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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN
U.N. General Assembly Kicks Off Tomorrow in NYC; Search For Avalanche Survivors; Controversy Continues Over Nature of Attack in Libya on U.S. Consulate; Fighting for Women in Poverty
Aired September 24, 2012 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.
Our STARTING POINT this morning: world stage. U.N. week in New York City as tensions between Iran and Israel could be nearing a breaking point. Iran's leader is already being warned to tone it down. We'll talk about that.
Taking the gloves off. After a difficult week with time slipping away, Mitt Romney promises to become more aggressive against President Obama.
And they were big stars on "Ugly Betty" and "Gilmore Girls." Now, America Ferrera and Alexis Bledel are going to stop by and talk to us this morning. They're teaming up to help end poverty among women across the globe.
It's Monday, September 24th. STARTING POINT begins right now.
O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.
Our team this morning: Ron Brownstein is with us. He's the editorial director of "National Journal."
Bridget Siegel is with us as well, former presidential campaign finance director for John Kerry.
Will Cain is columnist for TheBlaze.com.
Nice to have you all with us.
Our STARTING POINT this morning: presidents, prime ministers, other heads of state, nearly 120 in all, gathering here in New York City. Heavy security for the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Session kicks off tomorrow with President Obama delivering his address.
On Wednesday, we'll hear from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he takes his turn.
He sat down for an interview in advance with Piers Morgan. He was asked about the possibility of war with Israel. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERS MORGAN, HOST, CNN'S "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Do you fear that war is imminent? Do you fear that there will be military conflict, perhaps even before the end of this year between your country and Israel?
PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): Of course, the Zionists are very much -- very adventuresome. Very much seeking to fabricate things. And I think they see themselves at the end of the line. And I do firmly believe that they seek to create new opportunities for themselves and their adventurous behaviors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Adventurous is kind of an interesting word. Iran's nuclear tension is a major concern for world leaders.
Senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth is with us this morning, CNN foreign affairs correspondent Elise Labott is with us as well. Nice to have you both. Appreciate your time.
So, let's talk about the U.N. General Assembly. Overall --
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: There won't be a lot of talking.
O'BRIEN: It's kind of what it's all about, isn't it?
So, the big focus will be the Middle East, fair to say?
ROTH: Yes. Different aspects of the Middle East -- Syria, Iran, Palestinian question. Yes.
O'BRIEN: And, of course, in the wake of what we have seen in Libya, Hillary Clinton's going to be making some comments about that, right?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right. She's going to be addressing the Clinton Global Initiative, President Clinton's operation later today. And she'll also be meeting with the president of Libya. She's going to be meeting with the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
All these countries where there have been these raging anti-American protests. So, what goes on in the halls of the U.N. is one thing. Then these kind of side meetings is really going to be where the U.S. is going to get all its business done.
O'BRIEN: When I was talking to Nick Burns earlier this morning, former ambassador to NATO, he was saying in spite of what we've been hearing in part from Piers Morgan's interview with Ahmadinejad, David Ignatius also had an interview that was kind of contradictory to what the interview with Piers Morgan had, he basically said that he thinks Ahmadinejad is in a way grasping at straws, has been losing power. What we're seeing in these interviews -- I want to play a chunk of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMB. R. NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO (2001-2005): I just don't think he's got the political power right now in Iran. He's made absolutely outrageous statements about Israel. He's not the most powerful person in his own society. That's the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.
I think he's really a defeated figure in his own country. He'll be out of office next year. He says things to get attention but they rarely make sense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Do you think that's true? Defeated figure at this stage.
ROTH: Lame duck Ahmadinejad sounds a little odd. You never know. We've seen political revivals.
But I kind of agree with that. I mean, he's not making the major calls there. That's been known for some time. But he draws all the fire, like a manager on a controversial team who tries to take the heat off the rest of the country.
O'BRIEN: Because nukes, of course, is what everybody is concerned about.
LABOTT: Well, I think this true to some extent. You know, also he makes these long, fiery speeches, and a lot of people walk out. But at the same time, I mean, he does have an audience. He's not just speaking to Iranian public.
You know, the President Mugabes of Zimbabwe of the world, or these other rogue states, a lot of nations that feel that the West and these powers on the U.N. Security Council are the ones that are calling all the international shots. She does have an audience.
And some of the things he does say with the exception of some of these Holocaust fiery speeches do resonate with some people.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The tension with the other side of this triangle, it's not just the fall in the air. That's a palpable chill between the president and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Do you think that estrangement makes it more or less likely that Israel acts unilaterally? How does it affect your calculus that the two leaders don't seem to be on the same page?
LABOTT: Well, I think that President Obama has come under a lot of criticism by Benjamin Netanyahu. That's one of the reasons he's not meeting with the prime minister. I mean, at the same time, the prime minister is criticizing him. He's not going to be sitting down and giving him an audience.
But I do think that at the end of the day, Israel's calculation is President Obama going to have my back? Is the United States going to help me out if they feel that Iran is going for a nuclear weapon or not?
He's not going to leave it to the United States, any assurances that he's going to get. He needs to know if the U.S. isn't there, that Israel has enough time to act. I think the relationship with the president, they're always up and down.
You know, President Clinton had up and down relationships --
BROWNSTEIN: (INAUDIBLE) Democratic and Republican presidents, certainly with Netanyahu.
LABOTT: But I think at the end of the day, the U.S. and Israel's interests align. So, I don't think it's really about personal is. I think about whether Israel is assured there's enough time to go after Iran.
BROWNSTEIN: Are you saying he waits for approval from the U.S.? Do you think ultimately he could not act alone?
LABOTT: I don't think he's going to wait for approval. I think he's going to act if he feels he needs to act. But at the end of the day, the United States is going to have Israel's back.
There have been war games and doomsday scenario. At the end of the day, if Iran is bombed by Israel and Iran strikes back, that's not only going to affect the United States. It's going to affect all the oil markets, everything. United States can't help but be dragged into it.
O'BRIEN: What about this entire conversation, when the president was on "60 Minutes" he talked about the noise around any decisions he would make. Some people thought specifically he was referring to what Benjamin Netanyahu was saying. Basically that's noise.
ROTH: What I see right now, Iran and Syria, and might be the U.N., it's a frustration I'm sure many viewers have, is what's the point of the U.N., and these situations have been here every year.
O'BRIEN: A lot of talk.
ROTH: The frustration is that the world powers, and this is the world we're now in, don't agree on these major, major issues. What are we headed for on Iran? What was your question?
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What's new? Exactly to your point. What's new at the U.N.?
ROTH: What's new? Well, the cafeteria is reopening today after months of renovations. From a diplomat, that's big.
LABOTT: Here's something that's new. The president of Myanmar, Thein Sein. A lot of engagement with the United States and the West. Then he's coming really kind of an informed leader. These are the time of things that make moments. Richard always does his highlights of the U.N. I think that'll be one of the big moments, when he talks about Myanmar, a lot of people know it as Burma, engaging on the world stage.
On the Syria thing, not a lot new. But when you have all of these leaders in one place talking about how they can move forward -- I mean, this way I don't get to go with Secretary Clinton to some other world capital. But they're going to be meeting here. They're going to be talking about --
O'BRIEN: Even when they're brought together to talk about Syria specifically -- not talk about all these other issues and Syria that you really don't agree and get anything done.
ROTH: The German foreign minister said we're going to try to put pressure on Syria through these meetings. Another Western diplomat said we are just an audience simply watching a tragedy unfold.
O'BRIEN: We are just listening to all of that.
LABOTT: Well, any time you're focusing attention on some of these world issues I think it gains some kind of momentum. Is there going to be any action at the end of this week? I don't think so.
O'BRIEN: Thanks for joining us. We appreciate the insight.
You can see Piers Morgan's full interview with President Ahmadinejad. That's tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
Let's get right to John Berman, for an update on some of the other stories that are making news.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Soledad.
Libya's president is ordering the breakup of all militias not authorized by the government. He's given them 48 hours to disband and pull out of their compounds. The order comes in response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Yesterday, Libyan security forces say they raided several militia sites in Tripoli.
Mitt Romney sounds like he's ready for a reboot and fight. The GOP nominee says he'll get more aggressive in the next six weeks of the race. He claims President Obama has been putting words in his mouth and he plans to put a stop to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I think that the president's campaign has focused its advertising in many cases on very inaccurate portrayals of my positions. They've been very aggressive in their attacks both on a personal basis, on a policy basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Meanwhile, the president says one of the biggest disappointments of his first four years in office is his failure to change the political climate in Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that, you know, as president, I bear responsibility for everything, to some degree. And one of the things I've realized over the last two years is that that only happens if I'm enlisting the American people much more aggressively than I did the first two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: The first presidential debate comes up next Wednesday, October 3rd, right around the corner.
BERMAN: A Chicago alderman is demanding a clarification from Chick- fil-A. Joe Moreno made headlines last week when he announced the fast food chain agreed to stop donating to anti-gay groups and was implementing workplace protections to prevent discrimination. Chick- fil-A's president confirming workplace protection has been enacted but he's denying the company has stopped financially supporting anti-gay groups.
It was all about television's best in show. The 64th primetime Emmy Awards.
CNN's Kareen Wynter is live from Los Angeles with the highlights -- Kareen.
KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John.
Well, "Homeland", one of the president's favorite shows, brought home some of the biggest awards of the night, including the top prize for best TV drama. The victory came for the show's first season and it's also the first time a series on Showtime has won for best drama or comedy for that matter.
And the awards for "Homeland", well, they did not stop there. Claire Danes who plays a CIA agent on the show, she won for best actress in a drama. Damian Lewis who stars as an ex-marine who may or may not have become an al Qaeda operative, won for best actor in a TV drama. "Homeland's" second season kicks off this coming Sunday.
It was a big night, too, for "Modern Family," that little show everybody loves. The ABC sitcom won best comedy for the third year in a row. Not a huge surprise there, John. Eric Stonestreet and Julie Bowen were also honored for their work on the show.
Jimmy Kimmel's late night show lost out in the competition for outstanding variety series "The Daily Show" again. Won that category for the tenth time. But Kimmel's getting mostly positive reviews for the job he did hosting the Emmy Awards. "Huffington Post" liked him, so did "The Hollywood Reporter" and "Entertainment Weekly". But "USA Today" panned his performance, calling him the wrong guy at the wrong place. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
A little bit about fashion. I see Soledad rocking the yellow this morning. It was a big hit on the red carpet. We had stars like Julianne Moore, Claire Danes, as well as Julie Bowen, in yellow. They were big winners last night, big winners in fashion.
O'BRIEN: Thank you, Kareen. Thank you.
BERMAN: Kareen, I'm told next season is all about the yellow. All about the yellow next season.
So, Mitt Romney's critics, whether they're wearing yellow or not, within or outside the GOP watch out. You not only have to deal with the real Ann Romney. You have to deal with her "Saturday Night Live" imitation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATE MCKINNON, ACTOR, IMPERSONATING ANN ROMNEY: Seth, I understand that Mitt and I have led a blessed life. But are we more elitists than Barack and Michelle Obama? They're friends with Jay-Z and Beyonce. Did I miss something? Is hanging out with Jay-Z and Beyonce a thing regular people do now?
SETH MEYERS, ACTOR, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: No, that's a fair point. I didn't think of that.
MCKINNON: Everyone's always saying I'm unrelatable because I had a horse in the Olympics. Let me tell you what, I would kill that horse if I could meet Beyonce.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Yes. So "Saturday Night Live" back in force this season.
O'BRIEN: I got to tell you, that is a beautiful horse. I followed that very closely.
I did. I loved that horse. Why are you laughing at me?
CAIN: What you took away from that was the horse.
O'BRIEN: Well, you know, the political jokes are funny, too. Horse, fabulous.
BROWNSTEIN: I think they miss Sarah Palin.
O'BRIEN: They need big characters to be able to spoof. I think that's been challenging.
All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: important information for your bank account today. Why you'll be paying more in overdraft fees and ATM charges. That's a bit of a bummer. We'll explain why. Also, a desperate search is on for survivors after the avalanche in one of the world's tallest moments. We have a live report on the rescue effort coming up next.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We're talking this morning about that search for -- that's ended for the day now for a number of mountain climbers who are still missing in Nepal. Eight of them killed yesterday when an avalanche hit the world's eighth highest peak near Nepal's border with China.
The trigger is believed to have been a chunk of ice, the trigger for the avalanche, chunk of ice the size of six or seven football fields. Now, most of the dead are from Europe. An American climber who was injured but alive told the filmmaker that two of his colleagues are missing, including the man with whom he shared a tent.
Sumnima Udas has the very latest developments for us this morning from Delhi. Good morning. They've called off the search right now. How are things looking?
SUMNIMA UDAS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They've called the search off for right now. They're saying the weather is getting more difficult. Obviously, it's towards the end of the day here in Nepal and India as well. But three climbers are still missing. And helicopter officials tell us right now that they have not been instructed to go back and to try to find these three missing climbers.
But the reality is, they say, that it is very difficult at this point to be able to find survivors. Remember, this happened more than 24 hours ago. We're talking about extreme temperatures, extreme altitudes. So, they don't think they will be able to find survivors at this point.
O'BRIEN: So, people have said that the climbing conditions have gotten more dangerous over the years. Why would that be?
UDAS: Well, I spoke to a few climbers earlier, and they were saying that the topography in general in the Himalayas and the Nepal, in particular, has changed. And they're actually saying it could be due to climate change. Of course, there's no way of telling for sure, but they're saying it's definitely gotten a lot warmer there.
There's a lot less ice, there's a lot less snow. So, it's harder for them to use their ice axes and to scale this mountain. They were also saying there's a lot more avalanches now. And, you know, they're not only more frequent, but also a lot larger.
O'BRIEN: The description that we heard, six or seven football fields size chunk of ice for this -- triggering this avalanche. Sumnima, thank you for that update, and certainly, we hope that they are able to rescue and save those three hikers that are still missing. We appreciate the update.
O'BRIEN: So, if you feel like your bank is nickel and diming you, probably right. I'm stunned. The fees keep going up today. Christine Romans is going to join us with what you need to know.
Also, he's trying to get President Obama re-elected, but Robert Gibbs says Mitt Romney has an advantage. We'll talk about that when we come back.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back. You're watching STARTING POINT.
Back fees -- bank fees, I mean, are rising at the very same time that you're getting pretty much no interest on your hard-earned savings. Christine Romans has got some breakdown of some new fees for us. Today's smart is the new rich.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.
O'BRIEN: This is such a bummer.
ROMANS: It is a bummer, really. And you know, the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates so low and will for some time, and that benefits borrowers, but savers are getting a really bad deal right now. Keeping your money safe in the bank is costing you more than ever.
Bankrate.com found free checking is disappearing and checking an ATM fees are rising. The average monthly fee on a non-interest checking, you guys, up 25 percent of $5.48 a month. That's a record high. And Only 39 percent of these banking accounts are free.
That's down from 76 percent in 2009. So, big change. Overdraft fees, they're up almost six bucks from ten years ago. The average today is $31.26. Don't opt into that, by the way. ATM fees, you get charged by both your bank and the ATM owner when you use an out of network ATM. The average ATM fee charge by an ATM owner is $2.50, nearly double what it was 10 years ago.
And if you use an out of network ATM, your own bank is going to charge you another on average $1.57. So, not only are you getting no interest on your savings, you're paying to use your own money. Never use an out of network ATM. Do not sign up for overdraft protection.
ROMANS: Consider joining a credit union. They are not for profit and have fewer fees, and a good resource for you to find a bank with the lowest fees, mybanktracker.com.
O'BRIEN: That's very, very Good advice.
CAIN: Taking $20 out of the out of the -- out of network ATM. That's what you end up costing.
ROMANS: It's unbelievable. Don't ever take --
CAIN: So, take $200 out.
BROWNSTEIN: The banks earn a larger share of their money through these fees than they used to.
ROMANS: They used to make -- so many of their profit came from the credit cards. And the Congress shut down some of the credit card profit machine. And so, they're moving over into the bank fees part of the business to try to replace --
O'BRIEN: May I say I'm not surprised.
O'BRIEN: And we can move on to talk about -- this is kind of an interesting thing in politics. Comment from the president's senior adviser. October 3rd, of course, marks the first three presidential debates. Robert Gibbs says advantage goes to Mitt Romney. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Look, Mitt Romney, I think, has an advantage because he's been through 20 of these debates in the primaries over the last year. He even bragged that he was declared the winner in 16 of those debates. So, I think in that sense, having been through this much more recently than President Obama, I think he starts with an advantage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So, the head shaking going on.
BERMAN: We always complain about negative campaigns, but there is nothing more devious and cynical when these guys are nice to each other.
BERMAN: It's all about setting these expectations, and they spend months and months beating each other up. Then, all of a sudden, oh my gosh, you know, Mitt Romney, he's a great debater and been saying he's bad for a long time, but boy, is he smart.
CAIN: You were involved with John Kerry on this. Look, it's not an issue so much of who's the better and innate debater, but I do buy the fact Mitt Romney's been through how many debates in the past year? Twenty, which helps.
BRIDGET SIEGEL, FMR. CAMPAIGN FINANCE DIRECTOR, KERRY 2004: -- in the past year, you get used to it, and you get in a groove of giving the direct, quick answers which we know Obama is not -- BROWNSTEIN: Yes. And you know, there's no real pattern on the impact of the debates. Some years they have mattered. I remember that first 2000, Al Gore-George W. Bush debate was very important, more in the aftermath and the signing (ph) and all that. Other years, they haven't mattered.
So, it's a real -- for Romney now, obviously, the stakes are higher for him going into this debate as the candidate who's trailing. But, you don't know. Some years it's very important, and some years you can't remember anything that happened at the debates.
ROMANS: This also had complete run-through already the Bain Capital attack, because the Republicans (INAUDIBLE) you know, sort of like laying the stage earlier this spring about his, you know, business background, whether that means he's qualified or disqualified to be president of the United States. That already happened.
O'BRIEN: There are plenty of quotes that have come out of those primary debates, right?
BROWNSTEIN: The words self-deportation coming out of his mouth in a debate in January may turn out to be an absolute -- in the end, the turning point in this campaign.
CAIN: It's not just comments or compliment to your opponent. It's interesting what Bridget just said. David Axelrod saying the president needs to learn how to speak shorter in debates.
O'BRIEN: Well, that is for sure --
BROWNSTEIN: Put him on the show.
O'BRIEN: The professor thing has to shrink.
O'BRIEN: You know they're working on that right now with his team.
All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, it's going to cost him. New England Patriots coach, Bill Belichick, like literally grabs the guy after upsetting last second loss. He's not the only one who's annoyed with the replacement refs.
CAIN: What a game for Torrey Smith last night. Amazing. Brother dies.
O'BRIEN: Awful, awful story. Yes, yes, yes. We got to take a short break. We're back in a moment.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We begin with John Berman. He's got a look at the day's top stories. Hey, John.
BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. United Nations is expected to address Syria's civil war and a potentially nuclear Iran when the general assembly meets tomorrow. 120 world leaders will be in attendance. President Obama addresses the gathering tomorrow. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks on Wednesday.
Going on to other stories, Gainsville police are searching for a University of Florida student missing since last Thursday. And 18- year-old freshman Christian Aguilar was last seen dropped off in a parking lot. Investigators suspect foul play. They say Aguilar may have been in some kind of altercation before he disappeared. And 18- year-old Pedro Bravo is a person of interest in this case.
Police in Italy are comparing the arrest of a man caught posing as a pilot to the movie "Catch Me If You Can" staring Leonardo DiCaprio. They arrested a 32-year-old man for donning a fake uniform and I.D. cards and joining a flight crew. He had a Facebook and twitter account under his pilot alias. Investigators think the man managed to sit with pilots in the cockpit during at least one flight between Munich and Turin.
It was a very emotional victory for the Baltimore Ravens over the New England patriots in Sunday night football. Ravens sever Torrey Smith caught two touchdown passes one night after his younger brother was killed in a motorcycle accident. He helped the ravens win, 31-30. It happened on a disputed last second 27-yard field goal by Justin Tucker. The win was all too much for Patriots coach Bill Belichick to bear. He angrily grabbed one of the replacement officials, arguing that Tucker's winning field goal was wide. It looked wide to me. To no avail, though. Belichick is expected to be fined by the league for his actions. You really just can't touch a ref even when you're right, Soledad.
O'BRIEN: As a completely unbiased Patriots fan watching the game, you think Bill Belichick is right. All right, John, thank you. Appreciate it.
Some increasing confusion about exactly what happened in that attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. Still some disagreement about whether it was preplanned attack. Here's Congressman Mike Rogers. He's the chairman of the house intelligence committee. He was talking yesterday on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE ROGERS, (R) MICHIGAN: It was clearly designed to be an attack. What's so egregious about this is that -- why every American should be offended, this isn't about George Bush or Barack Obama. It's not about Republicans. It's not about Democrats. They targeted and killed the face of the United States of America, a U.S. ambassador. And three embassy employees who were there dedicated to doing the work of the United States of America. This is as serious event as I have ever seen. It's been confusing to try to follow where the administration has been.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: On Friday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: What happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack and we will not rest until we have tracked down and brought to justice the terrorists who murdered four Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: The administration has also said it was not a preplanned attack. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Based on the information that we had at the time and have to this day, we do not have evidence that it was premeditated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Fran Townsend is CNN's national security contributor. She's a member of the CIA external advisory committee. She visited Libya last month. Mark Whitaker is with us as well. He's the executive vice president managing editor of CNN. Let's talk a little bit about how this story developed, and some of what we now know about what was happening in Libya comes from Ambassador Stevens' Diary. Why don't you walk me through, mark, how CNN got access to this diary.
MARK WHITAKER, CNN EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT MANAGING EDITOR: Well, three days after the attack, Arwa Damon, our correspondent on the ground, gained access to the mission. Which was, you know, had been evacuated. And found while she was there a journal. And, of course, she didn't know what it was. But then when she looked at it, it became clear that it was writings from ambassador Stevens. And after she notified us here in Atlanta and here in New York about it, we had discussions about what we should do with it. We immediately determined that this was his personal property. And that what we had to do was first approach his family and find out if they wanted it back.
O'BRIEN: It became clear at some point there was some news value to what he had written in this journal. It was a relatively new journal and relatively short. When did you determine that, and what was done?
WHITAKER: Once we contacted the family, they confirmed that they did want it back. We made arrangements through the State Department to get it back to them as quickly as possible. We also talked to them about what we could report, because we thought that, you know, there were legitimate -- there were a lot of newsworthy issues that were raised specifically on the issue of what the ambassador thought about possible terror threats and the fact that he might actually be a target of Al Qaeda.
State Department officials got involved in the middle of all of this. But when we talked directly to the family, their main concern was they wanted the physical journal back and they didn't want personal details from the journal revealed. We felt we had to respect that, and as a result we didn't immediately report on the existence of the journal or any of those details.
However, we thought there was a legitimate national interest in pursuing this question of the possible terror threat. And, therefore, we continued to report over the following days and got extra sources about the ambassador's thinking and other evidence of a security threat. And then last Wednesday, we did a report on "Anderson Cooper 360" in which we laid out all the evidence we had purely on the national security issue, which we thought was the only thing that we were interested in pursuing. And we did not at that point divulge that some of this came directly from the journal out of respect for the family.
O'BRIEN: Eventually it leaked to the media that there was a journal. And then conversations about the journal happened. The State Department put out a scathing statement "Given the truth of how this was handled. CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting," is what they called it. "What they're not owning up to is reading and transcribing Chris's diary or bothering to tell the family or anyone else they took it from the site of the attack. When they finally did tell them ignored the wishes of a family and broke their pledge made to them hour after they witnessed the return to the United States of Chris's remains."
This is Philip Ryan, he has been kind of furious back and forth about this in a very public way. There are some people who say part of the reason this is getting so angry is because it's raising the questions that are in this diary and highlighted by some of the reporting, which is was the ambassador aptly protected security-wise? Did he have concerns about his security and any kind of Al Qaeda threat?
FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Let's go back, Soledad. What's lost in sort of the hyperventilating is the fact that at the time when this was -- this news first broke about the ambassador's concern about an Al Qaeda hit list, the fact is the state department -- we didn't know yet, the government had not acknowledged, that it was a terrorist attack, right?
So this was an indication. We had information and an obligation to report it to the public that we had information quite the contrary, that at least in the ambassador's mind there was a very distinct terror threat directed at him.
So you can quibble with whether or not we reported it or how and when we went about reporting it. But the fact of the matter is, look, in all my time in government, there are -- there are a handful, very rarely, where the government will make an argument to a news organization that there's an overriding national security interest to withhold something. That's not what the government argued here. The government suddenly became the champion of the family.
The answer is we didn't need -- CNN didn't need the government to get involved in that. In fact, we have a free press. CNN negotiated, had a conversation with the family, respected the obligation to keep out personal details and only report what it was obligated and newsworthy to report. The fact that the government wants to stand as the moral arbiter of this, frankly, offends me.
O'BRIEN: From an ethics of journalism perspective, the family says we're not interested in having the journal put on television.
WHITAKER: Soledad, this is an issue we wrestle with all the time in journalism. How do you balance concerns for privacy against the public interest in learning information that is of vital national interest?
And when you look at everything we did at every step, that is exactly the balance that we tried to strike. We felt we had an obligation to the family not to talk about the journal or about personal details from the journal. On the other hand, we had not only the right, but I think, as Fran said, the obligation to continue to look into this issue of whether there were terror threats in advance, what not only ambassador Stevens but Washington, the State Department, others in the administration might have known about it, why they after the fact seemed to suggest that it wasn't a terror attack and then later only changed their story after our reporting came out, and the questions, all the questions that raised about whether ambassador Stevens and other U.S. personnel were given adequate protection before the attack.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What's the answer to Mark's question? Why has the state department, why has the government been so proactive in first saying this was a spontaneous terrorist attack, or spontaneous attack, then move to terrorism? Every step of the way, whether or not Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, now how aggressively they're going after this diary, there seems to be a concerted effort to say this was not a preplanned attack. What was their motivation?
TOWNSEND: I don't presume to be in their minds. Let's be honest. If it turns out there was advanced indication indicating there was a serious terror threat against the Benghazi consulate or the ambassador personally, then the security situation, the security that they provided both the establishment, the consulate, and the ambassador, was wholly inadequate. And the accountability for that will rest squarely on the state department from the secretary of state down.
O'BRIEN: You visited with him. Did he have a lot of security?
WHITAKER: I will tell you, Soledad, I was in Tripoli. I was concerned about militia presence, myself having been stopped -- my car having been stopped by a militia. When the ambassador arrived at my hotel on the morning of August 29th for breakfast, he had no visible security. He got out of an armored car, walked in. He did not have a single person with him. I raised it with him.
O'BRIEN: What did he say?
TOWNSEND: He was one of these, as we reported, roll up your sleeves kind of guy. He wasn't concerned. He thought the security situation, at least what his indication to me was, was that it was going to take time, eventually it would settle down. O'BRIEN: Fran Townsend and Mark Whitaker, thank you for coming in to talk to us about this issue.
We have to take a short break. Still ahead on STARTING POINT, they are two of Hollywood's hottest young actresses trying to make a difference in the world with their fight to end poverty for women. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.
BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone.
And the headlines we're looking at this morning, we know about the dangers of texting and driving. But now the number of teenagers getting hurt while just walking around is on the rise. The number of pedestrian injuries among 16 to 19-year-olds is up 25 percent in recent years. Experts with Safe Kids Worldwide blame texting for the increase. Also, you know, when you do it you look really dumb.
Firefighters in southern California are trying to contain a fast moving wildfire that broke out on Sunday afternoon. So far 1,700 acres have burned. And the flames have swallowed up four homes so far. Mandatory evacuations are in place.
He's not exactly a household name. But now he's rich. Brian Snedeker is a name to be reckoned with as of now in the golf world. He captured the tour championship yesterday and FedEx Cup and more than $11 million. That is the biggest payday in golf.
O'BRIEN: That's a lot of golf lessons his parents invested in over his lifetime finally paying off.
BERMAN: It's a lot of money.
O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks, I appreciate it.
Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT they starred together in the big screen hit "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." America Ferrera and Alexis Bledel are going to join us to talk about a new sisterhood that they're fighting to help.
You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.
ONE, the anti-poverty group that was started by Bono is launching a new initiative. The goal is to raise awareness of programs that help women and children in developing countries.
This past August, actress America Ferrera best known for her role in "Ugly Betty" and Alexis Bledel from the "Gilmore Girls" traveled with ONE to Honduras to see how these programs can help women escape extreme poverty. Here is a little bit of what they saw.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMERICA FERRERA, ACTRESS: I think it's the same in this country as it is in every other developing country. It's poverty that's the biggest foe.
ALEXIS BLEDEL, ACTRESS: I feel that way when I've been in Mali. I feel that way when I've been in India. This could be any of us at any given time.
We're here primarily to see what can be done to strengthen the position of women within the community because everything they do strengthens the infrastructure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Nice to have you both with us this morning. How did you both get involved with ONE and specifically with this work focusing on women?
FERRERA: Well I've been involved with development work focusing around women. But I was very much attracted to the ONE campaign because they're about using -- leveraging your voice, not your money. That's why I came to the organization. And when I knew that they were interested in focusing in on -- on issues surrounding women and girls and also when they were interested in traveling to Latin America, which I really wanted to focus on.
O'BRIEN: You speak Spanish fluently. You, Alexis, speak Spanish fluently as well.
O'BRIEN: Tell me a little bit about what you saw when you were in Honduras, especially among -- among women and children.
BLEDEL: Well, we saw a lot of incredible programs that are funded by the U.S. government. Like Feed the Future. And GAVI who provides things like immunizations and programs that teach women how to create sustainable communities by learning new methods of farming and growing healthy food for their children.
So a lot -- we -- we saw a lot of programs that are doing incredible things that just need to be -- to have continued funding. To -- to be supported.
BROWNSTEIN: So -- so a central part of ONE's focus has always been building a domestic constituency for foreign aid. So what do you do to take the message of the programs you've seen back at home?
FERRERA: Well, I think that, you know, the video, the -- the social interaction is a -- is a big tool for us these days. Being able to -- we also went with Claire Diaz Ortiz from Twitter. And she's sort of our resident social networking expert on the trip helping us figure a way to really get this message across to our generation and also connecting the stories of young women around the world to the women here at home. BLEDEL: Yes.
O'BRIEN: I find it so interesting that people have come to the realization that if you invest in girls and you invest in women you can really change a community.
FERRERA: We saw that firsthand. I mean, just giving women -- giving mothers the tools to fortify tortillas with better vitamins made the children's development stronger. It cut stunting. It made boys and girls more alert and better in the classroom so that they could learn better. And then giving those women the tools to learn how to farm new crops on their land, it helped their boys and their girls.
And it improved everything from education to economy in their community. And it was -- and it wasn't just helping the women and the girls. It was lifting up the entire community.
O'BRIEN: What do you tell people who are here at home and they say, ok, I'm in. You're doing amazing work. I'm obviously not going to go to Honduras or I can't get on a plane. I'm a college student. Or I'm starting new in a job, 20-something. How do they help? How do they get in?
BLEDEL: Well ONE really operates off the support of its members. And it's really easy to become a member. You just go to ONE.org and you sign up. And the way that you support them is not really by making donations or anything like that, it's just by lending your voice. Making your voice heard in support.
So you can, you know, sign petitions and you can Twitter politicians and you can just -- you know, support the campaign that way.
CAIN: How long was your trip? To Honduras and -- and Latin America?
FERRERA: We were in Honduras for about a week.
CAIN: Were you guys good friends before you went?
O'BRIEN: They've been together.
BLEDEL: We've been friends for a while.
And we both -- we sat down at dinner one night and just decided that, you know, we had a lot of similar goals in terms of this kind of work. We wanted to do something in Latin America. We wanted to do something for women.
BROWNSTEIN: So -- so the hardest question, when everything is squeezed domestically, what's the case for continuing to invest in programs that are affecting Honduras or other questions right --
O'BRIEN: There must people who say why not work here in New York or work in Philly or work in L.A.?
BROWNSTEIN: Right, right, yes.
FERRERA: Well, it's all important. But I think what a lot of people don't understand is that the -- that -- foreign aid is actually less than one percent of the U.S. budget. So it's actually -- we're talking about very little bit of the money that we're -- we're putting out there for the rest of the world.
And you know, other than the humanitarian, you know, obligation to kind of care for your fellow man, you know, there's a -- there's a lot of strategic and you know, political reasons to -- to be made and especially when you're talking about Latin America the proximity of those countries. And then the millions of people like me who are Americans who have -- who have roots in -- in Latin America.
O'BRIEN: Both of you, really. Congratulations on your amazing work.
O'BRIEN: It's so great that in between making movies and doing shows you can squeeze in travel and really be tremendous humanitarians. Thank you for talking with us.
O'BRIEN: We appreciate it.
FERRERA: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: We got to take a short break. "End Point" is up next. We're back in a moment.
O'BRIEN: In the few seconds we have left for the "End Point", let's talk about the debates.
O'BRIEN: They're going to be critical according to some people. So the preparation who does it favor do you think?
BERMAN: We don't know how much President Obama is preparing. It's one of the great mysteries out there. We've seen Mitt Romney camp bringing Rob Portman around the country doing mock debate, after mock debate, after mock debate. Romney did it during the Democratic National Convention. We don't know what President Obama is really doing.
BRIDGET SIEGEL: He's there. He's -- I think he's doing a lot of debate prep. They have John Kerry playing Mitt Romney. and I think --
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, yes.
CAIN: I think that wow, John Kerry? John had some questions. You think that's a good idea?
BERMAN: You know --
SIEGEL: I think it's a great idea.
BROWNSTEIN: I think the most important thing that Mitt Romney is going to be doing at the debate prep has to be in public. I think he has to frame the terms of this debate before October 3rd. That's a long way away. September has been kind of a September to forget for him. I think he needs to begin changing the dynamic of this race before then.
O'BRIEN: I'm sure we'll be talking more about it all this week.
Coming up tomorrow on "STARTING POINT" New York Giants star wide receiver, Victor Cruz is going to join us; and director and actress Penny Marshall. She's got a memoir out. We'll talk to her as well.
"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.
I'll see everybody back here tomorrow morning. Hey Carol, good morning.