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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Primary Fight for 110 Delegates; Students Protest Afghan Massacre; "Highlight" Wins Big At SXSW; Health Coverage Requiring Female Contraception Debated; Interview with Sandra Fluke; Fight for Mississippi; Unarmed Teen Killed in Florida

Aired March 13, 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: Showdown in the South to talk about this morning.

The polls are opening for primary day in Alabama and Mississippi, and Governor Mitt Romney warns the GOP if they don't decide very soon, they're going to end up with President Obama.

Plus, rage in Afghanistan. Some new violence is erupting this morning after that cold blooded rampage by a U.S. soldier.

And Sandra Fluke says name-calling by Rush Limbaugh is not going to silence her. The Georgetown law student at the center of a national debate is going to join us, straight ahead.

It's Tuesday, March 13th -- and STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: No, I want to sing. I don't want to go. I want to read. I want to sing along with Rihanna, "We Found Love." Dorian's nice selection.

DORIAN WARREN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: A little cliche. I mean, you hear it on the radio 10 times, but still good for the morning.

Let's get back to our panel this morning.

Will Cain is with us as well. He's CNN contributor and writer at conservative blog, TheBlaze.com.

As I mentioned, that was Dorian's choice. He's political science assistant professor at Columbia University.

It's nice to have you.

Andrew Jenks is new to our panel. He's called one of the country's up and coming best filmmaker. He's a correspondent for MTV's Power of 12 and creator of "The World of Jenks". I'm going to steal that, "The World of Soledad".

We're renaming the show, the world -- see, Bruce likes it. "The World of Soledad".

ANDREW JENKS, WORLD OF JENKS: I'll take STARTING POINT.

O'BRIEN: Done. Done. Good luck with that.

You can actually anchor the show this week if you want. We'll talk about that later.

Polls are now open across Alabama and Mississippi as voters are trying to make their decision for the GOP presidential candidate. Newt Gingrich is banking on what he's been calling his Southern strategy. So far, he's got his home state of Georgia and South Carolina. And he's hoping to add today's contests to his tally.

Some people are saying it's a must win. We're going to add that to our list of overused words -- the must win -- of at least one state to stay in the race.

And some of the latest polling looks pretty promising. In Alabama, 47 delegates are at stake. And Newt Gingrich is leading with 34 percent of the vote there, polling-wise. Mitt Romney with 31 percent. The margin of error makes them tied. And Rick Santorum coming in third with 24 percent of the vote there.

Next door in the state of Mississippi, 37 delegates are up for grabs. Mitt Romney is leading with 34 percent. Newt Gingrich at 32 percent. Again, that's within the margin of error. They're tied. And Santorum is trailing there as well with 22 percent.

Let's bring Chip Saltsman into our panel. He's a Republican strategist and also national campaign manager for Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.

Nice to see you this morning. Thank you for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it.

Let's talk about Mitt Romney to start first. He seems to have some momentum and to some degree, for some, I think it's a surprise because it's Newt Gingrich that's been talking about Southern strategy. Looks like Mitt Romney kind of has a little bit of Southern strategy.

What are your predictions, sir, for tonight?

CHIP SALTSMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I hope that the panel doesn't buzz me if I'm using the overused words.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to write it down, though.

SALTSMAN: In the program this morning, but that would be a good thing to do. You can buzz your guests as they use pivot or some of the other words.

O'BRIEN: I like that.

SALTSMAN: I think that would add some excitement.

Look, I think Mitt Romney does have some momentum right now. I think he's got a very good chance to win Mississippi or Alabama today. They're all bunched up.

And I think it's a big day for Mitt Romney if he can win one of these two states, it kind of takes away the "can he win the Deep South and the primaries?" Look, we know we're going to win these states in November, but as we march through to the convention, it's going to be very important for Mitt Romney to show that he can win states everywhere. He's won Florida, kind of the South, and then if he wins in Mississippi or Alabama, I think he can say I've won in the Deep South.

O'BRIEN: So, huge risk for him and opportunities.

SALTSMAN: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: What are the other implications for the other candidates? Let's ignore Ron Paul for now. Please don't tweet me, Ron Paul followers. He's really not competitive in the polling. What are the implications --

SALTSMAN: Ignoring Ron Paul at your own peril on a morning show.

O'BRIEN: I know, I know. You're so right.

SALTSMAN: We'll talk about the first three people in the polling. They're all bunched up. So, I think Newt Gingrich has a lot to lose here. He's banked everything on a Southern strategy. I believe you got to win more states than inside the South. I think even if he wins Mississippi and Alabama, he does get a short-term boost to his campaign. I'm not sure how much that does to his march to the nomination as far as the delegate count. I think it's very tough for him to get there.

Rick Santorum has a little bit of a danger zone. He had a big win obviously Saturday in Kansas. He got a lot of delegates. Not a lot of coverage because everybody was focused on Mississippi and Alabama.

If he comes in third in both places, then they're going to say, well, is Newt now the conservative alternative? And we'll start that story again.

Obviously, that's not a story Rick Santorum wants. He wants a one-on-one match-up with Mitt Romney. That's he wants to try to do over the next couple of weeks.

O'BRIEN: Let me bring Will Cain into this conversation, because, you know, I hear Chip talking and it's sort of like -- so he's saying you can have a big giant win for Mitt Romney or a big giant defeat or one on one. Is it always that volatile?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I don't think so. I don't think it's that volatile at all. In fact, if you talk about what it means to win the nomination, which is getting to 1,144 delegates it takes to walk up on that stage at the Republican National Convention and accept the nomination for president, I'd love Chip's feedback. I don't see a path for either of those other guys, Santorum or Gingrich, to make that walk up on stage. They can win the South, they can win Mississippi and Alabama, Gingrich might win these two states, but so what?

O'BRIEN: What do you think, Chip?

SALTSMAN: Yes. I mean, he makes a very good point. As far as getting to 1,144, Mitt Romney's got the straightest, shortest path to get there. Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich have a very long, uphill, windy path of which they must win 70 percent, 80 percent of the delegates.

Look, we were there four years ago. When Governor Huckabee, we did not get out until the night that John McCain received the 1,144 delegates to be the nomination. Then Governor Huckabee endorsed him and got behind his campaign.

I think ultimately Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee. I think most people think that because of looking at the delegate count. I think if things don't go his way the next couple of week, he still gets there probably about June 2nd when California happens. It's 172 delegates, winner-take-all state. That could put him over the top.

And, so, you know, what we're talking about now is do other people get in the race or I mean, get out of the race before then. I think the question is -- the answer is probably not.

O'BRIEN: Is the difference --

CAIN: Did you hear that stat that he said? Chip said that's a big number. He just said since Santorum or Gingrich want to win the nomination, they have to win 70 percent to 80 percent of the delegates.

O'BRIEN: Right.

CAIN: That is astounding.

O'BRIEN: The math, I think a lot of people have said, doesn't work. My question is, is the big change since when you were running Huckabee's campaign in 2008 -- is it really the super PAC money? Is that ultimately why people stay in, because the money's there?

SALTSMAN: Yes. There's no question. And the calendar has changed quite a bit, too. We were done by March 2nd. And so, the calendar is longer, it's more proportional.

But you used to have to win states to get momentum to raise more money to stay in the game. I mean, Newt Gingrich has won two out of 25 contests and he's still in the game based on one contributor.

Now, that's OK. That's the rules. Good for Newt Gingrich. But he has gotten no momentum from any wins because he hasn't won.

O'BRIEN: You know --

SALTSMAN: There's some states that he came in fourth in but he's still in the race.

O'BRIEN: So, Michael Steele is quoted as saying a little chaos is a good thing, particularly in the system that tends to be moribund. One of his goals in rearranging that calendar, I should have said that, in addition to one of the big changes is the money is also, duh, the calendar.

Do you think that -- because he's saying I wanted a brokered convention, when you hear that, what do you think? That's Michael Steele, who used to be the chairman obviously.

SALTSMAN: Well, I like Michael Steele.

O'BRIEN: Uh-oh. Whenever someone starts, I like -- I'm going to write that down as one of my phrases, I like.

SALTSMAN: And I hope that you don't buzz on this, but bless his heart. I mean, in the South, that's --

(LAUGHTER)

CAIN: You know what that means, Chip.

SALTSMAN: We know what's coming. This is not good for the party, to go through a brokered convention. I don't think Chairman Steele, that's what his goal truly was. I think it was make the process a little longer because the last 20 years, the nomination's been over in one or two or three states.

And now, we've got this very long process, but usually we would be good. But then we added super PACs to it. And so, no longer do you win states to get momentum to stay in the race. Now, you just get one or two contributors to write really big checks and you can stay in the whole way and ultimately that may not be good for our nominee.

I think right now, Mitt Romney is using it if he's the nominee to his advantage. Senator Santorum has used this time to his advantage to build a great organization that a lot of people are excited about.

Speaker Gingrich, on one hand, has won two states. As much as I respect him, that's not really a good enough reason to say I still can win the nomination, I've won two states. And I've only won in the South. We've got to do more than that if we're going to be successful in November.

O'BRIEN: Chip Saltsman joining us this morning -- nice to have you. Thanks for being with us. My list is growing, man, with you.

SALTSMAN: Yes, ma'am.

O'BRIEN: Got to get to headlines. Carlos Diaz is back with those.

Good morning.

CARLOS DIAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

We got some news just coming in. CNN is working to confirm British media reports that Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the "News of the World," has been arrested. Brooks had been on bail after detectives questioned her last summer on suspicion of phone hacking and corruption in the scandal linked to Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

Reports say Scotland Yard has arrested six people on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the court of justice. Brooks and her husband are said to be among them.

We're also following developments in Afghanistan. The first big protest since Sunday's massacre has been largely peaceful. Hundreds of students voicing their anger in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. Meantime, the Taliban is threatening to behead Americans and open fire on government VIPs visiting a village where the killings took place.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the incident, while horrific, won't affect the military plan in the region.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: War is hell. These kinds of events and incidents are going to take place. They've taken place in any war. They're terrible events and this is not the first of those events and it probably won't be the last.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAZ: Panetta also says the shooting suspect could face the death penalty. Now, the soldier is based at Fort Lewis in Washington state.

Just ahead at 8:15 a.m. Eastern, Soledad talks with Hal Bernton, reporter for "The Seattle Times" who's look into the link between increased deployments and mental illness among our soldiers.

Gas prices rising for the fourth day in the row. The national average price for gas, regular unleaded, is now $3.80. Prices have jumped more than 16 percent so far in 2012.

Not a penny from FEMA for tornado battered Harrisburg, Illinois. The city's request has been rejected. Seven people were killed and 98 homes were leveled in Harrisburg during last month's deadly storms.

The city's mayor says he does not understand the decision. FEMA claims the state, homeowner's insurance, and local charities can cover the damage.

What would you give up to be able to skip work, sit in the recliner, and watch the NCAA tournament? Almost anything, right?

Be careful. Because doctors say they see a huge increase in guys coming to get vasectomies a few days before the tournament begins, because it's the perfect excuse. You get the vasectomy, sit in front of the TV, you watch wall to watch basketball. Many offices across the country even advertise this.

And clever campaigns like vas madness, some urologists even offer free pizza to patients and a bag of frozen peas to apply to the affected area.

O'BRIEN: All right. Enough. I'm stopping you.

DIAZ: I'm stopping. You think I want to talk about this?

(LAUGHTER)

WARREN: Can't you just get the flu?

DIAZ: That's one hell of a basketball fan right there, by the way. Go state!

O'BRIEN: But the numbers bear that out.

DIAZ: I know.

O'BRIEN: How crazy is that?

Thank you, Carlos.

Moving on -- ahead on STARTING POINT: some pretty amazing pictures to show you of flash flooding in Louisiana. Hundreds of people been rescued. Others say it's worse than any hurricane they've ever seen. We're going to have the latest on the emergency that's happening down South.

And Sandra Fluke is going to joins us. She says she wants to set the record straight, as a new op-ed on CNN.com -- you might want to check out -- says her message is being lost in the noise.

We're listening to Will Cain's playlist. Bob Seger, "Hollywood Night."

You're watching STARTING POINT. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. New developments to get to this morning in that rampage by an American soldier who killed at least 16 Afghan citizens. You're looking at the very first protests since last Sunday's massacre. It's been largely peaceful, so far. The Taliban, however, has been threatening to behead Americans. This all comes as we learn more about the soldier who's been accused of that rampage.

Back in 2010, he suffered a brain injury while he was serving in Iraq. The unidentified 38-year-old was hurt in a vehicle rollover, but he was judged healthy enough to start a tour at Afghanistan three months ago. Gen. John Allen, who is the commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, told Wolf Blitzer the suspect's medical history is part of the investigation.

CNN's also learning that the suspect's wife and children have been moved to Washington's Fort Lewis from their home of base for their own protection. Hal Bernton is a reporter for the "Seattle Times," and he joins us this morning. It's nice to see you. Thank you for being with us. You spent a lot of time at the base. What are the soldiers there telling you?

HAL BERNTON, REPORTER, THE SEATTLE TIMES: Well, I've been covering Fort Lewis and Joint Base Lewis-McChord now for about ten years, and actually, what we've been hearing in recent days from the base is, of course, concern that, once again, we have a major war crime linked to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. That's because back in 2010, another brigade that went to Afghanistan after their return, there were four soldiers who eventually convicted in the killing of three unarmed civilians.

And the court martials played out last year with a lot of graphic details, a lot of disturbing testimony about what happened with that unit. And there was a sense in January this year as new troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord prepared to go to Afghanistan and some, of course, went in December, that they could put this behind them and that these units could move forward and perform well as, of course, most of the troops do, and then help perform with honor in Afghanistan.

O'BRIEN: And on that list, I'm going to interrupt you there for a second, on that list though, in addition to what you describe coming out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, there's also been a dozen suicides last year, nine the year before, nine year before that. Also, two soldiers were shot and killed by police after having mental breakdowns.

There was a soldier who's been linked to a killing of a park ranger in Washington State. So, all of this is very bad news for that particular base. When you talk to soldiers there, are they surprised by this killing of 16 civilians or what are they telling you?

BERNTON: Well, everyone is surprised at something like this. This is really a horrendous act. It seems to be -- it appears to be one of the worst if not the worst war crimes that we've seen by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but the issues that have been bubbling over at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, I think, are reflective of broader strains on the army that have been building over a decade of war --

O'BRIEN: Specifically what?

BERNTON: -- in Afghanistan and Iraq. The issues -- excuse me?

O'BRIEN: Yes. When you say it's reflective of broader issues, like what issues?

BERNTON: Well, I think that as soldiers have gone repeatedly to war, there've been an increase in posttraumatic stress disorder. We've had issues with traumatic brain injury. There's been an effort to reach out, to get soldiers to overcome the stigma when they have problems, but at the same time, there's a real -- still, a sense of frustration among some soldiers or concern that if they do reach out to try to get care, that it will be sort of an end to promotions, an end to their career advancement.

So, there's been kind of a catch-22. And then, specifically, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, we've had a lot of issues with soldiers who got treated for post-traumatic stress disorder who came to a point where it looked like they should be medically retired, and then, the screeners, the doctors who screened them said, oh, my goodness, no, you don't have post-traumatic stress disorder, dropped the diagnosis.

And this led to a lot of frustration among some soldiers who had their diagnosis dropped and a major investigation that's been launched by the army surgeon general into the screening practices at Madigan Army Medical Center, which is at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

O'BRIEN: And I'm sure that's going to be just one of the many things that they're focused on right now as they continue this investigation. Hal Bernton is a reporter from the "Seattle Times." Thank you for talking with us this morning. We appreciate it.

BERNTON: Sure. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, take a look at these bruises. That's Madonna on her face. Yikes. What is that? What part of the body is that? That's her leg. Oh, my goodness. Madonna's injured, everybody. We're going to tell you what happened so we can better figure out how to help her. That's straight ahead.

Also, using GPS technology to track your friends, even meet new ones? It's a new app called "Highlight." It is supposedly the hit of South by Southwest. We'll tell you what it does. And there's a little bit of creep factor with it. We're going to talk about that, too, with the founder, straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT. We got a short break. We'll back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: "Barefoot and Crazy." Jack Ingram. This is off the script. Surprise, surprise. Will Cain's playlist.

CAIN: Texas boy, Jack Ingram.

O'BRIEN: Yes, the Texas boy, and the Texas boy, Will Cain. You can see our entire playlist every morning on our website, CNN.com/STARTINGPOINT. I'm going to do my blog later this morning (INAUDIBLE) saying, it's coming. It's coming. I'll get to it.

Back in 2007, of course, it was Twitter. In 2009, it was FourSquare. We're talking about South by Southwest and its ability to launch hot tech products. We were there on Friday and so were the folks behind "Highlight." It's a new app that alerts you to any nearby Facebook friends and any of their friends, and it's being hyped as the next big South by Southwest launch.

Paul Davison is the founder and he is the CEO of "Highlight," and he joins us from the festival which is in Austin, Texas. Nice to have you. Thanks for being with us. I certainly appreciate it. So, explain to me how exactly "Highlight" works.

PAUL DAVISON, FOUNDER AND CEO, HIGHLIGHT: Yes. So, Highlight is an iPhone app that helps you learn more about the people around you. So, if you've installed the app and you're standing near me, and your privacy setting is allow for it, your profile will show up on my phone. So, I can see your photo so I know it's you, I can se your name.

I can see where you work, I can see the friends we have in common, I can see the other things we have in common like if we're from the same hometown or we work for the same company, or if we like a lot of the same bands. Now, I can see a history of all the times that we've crossed paths before.

O'BRIEN: And is that all going through your Facebook profile?

DAVISON: Yes. So, you use Facebook to log in so that we can, you know, make sure that everyone's using their real identity, and you have mutual friends to tie you together. And there are other things you can add to your highlight profile.

O'BRIEN: OK. So --

DAVISON: And --

O'BRIEN: Go ahead.

DAVISON: I'm sorry. I was just going to say, and the other thing is, if I'm walking down the street and my phone's in my pocket and Highlight sees someone walk near me who it thinks I might find it particularly interesting, it will notify me, and you get a little push notification that might say, oh, you're friend to that cafe right across the street from you, or that woman over there knows your sister, or, you know, that guy's got 43 friends in common with you.

O'BRIEN: And so, it's all linked through friends versus linked through interests.

DAVISON: Yes. You know, it uses both because both can be important and meaningful, but their privacy settings that allow you to control that. So, if you only want your profile to be visible to friends of friends, you can do that. You can also have a setting that says even if they're not in my network, if they have a lot of interesting things in common with me, then tell me about them, too.

O'BRIEN: OK. So, there's part of that that sounds really, really cool, and there's part of that that sounds really, really creepy, because I'm not sure I want people to be able to walk down the street and say, oh, you know, Soledad and I have 50 things in common and there she is. I've been stalking her for the last year and a half.

Now, she's right in front of me. I know you've gotten that kind of push back before. How do you keep that from happening?

DAVISON: Yes, no, it's a great question. So, I think privacy's very, very important to us, and we think about it all the time. And so, there are some things that we do to make sure that this is a really fun, sort of safe thing. So, first thing is entire -- "Highlight" is entirely opt in. So, if you don't want to share in that sort of way, just don't install the app and that's no problem.

It's also important to us that it's based off your real identity and meet real friends. So, I mean, we have you authenticate with Facebook for that. You can also, you know, control the privacy settings. And, another thing to understand is that "Highlight" doesn't share your location with people. What it really does is it says if you're already standing right near me, if you're already around me, I can see a little miniature profile about you.

So, it's sort of like a little bubble floating above your head that tells me more about you. I guess, the final thing I'd say about privacy is that this is a new form of sharing. We've never been able to do this before. And, what you often find with these sorts of things is that, you know, when they're new, a lot of people look at social products and they say, oh, that's kind of weird. That's kind of creepy.

I'm not sure I want to do that. That's totally understandable, but a subset of people try it out, and they realize it's really fun and rewarding, and overtime, it becomes more mainstream. And, we saw that with Facebook, and Twitter, and LinkedIn, and FourSquare. You know, I think it's a very common thing.

But yes, we really care deeply about the privacy stuff so we wanted this to be just a fun thing that sits with you throughout the day and runs in the background and makes your day more fun. It helps you remember people's names. It helps you know when your friends are nearby. And, yes, the response has been really good.

O'BRIEN: All right. Paul Davison is the founder and CEO of "Highlight." Congratulations because you're getting all the buzz at South by Southwest today. We'll see after South by Southwest if it continues. Congratulations to you.

DAVISON: Yes. Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: You bet. He's losing his voice. You can tell he's on the elevator pitch a 100 times. He can't talk anymore, or he's been out partying in South by Southwest.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the woman is at the center of an emotional national debate on birth control. Sandra Fluke is going to join us live with the message she says she has now after the controversy over Rush Limbaugh and also after testifying in Congress. And then, from restaurant critic for the Grand Forks Herald to international sensation. How one grandmother, there she is right there, has gone viral even though she says she really didn't know what viral meant. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: That's off the playlist of Joe Nosef. He is the chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party. We're liking his choice. We're going to talk to him in a little bit. First, though, we have headlines with Carlos Diaz.

DIAZ: Good morning, Soledad. Success for Egyptian officials trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians. Both sides have a truce after the past several days that were punctuated by Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel and Israeli airstrikes in return.

Parts of southern Louisiana hit heavy by heavy rains have now triggered severe floods. And 12 to 18 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours, more than 20 inches of rain in some areas. Lafayette Parrish, hundreds of people were trapped by flood waters and had to be rescued. There's a state emergency in effect in Lafayette and Saint Landry Parrish.

The Obama administration has blocked a controversial Texas law requiring voters to have a special I.D. card. The White House says the law discriminates against minorities, particularly Hispanics, because voters have to bear the cost of acquiring the proper documentation needed for the cards. The Justice Department also weighing in saying there was little evidence of voter fraud that would justify such a law in the first place.

A Delta jet with no passengers on board has skidded off a runway embankment at Atlanta's Hartsville Jackson airport. This is a live picture of the plain just in to CNN. That's pretty scary since I'm flying to Atlanta today. A Delta official says maintenance workers were testing the 737's engines when the brakes failed. There's no word on the extent of the damage to the plane. There were no injuries, no one on the plane, no passengers, and no other flights have been impacted.

And Madonna showing off her battle scars. The pop star got a little banged up during dance rehearsals for her upcoming tour Here's the proof. The 53-year-old posted these pictures to Facebook, the photos showing her swollen lip and bruised legs. Remember when pictures of Madonna were better than this?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: She's older now.

DIAZ: Exactly. And grandma has gone viral. Not Madonna, somebody else. After a glowing review of the new Olive Garden in Grand Forks, North Dakota, 85-year-old Marilyn Haggerty is the talk of social media. Haggerty is a columnist and a sometime restaurant critic for "Grand Fords Herald." She spoke to "Glee's" Jane Lynch who was subbing for Piers Morgan about her new found celebrity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARILYN HAGGERTY, COLUMNIST, "GRAND FORDS HERALD": It seems like it's a dream. It doesn't seem like it's real. It seems like something that I'm just sort of -- can't -- I'm going to wake up and this didn't really happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAZ: She wrote this glowing review about the Olive Garden, and her son, who's a "Wall Street Journal" reporter, told her about the "Eat Me" going viral. She said, what does viral mean?

O'BRIEN: That's a good thing in a newspaper. That's a very, very good thing.

DIAZ: Now she's in the "Wall Street Journal" today.

O'BRIEN: Her review was very cute. Why it went viral was some people were bashing reviewing the Olive Garden. Then there was a discussion about the bashing of the review and then a discussion of the bashing of the bashing of the review.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I have four kids. I love the Olive Garden. I drink the Chianti and they eat. It all works out.

DIAZ: Free refills. All the refills.

O'BRIEN: You know what I'm saying.

DIAZ: They bring out one extra bread. For this table here they would bring out six bread sticks. Every refill is just the same out of people at the table. I know this because I used to be a waiter at olive garden.

O'BRIEN: Oh, interesting. Carlos, thank you.

We move on to talk about the controversy over birth control. The woman is speaking out today. Sandra Fluke famously was called a slut by Rush Limbaugh after she testified in front of Congress. She was speaking about President Obama's policy which would require church affiliated universities and hospitals to provide free contraception to women.

This morning she's written a piece for CNN.com. She says the goal is to refocus the debate. Sandra Fluke joins us live. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us this morning. I'm going to start by reading a little bit of your op-ed that everybody can take a look at CNN.com. You write this, "Because we spoke so loudly, opponents of reproductive health access demonized and smeared me and others on the public airways. These smears are obvious attempts to distract from meaningful policy discussions and to silence women's voices regarding their own health care." You literally have been the person who's been at the center of that storm. How have the last couple of weeks been?

SANDRA FLUKE: They've been difficult to say the least, but I'm doing OK.

O'BRIEN: OK, what's been the highs and what's been the lows?

FLUKE: Well, it's been very gratifying to receive the support of so many Americans who have contacted me to say that they support me and more importantly that they support this policy and believe that women need this affordable access to contraception, to an aspect of their basic health care.

O'BRIEN: That's the good news. I know in your op-ed you write a lot about sort of the stinging commentary not just by Rush Limbaugh but by others as well.

FLUKE: Yes. And I think one of the other low points in this process has been the misinformation that's being put out to the public about this debate. And that's one of the main reasons that I wanted to city submit the op-ed because I wanted people to understand that this is neither government subsidized contraception nor is contraception as incredibly cheap as some people have shared.

O'BRIEN: OK, so in "The Washington Times" today there's a guy named Dr. Milton Wolf. He's a columnist and a radiologist. He writes this about you. "So Ms. Fluke gets a free lunch. Well, not quite. Somebody has to pay to increase taxes, higher insurance premiums, and mark my words, increased contraception costs. So the government simply transfers those bills to someone else like the janitors at Georgetown law, for example, who humbly clean up after spoiled kids. I bet knows janitors buy their own birth control at Wal-Mart without whining. But Ms. Fluke is entitled and I'm sure she's worth it."

When you read something like that, what's your response to that?

FLUKE: Wow. For starters, the staff at Georgetown actually already have coverage of contraception on their insurance, and the students are merely asking for the same. But I was actually speaking out about students and about low income women across the country who need access to this care. It's unfortunate that some folks have made it so much about me and my access, because that was not what my testimony was about. And I would encourage people to take a look at that testimony.

CAIN: Sandra, this is Will Cain. I actually appreciate your desire to move this debate towards a more substantive position. I want to take you up on that opportunity. The conversation is about access, and you used this word several times, access. I hope you and I can agree on one term of this debate. That is, no one is attempting to ban contraception or limit access and make it illegal for women to have this. The debate is about who should be providing it, who should be paying for it. Should employers determine what is involved in their compensation, determined in their health care benefits or should the government make certain requirements of employers? Can we agree that is what this debate is about?

FLUKE: Not exactly. I think there are multiple ways to limit access. Certainly making something illegal would be the most extreme form, but not covering it as a health care benefit the way other types of health care benefits are covered is another way to limit access. And that's what many women across the country are currently experiencing when they, even if they have insurance, co pays, can be as high as $50 a month, which is significant for a woman not making a lot of money.

CAIN: But Sandra, couldn't that same logic be applied to so many other things that health care doesn't cover, such as gym memberships? Exercise is important to health. Couldn't that logic you're using saying access is denied because it's not being offered to you for some reduced price apply to so many things?

FLUKE: I think that that's not a fair comparison and most women would tell you that's not a fair comparison. There are many types of preventive health care services that are covered, things like blood pressure medication, for example. And women are merely asking that their health be taken just as seriously.

O'BRIEN: Sandra Fluke joining us this morning. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it. And we encourage everybody to take a look at your op-ed, which is at CNN.com this morning.

FLUKE: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: I would add to that, isn't gym membership -- isn't part of her argument if gym membership were covered for other employees? It's covered for other people at Georgetown. Her point was the janitors actually get their contraception covered. So the gym membership I think is a flawed analogy.

CAIN: It focuses on the right question. Should employers determine the benefits or should the government be mandating?

O'BRIEN: Employers determine the benefits for some people and not others.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: The employers determine that as well, but I don't have a big problem with it right now, yet.

O'BRIEN: That's a whole other conversation. All right, we're going to keep going here. Ahead on STARTING POINT, a family calling for justice after a neighborhood watch captain shoots and kills an unarmed black teenager. The family's lawyer is going to join us. And also, Mississippi voters are heading to the polls right now. Results there could maybe, maybe clarify the race, or alternately could make things even more confusing. We're going to talk to the chairman of the Mississippi GOP up next with his predictions.

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O'BRIEN: Joe Nosef's play list. The Eagles' "Hotel California", I thought he would do something about Mississippi because that's where we're going next. He's the chairman, of course, of the Mississippi Republican Party. Polls are open in the state right now and 37 delegates are at stake. It's nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.

We thought maybe you'd have some song kind of with Mississippi in it, not California.

Let's start with your predictions for how the day is going to go. How do you think it ends up tonight?

JOE NOSEF, CHAIRMAN, MISSISSIPPI REPUBLICAN PARTY: Well, first of all, we have 40 delegates in Mississippi.

O'BRIEN: Oh, my apologies.

NOSEF: And no, no, that's ok. They revised it not too long ago. But you know I have to be careful not to play pundit too much as chairman, but it looks like it's going to be a close race. Our governor, Phil Bryne, in Mississippi who's a very popular governor, very conservative endorsed Mitt Romney last Thursday. And I think that's been a clear shot in the arm for Governor Romney.

And you know from the appearances to me, that he's got some momentum for sure because of that and because he's been spending a lot of time in the state campaigning.

O'BRIEN: Yes in fact, if we pop the polls up on the screen there, you can see he's in first place at 34 percent in the state of Mississippi. Newt Gingrich right behind him and within the margin of error, I should point out, at 32 percent. And -- and Rick Santorum is trailing at 22 percent.

Do you think -- I mean, there's been a lot said about Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum splitting the conservative vote. And this is what Jeff Foxworthy said as he was stumping for -- for Mitt Romney yesterday. Listen.

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JEFF FOXWORTHY, ENTERTAINER: We don't elect presidents on personality. We elected a personality in 2008. I think we elect presidents on substance. It's what their capability is. And I mean, he's -- he's like a basketball team playing an away game when he's down here, but his capabilities don't change. And I think that's what's important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Is Mitt Romney benefiting from having both Santorum and Gingrich in the race, splitting the votes of conservatives?

NOSEF: Well, you know, I guess just from a pure math standpoint, if one of them got out of the race it would benefit Governor Romney a little bit. But I think, to be honest, that Mississippi Republicans like all these three candidates for various reasons.

I think a lot of them like Governor Romney because they think he's a good manager. He's run a state. And I think they think he's an electable candidate.

I think they like Newt Gingrich because he's a fighter, because he's somebody who can express his beliefs as well as anybody in our party.

And I think they like Senator Santorum because he's been a consistent conservative for years and has fought for a lot of the issues that many of us care about.

So I think Mississippi voters are doing what they ought to be doing which is taking this opportunity to get close to these candidates and try to make an informed decision.

O'BRIEN: All right. I want to thank you for joining us. Joseph Nosef is the Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party. Thanks.

I got to get to Carol Costello with an update of what's ahead on CNN NEWSROOM. Hi Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Soledad. Coming your way at 9:00 a.m. Eastern time, we're live in Afghanistan following new reports of threats to American troops by the Taliban.

We're also asking the military what it's doing to protect troops overseas. We'll have a special report coming up in just about ten minutes.

Also ahead, what you're paying at the pump and what the candidates' actual plans are for lowering high gas prices. Are they just a bunch of hot air or will their plans actually work?

And guess what, this is just weird. There's a new crime wave sweeping the nation. Apparently Tide, yes, I'm talking about the laundry detergent, it's a hot commodity. Tens of thousands of dollars of this stuff are being stolen. Apparently Tide can sell on the black market for $10 a bottle. We'll tell you what's behind this unusual trend.

All that and much more coming up at the top of the hour.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that is so weird. You know one law enforcement official was saying they sent that informant in to buy drugs and he -- the guy offered to buy drugs but I have Tide. How weird is that? That's crazy. All right, Carol, thank you. We look forward to that.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, an unarmed teenager shot dead by a neighborhood watch captain. Well, the captain is claiming self- defense. This morning there was raising a lot of questions; I'm going to talk to the attorney for the victim's family coming up next.

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O'BRIEN: Outrage in Florida this morning over the shooting of an unarmed teenager. Trayvon Martin was shot to death last month by a member of a neighborhood watch in a gated community. Now his family is demanding answers. Listen.

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SABRINA FULTON, MOTHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: I'm hoping that one day, one day he's going to walk through the door and this is going to be a nightmare. I just want answers from the police department about what happened with my son.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That's his mother, of course. Oh so sad. The shooter is a guy named George Zimmerman. But he's saying he acted in self- defense. He hasn't been charged. And now the -- the family is suing the Sanford Police Department. They're trying to get the 911 tapes released.

Benjamin Crump is the attorney for the Martin family and he joins us this morning. Nice to see you sir, thanks for being with us.

The police said to the family and to the press they're not going to charge the shooter, George Zimmerman. So what was the family's reaction to that?

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR THE FAMILY OF TRAYVON MARTIN: There's disbelief, Soledad. They are in disbelief that this happened to their son and they're in greater disbelief at how this has been handled by the Sanford Police Department and the Sanford Chief Bill Lee. It's almost as if they are being victimized all over again at the hands of the government authorities.

O'BRIEN: That police chief has said, listen, there's evidence that in fact Zimmerman was -- was acting in self-defense and that apparently he had a concealed weapon permit. What do you think is the likelihood now that the case goes to the prosecution -- the prosecutor's offices that, in fact, he's going to be charged?

CRUMP: You know, the family doesn't have very much faith right now. If we wouldn't have got involved in this and the media and the public with the outcry, they were going to sweep this kid's murder under the rug.

And when you think about the self-defense argument, it's just preposterous. He calls 911 and he says, "I see a suspicious person." They tell him to wait in the car, they're on their way. He ignores and disregards the police instruction and gets out of his car with a nine-millimeter gun and approaches this kid who only has a bag of Skittles and an ice tea headed home to watch the NBA all-star game. He's a grown man.

O'BRIEN: So those tapes -- the 911 tapes when in fact that call happened and also tapes of the neighbors when the fight ensued and the shots were fired, those are also 911 tapes and those have not been released yet. Is that unusual, that you have to sue to get access to the 911 tapes?

CRUMP: You shouldn't have to. Those 911 tapes are so key in this matter. It's going to be riveting when they're released because they're going to tell us three things, Soledad.

They're going to tell us, number one, the dispatcher asked him why does he think Trayvon Martin is suspicious? He says in that tape why he thinks he's suspicious. Number two, when they tell him to stay put in the car, he tells why he disregards the police instructions. And then, number three, when we hear those 911 tapes, Soledad, it will tell the overall mentality when this neighborhood watch loose cannon gets out with a .9 millimeter gun and approaches this kid.

O'BRIEN: Well, Mr. Crump --

CRUMP: The truth is in the 911 tapes. We just don't understand why the police are aligning themselves with this grown man who killed this kid and refusing to arrest him.

O'BRIEN: We'll see what the 911 tapes when they are eventually released as I'm sure they will be made public. Ben Crump is the attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin. Thank you for talking with us. Our condolences to the family as well. Please pass on --

CRUMP: Thank you. Thank you on behalf of the family.

O'BRIEN: All right. We appreciate that.

CRUMP: Yes, ma'am, I will.

O'BRIEN: "End Point" is up next. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: And it's time for "End Point". Andrew, we'll start with you.

JENKS: There's 45 million young people out there that can vote and it's up to candidates to help reach out to us.

O'BRIEN: Is it going to be an energized campaign or not? We will wait to see.

We're going to give Dorian the final word. No pressure.

WARREN: All right, Soledad. All the hype is about super PACs this year but the reality is that through January the Republican primaries, all the candidates combined have spent half the amount of money than four years ago.

CAIN: Fascinating.

O'BRIEN: Oh, interesting. That's interesting statistic.

All right guys. I thank you very much. Appreciate you being with us.

We'll see you back here tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. for STARTING POINT.

Right now we've got to hand it over to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. That begins right now. Hey Carol, good morning.