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Presidential Candidates Prepare for Debate; American Airlines Planes Suffer from Loose Seats; New NFL Uniforms Tighter; It's Debate Night!; Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Blocked; Obama Administration's Prison Purchase; CDC: Teen Drinking And Driving Rates Cut In Half

Aired October 3, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our "Starting Point" -- it's fight night. President Obama will have the first word; Mitt Romney, the last word. But voters across the country get the final word. Will tonight's first presidential debate alter the direction of the presidential race?

More loose seats reported on American Airlines flights. Dozens of planes grounded and being evaluated. Now, the airline says they found the problem.

Plus, terrifying video. A Boeing 727 crashing in the desert on purpose. An experiment to see who survive. The secrets of airplane safety ahead this morning.

Joining us live, Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, Romney senior adviser Barbara Comstock, and top debate coach Brett O'Donnell. It's Wednesday, October 3, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Hi, everybody. Welcome. Our STARTING POINT this morning, 14 hours and counting until President Obama and Mitt Romney face off in the first of three critical debates. A brand new CNN poll has the president clinging to a three point lead with just over a month remaining until election day. CNN's Dan Lothian is live for us in Denver this morning. I guess it's go time, Dan. So what are you hearing from both camps.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First of all, Soledad, this is the most time these two candidates will have ever spent interacting with each other. They realize the importance of this big debate. And so that's why they've been preparing with their debate camps.

They will be focusing broadly on all voters, but in particular undecided voters who after hearing all the convention speeches and seeing the television ads are still trying to make up their minds. For the president that means talking about the economy, how things are still difficult but the economy is in a much better place and heading in a much better direction.

For Mitt Romney it will be talking about the president's failed promises and perhaps a preview of that we saw yesterday with the help of Vice President Biden while he was out on the campaign trail. He was describing how middle class Americans will be hurt under Mitt Romney. And then he sort of put -- framed their plight over the last four years this way.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: This is deadly earnest. How they can justify, how they can justify raising taxes on the middle class has been buried the last four years, how in lord's name can they justify raising taxes with these tax cuts?

PAUL RYAN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vice President Biden just today said that the middle class over the last four years has been, quote, "buried." We agree. That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney the next president of the United States. Of course the middle class has been buried. They're being buried by regulations. They're being buried by taxes. They're being buried by borrowing. They're being buried by the Obama administration's economic failures.


LOTHIAN: The Romney campaign put together a conference call to draw attention, more focus to the comments by the vice president. The Obama campaign pushed back saying this was just another act of desperation and that what the vice president was talking about were situations or a climate that was put in place by the failed policies of the former administration.

But I'll tell you what, at the very next event during his remarks, the vice president did touch on the same subject but left out the word buried. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Dan, walk us through the logistics of tonight. How's it going to run?

LOTHIAN: Right. Well, first of all, it will focus on the domestic policies, focus on the economy, on health care, on the role of government. It will be a 90-minute debate, six segments of 15 minutes each of one main question per segment and two minutes to answer the question. The rest of the time will be for discussions. That's where we can expect some fireworks, perhaps. And in the audience will be VIPs, people whose campaigns have invited. Both candidates will try not to make any mistakes.

O'BRIEN: You think? You think that's what they're going to do. Dan Lothian joins us this morning, thanks. Appreciate it.

Other stories making news, believe it or not besides the debate, John Berman has that with us. Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: American Airlines is going to inspect 47 of its Boeing 757s after seats came loose in flight on two of its planes within days of each other. They checked 36 planes so far, six had seats not properly secured. American says not all of the seats were loose but they potentially could loosen. They say improperly installed clamps caused the problem. Twice on Tuesday Vice President Joe Biden's plane had to abort original landing plans. Last night Air Force 2 couldn't touch down at Joint Base Andrews because of fog. Earlier in the day Air Force 2 was forced to abort its initial landing in North Carolina because of thunderstorms.

A rare form of meningitis has killed two people in Tennessee. Health officials investigating the case say both of them received steroid injections. There are 14 victims in all, 13 of them in Tennessee, and one in an undisclosed state. The disease is not contagious but investigators are trying to figure out what happened, as you can imagine.

Former Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueary has filed a whistleblower suit against the university. McQueary claims he was the only assistant football coach not invited to interview under new Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien. McQueary was a key prosecution witness in the Sandusky case, who testified he saw Sandusky in a shower with a young boy.

Talk about second chances. I love this story. In Miami last night Adam Greenberg, who was drilled with a fastball in his only major league plate appearance seven years ago, he came back for an at-bat, the at-bat he always wanted. Greenberg signed a one-day contract with the Marlins before last night's game. He struck out on three pitches, but who cares? No matter what Greenberg says it was a magical appearance and one official at-bat, which means he gets credit for playing a game in a big league, which is a dream of kids all across the country.

You have to see this is video. Play hard, celebrate harder, right? Take a look at this. A hockey playing in junior league in New Jersey scores a goal. To celebrate, he jumped into the glass and goes right through it. Watch it again. Man. There it was again there. Luckily, he was wearing all that padding. It protected him. Believe it or not, he's fine, walked away, doing well. You see the black shattered --


O'BRIEN: Oh, my. He doesn't look like he's moving all that fast. It looks like a slow skate-up. Thanks, John. Appreciate it.

Back to our starting point this morning. Tonight is debate night between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Here is a live look at debate hall at university of Denver. We'll again with our debate expert, Brett O'Donnell of O'Donnell and associates, he advised Mr. Romney earlier this year, coached him in what was considered to be his most successful debate in the primary in the state of Florida.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't make accusations somewhere else they weren't willing to defend here?


O'BRIEN: Nice to see you again. Not to have you next to us in the studio but great to see you.


O'BRIEN: Let's walk through what we can expect tonight. I know you're not coaching either candidate. What would your advice be? Mitt Romney must do what and not do what? President Obama must do what and not do what?

O'DONNELL: Sure. Governor Romney has to make the debate about the president's economic policies and he has to connect those to the economic conditions we're in now. Right now, people believe the economy is bad, but they're not blaming the president for it. Tonight Governor Romney, standing face-to-face with President Obama, has to connect those two things. He can't get defensive.

The president, on the other hand, has to deflect from that. He has to make the debate about the choice between himself and Governor Romney and press him about specifics. Try to make the argument that the -- that Governor Romney's policies would take us off of a path of recovery we might be on right now. And he can't get defensive as well. Both men, when they get into the defensive posture, tend not to do very well in debates.

O'BRIEN: What do you think is the most treacherous ground for each of them? What is the thing often -- I'm sure you've studied a zillion hours of debate tapes. What triggers debates in both of them?

O'DONNELL: When both get on defense, when they have to defend positions they're uncomfortable with, they tend to get defensive. That's what caused the $10,000 bet with Governor Romney and that what caused the moment where President Obama, then Senator Obama, told Hillary she was likeable enough. I think both of them when put on their heels tend to make mistakes.

O'BRIEN: Let's play a clip of that from the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama debate.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He's very likeable. I agree with that. I don't think I'm that bad.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're likeable enough, Hillary.


CLINTON: Thank you very much.


O'BRIEN: So, realistically, what is the impact -- how as a debate pepper do you help someone navigate those moments that just happen as the debate unfolds?

O'DONNELL: It's through extensive preparation. You know, the one thing that you can't compensate for is the lack of practice. So both men, I'm sure, have been working extensively to prepare for these moments. You know, the big thing is, to take them through every even eventuality as much as possible and also get them mentally prepared. I think it's those mental lapses when they're not focused. Keep them focused through the entire 90 minutes. The mental lapses cause mistakes like that.

O'BRIEN: We've heard governor Romney is practicing zingers. We've been told by the Obama campaign they're going to focus more on stance. Can you practice zingers? Whenever I hear someone say they're going to practice that moment, it feels -- isn't the whole point of a moment to be a real moment?

O'DONNELL: Yes, I think so. I'm not sure that, you know, that's actually the case. I can't imagine Governor Romney going up and doing a comedy routine. My guess is they've been working substance. Senator Portman's an excellent sparring partner and will focus him on substance. He'll have him ready tonight.

The thing you have to do in the debate -- that's what the first line you played from Mitt Romney, is crystallize and capture the mind of the audience and press though one moment. That line he was able to successfully deliver disarmed Newt Gingrich over the issue of taxes and releasing taxes and transparency. That's what Governor Romney is, I'm sure, working on tonight, and the president as well, finding a moment where they can crystallize the debate into one line and capture the imagination of the press and the audience.

O'BRIEN: Brett O'Donnell, always nice to talk to you. We'll talk on the other side of the debate. Appreciate your time.

You're going to be doing fact-checking at the debate.

BERMAN: A rapid response fact check on both candidates what they say, we'll check it. If the campaign is any indication, it will be quite busy.

O'BRIEN: I bet you will be.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: More than the stump speech stuff. We've heard so much about the economy in the stump speech. Where there be real moments? If you're practicing, practicing, what are the real moments we'll get to see?

BERMAN: You just had Brett O'Donnell, what's fascinating he was a key player in preparing Mitt Romney in a couple of debates where he did very, very well in the primary, maybe saved his candidacy --

O'BRIEN: South Carolina was a little bit disaster and he came in at that point and then he made Florida really, many people thought that was the high-water mark for his debating.

BERMAN: He's not involved with Mitt Romney now. That's interesting to me.

O'BRIEN: We've had him on the show since then talking about that. That was an interesting story after that. Some people felt he took too much credit for the debate prep. You know what I think is interesting in this whole thing is, how do you navigate the preparation, being over-prepared, zingers that don't zing, sounding too sound-bitey and not substance --

BERMAN: George Bush in 2000, one thing he did on debate day, he got a massage. All the time before cramming, he would relax --

ROMANS: Maybe you should get a massage.

O'BRIEN: You can watch complete coverage and analysis, along with the fact-checking of the candidates, right here on CNN and All starts at 7:00 p.m. eastern.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, 300-pound NFL stars, they say the new uniforms maybe them feel tubby and fat. It's our Get Real this morning.

ROMANS: The housing market, you guys, it might be finally recovering here. Why bald is beautiful. That's right, bald is beautiful in the business world. You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans. U.S. futures basically unchanged right now. Stocks are not that far from five-year highs. Weak economic data from China but we're waiting for Friday's big jobs report. Economists surveyed by CNN Money expect 110,000 jobs were added in September, the jobless rate likely steady at 8.1 percent.

More evidence the housing market is turning a corner. New data from Core Logic show home prices are rising faster than expected. Home prices were up 4.6 percent in August compared with a year ago. The majority of economists surveyed by CNN analysts say home prices have already turned higher or will turn higher later this year. That is an improvement from just three months ago when only half thought this would happen sometime in 2013.

Guys, gentlemen, listen up. If you're up for a promotion, you might want to consider a power buzz. A recent study by the Wharton School in Pennsylvania found men with shaved heads are perceived to be more masculine and dominant and in some cases better leaders. In one test they were perceived about an inch taller and 13 percent stronger than same-sized men with hair.

O'BRIEN: If I were a man --

BERMAN: That is false.

ROMANS: Balderdash, he says.

BERMAN: I'm fact-checking the debate, and I say that's false. O'BRIEN: They are 13 percent stronger and handsomer and all those other things. He'll come in tomorrow with a shiny Michael Jordan haircut.


ROMANS: Ali Velshi commissioned that study.

O'BRIEN: Imagine you're on a plane, you're strapped in, and your seat starts wobbling and comes loose. American Airlines is inspecting Boeing 757s as seats came loose on two planes. They've taken a look at 36 planes. Six planes had seats not properly secured. American says not all seats were loose but they had the potential they could loosen. The airline is blaming improperly installed clamps.

That brings us to George Howell, following developments on that story from Atlanta. Good morning.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, good morning. You described it. For passengers on these flights it came down to this. You start the flight in one row of seats. By the time the plane takes off and lands, you find yourself on the row back behind you. Now, no passengers were injured on these flights but, no doubt, it is bad PR for this already struggling airline, not to mention the safety issues, issues that American Airlines promises to fix.


HOWELL: It's happened on three separate flights with passengers on board, twice on the same plane. Entire rows of seats came loose on American airlines 757s. And according to this passenger, who did not want to be identified --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The seats flipped backwards. It was actually a complete nightmare. And so people were essentially on the laps of the passengers behind them.

HOWELL: American Airlines says the root cause of the problem came down to clamps that were installed backwards. It's the latest in a series of setbacks for the airline, which filed for bankruptcy nearly a year ago and has been battling recently with its major unions over contract terms. The union points the finger to outsourced maintenance work as the reason for the problem. David Campbell with American Airlines says crews are getting to the bottom of it.

DAVID CAMPBELL, VICE PRESIDENT OF SAFETY, AMERICAN AIRLINES: The guys who work every single day, engineers, tech crew chiefs, who have gone in, they believe -- they've determined what they believe is the -- is a potential failure. But beyond the failure, we're focusing our attention on making sure they're properly installed.

HOWELL: The problem prompted an inspection on nearly half of American Airlines' 757s, seats were first pulled out and reinstalled in a plan to give passengers more leg room. Workers have already inspected 36 planes have been inspected, with 11 yet to be inspected. They discovered a total of six planes with the same problem. Campbell dismissed the idea that the loose seats could somehow be linked to the ongoing labor dispute.

CAMPBELL: I have a difficult time believing that it was sabotage. I just don't believe it is.

HOWELL: As American Airlines promises to fix the problem, many passengers we spoke with say that while the issue with loose seats is troubling, it doesn't necessarily shake their confidence in the airline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems kind of trivial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a frequent flier, so it's -- it would be hard to change. I would have to look into that to see if they took care of it.

HOWELL: Instead, passengers say it's the flight delays and cancellations. About 12,000 flights delayed just in the past month and more than 1,000 flights canceled, that could make loyal customers like Carl Geuther think twice.

CARL GEUTHER, CUSTOMER: If the current labor process drags on and current flight delays, that could change my mind.


HOWELL: I want to point out interesting timing here. Just as American Airlines came forward, front and center on this story, we got word the pilots union agreed to resume contract negotiations with the airline. American Airlines says, it is committed to work with the APA, the airline association, to find a solution that works for everyone. A bit of good news after this story broke.

O'BRIEN: After a string of really tough news for American airlines. George Howell for us updating.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, everybody says, does this make me look fat? It might surprise you some of the bigger, and I mean bigger, 300-pounder defensive linemen in the NFL are complaining that they are the victims of a fashion change. We'll explain in our Get Real. The STARTING POINT team is heading in to talk about that and much more. Will Cain is with us, Roland Martin will join us in a second, and Michael Crowley is our guest. We're back in just a moment.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. A rash of burglaries plaguing lawmakers on Capitol Hill. At least five members of Congress have reported break-ins at their office since April. The latest victim, North Carolina Congressman Mike McIntyre. Police say between August 3rd and September 11th someone broke into his office and stole two bottles of scotch, three presidential Easter eggs, two bottles of cologne and $1,000 worth of cuff links. He likes to dress well and smell nice, that's the news I take out of that.

In space no one can hear you scream, but no one ever said anything about singing.




BERMAN: That sound is apparently the planet earth. NASA says the chorus is called by plasma waves in earth's radiation belts. Earth sings very nicely, it turns out, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: It just sounds weird.

BERMAN: You don't like earth's singing voice?

O'BRIEN: I don't know I believe it. It sounds weird.


O'BRIEN: Our team this morning, Michael Crowley, deputy Washington bureau chief from "TIME" magazine, Roland Martin, host of "Washington Watch with Roland Martin," and Will Cain is a columnist with

Our Get Real this morning, this may be my favorite story of the entire day. The 300-pound men on the football field, those who knock over opponents with their sheer size, starting guards and linesman also, though, thinks they're fashion victims. The NFL changed jerseys from reebok, a more generous cut, to Nike, with a more body-contour fit, shows off your physique if you're Tom Brady or Reggie Bush but not so great if you're 300-pounder, such as Alex Boone, who weighs 300 plus pounds, says he hates the jerseys. He says it makes him look fat and have love handles. He said, my wife says, "It makes you look like you ate a small baby."

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm glad did you this story. I was at the Houston Texan game on Sunday and I was sitting there going, that jersey look a little tight. I was going -- -- you're absolutely right. All the linemen, they look crazy compared to the other jerseys where the numbers are much larger.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I would never call one of these linemen fat to their face.

MARTIN: Good move.

CAIN: If you're 375 pounds, which some of these guys are, I'm not sure it's the jersey.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We were under a misconception before that you were actually in the shape of Andre Johnson.


MARTIN: It's not just the linemen. Some line backers, 240, I've heard some complaining as well the numbers are bunched up to their chest versus a full look.

O'BRIEN: You're wearing them now, tell me, do you feel --

CAIN: They used to call them girdles but now they call them Spanx.

MARTIN: First of all, give these big guys a shot, all you slim fit --

CAIN: Thank you.

MARTIN: I was working the good looking look. Bottom line, I'm with these fellows. Nike, you need to do better because the bunched number doesn't work.

O'BRIEN: Nike says they make a lot of different sizes. Maybe people should move up a size.

MARTIN: Tell that to the coach.

CAIN: You can have the numbers up around your neck.

O'BRIEN: I do feel sorry for them.

CROWLEY: If you're a 400-pound pro football lineman, don't be self- conscious, just win the Super Bowl.

O'BRIEN: Tell us what you think about this story or other stories this morning. Send us a quick video, 20 seconds total, calling it my endpoint, go to

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a woman goes surfing but not on a board. Now she could pay for it.

Plus a TV anchor is told by a viewer she's too big to be a good role model for girls, so she fights back in a video that goes viral.

And Mitt Romney is under pressure to score a debate win against President Obama. Is he going to come out the strong and likeable type? We're going to talk to one of his strongest supporters straight ahead this morning. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Tonight, it is a primetime showdown a debate coach is calling perhaps the most consequential in American history when President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney meet in Denver in a hall.

That hall right there, in fact, in less than 14 hours, they'll be focusing on domestic policy and the economy. It's happening as a brand new CNN poll of polls shows the president maintaining a three- point lead with barely a month to go in the race.

Joining us this morning is Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz from the great state of Utah. He is also a Romney campaign surrogate. It's nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us as always. How are you feeling tonight?


O'BRIEN: When is the last time you spoke to Mitt Romney, Governor Romney, the candidate, and how is he doing?

CHAFFETZ: I got to spend a little time with him last week. I haven't seen him today, but I have been with him during the primary season before debates.

You know, when you spend that hour sitting in the holding room, it's interesting to see how they reacted. Mitt Romney's a real cool character. He's just kind of loosy goose.

You know, 15, 16 people sitting in the room, just chatting about various things. I think it will probably be very similar tonight.

O'BRIEN: Let's run through what some of the morning papers, op-eds, especially conservative feedback has been. Ross Douthat, he wrote an op-ed in the "New York Times" and he says this, "The assumption the wealthy Republican candidate is inevitably a candidate for the wealthy as well is a big part of what's been killing Romney's campaign.

Because of the president's advantages with minority voters and young voters, Romney has always needed to perform well with economically anxious whites and above all with non-college educated white voters across the Midwest instead he's under-performing. How does he tonight turn that around?

CHAFFETZ: Well, this is really one of the very first times that he gets in an unfettered way to be able to explain that he's not there to try to do what that gentleman suggests, but he is there to create opportunity and move the entire country forward.

That's why he's running. I've been to more than 100 events with him in small private settings, in bigger halls. I have to tell you, he does connect with people. He does have a vision for this country. He is about competency and about making this country move forward on the economics of this country and getting people back to work.

That's what I think he'll be able to share against the president in a way sharing a vision for the country and also, you know, challenging the president's record.

O'BRIEN: George Will in "The Washington Post" has this op-ed, and essentially he says he thinks President Obama is ahead because he's black. He says instead the nation, which is generally reluctant to declare a president a failure.

Thereby admitting that it made a mistake in choosing him seems especially reluctant to give up on the first African-American president, if so the 2012 election speaks well of the nation's heart if not its head.

Do you agree with that? It seems to me he's saying President Obama is ahead because he's black. That's given him a great advantage. CHAFFETZ: I wouldn't say that. I have the greatest respect for George Will and the way he writes things is very eloquent. I wouldn't say that. I think what Mitt Romney needs to do is show that he's presidential.

I think people want a change. I think the country knows that it's off track. If you have to list out what he has to accomplish tonight, he needs to show that he's presidential. Much like what Ronald Reagan was doing with Jimmy Carter.

When he actually stood up on that stage and you got to see the two gentlemen side by side then you started to recognize, well, I think this person could be the president. Maybe he should be the president.

So I don't think Mitt Romney has to, quote/unquote, "win this debate." He just needs to show that he's presidential, show he's compassionate and I think that will shine through tonight. I really do.

O'BRIEN: I would think though what you're sort of laying out is a bunch of contradictions, right? You have to be aggressive, but also presidential. You have to be humble, but make sure that everyone can understand the respect for your -- I mean, that, Will Cain, is a huge challenge.

CAIN: You know, I think Mitt Romney has a tight rope to walk. I would ask the congressman, how do you do it? Because we know this, one of the major currencies in this debate is likability.

Winning these debates have been the lost and they've actually impacted presidential elections, 1960 with Richard Nixon or 2000 with Al Gore. What those candidates lost on was likability.

So how do you take an aggressive tone? How do you go after the president on his record without coming off course? How do you be the likeable guy?

CHAFFETZ: Yes. Well, Mitt Romney just needs to be Mitt Romney. I don't think that's a contradiction, but I do think it is somewhat of a tight rope. You have to find the right and proper balance. Now, Mitt Romney went through 19 debates in the primary season.

And going through that, you know, people said, he had trouble connecting. I didn't buy that at all. He connected better than anybody else. So I think he does do that. If Mitt's just Mitt, he's going to just fine.

O'BRIEN: It's always nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.

CHAFFETZ: Thanks, Soledad. Appreciate it.

O'BRIEN: You bet. At the top of the hour, we're going to talk to Stephanie Cutter. She is the deputy manager for the Obama campaign. She'll be joining us.

You can watch complete coverage and analysis, of course, of the first presidential debate, which starts here tonight, 7 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN and

Other stories making news, and John Berman has those for us. Good morning.

BERMAN: Some other campaign news this morning. Victory this morning for opponents of Pennsylvania's new voter identification law. A judge has temporarily blocked a key component of this law.

Voters will not have to show a state-approved photo ID in order to cast a ballot in next month's presidential election. Supporters of the law say it's designed to prevent fraud at the polls. Opponents claim it's an attempt to keep people from voting particularly Democrats.

At $165 million, it's a steal. The Obama administration has decided to buy an empty Illinois State prison. Once considered for relocating Guantanamo Bay prisoners. The facility will house high-security federal inmates and alleviate overcrowding in other prisons. Officials say it will not be used for any Guantanamo detainees, which is prohibited by law.

American teenagers are getting the message, drinking and driving don't mix. This is some good news. A new CDC report says cases of drunk driving among teens fell 54 percent in the past two decades. The report credits the drop to tougher state laws on underage drinking and higher gas prices keeping high school students off the road. It's good news.

O'BRIEN: I wonder what those numbers are for texting? I bet that's on the rise.

BERMAN: That's probably is. It turns out hitching a ride on manatee is illegal in the sunshine state. A Florida woman claimed she had no idea doing this was against the law. In fact it is. You can't do it.

She could face a $500 fine and up to 60 days behind bars. Florida law protects manatees from alleged abuse, which apparently includes riding on them at all. Sheriffs released this photo to track down the woman and she ultimately turned herself in.

We also have another video that's going viral this morning. A TV news anchor fights back against a nasty e-mail from a viewer who says she's a poor role model for girls because she is fat. Jennifer Livingston who works at News 8 in Wisconsin calls it a lesson on bullying.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And here is where I want all of us to learn something from this. If you didn't already know, October is National Anti-bullying Month. And this is a problem that is growing every day in our schools and on the internet.


BERMAN: That was just a portion of the video. Livingston took that nasty viewer to task for 4 minutes. Four minutes she went off on her. O'BRIEN: I think I might be in love with Jennifer Livingston. Good for her. I'm going to start doing that with my -- today I want to respond to -- look at her. That was so good.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: When I respond to folks, Soledad's like, did you hit them back on Twitter? You have to --

O'BRIEN: Don't do it on Twitter. Do it on TV.

MARTIN: Did she call them? You should say, I have an e-mail for so and so and then put it online.

O'BRIEN: Good for you, Jennifer. I support you. That's a great lesson. I'm going to leave a section at the end of the show for that.

MARTIN: Are you talking about Soledad's shoes? Get at them, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Take a look at this picture. It's a terrible plane crash. It's not an accident. It was actually planned in the name of science, trying to prove if you could survive a catastrophe just like this. People behind the fiery experiment will join us to talk about what they learned.

Also, an emotional Ann Romney revealed a personal ritual her husband will perform before his presidential debate tonight straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT."

Ann Romney says her husband has a routine before he walks on the stage, before any political debate, he takes his watch off, puts it on the podium, find where she's sitting and writes the word "dad" on a piece of paper. She told Gloria Borger why.


ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: He loves his dad, respects his dad and doesn't want to do anything that would not make his father proud.


O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney's father, of course, George Romney, was the governor of Michigan. He ran for the presidency back in 1968.

First lady Michelle Obama also talking about the debate, last night, she told Jessica Yellin in an exclusive interview that she will be on pins and needles the entire time. Listen.


FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: I get so nervous at these debates. And, you know, I'm like one of those parents watching their kid on the balance beam, you're just standing there, just trying not to, you know, have any expression at all.


O'BRIEN: It's true. Every time you get camera shot, have you to --

MARTIN: You don't to want roll your eyes.

O'BRIEN: The first lady says she doesn't give the president very much advice before a debate because she says he's a solid debater. She told him to relax and have fun. Tonight is their 20th anniversary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When George H.W. Bush was getting a little impatient with the watch, that was a blunder, and replayed over and over, so maybe get the watch out of the way --

MARTIN: First lady is giving him some debate tips.

O'BRIEN: I definitely think have you to kind of be mindful that everybody's watching every moment. They'll go back and find the moment. I thought that watch thing, right -- you have to see where you are, pace yourself, but if you are caught on camera --

CAIN: You think it's about high-minded substance? How many times do you check your watch?

O'BRIEN: It's about both, don't you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reptile brain, 80 percent of it. I think -- I think about the debates you remember. It's reptile brain moments. It's conflict. It's a witty one-liner --

O'BRIEN: There have been great moments where they eventually lost the debate, right?

CAIN: They are all going back to that currency of likability. Did you sigh, did you look at your watch, did you look sweaty against John F. Kennedy? That's what we talk about.

MARTIN: It's a question of your responses. I think that's going to be a critical issue. I don't believe that Jim Lehr is going to allow both candidates to sort of throw stuff out there, not offer some kind of specifics. So if you try to dance around it, that's going to be a problem.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk more about that.

Also, take a look at a terrible plane crash. It was intentional crash. Scientists were trying to prove if you could survive a catastrophe like this. We'll tell you what they found up next.


BERMAN: And welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Some stories we're talking about this morning, a lot of iPhone 5 owners unhappy with the camera on their new device.

They're complaining about a burst of purple showing up in photos. An e-mail from Apple support team published by the tech log Gizmoto suggests users try to angle the camera away from the bright light. Turn away from the light!

A school district in Florida may install cameras on lunch room trash cans to catch students tossing their fruits and vegetables. The "Orlando Sentinel" reports the Lake County School Board is considering this move since new federal rules force kids to have healthier lunches. They're watching what you eat -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, John, thank you very much.

Enormous Boeing 727 plane crashes in the desert. The pictures are amazing. It's an absolutely devastating crash. It's all caught on video. Let's play it.

Unbelievable, the crash was actually a controlled experiment. It was all done by remote control. It's part of the Discovery Channel's new "Curiosity" series, captured nearly 40 specialized cameras and sensors, trying to give researchers a closer look as to what happens when the plane actually crashes.

Two of the project's top experts join us this morning to talk about accident investigator and survivability expert -- I didn't know that was a job, Dr. Tom Barth and also Dr. Cindy Bir, she is a biomedical engineering professor at Wayne State University. Great to have you. Thanks for talking with us.

It took you really four years to sort of create the moment that became the plane crash. Why don't you talk to me, Dr. Bir, first about why it took so long and what were you trying to prepare?

DR. CINDY BIR, BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING PROFESSOR, WAYNE UNIVERSITY: Well, it was a lot of things we had to kind of plan and prepare for as we went along the way here. I think we got the first call about four years ago.

You know, we worked very closely with Discovery Channel to determine what experiments we wanted to perform. We had to figure out what plane, where to actually crash, the crash site.

There's just a lot that goes into this logistically. So, yes, four years, I think, from start to finish, but there was a lot to plan and prepare for.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Barth, I mentioned about the cameras. Walk us through what you did before the plane crashing in the desert.

DR. TOM BARTH, ACCIDENT INVESTIGATOR AND SURVIVABILITY EXPERT: Well, from the very start, you know, we had to outfit the plane with accelerometers and establish where we were going to put the cameras and how they are going to be laid out. There are a lot of unknowns.

You know, when you have the unique experience of crashing a plane in a real environment -- it's not a laboratory. You're catching this in a completely naturalistic environment. You don't know -- there are a lot of things. You don't know exactly how it's going to go. We set up everything and then as the pilots and parachuters were planning their execution, we had to hope that what they said they were going to do would come in and all work right. You'll see in the show a lot of stuff went wrong.

CAIN: Dr. Barth, I have to say, I've been somewhat fatalistic when I ride an airplane. Why put on a seat belt? Come on. No one is surviving this crash, but that's not true. You say people survive plane crashes at an incredibly high rate?

BARTH: That's a really common misperception. Most people survive plane crashes and most plane crashes are survivable.

O'BRIEN: Because of where they've chosen to do, where they've chosen to sit? Why do they survive?

BARTH: Well, there's a whole lot of factors go into that, but part of it is being aware of where your exits are and what you're going to do to survive. Some of it has to do with just how what happens in the crash. Like in our particular accident, the first ten rows were destroyed.

CAIN: First class, sit in the way back.

BARTH: Cindy measured the potential for injury on some actual simulated occupants on board. At the front, it was more severe it got less in the back.

O'BRIEN: Where do you sit? What do you do when you get on a plane? I fly all the time and this is making me very anxious, honestly.

BIR: Well, I think the key things to keep in mind, when you sit down, have a plan. Look at where your exit rows are. First class for our particular crash was obliterated. That's not every crash.

So be aware of your exit rows. When the crash does actually happen, our crash dummies showed that the brace position was the best position to be in, low risk of injury. After the crash occurs, keep calm. Go with that original plan. Try not to panic.

MARTIN: How do you get your job? You got in a lot of trouble or stuff, survivability expert? What's the deal?

BARTH: I've always been interested in mechanical things and stuff like that. I always wanted to see the big picture. Throughout my career I was always backing up. Instead of working on the widget, I wanted to see the whole vehicle. So in the end, I'm watching the planes crash.

CAIN: Good news is that crashes are way down. Airlines have never been safer than they are right now.

O'BRIEN: Silver lining.

BARTH: Low probability. Even though first class was obliterated, I don't sit in first class. Airplane accidents are exceedingly rare. O'BRIEN: And you're the survivability expert.

BARTH: Comfort is worth it.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Barth and Dr. Bir, thank you for coming in to talk with us. Those pictures are absolutely stunning. We appreciate it. "Curiosity," by the way, premieres on the Discovery Channel that's going to be on Sunday night at 9:00PM Eastern.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, speaking of flying in not such great conditions, seats coming loose on American Airlines planes. What's the survivability of that? This morning, the airline now says they know the cause.

Also a big health scare at a big city hospital. Doctors are now rushing to try to trace the source of a deadly form of meningitis.

Just hours to go before President Obama and Governor Romney face off for the first time in primetime, you had heard from the Romney camp earlier this morning.

Coming up next, Stephanie Cutter, she is the deputy manager from the Obama campaign. She is going to join us to talk about their strategy. We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.