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Captain Blamed for Cruise Accident; Huntsman Dropping Out of Race; Romney Gives Cash To Struggling Supporter; Rick Perry Defends Statement About Marines; Sports Analysts Discuss Tim Tebow and Religion in Sports

Aired January 16, 2012 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome back to STARTINGT POINT. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

Updating you on our top story this morning:

That cruise ship in Italy is now slipping and the rescue operations, because of that slip, have now been put on hold. There are some developments that come out of this shipwreck.

And also this morning, we're talking about Jon Huntsman, who has announced that he is getting out of the presidential race. He's going to get that official in just a few hours. It looks like he's going to be backing Mitt Romney. What does all that mean?

Plus, do you guys see this? Mitt Romney reaching into his wallet and gives money to a struggling supporter. We're going to go inside that good deed ahead and see what was it all about?

And the Golden Globes. Ricky Gervais was back, almost as mean as he was the last time. It does make the show much more entertaining.

Here talking about how the Golden Globes measures up against the Oscars. It's very funny. Listen.


RICKY GERVAIS, GOLDEN GLOBE HOST: So the Golden Globes are to the Oscars what Kim Kardashian is to Kate Middleton, basically. But a bit louder, a bit trashier, a bit drunker, and more easily bought.


O'BRIEN: I love that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Name one of the foreign press members. Name one.

O'BRIEN: All of that. Plus, NFL Hall of Famer quarterback Fran Tarkenton is going to join us. He's going to talk about Tim Tebow and whether or not God does care who wins.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC) O'BRIEN: OK. We start with our new developments to get to. That cruise ship, now the rescue mission, has been suspended. This all happening in Giglio, Italy, because the cruise ship is slipping.

Italian prosecutors are ruling out technical error. That means they are pointing to human error, and the CEO is apologizing. The captain of the ship has been arrested. He's being charged with manslaughter and also abandoning ship.

The ship hit rocks, and there is a 160-foot gash in the side. You can see how it's listed over to the side, 2,300 tons of fuel that are onboard. So far, there's no sign of leaking yet. But that's one of the concerns as it slips.

Fourteen people are reported missing, including two Americans. There are six people who have been confirmed as dead.

The passengers have been talking about what happened. And in their words, it was absolute chaos and confusion.


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


O'BRIEN: Captain Jim Staples is a captain with 17 years of experience. And Robert Almeida is the editor of He's also a former U.S. Navy officer. They are joining us this morning.

Nice to see you, gentlemen.

We're going to bring in our panel as well.

Why don't you, Captain Staples, start with exactly what could have happened in your mind? When you se a picture of a ship basically on its side and now looks like it's slipping with a massive gash, and everyone is saying -- the CEO and the cruise line are saying human error. What do you think happened?

CAPTAIN JIM STAPLES, WAS A CAPTAIN FOR 17 YEARS: Well, my first concern when I saw the vessel laying on its side is what in the world was she doing so close to the beach? Any shipmaster knows you need to keep the vessel in good water. And to be that close, I said to myself, boy, that's probably a lapse in judgment here. Something definitely went wrong with some decision making.

O'BRIEN: So the captain of the ship is a guy named Francisco Schettino, and here is what he told the media in Italy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANCESCO SCHETTINO, COSTA CONCORDIA CAPTAIN (through translator): I don't know if it was detected or not, but on the nautical chart, it was marked just as water, at some 100, 150 meters from the rocks. And we were about 300 meters from the shore more or less. We shouldn't have had this contact.


O'BRIEN: So it sounds like he is saying that it was some kind of technical error, either the GPS didn't work or the maps were wrong. What do you think of that, Robert?

ROBERT ALMEIDA, EDITOR, GCAPTAIN.COM: A hundred meters from shore and 150 meters from shoal water, and the ship is about 300 meters long. So, you know, it's an open bay at the end of the day.

You know, if the ship was even slightly off course or had any sort of mismatch on the radar systems or if anything really went wrong, they would have immediately been in extremis in that situation. And, you know, they had plenty of area to monitor and leave that bay. So, there's no reason a prudent mariner would have put himself in that situation.

You know, if had anything -- you know, really, if something went wrong, they would have been on the rocks. Or if they had been -- if their navigation had been slightly off, they would have been on the rocks, which was exactly what happened.

O'BRIEN: While we'll be asking some questions, I'm going to throw up a map so people can see. If you look, you can see the sort of yellow line, which is the line that this cruise ship was supposed to take. Show my map.

There we go. This is Google Earth here. You can see the yellow line that they were supposed to take and then the line they actually did take is the red one. This is look how close that --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Had they taken this route before? I mean, this is my question. This allegedly is supposed to be a route they had taken before. They should have known that it was rocks and not water there.

O'BRIEN: Well, the bigger question to me is the chaos that people describe. Literally it sounds like --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's talk about was the crew trained for such an emergency.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's funny. I was just thinking, I spent the last month in Iowa and New Hampshire hearing that the solution to every single problem in society is less oversight, less government. And when something like this happens, the first instinct, the first question you ask is, who was regulating? What were the requirements? Why -- (CROSSTALK)

REIHAN SALAM, CO-AUTHOR, "GRAND NEW PARTY": My reaction is the opposite because you have to accept that certain things are dangerous, and that you actually --


SALAM: That's when you decide it's going to be foolproof, that's what's dangerous.

O'BRIEN: OK. So, let me get back to my experts.

Captain Jim Staples, what the passengers describe sounds like literally out of the movie, like just complete, utter chaos, where they were getting contradictory advice on whether they should stay in the rooms or not. And then I think also the fact that the captain is out doing television when people are still who seem possibly trapped on that ship, what kind of training goes into this? I mean, how off kilter is this?

STAPLES: Well, this is definitely very heavily regulated industry. There are standards in place that the crew has to be trained by. It's through the STCW that there's a standard for certification of watch keeping. Every crew member has to go through it, depending on the level of your job description.

But everybody has the basics from abandon ship to fire on boat drills. This is a standard type training that the IMO has put in place. This needs to be done. And what we need to look at is the institutions that are training these seamen to see if they do meet the same standards that we have here, say, in the United States or Northern Europe.

A lot of these sailors come from third world type countries. You'll have different ethnic groups onboard, nationalities. You'll have language problems.

And this seems to be from what I'm hearing quite a bit of the problem, was the utter chaos. It seems to me that the vessel did not have a boat drill before they left. The crew and passengers --

O'BRIEN: Don't they have to have a boat drill? Let me ask you a question about that. You're supposed to have a boat drill within 24 hours, apparently, and they didn't have one before they left. But it was within that 24-hour window, I believe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it was like 5:00 p.m. That's pretty late.

STAPLES: That's correct.

O'BRIEN: Why would you have a boat leave at all without the drill?

STAPLES: Well, that's what the regulations are. And if that's what the regulations are, that's what the standard is for the company. We have a code out there called SOLAS, and that came about because of the sinking of the Titanic in 1914. Because of the Titanic, SOLAS came out.

And this has the requirements that are mandatory for boat drills. But these are minimal standards. These are not the maximum standards. So there's nothing to say that the company could not put in their procedures, which is under the ISM, the International Safety Management procedures, which came about in 1998, to cover the human element that's involved when sailing ships.

So there's nothing to say that the vessel could have had a boat drill prior to sailing. It's common sense that this would make a prudent decision to do something like this with this amount of people onboard. You have 4,500 people onboard a ship that are very unfamiliar with anything onboard a ship, with where the life boats are, and the signals that are sounded. So, you know, it would be prudent to have a drill prior to that.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it sounds like chaos.

STAPLES: To my understanding here in the United States, it does happen.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it does.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Captain, has the black box been recovered at this point and what do we know about that?

O'BRIEN: And what happens with that boat? When do you get the box?

STAPLES: There's a VDR on board. It's a voice data recorder onboard. This is up on the bridge.

And what it does, it monitors not only the voice but also all the data and input that's being put into this box, so-called box. It will take care of the speed, the gyro headings, what the helmsman was doing when he was steering the vessel, the engine order, where the engine was with RPMs. If there was any kind of electrical malfunction with the engines, that will show up.

So they'll get a lot of information off this voice data recorder as to what was happening. But one thing they will know is that they will be able to chart exactly where that vessel was and the time that they had the impact with the ledge.

O'BRIEN: All right. Captain Jim Staples joining us, and Robert Almeida as well. Thanks, gentlemen. Appreciate your time.

Our other top story this morning is Jon Huntsman. He is calling it quits today and he says he's going to be backing Mitt Romney.

Let's get right to CNN political reporter Peter Hamby, because he broke that story for us. He's live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Impact of this announcement, do you think, Peter? PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I don't think there's going to be a huge impact in the race. Huntsman was not really catching on in the polls especially here in South Carolina but also nationally.

And you have to wonder, will this help Mitt Romney? Again, probably not. I mean, maybe around the margins if there are some moderate- leaning voters here in the South Carolina primary. And the race becomes a close one on Saturday, you know, maybe that could help him.

But Huntsman doesn't have a big donor network, and there's not a lot of friendliness. They have a frosty relationship, Romney and Huntsman.

I think the immediate impact on the race you will see in the debates tonight and our CNN debate on Thursday night. You have a shrinking stage. You have five candidates, and especially if Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum trying to break out of that anti-Romney pack, it gives them more space and more time to train their fire on Mitt Romney.

We have been going through all of these debates over the last year. You got -- sorry go ahead.

O'BRIEN: I was going to ask on our panel, what's the likelihood? I mean, it's been really Mitt Romney leading, even the South Carolina polls show kind of Gingrich closing the gap fairly well. What do you think is the likelihood with this dropout of Jon Huntsman?

STEVE KORNACKI, SALON.COM: Well, to me, this is -- this is sort of the perfect microcosm of the Huntsman campaign, because it's going to get a ton of attention today and it will really is going to have no impact on this race. And it's sort of like his entire campaign is --


SALAM: He's a very effective surrogate for Mitt Romney if Mitt Romney wins that Republican nomination. Mitt Romney for John McCain was a very effective surrogate, and Huntsman -- he might wind up with a seat in the cabinet, something like that. But I think that he actually does appeal to moderates and even some Democrats in a way that other Republicans don't.

BROWNSTEIN: The bigger development I think is Newt Gingrich finally crystallizing the ideological argument that they probably should be having with Romney starting in October but didn't. The case that he's making now that he simply can't trust him, he's moderate, he doesn't -- he isn't really with you on the issues, it may be too little, too late. But South Carolina is a pretty conservative Republican electoral vote and has been for the establishment.

O'BRIEN: I think we have a clip of Newt Gingrich sort of saying that. Let's listen.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One, you have a governor who put Planned Parenthood, for example, the largest abortion provider in the country, into Romneycare by law, with no right to life group, somebody who raised $730 million in taxes, somebody who is for gun control, and who had a 400 percent increase on taxes on guns. I think it's pretty challenging for a candidate once you get to the real record for that candidate to arouse the enthusiasm and the excitement of the conservative movement.


KORNACKI: Where was that in December?

BROWNSTEIN: And November.

KORNACKI: The fact that it's come to this, first of all, at this point and that it's Newt Gingrich that had has fallen into to make this case tells you how lucky Mitt Romney has gotten this process.

SALAM: Gingrich's moderate heresy is going well beyond anything Mitt Romney has done. I think it's -- Steve is absolutely right.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, the argument is there to be made, but there's no candidate to make it. I mean, the story of this race has been that the right is ready to find an alternative to Romney and has never been presented an alternative to Romney, and he may be able to achieve what John McCain did in 2008. A plurality win in South Carolina with a very low number among Republicans and conservatives, pulling together enough of those coastal, more pragmatic Republicans and effectively putting a stake in the race right there.

O'BRIEN: And we'll talk about what that means for the general election down the road.

I want to get to some of the stories that are making news this morning. Alina Cho has got that for us.

Hey, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Soledad. Good morning.

Thousands of Syrians are welcoming Arab League monitors in the town of Zabadani. They are even carrying them through the streets on their shoulders. The city has been under siege for weeks. The U.N. secretary general is now issuing a demand to the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: stop killing your people.

A brand new photo has been leaked on Twitter what appears to be Casey Anthony cuddling with a puppy. Last week, Anthony talked about having adopted a dog in a video diary that also leaked online. Now, a new article in "People" magazine reveals that Casey is living alone in St. Lucie County, Florida.

Twenty-four million customers at risk. Online retailer Zappos says it was the victim of a hack attack, and that's how many people were apparently affected. Zappos sent an email to customers yesterday telling them about the security breach. It said critical credit card information was not accessed, but other data like names, addresses, and phone numbers may have been.

And a failed Russian space probe has crashed into the Pacific Ocean. It went down about 775 miles off the coast of Chile. The 15-ton probe was supposed to land on one of the moons of mars. Russian officials had hoped it would send back soil and rock samples, but the probe's engines failed to boost it out of the earth's orbit during its launch back in November.

Houston, we have a problem.

O'BRIEN: Yes, a big old problem, Houston.

All right. Alina, thank you.

Still ahead this morning: Mitt Romney hands out cash to an out of work voter in South Carolina. We're going to talk to her about just how that happened.

Plus, the Golden Globes buzz. Ricky Gervais was meaner than ever, and people loved it. We'll take you live to L.A. in just a moment.


GERVAIS: The Golden Globes are just like the Oscars, but without all that esteem.




O'BRIEN: Shake that. Shake that. It's Martin Luther King -- yes, I know. Look at that. Look at that. The music. So, this little group here, those are my boys, Jackson and Charlie in today, and their little friend, Luna who's on camera visiting because, of course, there's no school because it's a holiday today. Martin Luther King Day. Good morning, guys. Behave, please.

We're talking the Golden Globes this morning. A black and white silent movie was the big winner. "The Artist" took home three awards. That is not --


O'BRIEN: Talk to the hand. We don't care. You bitter, bitter man.

REIHAN SALAM, CO-AUTHOR, "GRAND NEW PARTY": I love life. But I just didn't enjoy that show. I want those hours back.

O'BRIEN: We are live in Los Angeles with the morning after buzz. You heard it. We have one hater on the panel, but everybody else loved it.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, I'm jealous. You guys are having way too much fun there in New York, but he's right. You know, it was either "The Artist" -- it was either --



WYNTER: You're right. I'm jealous. But you know, "The Artist" was really one of those movies that you either loved or hated. It won three awards last night. The next big movie, "The Descendants" won two awards. Look at all of that stuff, but the man that everyone was talking about last night, Ricky Gervais. You know, he was so devilishly funny.

And after last year's feisty performance at the Globes, well, this British funnyman, he was all the buzz, of course, leading up to this year's ceremony. And the insult, let me tell you, they began flying right out the gate. Gervais jabbed NBC, Justin Bieber, Madonna, and Elton John, but, you know, for the most part, and I was a little disappointed by this, he reeled in a bit, Soledad, this year.

We can't (ph) believe that. We can't wait to see what the ratings are this year when they come out, perhaps, later today to see how he fares. You know, he gave the network a slight rating's boost last year.

O'BRIEN: Yes. That's why they had him back, because people were mad, but then, he did well, and they thought, well, you know, take it down a notch, and we'll see if it does well. So, let's talk fashion --

WYNTER: Well, many stars said that they loved him taking it up a notch last year.

O'BRIEN: As long as it's not them, --


O'BRIEN: So, let's talk fashion. I thought Viola Davis, who was up for an award, looked fabulous. And the role that she's played the last two movies that she's done, kind of, you know, frumpy women. And then, you see her in this gown, to die for. She looked great. Who else was great?

WYNTER: Absolutely. There were so many. You know, we have our favorites, and I loved the last hour where you said, that's all everyone cares about, fashion. Soledad, you're right. Some of the night's standouts, they were Charlize Theron. Did you see her dress? Her blush-colored Dior gown that showed a whole lot of leg. Hopefully, we have some photos coming up for your folks because she was quite a vision.

Look at that. Heidi Klum, she also had on a pale number a backless Calvin Klein gown. And get this, she said said she didn't eat much at all on Sunday because she wanted to fit perfectly into that dress. Reese Witherspoon wowed in a classic red Zac Posen fishtail gown.

And one of the big fashion misses of the night, sorry, Sarah Michelle Gellar. It's hard to go wrong, you know, with Monique Luhlier, but that blue and while ink splotch gown, it really wasn't too flattering. Look at that.

O'BRIEN: No, I disagree. I liked it.

WYNTER: You like it?

O'BRIEN: You know what, I don't hate it. And I think, didn't her daughter pick it out? Like she's got a little daughter, her two-year- old picked it out?

WYNTER: You know, something like that --

O'BRIEN: You hold it up to your kids. You're like quick, mommy needs a decision. Pick one on the other.

WYNTER: It looked a little harsh on the carpet, but again, you know, --

O'BRIEN: She's a beautiful girl. She looks good in everything.

WYNTER: Yes, yes. And that's what counts.

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes.

WYNTER: Sarah Michelle Gellar.

O'BRIEN: And you know, the guys are all riveted by the women in strapless dresses, I have to say.



BROWNSTEIN: You know, I went to the Golden Globes a couple of times when I lived in L.A. and was writing about Hollywood and politics. And, you know, it's a great kind of -- somewhere between an institution and a scam. I mean, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, no one can name a single member of it.

And they have created this institution, but it is kind of like, as Ricky Gervais says, it is kind of the warm-up for the Oscars. And that's kind of the main event for fashion as well, is it not?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's a drink.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: mean, because I feel like I'm not home drinking alone. Now, I have people drinking with me.


SALAM: If Ricky Gervais didn't have a British accent, no one would laugh at him. I mean, it's all the accent.


O'BRIEN: And you win, the hater of the segment.

SALAM: Well, thank you. I wear it with pride.


O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, I'm going to talk about this story Mitt Romney giving cash to a supporter who is in a pretty desperate way. So, folks, how exactly that came about and what happens for her next? She's live with us, next. Stay with us. You're watching STARTING POINT.


O'BRIEN: All right I kind of like this OK. I like it. Mitt Romney handed a fistful of cash to an out of work voter in South Carolina on Saturday. The woman who's name is Ruth Williams says she's a Romney supporter and volunteer for the campaign now. Apparently, he gave her about $50 or $60.

There was no sign that the gift was anything but spontaneous, but there are some people who say this morning that it's an indication that Mitt Romney is an out of touch millionaire.

Let's check in with Ruth Williams to see how she feels about it. Ms. Williams joins us by phone. Nice to talk to you. Thanks for being with us. I know you've had a very rough go of it, Ms. Williams. Your son is ill, has had some brain aneurysms. I know you lost your job in October, and you were in pretty desperate shape of praying for some guidance when you saw Mitt Romney's bus. What happened?

VOICE OF RUTH WILLIAMS, COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, we've had a hard -- hi, good morning. It's been a very hard year. My son had three brain aneurysms. He was in a coma like six months. And, we had lost our house in foreclosure, and we didn't have anywhere to live. And the other day, we needed our light bill and our rent paid.

And I was going to a church called Bible Way, and I saw Mitt Romney's bus on the highway. And the Lord told me to get off the exit. So, me and the bus driver started saying, go Romney, go Romney. And God told me to follow the bus. And I followed the bus to the airport. And when I followed the bus to the airport, it just allowed me to -- I talked to the bus driver, and he told me to come to Mitt Romney and explain my problem, and maybe I could find some work or a way out.

And his aide, John, told me to be there, too. So, I came, and I brought my grandkids, and they were very kind to me. And during that time when I spoke to him, and I told him my problem, he just didn't walk away from me. He held my arm and he called Governor Haley and a couple of her aides. I think it was Curtis Lofton.

And he went in his pocketbook and he got money and he paid for my light bill. His head manager, her husband, reached in and gave me money to get food with. And I just -- you know, it's ironic that this thing would be Martin Luther King's birthday, and I know a lot of people would wonder why I'm Black and I'm going for a Mormon. But it's got nothing to do with that. I think Martin Luther King's main thing that he said today was not to judge a person by the color of his skin, but by the context, of the character.

O'BRIEN: So, then, let's pick up on that. You know, there are a lot of people who are cynical about politics like a lot of people who are cynical, as I know you know.

WILLIAMS: It's a hard thing to discuss.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And so, I think there is a bunch of people who will say this morning, you know, that was a media event, right? He gives her some cash. He could pay her light bill. And now, this morning, in TV news, they're all talking about it. That was a calculated political strategy.

WILLIAMS: No, it wasn't. It was a divine intervention by the Holy Spirit. And I listened to what God said. I have never known anything about him. I have never done anything for him. I've never even spoken to him. You cannot buy a vote with $55 or $60. It was a divine intervention by God, just like with Joseph Smith, the prophet. They said Martin Luther King was a prophet.

O'BRIEN: So, let me ask you a final question.

WILLIAMS: Who God elects is God's business. I'm just being obedient to the spirit of God, and it kept me and my kids eating this weekend.

O'BRIEN: It's just great news for you. Let me ask you one -- let me ask you one last question.

WILLIAMS: Obama or anybody (INAUDIBLE)

O'BRIEN: -- let me ask you one last question, which is I know you're now volunteering for the Romney campaign. I assume he's your candidate now. Are you on path to get -- you do have a job? Has that worked out for you?

WILLIAMS: That's what I need. I need work. I used to have a cleaning business, but when my son was in a coma, we lost everything. We had clean and paint last day (ph), but all I actually want is work. My daughter works at K-Mart. She works 15 hours a week, and that's how we live.

And it's really hard. We don't even have a refrigerator. I work. I work. I will work. I will clean. I'll work. As long as it's honest and I can go to sleep -- I think that's what most people want.

O'BRIEN: I think you're right about that, Ms. Williams.

WILLIAMS: I don't think people want handouts. I think you people better when you work for it. I'm 55. Do you know how hard it is to get a job at 55? It's hard at 20. At 55, it's extremely hard.

O'BRIEN: It's almost impossible. Ms. Williams, I thank you for your time this morning. We certainly appreciate it. I know even though you talked about getting a, you know, a handout, you'd rather have a job. That it was a handout that certainly helped you pay your light bill. Thanks for talking with us this morning by phone. Ms. Ruth Williams joining us.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet. You bet. It was our pleasure.

BROWNSTEIN: We've been running this race for two states that have been largely sheltered from the economy downturn, Iowa and New Hampshire with lower unemployment rates. You get to South Carolina, a poor state to begin with, and you are getting exposed to much more what people are really facing.

O'BRIEN: Much higher unemployment numbers. With African-Americans, those numbers are significantly higher.

STEVE KORNACKI, POLITICAL WRITER, SALON.COM: And the news account that I read of this I found quite interesting. When she finally had her encounter with Mitt Romney, his instinct, one of the first things he did, was to call the governor over and to say, maybe the state can help you. And it's interesting to me because so much of the message that the Romney campaign is feeding into is there's nothing that the government can do for you. You have to do for yourself.

REIHAN SALAM, CO-AUTHOR, "GRAND NEW PARTY": It's also true that Mitt Romney is a guy that has given a tenth of his income in tithes. He is someone who was a bishop at his church. He is someone who is deeply, actively involved with the lives of all of these strangers who happen to belong to his church.

KORNACKI: But the instinct is to say government can help you. That seems to be what he was saying.

O'BRIEN: I think you're reading into what -- no. That's deeply reading into a metaphor of bringing Nikki Haley over. But we'll continue our conversation on that.

Still to come on STARTING POINT, the controversy about the marines. Is it outrageous or is it just kids being stupid? That's a quote. We're going to talk about Perry and McCain with very different viewpoints on the issue.

Plus, Tim Tebow, one of my favorite topic to talk about, religion in sports. Even though his season is over, we'll chat with hall of fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton and also a former Tebow teammate about what it's all about. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Lots of other stories making news this morning. Let's get right to Alina Cho who has an update for us. Hey, Alina.

CHO: Hey, Soledad, good morning. Developing at this hour, CNN has just confirmed that three plain clothed security officers have forced their way past security into the CNN compound in Nigeria. The officers apparently demanded that the CNN crew accompany them and submit to questioning. The country has erupted in chaos over the recent decision to slash fuel prices. A nationwide strike over the nation's fuel subsidy paralyzed the country last week. The military has been called out into the streets.

Search and rescue operations off the coast of Italy now on hold after a partially sunken cruise ship began to shift and move. Bad weather is also making it hard to board the ship. The cruise ship's owner says the deadly wreck was caused by human error. At least six people are dead. Two Americans are among the more than a dozen people still unaccounted for.

Pakistani lawmakers are expected to vote today on a resolution calling for support for the country's democratic system. It comes after a weekend meeting between military and civilian leaders. There has been speculation about a possible military coup against Pakistan's government.

North Korea denying allegations that it punished some of its citizens for inadequately mourning the death of their leader, Kim Jong-il, last month. The North is lashing out at what it calls "misinformation from the reptile media." The report says citizens who failed to show tears at memorial services were sent to a concentration camp.

No real movement on European markets this morning, and the U.S. financial markets are closed for the Martin Luther King holiday.

And forget Girl Scouts knocking on your door to sell their cookies. Get this, Soledad, there is an app for that now.

O'BRIEN: Oh, great.

CHO: From thin mints, tag-alongs, they are all going to be available next week. The app is called the Girl Scout cookie locator. It will be available for iPhone and Android users.

O'BRIEN: We need that right away. I love those cookies. Alina, thank you.

Governor Rick Perry is making some news with his comments on that marine scandal. Basically what he said was it was just kids being stupid. But Senator John McCain disagreed over the weekend. Let's get right to our panel once again. Ron Brownstein is CNN's senior political analyst, criminal defense attorney Seema Iyer is back with us, and Steve Kornacki joins us. He's a writer for And Reihan Salam is the co-author of "Grand New Party."

Do you guys see this interview -- so Rick Perry when talking about this what is now a scandal with the marines who were caught urinating on the dead bodies of what is believed to be Taliban fighters, here is his reaction. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The idea that this administration would go after these young people for a criminal act is -- again, I think it is over the top. But did they make a mistake? Absolutely. Should they be reprimanded and appropriately punished? Yes. But going after them as a criminal act, I think really bad message.


O'BRIEN: It was John McCain, though, who disagreed vehemently. Listen to what John McCain said.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I don't object to the commandant of the Marine Corps looking into this. It's a breakdown in discipline is what it is. So it makes me say more than anything else because these are the finest -- I can't tell you how wonderful these people are. And it hurts their reputation.


SALAM: This is absolutely fascinating. He is channeling the id.

O'BRIEN: What does that mean?

SALAM: There are a ton of military veterans. Perhaps he is thinking there's a gut instinct on these people. Wait a second, slow down. Are you going overboard? Are you turning these kids into scapegoats? And I think that's not necessarily a very widely held view. It's possible that a ton more military veterans take McCain's view, which is they are dishonoring the Marine Corps. But I think that was Rick Perry's thought, because he really does embody that id, that conservative instinct of a lot of voters.

KORNACKI: There is that image that I think has been very prevalent on the right that Obama is anti-military, and is trying to pit Obama against the military and have Rick Perry be the defender of the military for those families in South Carolina. But it also feels like a reenactment of a debate we have been having for decades.

SEEMA IYER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This is a criminal issue. And that's what the military is looking at. Like what Perry is saying is completely inconsistent. On one hand, he is saying it's not a criminal act. And then he is saying they should be punished. On some level he gets it's criminal to do this.

O'BRIEN: It sounds like John McCain is saying ultimately it's not about the Taliban fighters. It's about what we believe --

IYER: Well, of course. Agreed.

O'BRIEN: -- what we believe as a military. The discipline that the military is --

KORNACKI: That's why I'm saying this is like a reenactment. This is Abu Ghraib. This is torture. There was an incident a year ago when Rick Santorum got into a public thing with John McCain about torture. Rick Santorum actually said what would John McCain know about torture?

BROWNSTEIN: Sitting in a studio in New York City, it's hard to pass judgments on guys who are on the frontlines. You have no ideas what stresses and pressures they are under. But what John McCain said is absolutely right. This really is an issue from the point of view from the Marine Corps about maintaining disciplines within the ranks.

O'BRIEN: And the number of friends I have who are marines, who I had a chance to speak to, it's a small number, but the sense was, we're marines. We're better than that.


IYER: There will be retaliation for sure.

BROWNSTEIN: And I'm sure other marines and other service members feel that. You know, they feel that they are exposing them to greater danger. But you have to be careful. We don't know what these guys' lives are like every day. Obviously, it's an outrageous act, but you don't know what came before it.

O'BRIEN: But both of those men who were talking Perry and McCain do know, because they served in the military. I think they do have some --

KORNACKI: What makes sense to me, I think we can all agree that Rick Perry is going nowhere in South Carolina. What does Newt Gingrich say about this? What does Rick Santorum say about this? And how does that resonate in South Carolina with the big veteran population there?

IYER: Has Romney said anything about this?

O'BRIEN: I haven't heard him say anything about it.

IYER: He never says anything about anything. He doesn't.

BROWNSTEIN: It's also how every act becomes just another wedge in the cultural war. The idea that something like this where clearly it was outrageous behavior, but these guys are out there fighting every day --

O'BRIEN: And clearly against the Geneva Convention. But no one is saying the Geneva Convention isn't clear on this issue.

BROWNSTEIN: And suddenly we are retreating on opposite blue and red corners. It's just the absurdity to which the political fight --

O'BRIEN: Absurdity in politics? What?

SALAM: You have Rick Perry saying something on it.

BROWNSTEIN: But you say believing he is channeling the id.

SALAM: I think it hasn't worked, which is a good sign for the country.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see how that does play as we head into South Carolina. It will be something we will talk with folks about when we have a chance to get there on Thursday.

Let's turn now and talk about Tim Tebow, because, boy, that was kind of a crazy topic last week. Not my boyfriend, but a man I --


O'BRIEN: Some people love him, and others feel like it's all completely overrated, that he wears his religion on his sleeve and they find that annoying.

He may be the Tebow -- or "Tebowing" might be the most recognizable move in the NFL, which compared to some stuff they have done in the past I don't mind that. It's generated an extreme reaction. Some say positive, some say negative. But it does bring us to a conversation about religion in pro sports on the field, in the locker room.

And Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton is in Atlanta this morning. And Buffalo Bills wide receiver David Nelson is a former teammate of Tebow's, and he's in Dallas. Nice to see you, gentlemen.

It was great to read your op-ed, Mr. Tarkenton, because I thought it was so fascinating. I want to run a little bit of what you wrote, which was the question about does god have a dog in the fight when it comes to who wins on the field? Tell me a little bit about your experience, because I would guess everybody is praying in the locker room and gets very religious right before the game.

FRAN TARKENTON, HALL OF FAME QUARTERBACK: Well, you know, most football players are superstitious. We put on our left shoe first rather than the right shoe if we've had some success and we won the week before. So you get the same patterns. And nobody wants to alienate anybody. They want to go out with a pure heart and a pure soul.

I don't think anybody believes that god has a part of winning or losing. And certainly there were 43 percent of people in "The New York Times" that said on Sunday that thought there was divine intervention going on in Tebow's life in football. I think it was proved differently Saturday night with Tom Brady. Tebow may not be the greatest quarterback in the world, but he is one of the greatest guys in the world. And I think it's a great feel-good story.

O'BRIEN: Let's look at a little bit what Tim Tebow said in this quote from "USA Today." He said "I don't have to live the rollercoaster other people live with my life. It's hard because people try to have an effect. I try to stay centered in my faith and my family and the close people around me."

You knew, David, Tim Tebow, because you were roommates. Tell me a little bit about how all of this is affecting him, not just the on the field but sort of the focus on the Tebowing. DAVID NELSON, BUFFALO BILLS WIDE RECEIVER: Tim is a very center- focused guy. He loves his family. He loves his friends. He loves his teammates. He really surrounds himself with people who he really wants to be around. I think he does a great job with that.

And he tries not to let the media and fans get to him too much. He tries to stay within himself and just live his life and tries to be a normal person. You know, with the whole media hype, like how he said it's a rollercoaster. And people love him, they hate him, discussions, religion, football player. You know, there are so many things around his life that are being discussed and every aspect of his life is always being evaluated. I think what he tries to do is surround himself with people who he trusts, who he cares about, and tries to just get away from things and just tries to focus on life.

O'BRIEN: Why do you think, Fran, if I can call you that -- my husband would be like call him Mr. Tarkenton.


O'BRIEN: Why do you think there's this backlash of people who, you know, the minute they lost, they were like, oh, I guess god doesn't love, you know, the Broncos. I guess that, you know, god has given up and moved past Tim Tebow. You know, why the backlash do you think? What's that about?

TARKENTON: Well, Tim Tebow is being Tim Tebow. He is not causing any of the backlash or the interest in him. He is a football player, a good Christian young man. He has great morals and he has got his life balanced.

But quarterbacks are controversial. If you win, you're great. If you lose, they forget about you. You won't read about Aaron Rodgers anymore. You won't read much about Tim Tebow. You're going to read about Tom Brady and Eli Manning and the other quarterbacks in the playoffs. And that's just the way it is. Nobody knows who the runner-up in the super bowl ever was. I was a runner-up three times. Nobody remembers that. They remember the teams that beat us.

O'BRIEN: We remember now that you mentioned it.


O'BRIEN: Let me ask David a question. How does Tim Tebow deal with the mocking? As much as people cheer him, there's a lot of mocking, you know, when "SNL" does pieces on you. Does it bother him at all?

NELSON: I think he's fine whenever it's attacking him personally. I think he is a person that's very confident in what he can do. He is very focused on his ability and his leadership roles and his part on the team.

But I think where he draws the line is when you start questioning his faith or when you start mocking his faith. I think that's where he draws the line. It's something he is very serious and very passionate about. You know so many times, so much is made of -- of what he does on and off the field. And he is very passionate about what he does. But at the same time, he draws the line whenever you start making fun of what he believes in with his faith in Jesus Christ and God.

O'BRIEN: David Nelson and Fran Tarkenton, nice to have you chatting with us this morning. I certainly appreciate that.

NELSON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Anybody want to Tebow out of this segment?

SEEMA IYER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I want to know if you watched the game.


O'BRIEN: I did watch the game. You know, in fact, it was funny -- I went to a friend's house. I did take a nap kind of in the middle of the game because they were getting killed.

IYER: Did you take a nap between the 30 minutes, five touchdowns, Tom Brady connected, and my MVP is Gronkowski.

BROWNSTEIN: Unbelievable but you know.

IYER: Ridiculous.

O'BRIEN: Anybody going to start gronking?

BROWNSTEIN: Tim Tebow, he seems like a great young man. Has head on straight.

O'BRIEN: I hear a but --

BROWNSTEIN: But "Saturday Night Live" got it right in their sketch when they had Jesus say to him, you know. You know Jesus said to him, you know, I may be the son of God, but Tom Brady must be like the guy's nephew. Because that first half was, you know kind of a reminder that media hype is one thing. But there's a big disparity on the football field.


STEVE KORNACKI, POLITICAL WRITER, SALON.COM: Some of those comebacks that he orchestrated this year were some of the most amazing things I have seen in sports in a long time. But the reason he had to comeback was because he played so terribly for the first three quarters.

O'BRIEN: I believe Fran Tarkenton, said I can call him Fran, said that it's about winning ultimately. If he's not winning, no one is going to Tebow. That's the bottom line.

Still ahead this morning, we're going to talk a little bit more about that cruise ship that crashed. Apparently in its past, there were some problems with that cruise liner. We'll take a look at that straight ahead. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

For today's "Reveal", we go to our top story. Six people dead, more than a dozen people missing. And now the cruise ship company is reacting to what happened. The CEO of Costa Cruise line says it was likely human error that caused this crash. In fact, the police have arrested the captain for manslaughter, and it is now being revealed that this is not the first time that this actual ship has been in an accident.

On November 22nd, back in 2008, the Concordia collided with a pier in Sicily during a storm. You can see a little bit of the damage right there to the bow. People on the ship at the time say wind blew the ship about half a mile away from the dock, and it also crashed sideways into a tanker.

Nobody was hurt in that accent and we -- accident rather we have not been able to confirm who was captaining the ship at the time of that incident.

And then as far as Costa Cruise Lines, there have been at least two other collisions involving Costa ships since then. One resulted in the deaths of three crew members when the ship smashed into the pier in the Egyptian resort town Sharm-El-Sheik. They were reportedly asleep in their beds from the gallery at the time of that crash and four tourists were also injured.

As far as the Concordia's crash this time around, officials say they should have some information from the voice data recorder very soon in order to reveal to us exactly what happened.

Straight ahead this morning, the "End Point" with our panel is up next.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: America's national debt is now about as large as the entire U.S. economy; more than $15 trillion and growing. The politicians are deadlocked over how to fix it but only you can tackle your own personal debt and we're going to help you do just that.

I mean, you can pay down your highest interest rate credit card first; that's a lot of advice. But if you need to pay off one with the low interest with the smaller balance just so that could make you feel good you can do that too. Whatever it takes to get you to start -- start spending -- and cutting down that debt also cut your spending and strive to live on 70 percent of your income. If you can't afford it put it down.

Use a debit card if you need to or cash to limit spending and don't activate the overdraft protection. Bu you can take advantage of your credit protection, keep your credit card balance below 30 percent of your overall limit. And finally, please, please, please, please, please check your credit history at Cleanup any mistakes right now.

Don't just close your eyes. You've got to find out what that credit history looks like it's really important folks.


O'BRIEN: It's been so nice to be in the studio today.

Before we get to our "End Point", we want to run a little clip of Stephen Colbert talking about his competitor, because now Stephen Colbert is in the race, Mitt Romney. Listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Corporations are people, my friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But Mitt Romney has a secret. As head of Bain Capital, he bought companies, carved them up, and got rid of what he couldn't use. If Mitt Romney really believes --

ROMNEY: Corporations are people, my friend. Are people, my friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then Mitt Romney is a serial killer. He's "Mitt the Ripper".


O'BRIEN: That is very, very funny. And totally underscores the ridiculousness to some degree of some of these conversations.

KORNACKI: You know the best part about that is that the actor doing the voiceover is John Lithgow, whose most recent role was playing a serial killer on "Dexter".

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, I saw that episode.

Ok. So our "End Point" today is --

BROWNSTEIN: I think you're finally going to hear tonight in the Republican debate in South Carolina the ideological case the right has wanted heard made against Mitt Romney through this whole race. It's probably going to be too little, too late without the right messenger, but it will be there tonight and Thursday when CNN debates as well.

IYER: MLK day. There are over 3,000 homeless shelters in this country. There are over 2,000 soup kitchens that can't survive without our donations. I'm asking everybody to go to, find your local homeless shelter, drop off a couple of dollars, a coat, a blanket, but do something good today.

KORNACKI: If you find the prospect of a 10-month campaign between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama too incredibly on message, disciplined, (INAUDIBLE), a little depressing, enjoy this week. This might be the last one you get before that starts. O'BRIEN: That is so true.

REIHAN SALAM, CO-AUTHOR, "GRAND NEW PARTY": A fascinating factoid. There are now 1 million Americans who are born in Africa. That is to say, genuine African-Americans, the color, the texture of black America has changed dramatically since Martin Luther King's life, and that's one of the things that makes American life so exciting today.

O'BRIEN: That's really interesting statistics.

I'm going to tell you a story in our last minute about something that I experienced on Friday night. I interviewed two boys, both freshmen at Morehouse, and asked them about their high school preparation and what do they think about how they were trained to go into, you know, the school and college for the first time. And I said to them, "What is the best thing about going to Morehouse?"

And they said to me, I feel full for the first time. I've been hungry. I've never had three meals a day before. And at Morehouse, I'm on the meal plan. And for the first time, I have actually been able to eat. And the lights are on, and the heat is on, and I don't need to wear a coat while I study.

And I thought it was so sad, and so heartbreaking. So as we head towards South Carolina where we know unemployment and a lot of these figures in poverty are higher than the two states we have been in, it will be really interesting to look forward to, you know, poor people in this country. And how that is going to shape some of these conversations from the politicians.

These boys are from desperate families. Not sure they are going to be able to pay the tuition at Morehouse as sophomores and juniors and seniors. Where does that conversation take us?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, in a very stark way, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama both want the center of the campaign to be about how do you expand opportunity for Americans in an economy that is not producing, if the medium income is lower today than it was a decade ago. There are fewer people working today than there were 10 years ago. The only other time in the 20th century that was true was from 1928 through 1938, 1929 to 1939. We've got a deep hole and we're going to have a big debate about how to climb out of it.

O'BRIEN: There's no question. I think that is going to be the haves versus the have-nots is going to be a real focus, and the opportunity in this country a real focus of not only the debates but I think as a conversation as we move toward a general election. That was how I spent my weekend.

We are going to take a break. Time for "CNN NEWSROOM" right now with Kyra Phillips. STARTING POINT is done for the morning, but we'll see you back here tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. Eastern.

Hey Kyra. Good morning.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Good morning, Soledad. Thanks so much.