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Film Director Tony Scott Dies; Blasphemy Charges In Pakistan; "Top Gun" Director Dies; Race Car Crash At Missouri State Fair; Alaska Ship Rescue; Waterspouts Caught On Tape; Medicare Plans Under Spotlight; Newsweek: "Hit The Road, Barack"; Miss America On Mentoring Kids

Aired August 20, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning developing overnight, a Hollywood tragedy. Blockbuster movie director, Tony Scott, known for films like "Top Gun", "Days of Thunder" jumps to his death from a California bridge. This morning, we're gathering reaction from his colleagues and from Hollywood as well.

Another developing story to tell you about. Terror at the race track. A race car crashes into the crowd at the Missouri State Fair, injures several fans late last night.

And fighting for the edge. Mitt Romney and President Obama ready to resume the battle on the campaign trail, just as we are about a week away from the Republican National Convention.

Packed show for you this morning. Republican congressman from Texas, Mike Burgess, is our guest. Democrat from Massachusetts, Congressman Richard Neal will join us. Tea Party favorite, Christine O'Donnell will join us. Gospel diva and actress, Tamela Mann, is coming in. And Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppler will be with us.

It's Monday, August 20th, and "Starting Point" begins right now.



O'BRIEN: Our STARTING POINT this morning, some tragic news coming out of Hollywood, famed director Tony Scott has died. He was known for hits like "Top Gun" and "Days of Thunder" and "Beverly Hills Cop II." Christine Romans has the very latest on this tragedy for us.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Hollywood waking up to the stunning news. The L.A. county coroner's is treating this as a suicide, saying Scott jumped off the Vincent Thomas Bridge yesterday in San Pedro, California. His death took the entertainment industry and insiders by surprise.


JEANNE WOLF, ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST: We use the word "shocking" all the time when we hear about these deaths. But to think of Tony Scott, brother of Ridley Scott, one of the most prominent and successful directors we have, jumping off a bridge is almost impossible to contemplate.


ROMANS: If you have seen "Top Gun", "Crimson Tide", you're familiar with his work. He produced a number of films with his brother, including the Prometheus. "Coma" is set to appear next month on A&E. Scott's movies as director and producer grossed more than $1.6 billion. Director Robert Rodriguez tweeting this, "Tony Scott, great knowing you, buddy. Thanks for the inspiration and advice encouragement and decades much great entertainment." Tony Scott was 68 and his colleagues are all talking about this this morning. A lot of people -- a lot of people very, very saddened by this. Let's bring in Roger Friedman for Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Roger, are you there by phone?


O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. What a tragedy.

FRIEDMAN: It's a real tragedy because, first of all, the Scott brothers were very close, and it's a terrible thing for Ridley Scott. They worked on a lot of projects together and had a company called Scott Free Productions, and they produced "The Good Wife" on TV and doing a lot of TV shows recently. Everything they do is a success and that's what raises a lot of questions about what happened here.

O'BRIEN: And I was going to ask you that. I think that you talk about a family that had been so successful and had done so many projects and in the middle of projects that were successful. Was there any history that people knew about, or were people completely stunned?

FRIEDMAN: I think people were shocked and saddened this morning and there's going to be some kind of explanation whether there's a lot of speculation maybe he had -- was ill in some way and people didn't know it yet. But the main thing to focus on is he made these great films, and he went easily from making bloc blockbusters like "Top Gun", "Days of Thunder," "Crimson Tide," "Enemy of the state," which was a huge hit, to also making cool films like "Domino," a wonderful film with Kira Knightly. "Hunger," the first thriller that people talk about. He was planning a "Top Gun" sequel with tom cruise. And there were -- there were quite a few other things in the offing. He never had a failure really, except "The Last Boy Scout" didn't do well. Big stars wanted to work with him over and over again because he was so good.

O'BRIEN: What an incredible tragedy and so many questions remain. Thanks for being with us, we appreciate your insight.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Let's turn to John Berman now with a look at the rest of the day's top stories. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad News just in, CNN has confirmed a passenger is in custody after a JetBlue flight had to be diverted to Denver. Flight 677 left with 150 passengers, and the plane was met by FBI agents and Denver police when it landed. Charges are pending. No other details about this incident have been released.

Also, we're just learning Britain's Prince Phillip is out of the hospital. The 91-year-old duke was released after spending five nights for treatment of a bladder infection. This is the third stay in the last several months. The prince had to miss some of the diamond's jubilee celebrating her 60 days on the throne due to poor health.

We have new video of a startling race crash in Missouri. Five spectators were hurt. A race car crashed into Missouri State fair. Police say they were watching a charity race near the pit with when the driver left the track and crashed into them. The battle of the badges races were canceled for the rest of the night.

The U.S. coast guard is investigating an accident off the coast of Alaska in Glacier Bay. Officials report 76 people were rescued from a vessel that ran aground and was filling with water. Most of the passengers were safely transferred. No serious injuries reported.

The Republican National Convention now one week away and we're learning more this morning about the tone of the Romney campaign is hoping to set there. Meantime the cover of "Newsweek" is saying, "Hit the road, Barack -- why we need a new president," and that's stirring up a few flames. Joining us this morning to talk about all of that is Congressman Mike Burgess, the chairman of the congressional health care caucus and a doctor as well. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate it. Let's talk about --

REP. MIKE BURGESS, (R) TEXAS: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. This cover story in "Newsweek," I don't know if you had a chance to read it yet, but the headline is pretty straight forward. It's "Hit the road, Barack -- why we need a new president." The basic gist is that President Obama has not kept his promises. The president has a blog pointing out what he calls some of the factual errors.

But his gist is there were promises and haven't been kept up. He writes this. In his inaugural address, "The promised to create a new foundation for growth and promised to build roads and bridges and electric grids and promised to restore science to its rightful place and raise health care's quality and lower cost. He promised to transform schools and colleges and universities and meet the demands of a new age. The president's score card on every one of the bold pledges is pitiful." The gist of the entire article is kind of like that.

Some people would say completely unfair assessment when you look at the numbers inherited at 7.8 unemployment rate, went down to 10 unemployment rate in October of 2009. Do you think that's a fair criticism of him, sir? BURGESS: Well, you know, you go back to the first two years of this administration and you just as a member of the minority here couldn't affect much. You just really had to wonder, where was the laser like focus that a Bill Clinton would have put on the economy? We had an administration doing everything under the sun but being concerned about jobs after making those promises in the inaugural address. We watched in the joint economic committee, members of president's team come in, Christina Romers, Lawrence Summers, and honestly they seemed lost at sea.

O'BRIEN: The stimulus passed immediately? That was a big thing.

BURGESS: The stimulus passed earn what have we found out in the years since then, some of these projects like Solyndra where doctors were flowing out the door to people who had no business receiving the money. Then obviously when the company couldn't make it, the administration suborder natured loans to venture capitalists which was in direct violation of the law.

O'BRIEN: And I think there are firefighters and teachers and police officers whose jobs were kept, would not have had jobs, because of the stimulus? I think we can do an entire two-hour debate on the stimulus, but we certainly don't have time for that this morning.

BURGESS: But you had things like "cash for clunkers" and putting caulk in people's windows that had nothing to do with rebuilding the economy. And these things almost seemed to be payoff for people who supported the president during his 2008 campaign. There were much better ways to go about this doing this. The chairman of the transportation committee begged for more funding to go into infrastructure and got seven percent of the stimulus bill. If you're going to borrow money like that, do it for improvements not operational expenses.

O'BRIEN: If the stimulus hadn't been passed, what would have happened to the economy? Didn't that to a large degree help the economy? You're not going to argue certainly it didn't?

BURGESS: I don't think that it did. You look at some of the projects that were started during that time and they really did not seem to be designed to improve the economy. The other aspect that was unfortunate during those first two years, they spent so much time, the administration spent so much time trying to link health care to the economy and in order to get the president's health care law passed. But honestly when you look back at it, this has been one of the things that has inhibited the recovery. It's been a wet blanket on job creation and honestly is still a problem today two and a half years later, billions of dollars --

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. I want to understand. You're saying the stimulus has been a wet blanket on job creation, you think it slowed --

BURGESS: The Affordable Care Act was a wet blanket on job creation, the cap and trade bill and financial reg bill, all pushed by the president in the first year and a half of his administration. O'BRIEN: Let me talk to you about what we've been talking a lot on Medicare. And as a doctor I have to imagine you probably know more or better than your colleagues about the intricacies on health care. I'll throw out the words, "gutted, killed, blood on the hands, ending Medicare as we know it." I have to imagine that rhetoric is not useful for people at home. Do you think it's possible to have a fact- based conversation about Medicare in an election year?

BURGESS: During an election year, I don't know. Historically it has not been. You go back to 1996 when the new Republican Congress tried to actually talk about some changes to the program and the Clinton administration very famously did their Medi-scare routine and the issue was dropped.

O'BRIEN: Look at 2010, which kind of a reverse similar thing happened but go ahead.

BURGESS: But -- no just talking strictly in the Medicare realm. And now we're to a point in 2012 where we're rapidly approaching the day where there will have to be some significant cuts made. The president acknowledges this by setting up a board that's going to make cuts in Medicare where Congress will have little impact after the board has decided. This is a change people aren't aware of in the president's health care law, this independent payment advisory board, the brain child of Tom Daschle. He wanted to set up the Federal Reserve for health care. Does that sound like a good idea right now? Not really. The biggest change is now you'll have this board to tell people when to get their car and how much care they can have and when they've had enough --

O'BRIEN: Then that board as you know, right, will discuss those issues then goes to the president and through Congress. This is not a 15-person board that makes up their own decisions, as you know.

BURGESS: Except the deck is stacked. And when this board makes their decisions, if the Congress corrects the decisions, then great. If the Congress cannot agree and when has that ever happened before, then the recommendations of the board go straight to the secretary department of health and human services for implementation. So it is different from anything we've ever seen before as far as trying to put budgetary controls on spending.

O'BRIEN: It sounds like you're saying there will be no conversations about Medicare that are not sort of partisan based because it's such a third rail type issue in this election year?

BURGESS: Well, the independent payment advisory board, there is no conversation at all. The board puts forward its recommendations and Congress will have its typical disagreements and the clock will run out and the board recommendations then get implemented with, again, very little accountability back to the people.

The changes have that occurred in Medicare to date have all been directly -- people can get unelected over their stance on Medicare. This board will be relatively insulated from that type of activity. The decree of accountability will be gone, and that's the biggest change that no one is talking about now.

O'BRIEN: Well, I would say it's not the biggest change, but certainly one of the major changes on both sides because big changes are coming to Medicare, regardless of who you're talking about changing it. Thank you for talking with us. I appreciate your time.

BURGESS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We'll talk to Congressman Richard Neal from Massachusetts and Christine O'Donnell, former Republican candidate from Delaware. She's organizing what she's calling a troublemakers fest during the RNC next week.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, our get real A Missouri representative under fire this morning after saying that women can't get pregnant when they are raped. We're also tracking Diana Nyad in what she says is her final attempt to swim from Florida to Cuba. We're going live to her boat. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Long distance swimmer Dianna Nyad is now in day three of her 103 mile swim from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida. She's just a few days shy of her 63 birthday. This is her fourth attempt to make the historic crossing and it's expected to take 60 hours. Art Sollinger operational director of team Nyad is traveling in that boat going alongside Nyad. He joins us by satellite phone. Nice to talk to you. How is she holding up?

MARK SOLLINGER, TEAM NYAD: She's doing well. She's doing the Diana Nyad thing. The first night we experienced a lot of jelly fish. They were everywhere. She expected several stings as did some of our shark team divers. But she did the Diana Nyad thing and powered through it. Yesterday we had an incredibly beautiful day out here, a super flat and calm sea, picturesque. And we were all able to see that famous Nyad stroke that you all heard about so much. Last night we had a great night in terms of jellyfish with almost zero sightings at all.

O'BRIEN: When is she expected to get to Key West?

SOLLINGER: You know, I'm not going to answer that question because this is not an exact science, as I know everybody at CNN knows, you've been so gracious following this --

O'BRIEN: We love it. Are you kidding me?

SOLLINGER: You guys are the best. We really appreciate everything you've done for the team. It's not an exact science. I don't know an exact number but that's --

O'BRIEN: I lost --

SOLLINGER: We'll let everybody know when we'll be getting in.

O'BRIEN: We couldn't hear you because your audio dropped out. We're really excited. This is Diana Nyad fourth attempt. The first back in 1978, two attempts last year and she says this is going to be the last one so we're certainly rooting for her to make it. Thanks for being with us. Tell Diana I said hey when you yell to the water at her.

SOLLINGER: Thank you. As we say at Team Nyad, we say, onward!


O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, a U.S. congressman created a firestorm when he said this about rape and pregnancy.


REP. TODD AKIN, (R) MISSOURI: If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.


O'BRIEN: Yes, there's so many questions on that. What's a legitimate rape? What's he mean by female body shuts that down? It's our get real this morning. Our STARTING POINT team is heading in, Ben Smith and Celeste Headlee and Will Cain. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Ouch, that hurt.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Introduce you to our team this morning, ben smith is the editor and chief of buzz feed. Celeste Headlee is the anchor of "Your Vote 2012" on the PBS Channel, and Will Cain is a columnist for It really feels like fall, huh?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not quite ready to let go of summer yet.

O'BRIEN: I said it feels like fall. I didn't say are you ready to let go of it. Our get real this morning is really a troubling story. Missouri Congressman Todd Akin has stirred up a firestorm with his comments in an interview. He was asked if abortion should be allowed when rape results in pregnancy. And this was his answer.


AKIN: It seems to be 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.


O'BRIEN: What? I mean, really, what? He says he misspoke, yes, he did. The Romney campaign distancing themselves from that saying that neither mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan would oppose abortion in rape cases. Akin's opponent in the upcoming Missouri Senate race is Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill. She said Akin's comments are offensive and beyond comprehension. Can we play that one more time? It makes no sense. What is legitimate rape? Then -- play that one more time. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AKIN: It seems to me, 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.


O'BRIEN: The female body has ways to shut that whole thing down?

CELESTE HEADLEE, "YOUR VOTE, 2012": Don't forget -- it's not true. Doctors did not say it's rare for a rape to result in pregnancy, from the first statement, it's not true.

CAIN: We will hear about this today on the presidential campaign trail, even know the Romney plan put out the statement saying the Romney/Ryan administration would not oppose in the case of rape. It's important to know that Paul Ryan in the past has opposed the rape exception.

O'BRIEN: But what it does is it brings up these remarks again on the campaign trail.

HEADLEE: To be fair, Akin is an extreme conservative. If you look at his voting record and the comments he'd made in the past, this isn't entirely -- the statement is false, I'm not in any way shape or form --

CAIN: That's not fair. The connection between being extreme conservative and the indefinable thing of what a legitimate rape has no connection.

BEN SMITH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You're right. This is 2010 all over again, in the sense they were the last guy they wanted to be an easy race or win. They got the Tea Party base who Mitch McConnell knew this was going to happen. Claire McCaskill ran ads which were clearly in support of Todd Akin because that's who she wanted to face in the general election.

O'BRIEN: They'll be dealing with that today. I'm ready to move on.

HEADLEE: Soledad is speechless.

O'BRIEN: The whole entire thing makes no sense. I wish the interviewer had jumped in and said what the heck is legitimate rape? What are you talking about? That's just odd.

Moving on. Ahead on STARTING POINT, blasphemy or persecution, a mentally challenged girl in Pakistan is facing some serious charges for what appears to be an innocent mistake.

And dangerous beauty caught on tape. Five huge water spouts dance across Lake Michigan. Look at these. Possible solution to one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century. We're going to talk to a man who says he knows what happened to Amelia Earhart. This is STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, in just a few minutes, we're going to be talking to Congressman Richard Neal. He is a Democrat from Massachusetts.

He will be joining us live. He is stumping for President Obama, taking a stand against some of the Republican proposals to change the Medicare system.

Also ahead, there she is --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Reigning Super Bowl champs, if you're watching, call me.


O'BRIEN: Miss America 2012, Laura Kaeppeler. She's going to join us live as well. Talk to her about her new mission, which involves big brothers and big sisters.

Now to a developing story out of Pakistan, an 11-year-old girl who is described as mentally challenge is under arrest there for allegedly burning pages of the Koran. She told authorities she didn't know that it was the Koran when she was looking for fuel for a fire she was making.

CNN correspondent, Reza Sayah joins us via Skype from Islamabad. Reza, this is causing a tremendous stir among Christians. The girl is Christian and Muslims as well, right?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, as do all blasphemy stories that come out of Pakistan, Soledad. First off, we have to clarify that those claims that she was mentally disabled have yet to be verified.

We spoke to a police official and he denied that this girl had Down syndrome. He only described her as illiterate. They still say they are trying to work out the details.

But an 11-year-old is in police custody after being accused of burning pages of the Koran, which is of course a violation of Pakistan's blasphemy law. The incident according to police happened last Thursday.

Witnesses according to officials saw her burning pages of the Koran in poor communities, especially Christian communities here. It's not usual for families to burn scrap pieces of paper for cooking fuel. That's apparently what she was doing.

But her family said that she wasn't burning pages of the Koran and it's not clear if she was. But apparently, the neighbors were outraged and they demanded police to arrest her and that's where things stand right now -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Reza Sayah for us this morning. Reza, thank you for monitoring the story.

Other stories making news, John Berman has got those. Good morning again.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Good morning, Soledad. A sad story out of Hollywood breaking overnight, Hollywood reeling from the news that "Top Gun" Director Tony Scott apparently has 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. Scott directed the blockbuster's "top gun" and "Crimson Tide" among others.

He also produced a number of other films with his brother, Ridley Scott including this summer's "Promethius." Tony Scott was just 68.

An investigation is under way in Missouri this morning into a race car crash at the Missouri State Fair that injured five spectators. Police say they were watching this charity race near the pit area and that driver lost control.

You can see it right there. Leaving the track and crashing into the stands. The Battle of the Badges race is featuring old police cars. These races were cancelled for the rest night. Two of the injured are still in the hospital this morning.

A developing story this morning, 76 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 are reported. The Coast Guard right now is investigating that incident.

Check out this water show, a show fitting for the Great Lakes, five simultaneous water spouts captured on tape over the weekend on Lake Michigan. Forecasters say weather conditions could trigger more.

This is the dangerous beauty part though, Soledad, boaters being urged to be on alert obviously because of potential danger if they are out in the middle of it.

O'BRIEN: What is a water spout, like a tornado on the water?

BERMAN: I think it is, but we'll look into it. We'll get our best on it and we'll get back to you on that. And we're going to get a check on the weather --

O'BRIEN: I asked for a question about meteorology and there she is.

BERMAN: What's the answer?

O'BRIEN: Am I right?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's the warm water, you got very warm water. You've got cold air aloft. So generally these are kind of cold air related funnel clouds that are dangerous to people who are out over the water.

Very short lived, typically and not as intense as a tornado. All right, we are watching its peak hurricane season about 20 percent likelihood we could see some developments in the western Gulf of Mexico.

But 20 years ago this week, Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida and then went on to make a second landfall along the Gulf Coast and that's why we're paying attention to this.

About 80 percent chance from the National Hurricane Center saying we could see the development of tropical storm possibly Hurricane Isaac that could develop in the next several days.

Certainly, very conducive environment with very warm water temperatures and a week from now, in Tampa, the Republican convention and the spaghetti models are saying, well, this is a long way out.

But John, it's something to really keep our eye out for as we go into the next week or so. It will be critical.

BERMAN: You better believe Republicans are keeping their eye on Gulf right now watching those storms very closely. They are well aware that Tampa, you know, could be in the cross hairs. Thank you very much, Karen -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, John, thanks.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan together again today on the road in New Hampshire at a town hall. They are likely going to face more questions about the Medicare plan, which they spent much of last week promoting separately on the road.

On Saturday, Ryan brought his mom to campaign in Florida.


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.


O'BRIEN: Congressman Richard Neal is a Democrat from Massachusetts. He is member of the House Ways and Means Committee, a ranking member of the Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee. He is with us this morning. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us.


O'BRIEN: Let's talk for a moment about this new cover story in "Newsweek," Neil Ferguson wrote it. The title is, "Hit the Road, Barack, Why We Need A New President."

One of the things that he writes is this, it's the president's job to run the executive branch effectively and lead the nation. Here's where his failure has been greatest.

On paper it looked like an economics dream team, Larry Summers, Christina Rommer, Austin Goldsbee not to mention Peter Orzag, Tim Geithner, Paul Voluuker.

The inside story however is that the president was wholly unable to manage the mighty brains and egos he had assembled to advice him. And it goes on and on, it's a really long article. First, does he have a point do you think?

NEAL: Did he mention January 19th, 2001 when Bill Clinton said goodbye to America considering that we were looking at the surplus estimated over 10 years to be north of more than $5 trillion?

That's the point. I think that this argument that this problem started on Barack Obama's watch is really one that doesn't stand up under the magnifying glass of critical analysis.

O'BRIEN: But that's his argument back, right? He's saying to that exact argument that you just posited is, yes, but he had a dream team of people and they weren't able to do it.

NEAL: With the exception of pointing out that had Obama not taken the positions he had taken then the economy would be in far worse shape today.

When you look at the turnaround from what happened during the Clinton years through the next eight years, it is stunning. Two wars, $2.3 trillion worth of tax cuts, a Medicare prescription drug benefit and the budget turnaround was so dramatic, it was the largest turnaround in American history.

O'BRIEN: So let me ask you though, are you worried that it's a message that's going to get out and turn the focus -- it's on the front page of "Newsweek" says, hit the Road Barack. That has to be concerning.

NEAL: I hope that the media as the referee would point out that there are a number of serious issues that confront the country. And there's a unique opportunity during the course of a campaign given that every campaign has an argument to talk about the really big issues that confront America.

This ought to be done in the form of a long conversation and not just in sound bites. The result of which I think would uplift not only the spirit of the American people, but give greater confidence to the economy as well.

O'BRIEN: Well, since we're seeing so many negative ads, I have to tell you, I'm highly not convinced that's going to happen --

NEAL: I agree with you.

O'BRIEN: -- hope springs eternal, right. Let me ask you about what Republicans have been talking a lot about if you look at interviews over the weekend, which was Joe Biden and his comments from last week to this audience in Danville.

Where he talked about you all, you know, they'll put you back in chains. Now there have been calls -- I think Rudy Giuliani over the weekend was the last one to call for an apology. Do you think he should apologize and say, you know --

NEAL: I think he think he walked back the words in a matter of hours. I think the result in context in which he utter the words changed radically. I think that the vice president's position is OK.

O'BRIEN: I think he explained what he said, but I don't think he walked back his words at all. Do you think it's going to happen then?

NEAL: He tried very hard to walk back his words and I think again, words blurt out in the course of a campaign that take on different meanings and I think the vice president did what he had to do and simply said that's not what I meant to say.

O'BRIEN: So the conversation keeps going. Do you think it needs -- it's going to be enough to say, he said what he's going to say?

NEAL: I think these are peripheral issues and I think that they do arise and always the candidate has to figure out how to handle them. I think the vice president's position was satisfactory.

O'BRIEN: Would you rather be having the conversation about jobs or you'd rather have the conversation about Medicare?

NEAL: The conversation about jobs, Medicare, Social Security and also not to understate what's happening in Syria right now even as you and I speak.

O'BRIEN: That's true. Nobody is really talking about Syria certainly because we've been following a lot of the Medicare debate. All right, what do you think is going to be happening? We have a week until the RNC and then the DNC. What's that going to look like?

NEAL: Well, the conventions now or not similar to the ones exactly when I was delegate for Ted Kennedy back in 1980. It's changed. These conventions are really now carefully manufactured.

The script is held to and there's no doubt that we know the outcome on both sides. It's the chance to command center stage for a matter of hours during primetime television.

O'BRIEN: It sounds like you're saying it's a photo-op and it's going to be boring.

NEAL: Well, I think if that's happen, there's no doubt about that. It's very different than the delegate get-togethers that I recall when I started out.

O'BRIEN: Interesting, all right, thanks for being with us this morning. We certainly appreciate your time.

NEAL: Delighted to be with you. O'BRIEN: Still ahead, Christine O'Donnell, we're going to talk to her up next. You remember, she is the former Republican Senate candidate from Delaware.

Talking to her because she is organizing something called the "Troublemaker Fest," which is going to run alongside the Republican National Convention.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's already making trouble.

O'BRIEN: You know, I think she likes making trouble. We'll talk to her about that. What exactly is the plan?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe Todd Akin already have kicked that off for them.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, mystery solved. Researchers may have found Amelia Earhart's plane at the bottom of the ocean. Got some new pictures we want to share with you.

Plus, Miss America 2012, Laura Kaeppeler, she is about six months into her reign. She's stopping by our studio. She is so smart and pretty, just what a like in a woman. We're going to talk to her and share a personal story as well. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. A 75-year-old mystery could be closer to being solved this morning. There's potential new evidence surrounding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

Scientists with "The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery" or TIGHAR launched a $2 million underwater expedition last month near the Republic of Kiribati.

It's a string of Pacific Islands, where Earhart is thought to have landed or crashed back on July 2nd, of 1937 while she was trying to make her flight around the world.

After combing through hours of footage, they stopped at this image. It might not look like a heck of a lot. Forensic experts say it could be the evidence that they are looking for.

Rick Gillespie is the executive director of TIGHAR and he talked about what the trained eye sees in these images on "EARLY START." Listen.


RICHARD GILLESPIE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TIGHAR: It was a landing gear that we saw on the reef in the 1937 photo. And we're wondering if maybe we've found the thing that we see in the 1937 photo, although now broken into pieces, it's been 75 years. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That's pretty amazing.

CAIN: You know what's fascinating about the story to me, Soledad and granted I'm not someone who's been read up on Amelia Earhart day to day over the last 20 years. But the story is that she and her navigator landed on this island --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: May have crash landed.

CAIN: May have crash landed, but their airplane was swept out to sea leaving them stranded on the island for all that time. That's in the end apparently how Amelia Earhart --


CAIN: I know it could be, but I think I always assumed it was just a plane crash and would have perished in the plane crash.

O'BRIEN: It would be pretty remarkable. And every time they are able to make a little more progress, they are able to raise more funds to get people to help fund the next sort of step in these --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are incredibly expensive expeditions.

O'BRIEN: It's $2 million.

BERMAN: They didn't know the detail until they brought them back. So they were there and they didn't know that these things were there.

CAIN: They combed the island.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were disappointed when they found nothing on the island itself. If they actually have found under water, they say they may have found a strut and some wheels. If that's actually the case, you know, congratulations to them because I know the team was very disappointed --

O'BRIEN: You think they would have gone under the water with "The Titanic," we being them actually because, you know, if it's there, it seems like it's something you would be able to with the technology we have today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's an expensive proposition.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is, every day they get more access to funding.

All right, we have to take a break. Still ahead this morning, there she is, Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler joins us right after the break. She's on a mission to lend a helping hand to those in need. We're talking mentoring.

It's nice to have you. Welcome. Congratulations to you. We've got to take a short break. STARTING POINT is back in just a moment. Mr. Berman we're going to give up your chair. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm John Berman with just a quick couple of few headlines before we get to Miss America who is sitting right next to me.

Saudi Arabians with tribal ties to Syria are reaching deep into their pockets to help Syrian rebels. Fundraisers have raised $150 million during the month of Ramadan alone. Sources tell CNN the money will be used to buy weapons as well as pay for medical care in the war torn country. Where an estimated 150 people die every day now.

Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, delivers a message to the U.S. saying the war on whistleblowers must end. In his first public speech in it about five months, he said Wikileaks is about freedom of expression.

He mentioned nothing about the rape charges against him in Sweden. Assange has been effectively confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June. Ecuador granted Assange diplomatic asylum, but Britain won't let him leave.

Miss China is Miss World 2012. The 23-year-old beat out 150 other contestants. The winner is a music student who hopes to become a music teacher and also work with the poor. It's the second time a Miss China has won this Miss World title.

O'BRIEN: Well, we can top that. She may be Miss America, but Laura Kaeppeler is also making a name for herself through a mentoring program focusing on at-risk kids.

She knows how kids can benefit from this experience firsthand. She is here to talk about that, "Big Brothers and Big Sisters" is really the organization you are focusing on. It's nice to have you.

LAURA KAEPPELER, 2012 MISS AMERICA: Thank you, thank you.

O'BRIEN: Six months you've been Miss America. Has it been grueling? Your travel schedule is crazy.

KAEPPELER: Yes, a lot of people see the pageant that one Saturday night and they don't really realize that Miss America is on the road for an entire year and it's a full-time job for an entire year. I travel about 20,000 miles a month. I'm on an airplane about every other day or so.

O'BRIEN: Excellent frequent flier miles, by the way. It's a grueling schedule. You focus on mentoring and you're focusing on "Big Brothers and Big Sisters." I know a little bit about them here in New York. Why was mentoring your focus? Why is that important to you?

KAEPPELER: Well, I do a plethora of different things throughout my year and speak for a lot of different causes, but my personal platform advocates for children who have parents in prison and that really stems from a personal experience of mine and mentoring goes hand-in- hand with that. I look back at when I experienced that and without a few key mentors in my life I certainly wouldn't be the woman that I am today. I highly doubt let alone Miss America.

Through working with the "Big Brothers and Big Sisters" and speaking for one of their ad council videos, I've been really honored to be their spokesperson.

And encourage not only myself mentoring these children throughout my year, but other people getting involved in "Big Brothers and Big Sisters" and mentoring kids as well.

O'BRIEN: Tell me a little about -- it was your dad who went to prison and you were a teenager, right?

KAEPPELER: Right. I was a teenager. He spent one year in federal prison. I was embarrassed for something that I didn't do. You know, I was ashamed and my friends in school couldn't understand what it was like to visit my dad in jail on weekends and go back to school and act like a normal kid.

And looking back, had I not had those mentors it would have been really easy to go down a negative path. It would have been really easy to turn to peer pressure and you know, not go to school or not study or not get good grades. And that's the same for any child who has a parent in prison.

O'BRIEN: You must be able -- I assume some of the kids you are mentoring have parents who are incarcerated so you are able to really show them that you're -- let me run your PSA because I think that actually explains it better than anything. Let's play that.


KAEPPELER: Knowing that the past does not have to limit your possibilities and does not have to limit who you are or what you will become is one of the main messages that my mentor instilled in me and is something that I carry through my journey as Miss America and trying to instil in other children as well.


O'BRIEN: I love that that your past doesn't have to limit your possibilities in the future. The kids you mentor have parents also who are incarcerated.

KAEPPELER: Right. Primarily they have a parent in prison. "Big Brothers/Big Sisters," they are roughly about 25 percent of those children have a parent in prison.

But otherwise they are at-risk children. So whether they have experienced that or not, a mentor comes into their life for some kind of positive reinforcement, some kind of positive guidance, and it's been really rewarding.

That was really my main goal and this year was to let kids know that no matter their adversity, whatever their past holds, doesn't have to define them.

I certainly didn't think the girl whose parent was in prison could become Miss America and being that living proof to them has been a wonderful experience.

O'BRIEN: An interesting question asked earlier, you're talking about sort of one of the challenges for "Big Brother and Big Sister --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's tough to get people to come in and be a mentor for young kids. When a kid in a really difficult situation having a parent, one or two parents who are in prison.

KAEPPELER: Right. You know, thankfully the Big Brothers/Big Sister" organization carefully matches their bigs to littles. They have to go through a screening process and they are educated on what to do and how to help that child.

But one easy way to do it if you don't want to become a mentor, if you don't want to become a big to a little is to go to their web site and find a way to either donate your time aside from mentoring a child or financially or really just believing in the program.

I think believing that one child -- helping one child can make the difference in their life so profoundly that you have no idea. You could mentor the next president of the United States, the first doctor to cure cancer, the next Miss America.

O'BRIEN: Or just a kid who needs your help. I got an e-mail from a young woman who is now almost 35 and I was her big sister, just the other day.

KAEPPELER: And you probably had no idea the impacts that you had on her life.

O'BRIEN: It was such an incredible thing and terrifying that she is 35. That's a longer story. So great to have you. Thanks for coming in to talk to us and bringing your crown. I'm going to touch it if I can. It's beautiful. Thank you for being with us.

KAEPPELER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We got to take a short break. Still ahead this morning, the story of a stolen bike at a sting operation. We'll tell you how one man in Oregon found his bike and then caught the thief on camera. We'll talk to him and his camera crew about how they did it.

Plus, Christine O'Donnell, the former Republican Senate candidate from Delaware took to the cameras once to say I am not a witch. Well, she says she's going to make some trouble in Tampa during the Republican National Convention. Those are her own words. We're going to chat with her about that straight ahead. Back in a moment.