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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Houston's Journey "Home"; Cash For Class; Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu Comes Out as Gay; Rick Santorum Surging in Recent Polls; Santorum Surge Continues; Lin-Sanity's Ugly Side

Aired February 20, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is this story: guy falls more than 1,000 feet, buried in the snow, as an avalanche kills three veteran skiers. We're going to talk about what happened here.

Also, Whitney Houston has now been laid to rest. We're going to talk to close family friends this morning, and also a television producer who was invited to the service. Also, we know a little bit more about Bobby Brown and exactly why he walked out of that service as well.

Plus, an Arizona sheriff who's running for Congress -- he's also a former Romney campaign co-chair -- says he's gay and denies that he's threatened to deport his former lover. The story is a little bit of a mess. We're going to talk about that. Big fallout to talk about. We'll hear from both sides.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: That's John's song this morning, Nirvana.

JOHN FUGELSANG, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: It's Kurt Cobain's 45th birthday today.

O'BRIEN: Wow. (INAUDIBLE). We all feel a little bit older this morning.

Chrystia Freeland has joined our panel. She's an editor with Thomson Reuters Digital.

Nice to have you joining us.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, THOMSON REUTERS DIGITAL: Nice to be here.

O'BRIEN: Have you back.

Will Cain is with us.

And as I mentioned, it's John's music we are listening to.

Let's start this morning by talking a little bit about Whitney Houston on STARTING POINT, her journey home ending on Sunday with a private burial. It took place in New Jersey. She was laid to rest next to her father at a cemetery in Westfield, New Jersey.

Private moment following the family's going home service that happened on Saturday, and that service ended with Whitney Houston's greatest hit. Listen.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

O'BRIEN: Oh, that's such a beautiful song. Oh, that's such a beautiful song.

That service which we covered live for four hours on Saturday afternoon was so beautiful. But you really at the end when they played her, you know, her song, that was the theme from "The Bodyguard," you have listened to all of these other tremendous vocalists singing, you realization how her voice was, you know, the voice.

FUGELSANG: Right. And how her gift and her gift to us transcended the tragedy of the later years of her life. You know, I was in Los Angeles all week, and I was amazed at how much cynicism and scorn I got from people who are like why is the media paying attention so much attention to this and saying horrible things about addiction as well.

I think millions of Americans felt they knew Whitney Houston better than they know their own coverage. And we're also at a place now where more Americans die of prescription drug overdoses every year that are killed in car accidents. There are so many reasons why this is so relevant for all of us, beyond the navel gazing and the fact that we are we addicted to watching addicts, are we addicted to seeing someone going in a downward spiral.

O'BRIEN: But the talk --

FUGELSANG: The funeral was all about her --

O'BRIEN: Her life.

FUGELSANG: - her life and her joy. And good for Chris Christie as well for standing up if that are, and saying we're not going to judge someone based on the lowest part of their life.

O'BRIEN: We have one CNN producer Raelyn Johnson is joining us. Is she -- oh, she's going to come in the studio.

Raelyn, are you there? Typical producers are going to come in on her own time when she's ready.

I'm kidding.

Raelyn is one of the CNN producers. We had numerous producers helping us out on this story, and she was one of the very few to be able to go inside the church. And so, while the service was going, she was really helping all of us on the outside because where we were physically kept was actually quite a distance from the church. I mean, it was probably 100 yards or more.

And the family had been very aggressive about, you know, wanting to sort of draw that line. They didn't want a lot of fans. They didn't want a lot of cameras certainly, which you can totally understand. But at the same time, they also, you know, people were very interested in what was happening in her life.

Come on in, Raelyn. I know. Just ignore the cameras. Come and sit.

We wanted to chat with you a little bit about how the service went.

RAELYN JOHNSON, CNN PRODUCER: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you. Pull up a chair.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: This is how we do it this morning.

You were -- you had a ticket.

JOHNSON: Yes, I did.

O'BRIEN: And you invited to go into the service. It seemed from the outside that it was the most amazing thing. I thought the tone that they struck was remarkable right down -- you know, what was it like to be inside?

JOHNSON: It was like I said three hours of great church on a Saturday morning, which most people would say church on a Saturday morning -- no, thank you. But if you go to church like where I go to, at a Baptist church, it's the greatest thing because you're singing, you're clapping, you're rejoicing. And it's exactly what was going on.

O'BRIEN: Were people upset? It seemed so joyful at times. Sometimes people were literally at the podium and they were telling jokes.

JOHNSON: Yes.

O'BRIEN: And people would laugh.

JOHNSON: It was needed. I mean, I didn't know Kevin Costner was so funny, but that comedic relief was needed so many times. And I have to say, for the three to four-hour ceremony, so much --

O'BRIEN: Three hours and 45 minutes.

JOHNSON: I was a concert. And it wasn't until they hoisted the casket up that I said, OK, this is real. This is a funeral now.

O'BRIEN: Now, your brother is a Baptist preacher, right?

JOHNSON: Yes.

O'BRIEN: There were so many pastors who said to me, let me before we even start, like let's set this straight. This is worship. This is not a concert. This is not a performance.

You know, do not say that -- this is church. And this is really a going home service.

JOHNSON: Right. And it was. It was truly that.

And I think when Tyler Perry spoke, a lot of people screamed afterwards, that I was like, preach, preach, Tyler, because you didn't know that version of him. But you can tell that everyone who was in that service were church-goers.

O'BRIEN: And they really knew her personally.

JOHNSON: That's right.

O'BRIEN: It wasn't someone talking very generically or generally.

What happened with the Bobby Brown thing? Because he has a statement, of course, about what happened. And you were in the church.

JOHNSON: I was.

O'BRIEN: So, what happened?

JOHNSON: So Bobby Brown comes in with three other people, which are the same three people we see outside in that video, comes in --

O'BRIEN: Was it nine people?

JOHNSON: I never saw nine people.

O'BRIEN: OK.

JOHNSON: OK? Come inside the church, it was just four. He comes in, he looks at the casket and comes straight up the aisle for 15 -- for, you know, all of us to see him. I was in about row 15 through 20.

And it looked a little bit of a show in the sense that -- well, if you just want to come and se the body that, should have happened at the funeral home. No one came to come see the casket. And he walked up in front of the aisle.

When I saw him, he had tears in his eyes. He looked so broken down I thought, he is moving somewhere else because he's a mess and he doesn't want us all looking at him.

And a lot of people moved their seats because there was a little dance because some people would come in with security. Governor Christie would come in. He had a large security team. These were people who need to have certain people in place.

I saw Vivica Fox. I saw lots of people move their seats around. So, to say he was, you know, told you must move, that just wasn't the case. A lot of people moved around.

O'BRIEN: He also took great exception to the word "entourage" was used. He said these were my children. They travelled 12 hours, by bus, to get to this service.

And, obviously, the story that was coming out was a little wrong, you know?

JOHNSON: I agree. And I understand about the word "entourage." But at the same time, if there is this rift between the Houstons and the Brown family. You can't imagine him issuing a statement while her body is still there at the funeral made that any better.

O'BRIEN: He did say this. Actually, I think we have it on tape because he did go on to perform with New Edition that evening and here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOBBY BROWN, SINGER: I want to give blessings to my ex-wife, Whitney Houston. I love you. I want to give a lot of blessings to my kids, my fiancee, my brothers, and all of you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: It was such a sad thing to happen at a funeral. I mean, on all sides. I thought for him, for the family, just for everybody. It's just, you know --

JOHNSON: I think it was so hard especially for Cissy Houston. You can imagine, walking behind your daughter's casket, and maybe for a long time now, you have been trying to help her get through this problem. And to know that maybe you saw that day coming, that must be really hard.

FREELAND: That's the worst part. Children dying before their parents.

O'BRIEN: Oh, gosh. I cannot imagine. She was really stoic, I thought -- and Dion Warwick as well. I though -- she was kind of the co-officiant of the --

JOHNSON: She was.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Co-officiant of the service, and she really did a beautiful job I thought.

FUGELSANG: And for those of us who were fans of Whitney's singing voice had really hoped that one day, she would go on to record some great gospels like Aretha Franklin did after her pop career ended, with two of her best albums are her gospel records. And a lot of us who were hoping to see what Whitney Houston would do to continue touring post-pop vocalizing. It was a rather poignant ending. I think like Elvis, if she's someone who actually lived longer, would have had a very rich career, and spiritual love, song writing.

O'BRIEN: It would be very interesting to see "Sparkle" when it comes out. So, no, you and I will go to that together.

JOHNSON: It maybe a big thing.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Thank you for helping us out, of course.

Tremendous producing by Raelyn over the weekend.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: And the week before as well.

All right. We got other headlines making news. Alina has got that.

Hey, Alina.

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

Three skiers are dead after an avalanche hit a resort in Washington state. Authorities say they fell about 1,500 feet. A dozen skiers buried in snow had to dig themselves out. All of them accounted for now.

The area was out of bounds for skiers. Heavy snow fell in the area about 19 inches in the past 24 hours. A fourth skier was saved by an inflatable safety device that kept her from going under.

New this morning, Iran has cut off oil to the U.K. and France. It's in retaliation for all 27 E.U. countries putting sanctions on Iran's oil exports starting in July. The U.S. says an attack on Iran would be premature.

U.N. inspectors are in Iran today for another round of nuclear talks. The IAEA report back in November warned that Iran could be on its way to developing a nuclear weapon. Iran insists those efforts are peaceful.

An out-of-control prison riot leaves 44 inmates dead. It happened in northern Mexico. A brawl broke out between members of two warring drug cartels and then went wild with some prisoners even setting fire to a mattress. Officials fear the riot could have been cover for an escape.

Minding your business now: U.S. markets are closed for Presidents Day today. Investors will however keep an eye on Greece and quarterly earnings from major retailers when the markets reopen tomorrow.

Got a serious caffeine fix? Right now, you can literally inhale it. But maybe not for long. The FDA is investigating the safety of a caffeine inhaler called Aero Shot. It's about the size of a chap stick, gives you a buzz with just a couple of breaths.

But New York Senator Chuck Schumer fears that kids could get hooked and too many hits could cause health problems. Aero Shot's manufacturer says the product is safe and that you can use it up to three times a day.

O'BRIEN: Huh.

CHO: All right.

O'BRIEN: Weird.

CHO: There you have it.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

CHO: I can't imagine. I'm just a coffee drinker, so I know you don't really -- yes.

O'BRIEN: Yes. It's the whole process of -- hmmm. Weird.

All right. Alina, thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: Senator John McCain says the Syrian rebels need to be armed. But an expert on the Arab spring says that that is not a good idea and that Syria is not Libya.

Also, a gay Arizona sheriff that is running for Congress is outed and has quit the Romney campaign. He's also denying charges that he tried to kick a former lover out of the country. We're going to tell you both sides of this story.

And does it pay to go to school? A new principal's plan to sweeten the deal, and we're talking cash money for kids.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

The opposition says that Syrian forces are shelling homes for a 17th straight day. Nearly two dozen people were killed over the weekend alone. Meantime, protests in Syria are reaching Damascus.

Take a look at this. Hundreds of people taking to the streets, mostly middle class neighborhood, protesting near the presidential palace. A rebel leader says the uprising is orphan revolution without any foreign help.

Senator John McCain, who for -- has decades of foreign policy experience, made another call to arm the opposition, saying on Sunday this. "I believe there are ways to get weapons to the opposition without direct United States involvement. The Iranians and the Russians are providing Bashar Assad with weapons. People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves," end quote.

U.S. joint chiefs chairman says it is premature to be arming Syrian rebels. Robin Wright covered the area for a long time as a reporter. She knows it well. She's now a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace. She's also the author of "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World."

It's nice to have you, Robin. Great to see you again. So, let's start with what Senator John McCain has said, who has tons of experience on this front, also, Lindsey Graham as well. Basically, the same thing, arm the rebels. Good idea or bad idea?

ROBIN WRIGHT, SR. FELLOW AT THE U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE: It's a bad idea.

O'BRIEN: Why?

WRIGHT: First of all, the opposition is divided into three different parts. You have the free Syrian army which is a group of defectors estimated the number between 10,000 and up to 25,000. Then, there is the Syrian National Council, which is a group of exiles based overseas. And then, there's a third group of internal very loosely affiliated local coordinating committees who are trying to keep track of what's going on on the ground, coordinate protests and so forth.

But they all are not coordinating with each other. There's no plan. And when you talk about getting involved in somebody else's conflict, whether directly or indirectly, there has to be a sense of what comes next. And that's one of the real serious gaps in this crisis.

Everyone agrees that this is become a level of crimes against humanity. The question is, what can you actually do about it that's going to make an impact?

O'BRIEN: And what's been done is this non-binding resolution that's been passed, right, which basically endorses a plan for the Syrian president to step down. But I think non-binding is the critical part of that. What is the point of that? So, what is the next step that actually is a real next step?

WRIGHT: The problem is the Russians and the Chinese have vetoed a resolution at the United Nations that would actually put some teeth or meaning into international action. The Russians and the Chinese are very afraid of setting the precedent of doing again what the international community did in Libya. And that's really not a viable solution for Syria.

It's a very different kind of society, lots of different stakes, different kind of leadership, different allies. It gets much more complicated. And that's the problem. What do you do? And I think one of the things the international community or the west, the Arabs, the United States have to begin with is trying to work with the opposition in terms of saying, look, get together, come up with a plan, coordinate with each other so we have -- so there's a sense of what the alternative is to the current regime.

O'BRIEN: So, Robin, if the opposition were united, would you be in favor of arming them? Is this just a question of if these guys get their act together, then they're worthy of getting guns from the west?

WRIGHT: Well, I'm not sure it's guns from the west. I think the bigger players really are those in the region, whether it's the Turks. Prime Minister Erdogan (ph) has been very involved in talking about whether setting up a humanitarian corridor or giving refuge to dissidents who are crossing the border, the members of the free Syrian army, the Syrian national council.

So, the Saudi Arabian leadership, which has led the way in crafting an Arab solution or alternative plan that would see President Assad step down, hand over power to the vice president and call for national elections. There needs to be some more kind of step-by-step approach rather than leaping into the issue of arming the rebels.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about Egypt, because Senator McCain is visiting Egypt, and we know that Americans are being held there who are working with the pro-democracy NGOs. I want to play you a little bit about what he said about Egypt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I am not a negotiator, but I think it's important that I and the other senators in the delegation explain to the Egyptian leadership that this is a serious situation, has serious implications for our relationship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: There's a trial date has been set, and it's soon. It's next Sunday. No one is really using the word "hostage," but is that an appropriate word right now?

WRIGHT: We're getting there. It's really a staggering development. This has been the United States' closest ally in the Arab world for 30 years. We have channeled over $30 billion to the Egyptians just in military aid. And they're jeopardizing $1.3 billion today. The fact is, President Obama has twice called Field Marshal Tantawi who's effectively head of state, head of the military ruling Egypt today.

Secretary of State Clinton, the defense secretary, right across the board, the United States has tried to say to the Egyptians, this really is unacceptable. This has never happened in the history of U.S. aid to Democratic programs around the world. And to have it happen in Egypt makes it all the more astounding.

O'BRIEN: Robin Wright for us this morning. It's nice to see you. Thanks for your information on this front. We appreciate it.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, a principal paying kids to show up for school? Is this the right approach or the wrong approach? Steve Perry thinks it's wrong. We're going to talk to him coming up next.

And then, taking the puns down the racial road. ESPN is firing a staffer after this offensive headline about Jeremy Lin. This morning, Lin responds. We'll talk about that as STARTING POINT continues. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. A high school in Cincinnati is paying its students to come to class. The school's principal says it's an effort to get kids off the streets and into the classroom. Here's what he says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAMONE DAVENPORT, PRINCIPAL: This is a community program. So, if there are students that's out here that's just hanging out on the streets, we want to encourage them to come to school.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Students who are on time every day get visa gift cards. Seniors can earn up to $25 a week. Underclassmen get $10. And each time a student gets paid, the school puts $5 into a savings account which they can get when they graduate. Is cash for going to class a good idea? CNN education contributor, Steve Perry, he's is live with us. First of all, Steve, no music today? What's with that, number on and number two --

STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: I had no (INAUDIBLE). I guess, the producers are sleeping.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Maybe. We'll talk to them about that. You know, and also, I'm going to be nicer to you today. Apparently, some people think when you and I argue that, you know, that we're fighting. So, let's talk about this idea. Good idea or bad idea?

PERRY: It's a bad idea. For two reasons. One, because it's not sustainable, and two, because it doesn't work. One of the biggest studies done by a friend of yours, Roland Frey, has been inconclusive. In fact, what he found in a later paper is that there are five characteristics that do make for successful schools, and none of them are paying kids.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but you know, sometimes, when they do a spin on that, when they pay kids to read books, right, a certain numbers of dollars per book, or even when they pay, there's a study in Chicago where they paid kids -- it improved attendance, maybe not test scores, but that Chicago test showed improvement in attendance.

What is really (ph) wrong with that? I feel like middle class kids get paid sometimes in cash and sometimes in while you get to go to ballet class and you get to drive mom's car and you get to do all this other things. So, why is this bad morally?

PERRY: That's not payment. And you can say whether it's moral -- I don't know if it's a moral issue as much as the fact that here is a school that is purported to have a 14 percent graduation rate. Nobody in that school should be paid. Not the kids, not the staff, anyone. They need to shut that place down. One of the reasons why the school is failing is because it's failing to engage the children.

What we need to do is to create compelling academic experience. You see throughout the country in urban areas and rural areas schools in which the children are being encouraged to participate because they have high expectations put upon them, high support put upon them, and nothing will substitute for that.

O'BRIEN: OK, but isn't that a good -- that's a good like long- term thing, right? Creating a compelling academic experience is a great long-term strategy, but short-term, you don't think paying is a good idea, Chrystia?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS DIGITAL: No, no. Steve, I have to say, I'm with Soledad. I mean, isn't this is a --

O'BRIEN: I'm not sure how I feel about it yet, actually.

FREELAND: No, but isn't this just an effort to create for kids who are in a more difficult environment the kinds of incentives that kids in middle class families have? I mean --

PERRY: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. In fact, what it is, it's another gimmick that shows that we don't understand how to fix schools. And there is no such thing as a short-term fix for a long- term problem.

One way or another, we have to invest in the solutions, and the solutions are to close failed schools, put people in place who can run effective schools and create the kind of academic experience that middle class families have. The reason why middle class kids want to go to those schools is because there were no gimmicks put in place.

FREELAND: So, do you think this is just a short cut by a failing school and it's the principal trying to get some headlines and people saying, yes, he's trying to do something interesting?

PERRY: I don't know that it's about him getting headlines. I can't check that brother's -- his desires, but I do know that this is not going to work. When we look at some of the other models, like even my good friend, Jeffrey Canada, or you look at someone like Michelle Reed, they did some of this down in D.C., or the kip (ph) schools.

Many people tout them as they give money. They participate in a more compelling academic experience, so if at the end of the road you have all of these other incentives like frequent teacher feedback, dated driven decision-making, high dosage tutoring, and on and on, then on top of that you say, oh, by the way, we're going to give you pencils for doing well on this examination.

We're going to give you privileges because you're a senior and you've earned them. It's part of a greater context. That's what school is about. We have to realize that kids are kids. They're not stupid. And simply because they're poor, it doesn't mean they're money hungry. Our children are more sophisticated than that. What you give them is hard core expectations and a deep dose of love, and I promise you'll get them to come to school.

O'BRIEN: I feel like saying amen, Pastor Perry. Nice to see you, Steve. Appreciate that.

I can't believe people think we argue. Steve and I are like this, really.

All right. Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a strange scandal unfolding in Arizona. This is such an odd story. It involves a sheriff who's gay who's now stepped down from working on Mitt Romney's campaign. He has an ex-boyfriend who is accusing him of using his power as a sheriff to try to get him deported. Complicated, I told you.

Also, Obama meet the Cosby show. "Saturday Night Live's" hilarious send-up. We're going to show you a little bit of that straight ahead on STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (MUSIC)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Thumbs up. Wow, just a good musical selection today. That is Dire Straits, "Sultans of Swing." How long has it been since I heard that?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: That's not a bad place to stop then. All right, we've got headlines to get to. Alina Cho has got that. Hey, Alina.

CHO: Hey there, Soledad, good morning.

Dismissing a threat from the North -- South Korea conducted live fire military drills near the disputed sea border with North Korea. Pyongyang had promised to respond with a, quote, "merciless attack" if the south went ahead with that. The drills were held in the same area of the Yellow Sea that was the target of a North Korean artillery attack back in 2010 that killed four people.

Another human skeleton has turned up in a wooded area on the eastern end of Long Island, New York. Authorities are now trying to determine if the remains are connected to 10 other sets of remains that were found on a remote beach about 40 miles to the west. Police suspect at least some are victims of a serial killer preying on prostitutes.

The south sopped with a messy winter storm, tens of thousands losing power across the region. Snow, sleet, and rain also triggered pileups across Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Celebrating the golden anniversary of America's first orbit of earth -- exactly 50 years ago today, astronaut John Glenn made the historic journey around our planet, paving the way for future space exploration, including the first moon landing just seven years later. Glenn talked about his groundbreaking voyage earlier in the show with Soledad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Does it feel like it's been a long time, 50 years, or do you look at those pictures and say, god, it feels like yesterday?

JOHN GLENN, FORMER ASTRONAUT: It seems to me like about a week or two ago, Soledad, because I guess I am recalled it quite often over the past 50 years and that's kept it fresh. But it was such an impressive thing at the time that it's indelibly imprinted on my memory, and I can recall those days very, very well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Feels like a week ago, huh? Glenn's flight revived the NASA program, setting the U.S. on a path to cold war victory.

An Aspen getaway for first lady Michelle Obama and the kids. Mrs. Obama is treating daughters Sasha and Malia to a private ski trip in Colorado. The first lady's spokesperson says all personal expenses are being paid for by the Obamas. "The Aspen Daily News" says the family is staying with friends who own a chain of ski resorts in the area.

And it's must-see TV, maybe not for the GOP, but the Democrats may like this. Instead of "The Cosby Show" it was "The Obama Show" on "Saturday Night Live." Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I also hereby veto the rice cakes that Michelle said were healthier. I think one of the children must have ate it.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: They even got the wardrobe right for Michelle Obama.

O'BRIEN: Maya Rudolf is hilarious. She always nails it. Alina, thank you.

CHO: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: This morning a story that is just really strange. I'll preface it with that. It gained headlines -- this is a sheriff gained headlines for a very tough stance on illegal immigration. He is also the co-chair of Mitt Romney's Arizona campaign committee. His name is Sheriff Paul Babeu and he is now stepping down from the Mitt Romney job and also coming out. This happened after allegations were published last week in a newspaper in Phoenix. Those allegations claimed that the sheriff had threatened to deport an ex-boyfriend if he, the sheriff, revealed their relationship. Now the Sheriff Babeu says he is gay. He denies he tried to have his ex-boyfriend deported. He is also running for Congress and he's saying that he's going to stay in the Congressional race. And he says all of these accusations are an attempt to hurt his political career.

This is just so complicated, but CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Florence, Arizona. I tried to give the nuts and bolts. It's a little bit unbelievable, isn't it?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad it is one of those stories that if it didn't happen, you would never, ever believe it is true. We talked to Jose, the man at the center of this controversy last night. And he told us in completely explicit terms that he is here legally, that he was a volunteer for the sheriff for several years. And in some ways this is a love story that just went bad. He says he fell in love with Babeu, but Babeu did not fall in love with him, he reluctantly admitted during our interview.

And that's when things started to go bad. Jose had run some websites for Babeu. Babeu claimed he hacked into his Twitter account. Jose says that's just not true. And then the lawyers started in. And that's when things really started to heat up. The new "Times" reporter who broke this story described to CNN last night how it is that the threat of deportation came about.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MONICA ALONZO, REPORTER: The evidence comes from the attorney who received those threats from Paul Babeu's attorney as they were discussing this document they wanted Jose to sign. And she made it clear that her client wasn't interested in doing that. That's when they started raising questions about his visa, saying that it had expired, saying that he wasn't in the country legally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: Now, specifically what that lawyer claims is that the lawyer for Mr. Babeu, a guy named Chris DeRose, called her up and said, I understand he is on an expired student visa. Jose says that is absolutely not true. Babeu denies ever threatening deportation or having his lawyer threaten deportation. Coming up in the hours ahead, we're going to have a lot more with that interview with Jose himself so you guys can see for yourself. O'BRIEN: Wow. This is sort of like the definition of a hot mess, isn't it? Really. Let me ask you a couple of questions. We know that the sheriff has stepped down from the Romney campaign, yes?

MARQUEZ: Yes, he has indeed. And he says that the Romney campaign never asked him to step down, that he called them on his own volition, stepped back from that so as not to bring any concern to them or any dark clouds to the Romney campaign here in Arizona. But he's going to continue to run for Congress here in the fourth district. And that's really what he's trying to save now.

O'BRIEN: Wow. Well, I tell you, you're right. The way you started, you wouldn't believe it if you didn't -- if it weren't actually true. And now it's involving lawyers, it must be true. Miguel Marquez for us this morning with an update on what has been a very challenging story.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Rick Santorum is taking a lead in the polls. He's been targeting President Obama, his tactics changing as he tackles faith and social issues in a must carry state.

Plus, it was sort of -- I don't think it was even a pun. It was just a racial slur, and it made it right into a Jeremy Lin headline, completely inappropriate. Now Jeremy Lin is responding. We'll tell you what he had to say. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. New national Gallup Daily tracking poll to share with you. Rick Santorum is riding high, up 21 points -- let's think about that for a minute -- 21 points from a month ago. He now has an eight-point lead over Mitt Romney.

We have Hogan Gidley, national communications director for Rick Santorum with us this morning. Let's walk through some of these numbers. If you see Rick Santorum at 36 percent, back in January he was at 15 percent, Mitt Romney at 28 percent. And it's Newt Gingrich who is at 13 percent. Explain to me why this surge. I think it's fair to call it a surge.

HOGAN GIDLEY, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, SANTORUM CAMPAIGN: Sure. I don't know that I can put one specific thing on it. But I do know this -- I think it's important to note that I feel like voters can relate to Rick Santorum. And almost as importantly if not more importantly, I think Rick Santorum can relate to the voter. I think we have seen that over the span of this campaign, it started in Iowa. And of course the three-state victory in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado were also very important.

But it just shows an overall understanding that Rick Santorum is able to relate to people and explain to them how great we are as a country and what made America great. But he also explains how we have fallen off that greatness to some degree, and then he just kind of wraps it in with how he can make the country great again. I think people are looking for that vision and someone to articulate a message of hope that we can be a great country again, and Rick Santorum is that person.

O'BRIEN: So when we look at the numbers -- let's throw up this next poll, which is Republicans choice for nominee, and we look at women only, it's really Mitt Romney. That surge actually doesn't translate to women. So that relating doesn't seem to actually include relating to women. What do you think is the issue with that? I had a hard time getting an answer from the Press Secretary Al Stewart the other day, so I'll try again. Why the gap with women?

GIDLEY: Well, I wouldn't -- I mean, some polling might indicate that at this point. But we've still got a ways to go before the actual votes are cast. And I think when they realize Rick Santorum -- I mean, they see him as a politician to some degree. They see him as a presidential candidate. But they haven't really gotten a chance to see him as a father. And they got a brief snippet of that when he had to cancel some campaign events to run home to be with his daughter. And they haven't really got a chance to meet Karen Santorum yet.

And I think as we begin to unfold that in the weeks ahead and people see who he is as a person and as a dad and as a husband, that will help women understand who he is as well.

But also the things he's been able to do over his career to fight for women and give them the rights to work from home and extended leave -- for maternity leave and things like that.

The more they learn about Rick Santorum the more they're going to like him, and you've seen that with the surge now and I think that's the real issue. It's taken a long time. We didn't have the money of some campaigns. We didn't have the high profile nature of some campaigns, but we sent a -- a messenger out with a good message and it's taken a little longer, but of course now it seems like he has done very well. And is resonating with a -- with a large majority of the country.

And we feel like women will -- will be in that group soon enough. It's just going to take some time for them to get to know him.

O'BRIEN: So I'll -- I'll just correct you, I don't think those numbers show resonating with a large majority of the country the polls are not exactly showing that.

But let's move on for a second. On Saturday, this is what Rick Santorum had to say about President Obama. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh not a theology based on the Bible, different theology, but none -- no -- no less a theology.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: What does that mean? It's not a theology -- he's talking about President Obama not about jobs it's about a phony ideal. Not a theology based on the bible, a different theology. Well, what do you mean?

GIDLEY: Right. Well, I mean, I think Rick has been very clear and probably the only candidate in this race who has actually defended the President's Christianity and his own personal beliefs.

What Rick was talking about was the President's ideology has turned into a theology of sorts, and he was talking about -- you didn't play the clip before that but he was talking about the energy crisis in this country. Skyrocketing gas prices across the -- across the nation. People are upset and people are angry.

But what drives that is a refusal by this President to adequately address energy problems. And instead focusing on green energy and --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Right. But what he said was -- I hear you.

GIDLEY: And spending billions and billions of dollars on taxpayer dollars.

O'BRIEN: All right. But let me -- I'm just going to stop you so we can just run over this last part because I really want to understand this. But he said the words he actually said, were "not a theology based on the bible". He is not saying not a theology based on what's happening on the gas pump -- he said not a theology based on the bible. What does that mean?

GIDLEY: Well, I mean I think he was pretty clear on that. I mean, he went on several Sunday shows afterwards and, of course, he's talked about that in subsequent interviews and there were rewrites and write through at all of the stories across the country as he related that.

He wasn't questioning the -- the President's personal beliefs. I mean, he can separate the President's personal beliefs with his public policy. And that's what he was talking about. Was that theology and that ideology, as it relates to energy is not good for the country. And I mean, I don't think anyone can argue that seeing the increasing gas prices and the crippling effect that has on families across this nation. And that's what he was talking about.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Ok.

GIDLEY: And you saw in the crowd the people in the crowd got it. The journalists were the ones that were confused. The crowd got it. They applauded.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Yes, well, our job is to ask the questions again and again. I hear you.

GIDLEY: If someone is really to attack the President and he is willing to take on the President one-on-one and he's not going to shy away from that battle. And I think that's what people want, someone that can fight for them and articulate how they are feeling with the President who has taken this ideology to the extreme and succumb to the environmental extremists. And that's what he's talking about.

O'BRIEN: Before we run out of time I want to ask you one last question. Do you think -- as there are many people who have said looking at the poll numbers that in fact Rick Santorum could take Michigan? If that's true, do you think Mitt Romney should drop out of the race?

GIDLEY: Oh no. We've never been about calling people to drop out of the race. I mean, look, this is a long process. And Michigan is an important state. But it's not the only state. And we're going to go there and fight for every -- every vote we can, of course.

But I mean, it's his home -- it's Romney's home state. And he's planted a flag there, and he's -- he's done commercials talking about how he's grown up there. So it's clear he thinks that that state is important to him. He has even claimed that he is going to win Michigan.

So I mean the pressure is squarely on -- on Mitt Romney at this point. We are going around this country trying to win every vote we can, every congressional district we can and show that Rick Santorum is the right person to take on President Obama.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I can't wait to see what happens.

GIDLEY: And we think that when you put up a conservative against the President, that's going to be the difference we need to make.

O'BRIEN: Hogan Gidley nice to have you. Thanks for talking with us. We appreciate it.

GIDLEY: Thanks Soledad.

O'BRIEN: And my apologies for the noise behind you. It sounds so loud to me, so it must be really loud for you.

GIDLEY: It's a working news room here. Right.

GIDLEY: Well sure, this is a working news room too. We're a little more quiet when our guests are on the set. Thanks we appreciate your time.

GIDLEY: That's right.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Lin- sanity's ugly side. A racial slur makes it right into a Jeremy Lin headlines. We're going to talk about that straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Another win this Sunday for Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks. It's now like nobody is Jeremy and the rest of the team, and those other guys. Headline writers having a lot of fun and sometimes really stretching a lot with Lin's name, using puns of course. There are some examples that you're looking at right there over the last week.

But there have been a couple of incidents as well that caused a lot of controversy. On Sunday, an ESPN employee was fired for posting a headline with a racial slur. An anchor was suspended for using the same slur on the air. And the network is also investigating with a similar comment was used on ESPN Radio.

This is interesting because let me look at this. This "The New York Post" today. Lin-phomania, right? So this is a take out on the word nymphomania.

JOHN FUGELSANG, COMEDIAN: Because the Chinese have too many children.

O'BRIEN: What? It's like -- who comes up with this headline? Is this racist? No. Is it stupid? Kind of. Yes. Will Cain -- Will Cain is trying to formulate.

FUGELSON: No, no. It falls short -- it falls short of clever. But I think it's real --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Way short of clever.

FUGELSANG: 25 years ago, I don't think you would have seen this kind of massive public outcry against an Asian-American slur on his name and I think it actually shows some positive signs for our culture that racism is now a very public IQ test.

O'BRIEN: Ok so ESPN quickly apologized for the -- the headline that is actually so bad that we -- we are not allowed -- literally, I am not allowed to tell you what that headline is. You probably should Google it. But it's -- they wrote this in their apology. "We apologize, especially to Mr. Lin. His accomplishments are a source of great pride to the Asian-American community" -- really to everybody they should have said -- "including the Asian-American employees at ESPN."

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

O'BRIEN: You don't even know what to say.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, EDITOR, "THOMSON REUTER'S DIGITAL: Some political correctness now, Will.

O'BRIEN: You don't even know what to say.

WILL: Well, am I going to attack political correctness? I think Jeremy Lin's existence on the national stage raises so many interesting questions from we talked about last week there was a headline in "The New York Post" that said Am-Asian. Race has been involved in the Jeremy Lin's from the beginning to end.

O'BRIEN: But again. Not racist -- just awkward. And not --

WILL: But it raises questions about when you fail John's public IQ test. When can you root for someone --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: But you fail John's public IQ test when you use a racial slur. Full stop.

FREELAND: No I will say --

FUGELSANG: -- of course his race is a factor. But you know this is a line that sports journalists are going to have to walk now very tastefully with their attempts at being clever.

O'BRIEN: And by the way what kind of a clear line if they're going to use a racial slur in the headline just don't right?

Here is what Jeremy Lin had to say and this is you know again makes me love him even more. He says this, "ESPN has apologized. There is no -- I don't think it was on purpose or whatever. And at the same time, they have apologized. So for my end, I don't care anymore. I have learned to forgive and get on and I don't think that was intentional or hopefully not.

CAIN: This is not to defend the ESPN headline. The point is this. If you have a public IQ test and you know so clearly where the public correctness lines are, why don't you guys publish a sheet for us? So we all know if we're going to be crossing the line.

O'BRIEN: If we have time. Do you know how many kids we have between us? A lot.

CAIN: A new book idea. Put out a book. When are you wrong and when are you right? I'd appreciate it.

FUGELSANG: I like the fact that seeing so many Americans get easily outraged over a slur against Asians. I think it shows how far we've come.

CAIN: I think this sort of outrage is sometimes something to reflect on.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: And you guys can fight about it in the commercial because we have to go to a commercial.

"End Point" is up next with our panel. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Who is this?

CAIN: George Strait.

O'BRIEN: George Strait.

CAIN: I'll be somewhere down in Texas.

O'BRIEN: You know, I'm going to be an honorary Texan by the end of this run of the show.

CAIN: I think I just sang on TV.

O'BRIEN: I love that.

FUGELSANG: I'll bring in more music.

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to our "End Point". Will Cain, do you want to start me off?

CAIN: Yes. I want to go back to the story with Steve Perry about paying kids to go to school --

O'BRIEN: Yes.

CAIN: Paying kids for attendance. I think that one of the things -- whether or not that's a good program or not, we have stalled out in our education system. We have ceased to progress and advance. I think it's good to allow schools to experiment. It may not work. It may work. Let them try some things out, experiment.

O'BRIEN: I agree with you on that. I will say I agree with you today on that one point only. John.

FUGELSANG: You know, Sunday, Campaign 2012 will be over. And Mitt Romney will never have to wear that L.L. Bean dad jeans and loafers combo costume again, which I am happy for.

I'm not going to judge Bobby Brown but I will judge whoever gives Bobby Brown a brand-new reality show in the next three weeks as someone's going to do it.

And finally it's worth reminding Rick Santorum and his entire campaign that Jesus never once condemned birth control or gay people, never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, never defended torture, and never asked a leper for a co-pay.

O'BRIEN: We move on from that.

Chrystia, wrap it up for us.

FREELAND: Yes. How can I top lepers?

Jeremy Lin. I think that he is just terrific. And it is great that he's being so celebrated. And I think it's also really terrific that as a culture, you know, I saw the headline on my Twitter feed right away. The outrage right away.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I agree, outrage is good.

And we end with that this morning.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips begins right now. I'll see everybody back here at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Hey, Kyra.