOR: The crew was so young. You would have thought they could have handled it better. You would have thought they would have handled it better on the shore. You would have thought they would have handled, you know, getting people of the boat, warning people.

BRANDON WARRICK, COSTA CONCORDIA SURVIVOR: It was just bad, like mad to get on the life boats and nobody followed any procedure. The crew was yelling for people to wait their turn. And pretty much it was just a giant every man for himself to get on the life boats. The first ones before they were even lowered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: You're looking live off the coast of Italy. That is what the ship looks like right now. At 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time, we will talk with two ship captains about what may have gone wrong.

A police raid in Thailand turned up a large supply of bomb-making chemicals just days after Americans were warned to avoid tourist sites in Bangkok.

A terror suspect led police to the building in question. It contained more than 300 boxes of fertilizer and ammonium nitrate. The U.S. embassy still hasn't lifted the warning it issued last week.

A meet and greet with Rick Santorum. The GOP candidate is holding a town hall meeting in Columbia, South Carolina, this morning. You're looking at live pictures there.

There he is with sweater vest, got a big endorsement from Evangelical leaders in Texas over the weekend. We're going to see if it helps him at all in the polls.

O.J. Simpson is losing his house in Miami to foreclosure. Officials say they acted after late fees, penalties and overdue principle built up. Simpson's been in jail in Nevada since 2008 for kidnapping and armed robbery.

And the New York Giants are going to the NFC Championship game. They defeated the defending champions Green Bay Packers, 37-20, Sunday. AFC, the Baltimore Ravens beat the Houston Texans to punch their ticket to the AFC title game, as well.

It's 35 minutes after the hour. So that's what happened, Rob Marciano, while we were all watching the red carpet Golden Globes. Giants won.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Some of us, yes. But Eli Manning has done well at Lambeau and did well again. Congrats to them. Take you to Seattle, Alina, the Seahawks didn't make the playoffs but they had this, snow, rare event there.

They get it every a couple times a year, but not to this extent, accumulated on the roadways. Different spots got different amounts. But nonetheless, it was a treacherous day yesterday. Here's the deal.

There's more snow on the way for not only Seattle but as far south as Portland over the next couple of days significant accumulations not only at the lower elevations, but also at the higher elevations as well.

Finally from the cascades to the sierras, more in the way of snowfall as -- I mean, their snow pack about 10 percent of normal. They'll take it. Most of the cold air is bottled up in Canada still and Alaska. Brief warm up today across parts of the midsection of the country, 70s in places like Texas, but right now northeast during that cold air, 16 degrees currently in New York, 11 degrees in Boston.

With this cold air at the surface and some of that moisture and warm air coming in tonight, a winter weather advisory out for parts of Pennsylvania, Jersey, upstate New York, mostly away from the bigger cities.

The I-95 corridor should be for the most day OK travel wise, but freezing rain, sleet, and snow tonight. Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Dallas and Denver are the problem spots today, 44 degrees with snow on the way tomorrow in Chicago. So enjoy your warm-up today. Alina, back up to you.

CHO: All right, I'm going to stop complaining about it being a warm winter. Thank you, Rob, very much.

Soledad O'Brien, I'm going to start grabbing a bagel and watch. Thank you for bringing the diner to us today.

O'BRIEN: I was up all night making bane bagels in my kitchen. All right, Alina, thank you.

Let's talk politics. Mitt Romney is the frontrunner in South Carolina and has been for a little while, but the biggest problem may still be for him winning over Evangelicals.

Got our panel back this morning, but also joining us is CNN contributor, Erick Erickson. He's the editor in chief as well of redstate.com. He attended that conservative summit this weekend in Texas that we told everybody about on Friday.

It's nice to see you, Erick, thanks for being with us. First and foremost, let's show everybody how it ended up. If you pop up this graphic on the air you can see, Santorum 85 votes, Gingrich 29 votes. So interpret those numbers for me. Does that mean Santorum really ran away with it ultimately?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not necessarily. He ran away with it with the people voting. Now, I did not vote. I couldn't be there on Saturday. I was there for the Friday portion of the event, but talking to a lot of people who were there on Saturday.

A number of people had left by the time that round of voting. So it wasn't as strongly for Santorum although there was a consensus for Santorum.

I don't want to underplay that a lot of people really like Santorum. He has been a fighter in the movement and to a degree he has been rewarded now by Evangelicals for sticking up to the pro life position.

O'BRIEN: When I talked to Tony Perkins on Friday, he said to me that he thought that going into this meeting and going into this vote that they probably wouldn't be able to back one person. Why do you think that changed?

ERICKSON: Because they really do want to beat Barack Obama, but they really want to beat Mitt Romney as well. I think that the headline out of this is going to be that Mitt Romney is going to go into a general election potentially as the nominee with even less of a rapport with Evangelical voters than John McCain had.

O'BRIEN: You can redstate.com by the way, because you said, I love when you highlight things for people in the media. If you're reading this from the media, this is what you posted this morning.

I think the story you should tell is Mitt Romney will probably become the nominee of the Republican Party with even less good feelings between Evangelicals and him than John McCain had. Why?

ERICKSON: Well, you just starting off with the people in the room, these are the real leaders of the Evangelical movement going back to the '60s to some degree, who have been attacked from the left for years as bigots.

And it really doesn't help Mitt Romney's campaign to conclude their pitch for Romney was admonition to don't be an anti-Mormon bigot, consider Mitt Romney.

It didn't go over well with the room and you know, the guys who were in the room, their concern wasn't Mitt Romney's religion. Their concern was his shiftiness on social positions over the years.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But Erick, it's Ron Brownstein. Let's ask the bottom -- I don't want to say the bottom line question. I think everyone agrees unless Mitt Romney is defeated in South Carolina this race could be over.

The candidate who seems like the best chance to defeat him in South Carolina is Newt Gingrich. By endorsing Rick Santorum and potentially splitting that vote has this group in fact made it more likely that Mitt Romney win South Carolina and thus wins the nomination?

ERICKSON: I think so. There's a lot of talk in the room that it was already a done deal. They got advice from some people what it was although most of them wanted to fight on.

But I think the fall back consensus to a degree was that well, at least maybe we will secure him as the vice presidential slot. I think they're sowing the seeds of division in 2016 because if Romney is the nominee and loses then Rick Santorum can go into 2016 and say, I am the frontrunner among the Evangelicals winning may not necessarily be there.

O'BRIEN: I want to point everybody to your article, which is on redstates.com, which updates what happened on the weekend meeting. Thanks. It's nice to see you, Erick. Appreciate your time.

ERICKSON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You want to keep it at CNN for the best political coverage on TV on Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, it's the Southern Republican Presidential Debate. We're going to carry that here live.

Then Saturday, 7 p.m. Eastern, the road to nomination stops in South Carolina. You want to tune in for the most comprehensive primary coverage you can find. That would be right here with us.

Also ahead this morning, Joe Paterno's first sit-down interview since he was fired. He says he wasn't sure how to hand the molestation report. We're going to talk to columnist who got that first interview.

And we'll talk to Angela Bassett about her return to Broadway. She will tell us why the role she the playing right now and through Sunday has a very special meaning for her, especially on this Martin Luther King Day. That's straight ahead. STARTING POINT is back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Joe Paterno is telling his side of the story in the Penn State sex scandal. He admits he wasn't sure how to handle the information that Jerry Sandusky was abusing a young boy.

Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for the "Washington Post" and landed that first interview with Joe Paterno. It's nice to see you, Sally. Thanks for talking with us.

Give me a sense first, before the interview, how were you able to talk him into doing this interview and how did he seemed when you sat down to talk to him?

SALLY JENKINS, INTERVIEWED JOE PATERNO: Well, first of all, he contacted me. He was looking for someone to sit down with, and I take it that he, I think, liked my work.

I had written a couple of things on the Penn State Jerry Sandusky scandal, and I think he probably felt that they were reasonable. So I found him feeble. He had had chemotherapy literally the day before we met.

We met on two straight days, Thursday and Friday of last week. Thursday, he was pretty good. By Friday, he was weaker and, in fact, couldn't get out of bed.

And the last half of the interview was really at his bedside and then he was taken to the hospital. He's having some side effects from chemotherapy. He's 85 years old and so the chemo is very harsh on him.

O'BRIEN: Was your sense that this was his effort to clear his name and set the record straight or --

JENKINS: Yes, very much so. I think he -- it was his attempt to explain to people what he knew and what he did about it, what he didn't do and why he didn't do more and how he felt about it.

I think that he had been waiting for, I think, some of the boil to come out of the water in the state college environment, where things have been pretty high emotional pitch. And he felt that things had quieted down enough that he could be heard. O'BRIEN: Let's read through a little bit of some of the quotes that he gave you in this article. He told you, "I didn't know exactly how to handle it. I was worried that -- something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn't work out that way."

I think a lot of people look at that and say, that sense is kind of incompatible with the kind of coach Joe Paterno was, which was sort of, by descriptions, tough, iron-fisted, and completely 100 percent running things. Did it seem to you to be inconsistent?

JENKINS: It didn't seem inconsistent but it does seem you have to make a decision about who you think Joe Paterno was. He presents himself as somebody who is a very old world gentleman who was out of his depth with the issue of child molestation. Then there's version of Joe Paterno that is the one that you described, where he was in command of every detail of the program. I will say this. He was 75 when Mike McQueary came to him. I think that it's possible and maybe even plausible that Joe Paterno by 2002 when he came to him was a much older man, was not as maybe powerful. State College as he had once been. Viewers have to make up their minds about who they think Joe Paterno was in all of this.

O'BRIEN: One of the things he said to you was, quote, "In hindsight, I wish I had done more." Did he give you examples of what more?

JENKINS: Yes. He said, you know, he should have -- in 2002 he went to his superiors, Gary Shultz, the vice president of the university, head of campus police, and athletic director, I have this report, there was a young man who saw Jerry Sandusky in the showers doing something with a boy. After that, Paterno never follows up with his superiors. What he said to me is, you know, I wish I had said, where are we with the boy, what's going on with this boy, what's going on with this coach? He didn't do that. He did go back to Mike McQueary, the coach who had seen the incident a few tapes and said where are we with this. He didn't push the chain of command.

O'BRIEN: When you ask him later about their sort of about their own children. And he says to you, but for me I get a bunch of guys and say let's go punch somebody in the nose. That would be the response if he was talking about his own children. His wife, Sue, is much stronger and says, if someone touched my child, quote, "There wouldn't be a trial. I would have killed them." And so I guess it's hard to -- again, the inconsistency with, if someone is going to touch my kid I would smack them in the face. In retrospect, what I would have done is check in on how that thing went. Doesn't that seem inconsistent with you?

JENKINS: Those remarks, I thought, were reflective of the two different personalities of Sue Paterno and Joe Paterno. I didn't find that inconsistent. Again, you have to ask yourself, you know, Paterno's, you know, idea that he would take someone and go punch somebody in the nose is a quaint, old-fashioned term. And that's very much how Joe Paterno presented himself in the interview. And, you know, that's who he has always appeared to be. He's from a background, an old Italian family in FlatBush, Brooklyn. He went to Brown University. You know, he's 85 years old. And this is the way he's presenting himself now in this story. People have to decide whether they believe it.

O'BRIEN: The folks in "The Atlantic" wrote a criticism of your interview and they said basically this, "We get a subjective narrative of the sort you would get from a witness who has just been examined by his own attorney." Meaning they don't think you were tough enough on him. What do you make of that?

JENKINS: Well, I asked him the tough questions point blank. What did you know, why diplomat you know more, why didn't you do more. You know, I'm not quite sure how much tougher you're supposed to get on the guy. You know, why didn't you know about the 1998 police report? You never heard a whisper, you never heard a rumor. He says absolutely not pop absolutely no inkling. My job as a reporter is to put his words out there and for people to make up their own minds. It's not my job to tell you whether he's plausible or not. You to do that for yourself.

O'BRIEN: Sally Jenkins, "Washington Post," appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning, actress Angela Bassett honors legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And we talk to the man who helped Dr. King write the "I Have a Dream" speech.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Mahral (ph) has made the music better for me this morning. I'm so happy with the little things. That was a shot of Atlanta, Georgia. It's going to be 57 degrees in Atlanta. It's cold here in New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 16.

(LAUGHTER)

Charleston is warm.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: And we're not there until Thursday.

Our cause celeb this morning is actress Angela Basset. She has been starring on Broadway in a play which follows Martin Luther King Jr's last days on earth.

I sat down to talk to her about Dr. King's enduring legacy. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Do you think that there's a sense of great progress or that much more still has to be done or somewhere in between?

ANGELA BASSET, ACTRESS: I don't think we ever reach the end.

O'BRIEN: "The Mountaintop"?

(LAUGHTER)

BASSET: Yes, the end. But, you know, if I were to be so bold as to say, you know, as to sort of, you know, think about what he might say, I think that he would be pleased with the great deal of progress that has been made. But at the same time, knowing that there is, you know, this much further that we have to go, you know, as he says -- as she says in the play, as he thought, as he said, poor people are important. You know, they matter. Poor people matter. You know, and we have not far from here, down in, you know, the park, you know, fighting for that. You know, the haves and the have-nots. That's still very present reality.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: "The Mountaintop" the play will close on Sunday. If you guys haven't had a chance to see it, it's really good. I thought it was really interesting. You can see my full interview with Angela Basset at CNN.com.

Also had a chance to sit down with Clarence Jones. He was a young lawyer and part of Dr. King's inner circle and helped him write his "I Have a Dream" speech. As Clarence Jones tells us the final draft of that speech never included those famous words, "I Have a Dream." Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARENCE JONES, PART OF MLK'S INNER CIRCLE: What happened, he was in the middle of reading the material. And then says, tell them about your dream, Martin. Tell him about your dream. She was his favorite gospel singer. And I was standing behind him, and I saw him acknowledge her, take the text he was reading, and move it aside, and look out on the 250,000 assembled. And I said to some unknown person standing next to me, because I could watch his body language, and I said to that person, these people here, they don't know about, but they are about to go to church. And that's when he started speaking spontaneously using the "I Have a Dream" which is not the written speech that was prepared.

O'BRIEN: I think, every year around this time, everybody looks back at the last year, the past decade and says, what would Martin say?

JONES: Let's take the state of the country today. The absence of civility just seems to be anger. Anger seems to be --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: People or elected officials or both?

JONES: Both. I mean, it's clear that this anger at one another, all right. There are some obvious things that he might want to comment on. I mean, for example, just on the high number of African-American men who are incarcerated, in prison. This would be to him like his worst nightmare, his worst nightmare to see that which he struggled and worked and gave his life for. Young men, young men instead of having -- instead of taking advantage of the opportunity that he worked so hard, that now they constitute -- that is young African- American men, they constitute not only on an absolutely basis but on a percentage basis the highest number of men incarcerated.

O'BRIEN: Where would he find hope? Where would he say --

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: I think he --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: -- my work was done well here?

JONES: I think he'd find hope looking at you on television.

(LAUGHTER)

And other people. I think he'd find hope in the number of what I call the successor generation, of people who look with a little more hopefulness than perhaps even my own generation, because maybe we have become a little cynical.

But I think he would also find hope that, in spite of some of the criticism of the so-called Occupy Wall Street, in spite of the criticism of the people who follow Ron Paul, that there's something out there, where people are saying, the system is not working, and there's an element of pervasive unfairness in the system.

The Wall Street people are talking about how bad corporations are, and indeed many of them are. And indeed, there's no question about it. But not all corporations are bad. And not all corporate leaders are bad. All right? I think Dr. King would want us to -- you know what I thought, for example?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Wait, wait. Finish that thought. You think Dr. King would what?

JONES: Well, I think Dr. King would either, on a quiet basis, maybe without publicity, sit and talk with these corporate leaders, you know, and see if he couldn't raise their consciousness and get them to see a sense of responsibility.

O'BRIEN: It's nice to have you.

JONES: Nice to have you, as always. O'BRIEN: Thank you.

JONES: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, some details that are developing on that crashed cruise ship in Italy. We're going to talk about the rescue operation, which is now on hold. Somewhere between 14 and maybe 16 people are still missing, and that includes two Americans.

And then we'll go back to talking about Tim Tebow and his faith. Some people say it crosses the line. Hall of Fame Quarterback Fran Tarkenton will join us. And also a former teammate of Tim Tebow will join us.

And the Golden Globes. Ricky Gervais snarkier than ever, but really we just want to talk about the clothes.

Right, Ron Brownstein, that's all you want to talk about.

(LAUGHTER)

RON BROWNSTEIN: (INAUDIBLE).

(LAUGHTER0

O'BRIEN: That's still ahead. Stay with us.

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