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New Unemployment Numbers; Cal Ripken Speaks Out

Aired August 3, 2012 - 18:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Happening now: new unemployment numbers and why they could cost President Obama his job.

Attention, protesters. Chick-fil-A isn't the only big company promoting religion on the side.

And baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken opens up about his mother's bizarre kidnapping.


BOLDUAN: Wolf Blitzer is off. I am Kate Bolduan. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Every job that's created and lost in this country over the next three months could have an impact on who wins the White House. Today, both Democrats and Republicans are finding something to seize on in the new jobs report. Employers added 163,000 jobs to the U.S. economy in July, more than economists had predicted. But the overall unemployment rate unexpectedly went up to 8.3 percent.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's acknowledge we have still got too many folks out there who are looking for work. We have got more work to do on their behalf, not only to reclaim all the jobs that were lost during the recession, but also to reclaim the kind of financial security that too many Americans have felt was slipping away from them for too long.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, we got a new number from the unemployment report. It is another hammer blow to the struggling middle-class families of America, because the president has not had policies that put American families back to work. I do.

I'll put them in place and get America working again.



BOLDUAN: We're breaking down the numbers and the politics, of course.

First to Christine Romans in New York.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we took 40 pages of government statistics and we boiled it down into this so you can see what's really happening in the jobs market.

You know the headline by now, 163,000 jobs created in the month, but let's look at this a little deeper. You can see it is the private sector that is accounting for the jobs gain, 172,000 jobs in the private sector, 9,000 government sector jobs lost, and that's why you have the number down a little bit below there.

Look at overall, this is the trend. That's what's important. Never make too much out of just one month. This is the end of the Bush administration, beginning of President Obama's administration, millions of jobs lost here. This has been a slow recovery from that jobs devastation, 29 months now of private sector jobs created, two years of jobs created.

The summer has been a little bit weak. And now some relief, quite frankly, that it was as many as 163,000 jobs created in the period. Some places where we saw growth, 27,000 created in leisure and hospitality, a sign maybe that the consumer is doing a little bit better.

And in manufacturing, 25,000 jobs created in manufacturing. What does it mean politically? The White House focusing on that private sector jobs growth. The economy has now added private sector jobs for 29 straight months for a total of 4.5 million jobs during that period.

What is the Romney campaign saying? The Romney campaign is focusing on another statistic. We have now gone 42 consecutive months with the unemployment rate above 8 percent. Both of them are right. Both of them are trying to appeal to voters as you head into the voting booth in November. There are three more jobs reports, Kate, until then.

BOLDUAN: We will be watching them very, very closely. Christine, thank you so much.

Now let's zero in on the unemployment rate and whether it could bring down President Obama in November.

For that, Tom Foreman has been looking into that for us. Tom, you have been looking back at the jobless rate during past presidential election years. So, what are you finding?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, this is one of these things that people have looked at a long time, trying to read the tea leaves here.

How does this line, which is unemployment from say 1976 to 2008, how does that relate to the ability of one party to win or hold the White House? And there is a trend you can see in here which seems to me an indication.

Look at 1980 back here. Jimmy Carter was in office. He lost his bid at reelection with a 7.5 percent unemployment rate. There were a lot of other factors. There was the hostage crisis. There were many, many things going on, energy concerns.

But if you look at just that number, look, he loses at 7.5 percent. Why would he lose? Well, maybe because of this, not just the absolute number, but the trend line. It was going up when he was trying to get reelected.

Why do we think that? Well, maybe because if you look over here, when the trend line is going down and Ronald Reagan is trying to get reelected after beating Jimmy Carter back here, look what happens, 7.2 percent. That's very close to the same number that Jimmy Carter had, and yet he won. What's the big difference if we look at, if we say just unemployment?

Trend line up for Jimmy Carter, trend line down for Ronald Reagan. So unemployment was getting worse, unemployment was getting better. One more piece we can look at here as a possibility, Reagan passes the baton to the first George Bush. He gets in office, look what happens. Unemployment starts rising. He tries to get reelected, once again, virtually the same number, 7.4 percent, and he loses.

And, again, the trend line matters. If it is going better for people out there, they will tend to keep that same party in office. If it is going worse, they will tend to throw them out, aside from other extenuating circumstances, like, for example, if you have 9/11 and things like that which can kind of change the equation, Kate. But generally this is a trend we have seen for decades now.

BOLDUAN: And real quickly then, Tom, with all of this kind of historical data, what do you think that means then for President Obama?

FOREMAN: Well, this gets tricky because a lot of the numbers get kind of weird.

Let's look at the data for President Obama. This is just a general sense of what unemployment has done since he was in office. It was down here. It really spiked up in that first year up around the 10 percent level.

Then it has crept down, but here is the problem. What do you do with this part of the trend line? What do you do with. This is very little up, very little down. It is basically flat. So the voters might go either way, except for this.

Look where we are, 8.3 percent. The only president in decades now who has survived with any number like that was Ronald Reagan, and as you note, his percentage was a full percentage point below this. So we're in uncharted territory here. If he can get reelected with these numbers, it will make history -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating, fascinating take, though.

Tom Foreman, thanks so much for that. So, a new tug of war today between a Republican in Congress and the Obama administration over e-mails. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is asking for information about who in the White House is using personal e-mails to conduct official business.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, for more on this.

Dan, Issa is going after the White House yet again. What is this about?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He is going after the White House again.

And he is especially concerned that -- by the admission that some White House staffers have used their private e-mail accounts for official business and that that has happened, happened often. So he sends a letter to the White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew.

He's requesting the names of White House staffers who have used their private e-mails this way. He's also requesting copies of those e-mails. He is arguing that, when it comes to transparency, the American people have a right to know.

And in the letter, he is citing comments made by Stephanie Cutter, the president's deputy campaign manager. She used to work here at the White House. She made her comments during an interview right here on THE SITUATION ROOM on Wednesday.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: You worked at the White House. Was this a common practice? Did you all sort of integrate personal and official e-mails, the point being, of course, that White House e-mails are put into the record, whereas personal e-mails are not?


You know, for details on this, I'm going to have to defer to my friends at the White House who are handling this issue, but I can tell you that for everybody working in the White House and everybody all across this country, we all have personal e-mail addresses.

And for our longstanding relationships, they often use those personal e-mail addresses. But at the White House, we are all instructed for official business to just forward those e-mails to the White House system. And so that's what we have all done.


LOTHIAN: Representative Issa is specifically concerned about the fact that she said that they often use their private e-mails for e- mail accounts for official business.

He is requesting the White House to come back to him with information by August 17. Now, we reached out to the White House on this and spokesman Eric Schultz said the White House counsel is reviewing the letter and will respond as appropriate.

But he went on to say -- quote -- "Let's be clear. This is nothing more than a nakedly political taxpayer-funded effort designed to serve partisan interests over an issue which House Republicans have already conceded isn't serious."

Why is this even an issue? Well, White House e-mails are officially entered into the public record, but when you have private e-mail accounts, that does not happen automatically. Representative Issa is concerned that this could create some problems if there's ever litigation or someone is requesting documents under the Freedom of Information Act -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Dan Lothian at the White House, this is definitely not the end of this latest in the tense relationship between Issa and the White House.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

BOLDUAN: We will have much more on this.

Dan, thanks so much.

Coming up: The Senate's top Democrat doesn't seem moved by Mitt Romney's demand that he put up or shut up.

And baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken is trying to help police crack the case of his mother's bizarre kidnapping.

Also, many supporters of same-sex marriage are kissing off Chick- fil-A. But it is not the only company taking a conservative stand.


BOLDUAN: Show you some of these amazing pictures coming in from our affiliates KFOR, as well as KWTV and KOTV, of some wildfires raging in Oklahoma that they're clearly trying to battle. Just look at that smoke, that wall of smoke and that wall of fire they're dealing with right there.

To get the latest on this clearly scary situation, I want to bring in Jerry Lojka of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

Mr. Lojka, thank you for so much getting on the phone with me.

Tell our viewers, what are you dealing with Right now?


It is 111 degrees here. And we have 13 percent humidity and the winds are out of the south from 15 to 25. And once the fires start to really escalate, they actually create their own wind. And we can have gusts of 40 to 50 miles per hour in very close proximity to the fire. So we have six active fires right now. The largest is in Cleveland County. It just burned out of a small town called Noble, and now has burned into city limits of Norman, which is where O.U., University of Oklahoma is located, although it is considerably east of that.

So, the metro area is not in danger, but there are still homes out there, and there are subdivisions that are in those wooded areas.

BOLDUAN: So have homes been evacuated? Six fires, some of these look like pretty scary images of these fires getting close. I am looking at not live pictures right now. I don't know if you can see this with me, Mr. Lojka, but I see a home engulfed in flames right there. How many homes have been evacuated and how many homes have been damaged? What do you know about that?

LOJKA: The emergency manager for Cleveland County indicated that many, in excess of 25 homes, had been destroyed.

But because the fire is moving so quickly, it is almost impossible to keep up with the number, with the count at this point, but many, many homes, many out buildings and other structures.

So, one of the other fires that is burning is near I-40 -- I-44 -- excuse me -- and is threatening to close that highway down because of smoke. There are lots of things going on. There are two helicopters that are working down in Cleveland County. There are another two helicopters that are over in creek county, which is in another part of the state. Lots of resources out there and very tough on our firefighters.

BOLDUAN: Especially in these kind of weather conditions. You said it was 111 degrees right now. You said the fire is moving very fast. I see some pictures of a helicopter picking up some water is what it looks like here.

LOJKA: Right.


LOJKA: Go ahead.

They use ponds or if they have to go to one of the local reservoirs that is not too far away -- Lake Thunderbird is not far very far to the east from where they are. I'm not exactly sure where they're picking that up, but there are lots of ponds that are out there for them to pick it up to.

BOLDUAN: You said the fire is moving very fast. That kind of indicates to me that you probably are nowhere near in a position to say how close you are to containing this thing or stopping this thing or preventing it reaching any more homes.

LOJKA: Not even close.

The firefighters have got their work cut out for them. The toughest part of this is that they can't get to the front line because it is in such a densely wooded area that they can't get equipment in there to mount some sort of a defense. And, unfortunately, the last major road that it came to, the wind picks up and will carry the fire, the embers and actually a fireball of burning material across the road and just blow past that road and just continue to move on.

So it's a very, very tough situation for the firefighters.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, and I am sure a tough situation for anyone in Oklahoma watching this right now.

What is your best advice? I am sure your team has been very good at reaching out to residents there, but what is your advice for families who are watching this right now and maybe even seeing that helicopter flying over their home?

LOJKA: They need to be paying attention to what the local fire department in that area is recommending.

They're boots on the ground, know exactly what's happening, where the fire is moving, what direction it's moving because of the wind conditions. And if they can smell smoke and it looks like it is even moving in their general direction, they need to gather up whatever valuable paperwork and things that they want to collect and they need to evacuate the area.

There's nothing they will be able to do if the fire gets into their particular area to be able to stop it.

BOLDUAN: Wow. A very dangerous situation for residents of Oklahoma, as well as a very tough, tough situation for all of the men and women you have on the front lines trying to fight this right now.

Jerry Lojka of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, thank you so much for jumping on the phone with me.

We are going to be following this fire and following its movements and bring you updates as they come, some very scary pictures that we're watching right there.

We will be right back after this.


BOLDUAN: Taking another look at live pictures coming out of Oklahoma. Thanks to our affiliate KFOR for some of these pictures of this fast-moving wildfire through parts of Oklahoma.

We are told it was six active fires by someone with emergency management that was telling us just before the break.


BOLDUAN: We will be right back right after this.


OBAMA: We have now created 4.5 million new jobs over the last 29 months, and 1.1 new million jobs so far this year.

ROMNEY: We now have 42 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent.


BOLDUAN: Mitt Romney and President Obama highlighting different numbers in the new jobs report, numbers that put their own campaigns in the best light, probably not surprising.

Let's try to get beyond the spin, though, and take a cold, hard look at the jobs market and what -- and how it could influence the presidential race.

I'm joined by Austan Goolsbee, the former top economist in the Obama administration, as well as Stephen Moore, senior economics writer for "The Wall Street Journal."

Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you so much for joining me.

So, Stephen, first to you. Both sides, as you heard there and you have probably heard all day, they're really spinning this report. But there's one headline that jumped out to me. And I saw it in Bloomberg. It said, "July jobs report is clear as mud."

So, from your view, clear this up. Is it good, bad, indifferent, more of the same?

STEPHEN MOORE, SENIOR ECONOMIC WRITER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, there must be an election coming up or something, because you're right. Both sides have tried to spin this in their direction.

It is a strange report, because the Labor Department does two surveys of the job market. And what happened is, they both point in opposite directions. One of the reports shows pretty healthy job growth numbers of about 165,000 jobs, a pretty decent number.

The other report is what's used to calculate the unemployment rate. That went up just a slight amount. But it also showed -- that report actually showed a loss of about 195,000 jobs. So, as you can see, they're both pointing in opposite directions.

The one statistic that concerned me the most was that the labor force participation rate, which is, you know, the percentage of working-age people that are actually in the labor market, that fell again. And this has been at a record low for a long time.

BOLDUAN: So you're taking July as another bad month?

MOORE: You know, it's a kind -- it's a mixed bag, it really is.

BOLDUAN: What's your take, Austan? AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER TOP ECONOMIST TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don't think it was -- I mean, the survey of people that the unemployment rate comes from is well known to be highly variable. In the previous months, that one was showing much stronger than the payroll numbers. Normally, we don't look at that survey because it's -- it's too variable.

I think if you started getting jobs on the board like what the payroll survey showed this month, 160,000 plus, if you had that on a sustained basis, we'd be -- we'd be well on the right path coming out of the recovery. I said when the numbers are good and when they're bad, you never want to make too much out of any one month's number, because the trends are much more important than any one month. But it was a pretty strong month on the job creation side.

BOLDUAN: So you're...

MOORE: Let me just...

BOLDUAN: Go ahead. Yes?

MOORE: ... one of those statistics that I think is important that concerns a lot of Americans, and that is this broader definition of unemployment that ticked up a little bit to 15 percent.

Now, that 15 percent is the number of people who don't have a job, the number of people who have dropped out of the labor force. They're -- they could work, but they're just not looking any more. And the number of people that can't find a full-time job. That's one out of seven Americans.

So I think the big picture is Americans still think this is a pretty lousy job market, despite the fact we had decent job gains in July.

BOLDUAN: And Austan, you know, everyone makes such a big deal every month about the unemployment rate, about this jobs report. What do you think is actually -- in your view, what do you watch? What's the important economic indicator that you actually think people should be paying more attention to in terms of the health of the economy?

GOOLSBEE: Well, I'd say most economists don't look at the monthly fluctuation in the unemployment rate, because you've got this problem of people dropping out of the labor force, and it's a survey.

So looking at the job creation numbers and, most important, looking at the GDP and sector numbers. So are you seeing broad-based growth in the economy? Because if you see broad-based growth in the economy across different sectors, that's going to over time tend to correlate with the unemployment rate coming down and growth that can be sustained.

BOLDUAN: And I think we have actually a pretty good graphic to show GDP over time. I mean, if you look at the GDP, the report that just -- just came out, it said that GDP is -- that it's down to 1.5 percent from the period of April to June. To me, that sounds like bad news, no?

MOORE: Well, you know...

GOOLSBEE: That was bad news, and that's why the numbers weren't very good for those months on the job front.

BOLDUAN: What do you think, Steve?

MOORE: Yes, I mean, look, if you put up that graphic again, you'll see the last three months. What would concern me is the trajectory there, that it's downward.

I agree with Austan. I do think that just the overall growth of the economy is the most important statistic. One and a half percent just doesn't cut it. I mean, it's way too slow to get the kind of job growth that we need.

Remember, this is supposed to be a recovery period when a lot of times in a normal recovery, you -- it wouldn't be unusual to see 4 or 5 percent growth. So we're -- we're not in a recession by any means. The economy is growing, be it really slowly.

GOOLSBEE: Yes, but be a little careful. Look, normally, when you come out of recession, you can just go back to doing what you were doing before the recession, and that's what facilitates a fast recovery.

This time we couldn't do that, because it was bubble-led expansion in the 2000s, that we can't go back to building houses and over consuming.

I think the sad state of affairs for the world economy is that the U.S. projected growth rate now is around 2.5 percent. And that's the fastest growth rate of the entire advanced world. So you've got really potentially cataclysmic events in Europe.


GOOLSBEE: You've got a substantial slowdown in a lot of the countries of Asia, and so there's not anybody giving us a helping hand for our recovery. We're just kind of pulling along with these weights dragging us down, and I -- and I think that does show in the data.

BOLDUAN: I want to get one quick final thought from both of you. Of course, we're always running out of time. We have three more jobs reports that we're going to be getting before the election. One just days before people head to the polls.

Steve, first to you. What is your prediction? What are people going to be looking at in terms of the job market as they're heading into this -- into the voting booth?

MOORE: Well, I don't think there's any question that that unemployment rate number in October is going to be the -- which I think comes out right before the election. I think that's the key variable. And I think if people go into that election booth, and they feel the economy is doing pretty well and they're confident, then I think Barack Obama will win. If they say, look, we can't afford four more years of this, the economy is headed in the wrong direction, then I think he's in big trouble. So I do think these unemployment numbers in the next three months are absolutely critical to who wins this election.

BOLDUAN: Do you agree, Austan?

GOOLSBEE: I don't know that I do. If they moved a lot either way, I think they'd be critical. I think if they just kind of hover around where they are now, perhaps not.

You saw in 2004, actually the first term under George Bush, the job performance was actually a bit worse than this. They got one very solid number right before the election. I don't think it made that big of a difference. So I think as long as there's sort of stasis in this, it's going to be what it is now.

BOLDUAN: We will both -- we will all be here to watch it together. Steven Moore, Austan Goolsbee, thank you both for coming out on Friday.

MOORE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: See you soon.

GOOLSBEE: Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, the Senate's top Democrat doesn't seem moved by Mitt Romney's demand that he put up or shut up. The public battle between the candidate and Harry Reid.


BOLDUAN: Today, Mitt Romney had five harsh words for the top Senate Democrat. He's telling Harry Reid to put up or shut up. At issue, Reid's very public but unsubstantiated allegation that Romney hasn't been paying taxes.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has been all over this story. Dana, Harry Reid sure isn't backing down on this one.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not only is he not backing down. Check this out, Kate. This is an e-mail that I got from Harry Reid to Democratic supporters, saying that Mitt Romney is waiting for us to apologize, but we're not going to stop asking questions. And it says, "Click here to support us." Yes, he's raising money off this. He is not stopping.


BASH (voice-over): Mitt Romney didn't even try to hide his disgust with Harry Reid. MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Harry Reid really has to put up or shut up, all right? So Harry, who are your sources?

BASH: What Romney wants Reid to put up or, more likely, shut up about, is this unsubstantiated claim.

SEN. HARRY REID (R-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The word's out that he hasn't paid any taxes for ten years. Let him prove that he has paid taxes, because he hasn't.

BASH: Let's be clear, that word is out because Reid himself put it out there, multiple times. He says he got the information from an investor at Bain Capital, Romney's former firm. Reid refuses to say more than that and also refuses to back down, saying in a statement, "As I said before, I was told by an extremely credible source that Romney has not paid taxes for ten years. People who make as much money as Romney have many tricks at their disposal to avoid paying taxes."

Reid won't reveal his source, and Romney won't reveal his tax records. He insists, however, he paid his taxes.

ROMNEY: Now, let me also say categorically, I have paid taxes every year, and a lot of taxes, a lot of taxes, so Harry is simply wrong.

BASH: The Senate Democratic leader is known for verbal gaffes that make his aides wince, like complaining about smelly tourists. .

REID: Because the high humidity, as hot as it gets here, you can smell the tourists coming into the Capitol building.

BASH: But Reid's attack on Romney is different. Multiple sources close to Reid tell CNN it is a calculated strategy to lure Romney into responding and getting the "what's he hiding?" tax issue back in the headlines.

A trip half a dozen years ago to Reid's hometown of Searchlight, Nevada, explained a lot.

REID: That's part of (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BASH: He grew up in a trailer with no running water and literally fought his way out of poverty as a boxer. As a politician, he's not afraid to punch below the belt, like when he called President Bush a loser and a liar, and told CNN this about then-Fed chairman Alan Greenspan.

REID: I think he's one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington.

BASH: When Reid personally dislikes someone, it often fuels his political attacks. Like when he said this about John McCain in 2008.

REID: John has bad temperament. He's wrong on the war and wrong on the economy. BASH: This week, McCain used the Romney tax controversy to say, "Back at you, Harry."

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I've known Senator Reid for many, many years. And occasionally, he displays some rather erratic behavior.


BASH: Now, we should make the point, really underscore, Kate, that Harry Reid is no back bencher trying to get attention. He is the top Democrat in the United States Senate making these unsubstantiated accusations against the presumed Republican presidential nominee.

He knows, though, I'm told from people close to him that he was going to get hit by Republicans, even some Democrats, calling this all irresponsible on his part. He has told people privately that he is willing to take those hits if it means trying to help defeat Mitt Romney in November.

BOLDUAN: And I think that also means this is not the last we're going to be hearing of this in the coming days and weeks.


BOLDUAN: Dana Bash, great report. Thank you so much.

BASH: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: This dangerous, developing situation out of Oklahoma. We're looking at pictures from our affiliate, KFOR. Wildfires burning in that state. A dangerous and fast-moving situation.

I want to bring in La'Tasha Givens with our affiliate, KFOR. I believe she's on the phone with me. La'Tasha, are you with me?

LA'TASHA GIVENS, KFOR REPORTER (via phone): Yes, Kate, I am.

BOLDUAN: Hey, La'Tasha, so tell me what are you seeing there? The images that we're -- that we see right here on our -- on our television screens, they are very scary.

GIVENS: They are very scary. I am right now in Noble at a mobile home park about a half mile north of the fire. And right in front of me, I can see these big, large, dark clouds. And firefighters have been fighting these wildfires since yesterday afternoon, and they just continue. We've had multiple wall fires around the metro and a lot further south.

So far, we've heard early estimates, about 700 acres and five homes have been destroyed, but fire officials say it's really hard to say because -- or determine the damage, because they're still just battling these hot spots every time they flare up.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And we actually spoke with a gentleman with Oklahoma Emergency Management just a short time ago, and he said just what you're saying, that it is almost impossible for them to keep count of the homes being destroyed, because it's such a fast-moving fire. He told me the latest count that he had was 25 homes destroyed. So what are you hearing from residents in the area right now?

GIVENS: Well, right now, I'm in the mobile home park. And residents, they're leaving. They're packing up their cars. They're filling them up with clothing, blankets, food, and they're going to shelters nearby. They're going to stay with family kind of around the area, because this mobile home park is going to be evacuated by mandatory within just a few minutes. The fire is getting closer and closer every minute.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. These pictures are just absolutely -- very, very scary to look at. A dangerous and fast-moving wildfire. Six active fires is the latest that we have, as well as the last count was 25 homes destroyed and many obviously in a very dangerous, dangerous path.

La'Tasha Givens, thank you so much for jumping on the phone with us. Stay safe out there.

GIVENS: Sure thing, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Even if you've been following the controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A, you may not realize how many other businesses are run by Christian conservatives who aren't shy about venting their views.


BOLDUAN: Today, gay rights activists are showing Chick-fil-A what they think of the company's stand against same-sex marriage. They staged a "Kiss Day" at Chick-fil-A restaurants across the country.

The protest comes just two days after conservatives urged Americans to eat at Chick-fil-A and show their support for the company. The controversy has put chicken sandwiches, quite frankly, smack dab in the middle of the culture wars. But could other companies face similar problems?

Our Mary Snow is joining me, has been looking into this. Mary, what did you find?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, with so much attention now on Chick-fil-A, just about everyone now is learning about the company, and that includes the fact that it applies biblically based principles to its business, and it has done so a long time. That sparked curiosity about what other companies mix religion and business, and there are certainly a number out there.

The Chick-fil-A controversy started with comments the company's president made supporting traditional marriage only. But it's thrust the company's religious background front and center. Turns out Chick- fil-A isn't the only corporation that makes faith part of its messaging. (on camera) Forever 21 is a clothing store catering to young women. Take a look at the shopping bag, it looks like any other. You take a closer look at the bottom, and there's a reference to the New Testament.

(voice-over) The actual passage isn't included on the bag, but John 3:16 in the Bible reads, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, what whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." Shoppers were surprised.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't see the connection between the Bible stuff and shopping.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, it's their right. They're propagating a religion. It's totally up to them. Doesn't stop me from buying anything. But I'm very surprised. I wouldn't do something like that.

SNOW: The clothing chain shares something in common with the famous In-n-Out Burger on the West Coast. Buy a burger and on the wrapper or on the bottom of a cup, you'll see the same reference to the Bible passage, John 3:16. In-N-Out Burger says it's been printed there for more than 25 years as an expression of faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they sort of pushing it down my throat, and if there was religious stuff overtly, I may not go there, because I don't think it's their point to sort of push that on you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As long as you don't discriminate against others, I think you're allowed to express what you want.

SNOW: The biblical messages are subtle, resonating mostly with people familiar with the Bible.

CNN religion editor, Dan Gillgolf (ph).

DAN GILLGOLF (ph), CNN RELIGION EDITOR: In some ways, these are kind of coded messages that mean something to consumers who are sort of in know or in the club and go over the heads of others.

SNOW: Tom's of Maine, which sells natural products, cites faith in its approach to environmentalism. But those who study branding say there's a big difference between touting a cause and being too overt with religious beliefs.

TIM CALKINS, PROFESSOR, KELLOGG SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT: There are two brands, we would say, there's a protestant brand or an Islamic brand. It's just not a place where brands tend to go. But when you really see what's happening now with Chick-fil-A, you really understand why that's the case.


SNOW: And Professor Tim Calkins, who you just saw there, says with branding, there are companies that assert religion without pushing it, and there's been no controversy, but once a line is crossed into a polarizing issue, it can mushroom -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Very, very interesting. Great report, Mary. Thank you so much. Have a great weekend.

SNOW: You too.

SNOW: Baseball great Cal Ripken is asking for public help in solving a kidnapping mystery that hit very close to home. His 74- year-old mother, Vi Ripken, was abducted at gunpoint last week from her home near Baltimore and held for almost 24 hours before being found safe but very shaken. There was no demand for ransom, but the kidnapper did use the victim's credit cards. Listen to this.


CAL RIPKEN JR., FORMER BASEBALL PLAYER: Law enforcement needs your help. The investigation is moving along. If you know anything about the case, if you know anything about the identity of the person in the photos, the sketch, I would encourage all of you to call in and report what you know.

For what we know right now, from what I know, we don't know why. And so that's -- it's bizarre on many levels, and it's unsettling on many levels.


SNOW: Police consider the man armed and dangerous. Ripken's mother has not yet returned to her home since this abduction. Quite a mystery.

And another mystery that we're actually falling, an amusement park mystery involving North Korea's new leader. We're learning new details about some pretty unusual diplomacy.


BOLDUAN: More strange images coming out of North Korea. They've sparked a new mystery about who has the ear of the country's new leader. Seems now that mystery has been solved.

CNN's Brian Todd has been working the story for us. Brian, what did you find out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, Kate, we could turn this into a game show at this point. We're going to call it, "Who's with Kim?" The images are so bizarre that you'd think it was some kind of Hollywood parody if they didn't come from North Korea. Take this latest one.

Last week this picture was released of North Korea's young new leader, Kim Jong-un, on a roller-coaster at an amusement park in Pyongyang called the Rungna People's Pleasure Ground. We're going to skip the obligatory jokes about that place.

Let's move this picture aside and show you another one. Wait a minute. Who is this guy right here? We were all abuzz. Same picture, pretty much, when we saw a mysterious westerner, the only one among a group of howling, laughing North Koreans.

It was later revealed that this man is Barnaby Jones, an official with the British embassy in Pyongyang. No, not the Barnaby Jones who was a TV detective played by Buddy Ebsen in the '70s. This guy's a British diplomat.

Britain and North Korea have had a softening of relations recently, and this photo seemingly designed to illustrate that the young Kim is opening up his country a little bit and is becoming a little bit less militaristic than his father, Kim Jong-Il.

This all follows a series of pictures from last month of Kim with a mysterious young woman. There was speculation that she was the lead singer of a North Korean pop band. But last week a South Korean lawmaker who had been briefed by intelligence officials said this woman is not the singer, but a woman named Ri Sol-ju, who he married about three years ago.

The woman was with Kim at an event that gave us yet another great image from North Korea, a Disney-themed musical production. Turns out the Walt Disney company said the North Koreans should not have been using those outfits and characters, that they did so without the company's permission. Something tells me, Kate, any lawsuit emanating from this will not go well from either side.

BOLDUAN: Or go anywhere, really. So Brian, there seems to be a bit of family history of strange images that get blasted out to the world on occasion. Huh?

TODD: There really is kind of a history here. We're going to take you back three years. Who could forget this picture. Bill Clinton, August 2009, he travels to North Korea to help secure the release of two jailed American journalists. That brought out this picture, a smiling Kim Jong-Il, the current leader's late father, next to a Bill Clinton who's clearly taking pains not to smile. But we all know Bill Clinton, he'll smile at any photo op he's ever given.

But at the time, analysts told us of a kind of code among western officials, that it doesn't make you look so good if you're seen in a publicly-released photograph, smiling next to a hermetic, oppressive dictator who's got a reputation for torture and for killing his own people -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: I'd say so. Even with these latest, kind of really humorous-looking pictures, there's some substance around them, is there?

TODD: That's right. You know, you look at all these, but you have to realize, there might be a method here. Analysts say this is all an effort by Kim Jong-un to portray himself and his country in a better light, to show an opening, maybe a warm, friendly side.

But experts say it is still a very big question now whether this 29-year-old leader is really going to be able to accomplish the kind of reform you're talking about here, or whether the old guard from the old regime is going to win out and keep this country a very safe -- I mean, a very strange and very hostile place.

BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely. Great report, Brian. We will stay tuned for more strange pictures coming out of North Korea. Brian Todd, thank you, so much.

I am Kate Bolduan. I hope you had a great day. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.