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"Top Gun" Director Dies; Newsweek Cover Story: Obama Must Go; Ryan And Mom Campaigning Together; Akin: "Legitimate Rape" Rarely Results In Pregnancy; Race Car Crash At Missouri State Fair; Alaska Ship Rescue; Too Big To Play Pee Wee Football; Assange to U.S.: End the Witch Hunt

Aired August 20, 2012 - 06:00   ET




ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking news overnight in a shocking development from Hollywood. Director, Tony Scott, the director of "Top Gun," has taken his own life. We have details just ahead.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): "Hit the road, Barack." That's the headline on the new cover with "Newsweek" magazine. What's behind this head turning title? We'll have a live report just ahead.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm sorry. Say what? A U.S. congressman creates a major controversy when he says this --


AKIN: If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to talk a lot about that. He is now backtracking.


BERMAN (on-camera): Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Glad you're with us this morning. It is just about 6:00 a.m. in the east.

ANNOUNCER: This is Cnn Breaking News.

BERMAN: Hollywood stunned at this news this morning, "Top Gun" director Tony Scott has apparently killed himself. The L.A. County Coroner's Office treating the case as a suicide saying Scott jumped off the Vincent Thomas Bridge yesterday in San Pedro, California.

The "L.A. Times" is reporting that Scott left a suicide note in his office. The coroner would not confirm that to us yet. Roger Friedman, a columnist for Showbiz411 and joins us now by phone.

Roger, do you know anything more about in investigation this morning?

ROGER FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, SHOWBIZ411.COM (via telephone): Unfortunately, I don't know any more of the details, but just people in Hollywood are very surprised and saddened. Tony Scott was, first of all, worked with his brother, Ridley Scott, for many -- his entire career and I'm sure ridley scott is just heartbroken.

We want to send condolences to him. They worked together a long time and Tony Scott produced a lot of movies and then directed a lot of great movies, "Top Gun" being, I guess, the most famous one.

But he was also the guy who brought Quentin Tarantino sort of into the world because he directed "True Romance," which Tarantino wrote with Roger Avery and that was like his first sort of important movie.

He directed "Crimson Tide." He worked a lot with Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington and made a huge contribution to Hollywood with really terrific combination of terrific films and films that made a lot of money.

BERMAN: You know, I'm a huge fan of "True Romance." That's the first thing I thought when I heard the news overnight.


BERMAN: You know, Tony Scott, he was a player in Hollywood. You knew a Tony Scott film and he does leave behind this impressive legacy.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. And also, you know, not just the films, but more recently the Scott brothers had been doing a lot of television, and they produced "The Good Wife" together and a lot of films like that.

And then Tony was getting ready to do a "Top Gun," which was definitely in the works and the sequel to "The Warriors." He had a lot of projects so that's what's the real shock of it is, it's not a person who was unsuccessful in any way and great family life.

So whatever the reason was, it's worse than ever because you can't explain it.

BERMAN: A terrible loss. There are still so many questions this morning. Roger Friedman from Showbiz411 and "Parade" magazine, thank you very much for joining us.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: It is 2 minutes past the hour. Now into politics, it wasn't long ago that "Newsweek" declared Mitt Romney a wimp. Remember that and questioned if he was too insecure to be president.

Well, this week's cover story takes direct aim at President Obama saying it is time for him to go and suggesting that Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, has the Obama administration running scared.

CNN's Dan Lothian has more on that and other campaign developments for us. He is live in Washington.

Dan, the author of this particular article worked for John McCain's campaign. That was back in 2008. He has never been a fan of President Obama. So what has sparked in urgency now?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right and that author is Neil Ferguson. He was an adviser with McCain's campaign. And his argument is that President Obama has not delivered on his promises.

Some of those promises made during his inaugural address whether it's from job creation to transforming education, he says that the president's record is quote, "pitiful."

He talks specifically about how unemployment should have been by now at around 6 percent. It has consistently been above 8 percent. He also goes after the president on national security saying that the president has not handled Iran or Syria well.

And then he sort of puts it all together as saying that's why Paul Ryan is a threat to the Obama administration and President Obama himself. He writes, quote, "One thing is clear, Ryan psychs Obama out."

This has been apparent ever since the White House went on the offensive against Ryan in the spring of last year. And the reason he psychs him out is that unlike Obama, Ryan has a plan as opposed to a narrative for this country.

Of course, the Obama campaign would say just the opposite. Their narrative is that Paul Ryan and his policies and his plans for a number of things including Medicare are simply too extreme -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Let's talk a little bit about Ryan. Because when he was picked as a running mate and there's a lot of talk about Medicare, a lot of folks said that he would probably be campaigning with his mother in tow. So tell us about that because he did that this weekend, right?

LOTHIAN: That's right. We saw him down in Florida campaigning with his mother. What he's essentially trying to do is counter the criticism from the Obama campaign that his plans for the future of Medicare would be harmful to seniors.

So he's out with his mother talking about how family members have benefitted from Medicare. Take a listen.


REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Medicare was there for our family, for my grandma when we need it then and Medicare is there for my mom while she needs it now and we have to keep that guarantee.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LOTHIAN: The charge is President Obama taking money from Medicare in order to fund health care reform. In addition, he's trying to put seniors at ease, saying that no one under 55 would be impacted by his plans, so no current seniors would be impacted at all.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Dan Lothian, live in Washington, D.C. Nice to see you.

LOTHIAN: Good to see you.

BERMAN: In the meantime, the Romney campaign is distancing itself from remarks made by Missouri Congressman Todd Akin concerning rape and pregnancy. The six-term Republican congressman says he misspoke while trying to explain his stance on abortion in cases of rape.


REPRESENTATIVE TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: It seems to me first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try shut that whole thing down.


BERMAN: Now, a Romney campaign spokesperson says a Romney/Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in rape cases.

We have a developing story in Missouri this morning. An investigation is under way into the cause of a crash of a race car at the Missouri state fair.

Police say a driver lost control and slammed into a fence in a pit area. There he was right there. Five spectators were injured, two people were seriously hurt. The races were stopped for the night after this accident.

SAMBOLIN: Crazy. All right, dramatic rescue off the coast of Alaska. Reuters reporting that 76 people were taken from a sightseeing vessel after it ran aground and was filling with water in Alaska's Glacier Bay. None of the passengers or crew suffered serious injury. The coast guard is investigating that accident.

In a developing story in China this morning, one of the biggest political scandals to rock China in decades, a court has found Gu Kailai guilty of murder in the poisoning death of British businessman, Neil Heywood.

The wife of disgraced Communist Party leader, Bo Xilai, will not face execution because her death sentence has been commuted to life in prison. A former household aid was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in that murder.

BERMAN: New evacuations order in parts of rural California this morning where raging wildfires continue to burn out of control. High temperatures and strong winds and dry conditions are also fueling major fires in Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Montana. Many of the fires were caused by lightning strikes.

SAMBOLIN: There are some storms systems that we're watching for you this morning as well. They are developing in the Atlantic and in the tropics.

Karen Maginnis is live in Atlanta with your travel forecast. What can you tell us?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Zoraida, we've got a weather disturbance riding right along the east coast in the Gulf of Mexico. This has about a 20 percent chance of development, but lots of deep tropical moisture here will produce rainfall especially in the panhandle area of Florida.

But even more important, we're watching this area in the Atlantic. Still anything could happen, but there's an 80 percent chance according to the National Hurricane Center that we could see this become out next tropical system.

And even more significant, we go a week out, as I mentioned, anything can happen, but computer models are suggesting this system is going to move over the lesser Antilles and then head towards the Caribbean.

They diverge at that point, one brings it in if it does develop, towards the Bahamas and other into the Caribbean. So we'll have to play it by ear at least for now.

But until then, plenty of tropical moisture, as I mentioned, from Jacksonville to Tampa. We could see anywhere between 4 and 6 inches of rainfall -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Karen, thanks very much.

She is 63 and trying to swim 103 miles through shark-infested waters. Diana Nyad now beginning day three of her swim from Cuba to Florida. Her web site says day two was an awesome day. She is saying the water was flat and still she was stung by jelly fish on her lips and forehead, hands and neck the night before --

SAMBOLIN: And that was a good day.

BERMAN: She has tried three other times to make it without success. We are hoping and betting she makes it this time.

SAMBOLIN: I love this story. She does not give up. So he's now serving a 50-game suspension for using a banned substance. Now a bizarre story about a scheme allegedly hatched by Giant's outfielder Melky Cabrera in an attempt to duck the ban.

The "San Francisco Chronicle" says Cabrera created a fake web site with fake products to create evidence that he inadvertently purchased a banned substance. The trick backfired.

Major League baseball has been suspended Cabrera for 50 games for using testosterone. A 50-game ban maybe the least of his problems. The Justice Department is said to be investigating now. BERMAN: That's going to be going on for a while. It's 10 minutes after the hour. New this morning, Britain's Prince Phillip is out of the hospital.

The Duke of Edinburg was getting treatment for a bladder infection. Buckingham Palace described his admission to the hospital as a precautionary measure after an occurrence of an infection he suffered shortly before the diamond jubilee concert in June.

And next on EARLY START, we have some raw video of a natural wonder. This is worth looking at. A water spout forms over the Great Lakes. Look at it! It's got some friends too. We'll show you more coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 14 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Glad you are with us this morning. Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, delivers a message to the U.S. saying the war on whistle blowers must end.


JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: I asked President Obama to do the right thing. The United States must renounce its witch hunt against Wikileaks.


BERMAN: That amazing picture from the window, his first public speech in five months. He said WikiLeaks is about freedom of expression but he mentioned nothing about the rape charges against him in Sweden. Assange has been effectively confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June.

Our Atika Shubert, been there with him virtually the whole time, she joins us now from our London bureau.

And, Atika, what's the latest right now on what the U.S. plans to do with its side of the investigation?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know that much. We do know there does appear to be a grand jury investigation against him, but there's been no indictment that we know of. So, we don't know what the evidence is. We don't know specifically what kind of investigation they are following.

All we know that it has to do, obviously, with those classified documents that were leaked allegedly by Bradley Manning, that military officer leaked to WikiLeaks then published online. Those thousands of diplomatic cables, the Afghanistan and Iraq war documents.

It's a point Assange made in his speech yesterday and made a call to free Bradley Manning. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIAN ASSANGE, WIKILEAKS FOUNDER: Bradley Manning did as he is accused, he is a hero, and an example to all of us, and one of the world's foremost political prisoner. Bradley Manning must be released.


SHUBERT: Now, Bradley Manning of course is undergoing his own military trial at the moment. But so far nothing against Julian Assange. That however is the reason he says he doesn't want to be extradited to Sweden because he fears that he will be extradited to the U.S. as part of that investigation.

BERMAN: Atika, there were some British muscle flexing last week, suggesting they might send in troops to get Assange if they have to. But doesn't look like anybody is breaking down the walls of the Ecuador embassy, does it?

SHUBERT: No, I don't think so. I mean, it seems to have been basically sort of -- a bit of a bluff in essence, by the British saying, you know, we're going to put pressure on Ecuador to try to get them to move on this case.

Unfortunately, had the opposite reaction, they granted him asylum. But they're not going to go breaking in to the embassy, to arrest him just yet. They said they want to negotiate, come to some sort of compromise. It may mean involving Sweden questioning him on the sex crime accusations within the embassy.

But where do they go from there? Nobody knows yet.

BERMAN: All right. Atika Shubert in London, thanks very much.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: It is 17 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date.

Christine Romans with this morning's top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I want to begin, you guys, with some breaking news this morning. Hollywood stunned by the death of "Top Gun" director Tony Scott. The L.A. County coroner's office is treating the death as a suicide saying he jumped off the Vincent Thomas Bridge yesterday in San Pedro, California. "The L.A. Times" is reporting that Scott left a suicide note in his office. The coroner would not confirm that detail to us.

Scott directed blockbusters like "Top Gun", "Crimson Tide," and "Days of Thunder". He also produced a number of films with his brother, Ridley Scott, including this summer's "Prometheus". Tony Scott is 68 years old.

A tough travel day for passengers aboard two United Airlines flights leaving Newark Liberty Airport. A United Boeing 757 headed to Berlin returned after an engine became overheated and caught fire. Less than 12 hours later, a Seattle bound United 757 had to turn around after the pilot reported a smoke condition in the cabin.

And Mother Nature showing off from the shores of Lake Michigan. Five simultaneous water spouts were captured over the weekend in Wisconsin. Wow. Forecasters say weather questions could trigger even more. They are telling boaters to be on alert.


SAMBOLIN: I never thought about the negative side of that. Boy, that's so beautiful.

ROMANS: It's beautiful, right?

ROMANS: Not a 50-foot boat if you're looking up to have, looks a lot smaller --


SAMBOLIN: It does. Thank you, Christine.

It is 18 minutes past the hour. Well, it sounds like something out of "Star Wars" but may be the norm sooner than you think or your mom can grasp. A time when technology becomes a part of revolution and bionic people are routine. A double amputee who is striving to design better limbs shares his vision on "THE NEXT LIST." Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What will happy feel is that now in society we have a very narrow view of what beauty is. A beautiful woman kind of looks like this and beautiful man looks like this. And in that future, you can have all kinds of different human beings with body types and different types of minds. And it won't be ugly. Because it won't -- the conversation won't be about disability, it will be about capability, about ability, about expression. So I call it the death of normalcy.


SAMBOLIN: My friends, that is but a tease, it is a fantastic story. Do not miss the entire inspiring story on "THE NEXT LIST", Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

BERMAN: Nineteen minutes after the hour.

The drought hitting a huge portion of the country. It could have far- reaching effect in several markets. Now the big question, should we use corn for food and fuel? Some answers coming up.


SAMBOLIN: We are minding your business this morning. Should we be using corn for food and fuel? That is a debate that's happening right here at our desk, with corn prices rising because of the drought.

BERMAN: Christine Romans talked to people on both sides of the story. Ethanol is the third rail, or fourth rail, I guess, in Iowa.

ROMANS: I know. It is a very sensitive issue in Iowa, no question, because you have farmers who are trying to feed live stock and there are also other farmers who are trying to satisfactory contracts they have to grow corn for ethanol plans.

Did you know that what's in your tank is gasoline and there's ethanol?

It's the law you blend ethanol blamed from corn into your gasoline. It's a big and heated debate about whether in the midst of this big drought, we should be dropping those standards and shouldn't be burning corn. We should be eating corn only.

Here's a farmer I talked to, a livestock and corn farmer I talked to in Iowa recently. This is what -- he really crystallized I think the question for farmers and consumers about the ethanol debate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Corn is food, feed and fuel now. So with the high price of corn, what's going to give first? Who's going to blink?


ROMANS: Who's going to blink? Farmers have to supply the ethanol industry. It got to also to supply the export market and feed the livestock and food -- it is food. So, the NGOs, the big world food people, say that American policy is hurting poor people around the world because these prices are going up because of the big demand for corn. There are others who say you don't make policy based on one year of drought.

So far, all of those laws for how much corn we'll be using in our gas, they are staying the same. It's an interesting debate, I think. We've never had a drought like this where we've had these requirements for food and fuel at the same time for corn.

BERMAN: So, that's a big thing and political argument to say the least. What's the one thing we need to know today?

ROMANS: The one thing you need to know about your money -- stock futures are looking higher and your stock investments are probably up for the year. The S&P 500 up 11 percent so far this year --

BERMAN: It's a big year.

ROMANS: It's been a good year. But this week, we're going to get some key information on your biggest investment, your house. I think you're going to see evidence this week that the housing market is bottoming out. You've heard me say it before, more evidence of that this week.

SAMBOLIN: We've been hearing a lot about that lately. All right, Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: All right. Twenty-six minutes after the hour right now. It went on and on and on and on. This was the longest game of Major League Baseball this year. You will not believe how many innings it went. We'll tell you. That's coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Shocking news overnight, a big time Hollywood director, the man who made "Top Gun," Tony Scott, leaps to his death.

BERMAN: A mentally challenged Christian girl arrested in Pakistan, accused of burning pages of the Koran. A conviction that is punishable by death. A mob storming the area and people fearing for their lives.

SAMBOLIN: Too big for peewee football. Elijah Earnhart is 6'1", weights 297 pounds and is now banned from the league. We're going to hear from him, his mom and the league. That is straight ahead.

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Thirty minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: Breaking news this morning, fellow filmmakers stunned by the death of Tony Scott. Ron Howard tweeting, "No more Tony Scott movies, tragic day." And Robert Rodriguez tweeting this, "Tony Scott, damn. Great knowing you buddy. Thanks for the inspiration and advice and encouragement, and decades of great entertain"

The L.A. County coroner's office treating Scott's death as a suicide, saying he jumped off the Vincent Thomas Bridge yesterday in San Pedro, California. "The L.A. Times" is reporting that Scott did leave a suicide note in his office. The coroner would not confirm that to us. Scott directed blockbusters like "Top Gun", "Crimson Tide", "Days of Thunder". Tony Scott was just 68.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

Into politics now. A swift rebuke from the Romney campaign, following Missouri Republican Todd Akin's remarks concerning rape and pregnancy. The conservative congressman was says he misspoke when an interviewer asked if he support abortions for women who have been raped. Here's what he said.


REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume it didn't work or something, you know, I think there should be punishment but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: Akin is now running for Missouri Senate seat. His opponent, Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill said his comments are beyond comprehension.

CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser is in Washington, D.C. for us.

And could Akin's comments actually play a role in the presidential campaign?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: They could. They'll definitely play a role in that Senate campaign. And that's a very close contest right there. That's the seat the Republicans think they can win. Yes, it will have an effect at the top of the ticket as well.

As you mentioned, the Romney-Ryan campaign very quick to respond last night. This from Amanda Henneberg, their spokeswoman: "Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan disagree with Mr. Akin's statement and a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose an abortion in instances of rape."

And what's interesting about this statement here is it seems to be a bit at odds on Congressman Ryan's stance on abortion. The only exemption he would allow for in past statements would be for the life of a mother.

I reached out to the Romney campaign, the Ryan campaign and spoke to a spokesperson with the vice presidential candidate who says that's correct in the personal view, but remember, the position on the statement is the position of the ticket. My translation is number one trumps number two on the ticket. You see this all the time.

Maybe hear from Congressman Ryan and Governor Romney later today, team up for the first time in a week. They are in New Hampshire later today and speak to a television station up there.

And let's pay attention to social conservatives, see if they speak out on this. They may be upset about this new statement from the ticket and let's see what the Obama campaign does.

Zoraida, a lot to pay attention to today.

SAMBOLIN: That is an interesting statement that they released.

All right. So we have also some new names on who's going to be speaking at the Democratic National Convention, September 3rd in Charlotte. What can you tell us?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, just a few minutes ago, the Democratic National Committee releasing more names, just two weeks to go. As you mentioned, here's some big names that will be speaking at the convention. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, remember he was the chief of staff to President Obama. Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, who is now running for the Senate seat and a very close contest in that state. John Kerry, remember him, 2004, the Democratic presidential nominee. And Governor Deval Patrick, who is close with the president. Also, some rising stars you may not know, Kamala D. Harris, she is the attorney general of California and considered a rising star in the party. And Governor John Hickenlooper from Colorado, another person who is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Paul Steinhauser, live in Washington, D.C. -- thank you for that.

BERMAN: Thirty-four minutes after the hour right now. And just into CNN -- CNN has just confirmed that a JetBlue flight from New York to L.A. had to be diverted to Denver due to a disturbance involving a passenger. Flight 677 left Kennedy airport with 150 passengers on board. The plane was met by FBI agents and Denver police when it landed about 11:30 local time.

One person is in custody this morning and charges are pending. We do not have any other details about the incident. They have yet to be released.

SAMBOLIN: That seems to be happening more and more, right?

BERMAN: Absolutely. Residents of a Christian neighborhood in Pakistan are in fear for their lives after a mentally challenged girl was charged with blasphemy. Police in Islamabad arrested the 11-year- old who reported suffers from Down syndrome, after she told them she mistakenly burned pages from a Koran to light a fire for cooking. A mob of 150 Muslims gathered around her neighborhood, threatening to burn it down in retaliation.

We'll have a live report in the situation in Islamabad coming up in our next hour.

SAMBOLIN: Striking miners in South Africa facing an ultimatum today -- return to work on lose their jobs.

Some 3,000 workers walked off the jobs 10 days ago demanding a pay increase. The mine was a scene of deadly violence last week.

We want to warn you, this next video may be a bit hard to watch.

Last week police open fire on a group of striking miners, 34 were killed. Nearly 80 were injured. Police say the miners were armed with machetes and they fired in self-defense.

Two 12-year-old boys lucky to be alive. They were rescued from San Francisco Bay after the wind blew their row boat far into the water, too far for them to make it back to shore. That' when a hero jumped into the water and swam nearly a mile out to the boys and hauled them to the closest pier.


NICK TUMILOWICZ, RESCUED CHILDREN FROM BOAT: It was a pretty gnarly situation. They were freaked out, about 200 meters, I was little freaked out too because there was no boat and I was holding two jackets with one hand and doing the side stroke up to the pier. So -- but we made it happen.


SAMBOLIN: Boy, every parent wants him around when their kids are in trouble, right?

So, the three were rescued by the coast guard cutter. The humble hero says it was just the thing to do.

BERMAN: Very cool thing to do. There's a hero right there. This was the longest game in Major League Baseball by innings and time. After six hours and 17 minutes, 19 innings, Pittsburg Pirates outlasted the Cardinals in St. Louis. They won the game 6-3 on the home run by third baseman Pedro Alvarez.

SAMBOLIN: Was anyone left in the stands?

BERMAN: It's a long game. Both teams scored a run in the 17th to keep the game going. Both teams ran out of position players an inning later.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. All right. Well, next on EARLY START, Dr. Evil would be proud. The Mars rover breaks out the laser. We have the pictures to prove it, coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Forty minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Glad that you are with us this morning. Let's get you up to date.

Here are your top stories with Christine Romans.

Good morning.

ROMANS: Good morning both of you.

Breaking news we've been following for you out of Hollywood. Forty- one minutes after the hour. Hollywood reeling from the news that "Top Gun" director Tony Scott apparently killed him self. The L.A. County coroner's office treating this case as a suicide, saying he jumped off the Vincent Thomas Bridge yesterday in San Pedro, California.

The "L.A. Times" is reporting that Scott left a note in his office. That coroner could not confirm that detail to us.

Scott directed many blockbusters like "Top Gun" and "Crimson Tide" and many, many more. He also produced a number of films with his brother Ridley, including this summer's "Prometheus."

Tony Scott was 68 years old.

A developing story in Missouri this morning. Two out of fire spectators injured when a race car crashed at the Missouri state fair. Two of the five remain in the hospital. Police say they were watching a charity race near the pit area when a driver lost control, left the track and crashed into them. The battle of the badges races featuring old police cars were canceled the rest of the night.

Seventy-six people rescued off the coast of Alaska when their sightseeing vessel ran aground in Glacier Bay. Coast Guard officials tell "Reuters" passengers were transferred to a cruise ship after the boat began taking on water. No serious injuries were reported. The coast guard is investigating the accident.

And take that, Mars, Curiosity breaks out the laser. The rover zapped a small rock, about 30 times in 10 seconds to identify chemicals found on the planet. The rock was the first of thousands of targets Curiosity hope to analyze over the next couple of years and John is geeking out.

BERMAN: Curiosity, packing heat on Mars.


BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Christine.

Soledad O'Brien joins us now for a look at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, so much ahead. Good morning, everybody.

Coming up this morning on "STARTING POINT," the former Republican Senate candidate from Delaware who took to the cameras to proclaim "I am not a witch" those months ago, well, she's back. She's looking to make trouble in Tampa during the Republican National Convention. She's hosting the so-called troublemakers' fest.

Christine O'Donnell will join us to talk about that.

Also, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad is going strong right now, swimming her way back to the United States in an attempt to become the first to swim to Florida from Cuba without a shark cage. We're going to speak with some of her crew. They're traveling alongside her in the boat and an update on her progress this morning.

Plus, the gospel diva and actress, Tamela Mann stops by. "Best Days" is her new album. "Sparkle", of course, is the new movie that just opened. We're going to talk about those things straight ahead.

BERMAN: A live progress report from Diana Nyad. That's so cool.


O'BRIEN: Not her, but the crew.

Stop swimming so I can ask you questions. No.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Looking forward to that. Thank you, Soledad. A 12-year-old boy told he cannot play pee wee football because he's too big. But if it's a safety issue, why did they let him practice with the team? We'll from the boy and his mother and the league, that is coming up next.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 47 minutes past the hour. We're happy you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. A 12-year-old boy from Texas says he just wants to play football, but the local Pee Wee association says he is too big to play. Elijah Earnheart is 6'1" and weighs 297 pounds. That's more than twice the weight that the Pee Wee rule book allows for kid in his grade.

We are now joined by Elijah and his mother, Cindy Earnheart. They're live this morning in Dallas, Texas. And Elijah, I have to ask you this morning. When they told you you couldn't play, when they told you you couldn't stay out on that field, how did that feel?

ELIJAH EARNHEART, BARRED FROM PLAYING PEE WEE FOOTBALL: I felt sad and kind of down because I started practicing with them for three weeks, and then, they told me I couldn't play.

BERMAN: Just doesn't seem fair. And I want to ask your mom here for a second. They say there are other options. That he could play in other leagues and he could play for the local school. Why aren't those options good enough?

CINDY EARNHEART, ELIJAH'S EARNHEART'S MOTHER: The options are good enough and Elijah will play football, that's not the issue. It's just that we put in a lot of hard work with that team, and he went out there and was dedicated to that team for three weeks, you know, blood, sweat and tears, every single night. And that's -- you know, he wanted to play for them.

BERMAN: Elijah, you know, you are a big guy. You would be a big presence on that football field and a lot of your friends, a lot of the other kids out there playing with you, not as big. Do you ever worry about hurting anyone?

ELIJAH EARNHEART: Sometimes, but not all the time.

BERMAN: They take precautions when you're playing to keep everyone safe?


BERMAN: And again, to your mom here, if Elijah were playing with somebody that much bigger than him, is that something that would make you nervous?

CINDY EARNHEART: I have to look at it from both perspectives. You know, I do have a big kid and I do see little kids, too. But me, personally, no, I'm a football fan. I love football, and it's a contact sport. So, you know, boys play football. That's what they do.

BERMAN: And this story, Cindy and Elijah, has gotten a lot of attention since it broke last week. And I understand you've had a lot of offers, including one to practice with a pro-football team. Tell me about that.

CINDY EARNHEART: Yes, we get to go to San Diego and he's going to be practicing with the defensive line of the San Diego Chargers next week.

BERMAN: All right, guys. Elijah and Cindy, thank you so much for joining us this morning. It is a story we're all following. Elijah, we just hope you can play somewhere. We really do.


CINDY EARNHEART: Thank you for having us.

SAMBOLIN: That did not seem to bring a smile to his face, the fact that he gets to go play with some pro players. So, we're going to turn now to Ronnie Henderson. He is the president of the Mesquite Pee Wee Football Association and supports the decision not to let Elijah play on the team.

And I'm hoping that you were just listening to Elijah and his mom as they were talking. And his mom says he put in a lot of hard work three weeks, because he was allowed to practice with the team. He says that it's unfair. Why was he allowed to practice and then not play?

RONNIE HENDERSON, PRESIDENT, MESQUITE PEE WEE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION: Well, it's one of those things where he -- I didn't know about this even after. I didn't know he was on the team. I didn't know he was practicing with them. I didn't know anything about it. We all practice at separate sites, and it was just oversight by the coach, I guess, on that you can say.

SAMBOLIN: Once you did find out, what action did you take? Did you remove him immediately or did you have a conversation as to what the problem is with him playing with that team?

HENDERSON: He came to our weigh-in. We have a pre-season weigh in, and he came to our weigh-in. When he did, everybody started pointed after me (ph) in the line, and I went over to the head coach and said, you know, coach is this boy in seventh grade or sixth grade? And he said seventh. And I said, well, he can't play this year. You know that he's over our weight limit.

And he said, no, I didn't think that. I said, yes, he can't play. And I said there's no need of letting a boy go through the weigh-in. I did that. I called upon myself to do that and mother and son said that I did them wrong, hurt their feelings and I went apologized to the kid for doing that. I didn't want to do anything to hurt anybody's feeling.

SAMBOLIN: That was very nice of you to do that. I know that you have some exceptions for sixth graders when they are overweight for certain positions. So, why the exception for the sixth graders and not the seventh graders.

HENDERSON: Because the sixth graders (INAUDIBLE) to go play football. They can't play school ball here in Mesquite. We have great facilities and everything here in Mesquite, and it's just they just don't have a spot to go play. And the seventh graders have their school team. We want all the seventh graders, eighth graders to go play school ball.

They're big enough, strong enough. They should be playing football. I mentioned that to Cindy when we were just talking Monday night a week ago and she said, no, that her son was not ready to participate against those boys, but it's all right for the little boys to participate against her son.

And you know, we're worried about safety. We got worried about the safety -- we don't want Elijah to hurt anybody. I think that would bother him as well as the person who got hurt. And so, it's a safety issue, and we have rules. Rules are there for a reason.

SAMBOLIN: Now, I understand that the coach who was allowing him to participate, allowing Elijah to participate has been removed. Did you fire him?

HENDERSON: No, ma'am. That's another one of those rumors out there. There are so many false rumors out there. But no, ma'am, I did not have anything to do with that. I support it, and I'm behind the organization for doing what they did. They have code of conducts and steps they're supposed to go through.

And this coach didn't follow any of their steps to go through. And so, they met with him and told him -- and he was removed and then, of course, everybody called me and started cussing me and everything else because I did that, but I had nothing to do with that.

SAMBOLIN: I'm sure it's been very difficult for you as well, sir. And so, in light of --

HENDERSON: It really has.

SAMBOLIN: -- of all everything that happened and the misunderstanding, are you going to do better with maybe explaining to the coaches what the rules are?

HENDERSON: Yes, ma'am, we'll do that. We'll change the wording to make it even simpler to read, and we will meet more with the coaches. Everybody should have known this. I really feel like this is just a bad mistake that was made. Maybe the coach didn't know. I'm not really sure real sure about that.

But we hate it that it's taken off like this. You know, it's not helping our organization at all, and we hate that part of it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, Ronnie Henderson, president of mesquite Pee Wee Football Association, thank you for taking the time to spend some time addressing this and explaining it to us this morning. We really appreciate that and good luck with the upcoming season.

HENDERSON: Thank you. Thank you. We'd like to see all of this die down.

SAMBOLIN: We hope so, too.

All right. Up next, our "Best Advice," this time, from Olympic gold medalist, McKayla Maroney, and I bet you will be impressed.

BERMAN: Even she is impressed this time.


BERMAN: It is just a few minutes before the hour right now.

SAMBOLIN: So, we wrap it up as always with "Best Advice," and Christine Romans is back to deliver it.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I am. And today's "best Advice" from Miss Not Impressed gold medal gymnast, McKayla Maroney. Listen.


MCKAYLA MARONEY, OLYMPIC GYMNAST: I think the best advice was given to me by my mom. She pretty much just said to always be myself because you're just born the way you are and just to love everything about yourself because god Made you that way and just always love life and just be true to yourself. It's so important, and it means so much to everybody. Just to love who you are.


ROMANS: Love who you are and stick the landing every time.


BERMAN: McKayla Maroney unimpressed by her own best advice here this morning. And unimpressed by us, apparently, based on the screen right here.


ROMANS: I love this girl.

BERMAN: We love McKayla, nonetheless.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. Absolutely. So, score another one for mom who has most advice in our "Best Advice" column.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, indeed. Mom is always right.

BERMAN: That is all we have for EARLY START this morning. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.