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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Interview With Jack Welch; Unemployment Rate Drops
Aired October 5, 2012 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.
And we begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" about allegations that President Obama is cooking the economic books to get reelected, fudging the facts on jobless numbers for political gain. We are going to talk to Jack Welch, one of America's all-time great CEOs. His tweet this morning launched this entire controversy. The question tonight, does he stand by it?
Now, he was tweeting about September employment data which came out this morning showing the economy adding 114,000 jobs last month, and the jobless rate falling by 0.3 to 7.8 percent. That would be the lowest since President Obama took office. Now, before we get into what Jack Welch tweeted, here's how President Obama reacted to the economic news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today's news should give us some encouragement. It shouldn't be an excuse for the other side to try to talk down the economy just to try to score a few political points. It's a reminder that this country's come too far to turn back now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: President Obama on the campaign trail today. Now here's what Mitt Romney said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The unemployment rate as you noted this year has come down very, very slowly, but it's come down nonetheless.
The reason it's come down this year is primarily due to the fact that more and more people have just stopped looking for work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: He went on to say the country can do better, which is about what you would expect him to say, same as you would expect President Obama to say what he said. That's the way the two sides do it, year in, year out, campaign after campaign. What no one does, at least not until now, is look at the numbers and suggest the fix is in. This morning, though, Jack Welch did, tweeting -- quote -- "Unbelievable job numbers. These Chicago guys will do anything. Can't debate, so change numbers."
Chicago guys presumably meaning the Obama campaign. We will talk to him about that. Congressman Allen West said this on his Facebook page. "In regard to today's jobs report, I agree with former GE CEO Jack Welch. Chicago-style politics is at work here."
Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham tweeted -- quote -- "Another name for the Labor Department's bogus 7.8 percent unemployment number, Obama's October surprise. Thanks, Hilda."
Hilda is Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who is responsible for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which puts out the job numbers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILDA SOLIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: I have the highest regard for our professional staff at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, highly trained, highly skilled Ph.D.s, economists, statisticians, folks that have been working in this area for many years.
And this is a methodology that's been used for decades and it is insulting when you hear people just cavalierly say that somehow we are manipulating numbers. I find that very insulting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Hilda Solis.
For the record, here's how the process works. The raw data comes in on Wednesdays, the week before each monthly report. BLS, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, gets around calls around 60,000 households and asks who's working.
That's where the unemployment rate comes from. For job growth or job loss, the BLS gathers payroll data from businesses. Everyone who touches the data signs confidentiality agreements, documents are locked in safes, computers are encrypted, windows are actually papered over, custodians don't even empty the trash until the work is done.
Only the secretary, Vice President Biden, President Obama and a few economists know the results in advance. They get them 12 hours in advance with apparently no option to change them.
Now, what's more, at the moment the BLS isn't run by a political appointee. A nonpolitical career civil servant is in charge. There are, we should point out, questions about how the BLS gathers the raw data, legitimate questions, but also there are conspiracy theories.
"The Washington Examiner"'s Conn Carroll tweeting, "I don't think BLS cooked numbers. I think a bunch of Dems lied about getting jobs. That would have same effect." There's no evidence of that. There is however plenty of evidence that the BLS tries to get it right. They are constantly revising months, quarters and sometimes entire years of data. Sometimes it helps the incumbent president, sometimes not.
With that in mind, here's what conservative commentator and CNN contributor Erick Erickson tweeted today. He said "I don't think it is helpful or healthy to GOP to argue both polling and job numbers are cooked."
A lot of different opinions. In a moment, we will bring in our chief correspondent, Ali Velshi, who has opinion.
Joining me now is Jack Welch, former and legendary CEO of General Electric, a bestselling author and currently writes a blog for Reuters with his wife, Suzy.
So, do you really believe that people in the Obama campaign, the Chicago guys that you tweeted about, that they cooked the numbers?
JACK WELCH, FORMER CHAIRMAN & CEO, GENERAL ELECTRIC: Anderson, last night before these numbers came out, I tweeted, I wonder what the assumptions will be tomorrow, because last month, the assumptions were that the participation rate dropped to the lowest level since Jimmy Carter.
That means people quit looking for work, so they don't count. There's so many assumptions that one makes in coming to these numbers. You pointed out very accurately that they phone 60,000 people out of work force of 100 million plus to see how many have worked, come in and out.
For the numbers that came out today, we would have had to have -- they were the highest numbers of household employment since June of 1983, the biggest year of the Reagan recovery.
COOPER: But how would numbers...
WELCH: The plausibility, it just doesn't seem right. Now, maybe the numbers were wrong before. Maybe they're wrong now. I don't know.
But I'm involved in this economy in a very deep way right now with lots of businesses. And this economy is not growing, I will guarantee you, at 5 percent.
COOPER: A couple points just on the numbers. They say a number of these workers are seasonal workers and maybe work for smaller companies that aren't really tracked in the way the BLS tracks these numbers, and so maybe it's small jobs here and there.
But let's face it, the number that came out today from the household survey was the highest number since June of '83.
COOPER: But what evidence...
WELCH: I have no evidence.
COOPER: You don't have any evidence?
WELCH: No. No, I don't.
COOPER: It's one thing to doubt the numbers and say they should be revised.
WELCH: Well, I used question marks last night.
COOPER: You said, "These Chicago guys will do anything." There's no question mark.
WELCH: A question mark might have been better. No, last night, I had a question mark.
COOPER: So you wish you had...
WELCH: It would have been better to have a question mark.
COOPER: So, you don't really stand by the notion...
WELCH: Oh, I stand by it. I stand by that these numbers have to be examined.
COOPER: But you stand by that these Chicago guys will do anything, can't debate, so change...
WELCH: I'm not changing my tweet.
COOPER: But are you...
WELCH: I'm not accusing anybody of anything.
COOPER: But you are. You are saying these Chicago guys will do anything.
WELCH: Well, you have seen they have been calling Romney a liar for the last two days. No, I mean...
COOPER: But how would they cook the books? How would they cook the numbers, given the process?
WELCH: Look, I have no idea whether these books are cooked. I'm very clear about that.
COOPER: But you think they may be?
WELCH: I don't know.
It's implausible to have this number of people added which would represent a 5 percent GDP growth. In the second quarter, Anderson, we dropped the GDP estimate from 1.7 to 1.3.
COOPER: But given that you say you have no facts, and you don't know, isn't it irresponsible to then say these Chicago -- you are an incredibly respected guy -- to say these Chicago guys will do anything, you're implying...
WELCH: I'm saying -- you heard the president today. He's out there on 7.8.
This number is too important to not to have a long discussion about how it's arrived at, what the assumptions are. Last month, participation rate, the lowest since Jimmy Carter.
COOPER: But has there ever in history been any evidence of a White House cooking the books?
WELCH: I have no evidence of that. I don't know.
COOPER: There's never -- as far as -- I have been reading about this stuff.
WELCH: Somebody ought to be investigating. Somebody should have looked at this and said, wait a minute, we just dropped the GDP this much. How can we have the greatest economy since June of '83?
COOPER: But there's legitimate questions about how the house -- it seems like your problem is how the household survey is done and that's very legitimate. There are always questions and they're always revising the numbers.
WELCH: And I want to have a long discussion about it.
COOPER: Right. And your tweet certainly has provoked discussion, but again just to...
WELCH: The number is too important. This election is too important for one number based on 60,000 phone calls and 100 million- plus people to determine the outcome.
COOPER: Right. But, again, just -- I don't want to keep harping on this, but to say these Chicago guys will do anything...
WELCH: That's what I tweeted.
COOPER: Right. But you don't stand by that tonight?
WELCH: What do you mean I don't stand by it? I have got a tweet out there that I stand by.
COOPER: Right. But you don't regret...
WELCH: I can't prove anything, that they did anything to anything.
COOPER: But, in your heart, you believe they somehow cooked the books?
WELCH: I don't really know. But I do know this, that these numbers are implausible.
COOPER: But, you know, so many politicians these days are saying like -- you know, Michele Bachmann will say something that's factually not correct, or is not provable, and then will say, well, look, I'm just asking the question.
Is it responsible to say, I'm just asking the question, but to say these Chicago guys will do anything, oh, I'm just asking the question?
WELCH: Should have put the question mark at the end, like I did last night?
WELCH: A question mark would have been better at the back of that.
So you are kind of backing away from the Chicago guys part?
WELCH: ... I'm backing away? I'm not backing away from anything.
COOPER: You wish you could amend your tweet to put a question mark.
WELCH: I wish I had a question mark at the back of it. But the same implication is there.
I want to bring in our business correspondent, Ali Velshi, because I don't pretend to be an expert on this stuff.
COOPER: To which, that camera? OK, that camera there.
Ali, what did you make of Jack Welch's tweet and what he's saying tonight?
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this is very troubling.
Anybody who has asked me in my entire career who the best CEO in America is, the answer would be Jack Welch. Jack Welch needs to be out there helping this country get back on track.
There are CEOs and all sorts of people re-tweeting what he said. I think that he's absolutely right that there are questions to be asked about the methodology. That household survey that comes up with the unemployment number, I have said for my entire career people should pay less attention to it. Pay attention to the payroll survey, pay attention to hours worked and pay attention to wages and income. That's what touches people.
But to say something like this is like Donald Trump saying that President Obama is not an American citizen without any proof. You are Jack Welch. Jack, you got to take this opportunity while everybody is listening to you to actually say, yes, Anderson, I'm taking that tweet back. I'm going to send a new tweet to say I was exaggerating.
There are problems, BLS maybe should look into it, but to actually throw out an accusation, that's like asking the government, how often do you beat your wife?
WELCH: I should have had a question mark, Ali, at the back of it. Let's face it, OK?
But the facts are, Ali, no matter how you want to look at this, we had 25 economists polled before this number came out. The average number they expected was about 115,000.
WELCH: Not one of them had a number below 8.1. There were 8.1 and 8.2. They were Republicans and they were Democrats and all of a sudden...
VELSHI: I agree with you.
WELCH: Do you agree with that? Twenty-five of them.
VELSHI: I agree with everything you're saying, Jack. And if your question was...
WELCH: And all of a sudden, we wake up in the morning and it's 7.8 with a bunch of assumptions.
VELSHI: There are two great facts that you make.
Jack, as the best CEO America has ever had, there are two very powerful things you can say here. One is let's take a look at how the BLS, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Department of Labor measures unemployment, number one, and, B., maybe you think Barack Obama's not doing a good job and Mitt Romney should be replacing him.
But to honestly suggest that there's corruption, that the Obama campaign may have had something to do with cooking these books, why do you need to do that at a time when U.S. trust for government and institutions is at an all-time low? That is not good for society.
What does Jack Welch gain by introducing this? There are so many CEOs who talk nonsense. What do you gain from this, Jack? Why don't you take this opportunity to take it back?
WELCH: Ali, I love you. I'm not talking nonsense, OK?
VELSHI: I love you more, Jack, but fix this.
WELCH: No, wait a minute. Wait a minute, before we have this lovefest.
I told you that these numbers are implausible. We don't have a 5 percent GDP growth in this quarter. We don't have it, Ali. We revised the second quarter down. I'm involved in 14 businesses. I have been looking at them over the last week. The third quarter is not strong. It's not strong from restaurants.
VELSHI: OK. Let me ask you this. Let me ask you this, Jack.
I agree with you. This is a lousy economy; 1.3 percent GDP growth is lousy. And yet, on Wednesday night, Mitt Romney said again -- and, by the way, Barack Obama backs up this claim -- that either one of them will create 12 million jobs in four years. That is three million jobs a year or 250,000 jobs a month.
We got 114,000. At 1.3 percent economic growth, there's not an economist in this country who thinks it is going to be higher than 3 percent in 2013 and probably similar in 2014 and 2015. That's a lie, too, right? Why don't you call Mitt Romney out on that?
WELCH: Well, because Mitt Romney is thinking about a plan which would lower regulations, which would change the tax, which would drive an energy policy that's very aggressive.
I don't know if he's going to get 12. I'm not a Romney surrogate. I'm not in the campaign. I have never talked to the campaign. I have nothing to do with the Romney -- I just believe this number should not determine the outcome of the presidential election. Did you see today...
VELSHI: I agree with you.
VELSHI: Jack, you're a hero, you're a hero to business people in this country. You're a hero to all sorts of people. Just do it now. Do it. And I can go back to loving you and you can go back to loving me. Just do it now and say it's not right what you said. Nobody cooked the books. You don't truly believe that, do you?
WELCH: I said I should have put a question mark at the back of it.
COOPER: Would you argue that you were being provocative, and had you put a question mark, it would have been seen as more of a provocative statement, rather than any factual...
WELCH: It would have been a better statement.
WELCH: That would have been a better statement.
There's no question. I put a question mark. Look at my tweet last night, Ali. I looked at my -- go look at the tweet at 11:00 last night after I came back from looking at "Chaplin." I came back and tweeted, last month, it was the participation rate assumption. How many assumptions will there be tomorrow morning? We will have to wait and see.
COOPER: And there will be another number coming out just days before the election, and we will see that.
WELCH: Lord only knows what they will be. We got to have a discussion about how these numbers are arrived at.
COOPER: We got to leave it there.
Jack Welch, it's good to have you on the program, Ali Velshi as well.
WELCH: Thanks, Ali.
COOPER: Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. You can follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. You can follow Jack Welch at @Jack_Welch. I will be tweeting tonight.
Up next, Mitt Romney now says his remarks on the 47 percent were in his words, totally wrong. Why did he spend the last two weeks defending them and his surrogates did? We're "Keeping Them Honest" on that and looking at his effort to maybe appear more moderate on a whole range of issues. We will talk to the left and the right. We will be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, Mitt Romney's stunning 180 on this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.
All right, there are 47 percent who are with him who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has the responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.
But that's -- that's an entitlement, and that the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now, last night, two weeks, or I should say two-and-a- half weeks after that tape surfaced, Governor Romney went on FOX News, where Sean Hannity asked how he would have answered if the tape came up during Wednesday's debate. Here's part of his answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Clearly, in a campaign with hundreds, if not thousands of speeches and question and answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right. In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: He said completely wrong. Now, "Keeping Them Honest," that's completely weird, mainly because the night the tape aired, Mr. Romney rushed to a microphone to defend, defend his 47 percent remarks and he kept defending them, he and his supporters, for days after that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Well, you know, it's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I'm speaking off the cuff in response to a question. And I'm sure I could state it more clearly and in a more effective way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The point of all of this is that the size of government is too big, and if we don't do something about it, we're going to really lose the very idea of America.
ROMNEY: Those that are dependent upon government and those that think government's job is to redistribute, I'm not going to get them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are makers and takers. There are producers and there are parasites. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clearly what we do have, very clearly, is a government and a society here in this country that is becoming dependent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Senator Ron Johnson was even blunter about defending the 47 percent remarks, saying -- quote -- "I think the basic point is correct. It's what this election is about."
For Mr. Romney, that was then. Now on that and a number of issues, he seems to be trying to downplay what he once described as his severely conservative record and recast himself as more centrist on some issues. The shift, you might have noticed, began moments after this handshake at the debate in Denver. Mr. Romney struck centrist-sounding positions Wednesday night on government regulation, education and most notably, health care.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR: If Obamacare is repealed, how would you replace it?
ROMNEY: Actually, it's a lengthy description, but, number one, preexisting conditions are covered under my plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: "Preexisting conditions are covered under my plan," he said.
"Keeping Them Honest," though, that assurance is misleading and a short time later, a top campaign adviser had to clarify what his boss actually meant. "Under Mr. Romney's plan," he said, "preexisting conditions would only be covered for people who already have insurance to begin with, but are changing jobs and, therefore, health insurance plans."
That's not who most people think of when it comes to preexisting conditions. Ironically, the health care reform law Mitt Romney signed as governor and remains in effect today in Massachusetts does mandate coverage for anyone with preexisting conditions, whether they already have health insurance or not.
A bit later in the program, we will talk about one of the few moments that Mr. Romney failed to strike a tone of moderation. It concerns a great big yellow bird. That makes it on our "RidicuList" tonight. And as a good friend of his buddy Oscar the Grouch, I can tell you it's really got my attention.
But, first, Ari Fleischer with the serious stuff, who serves as part-time unpaid communications consultant to the Romney campaign, and political analyst Roland Martin.
Ari, what do you make of that? Do you say that Mitt Romney is seeming to be striking some more centrist positions, or at least sounding more centrist?
ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, let me try to peel this onion one slice at a time.
The 47 percent comment really breaks down to two. One is that the pejorative way he spoke about the 47 percent, which as I -- you didn't show my clip when you asked me about that the day afterwards. I said it was wrong, they're not victims and he shouldn't use that word.
The economic part of it is factually right. We are a country in which 47 percent of the country is excused from paying any income taxes.
COOPER: But he saying it's now completely wrong.
FLEISCHER: The top 20 percent of this country, people make more than -- well, let me get to that.
The top 20 percent of this country, people who make more than $74,000 a year, pay 95 percent of all our nation's income taxes. He was wrong and I think this is what he was trying to do, in speaking pejoratively of that 47.
He is right in saying that 47 percent of the country pays no income taxes. That's incontrovertible. That's a fact. But conservatism means you speak hope. You talk about lifting those people up so they can make it in America. That's what they want. They want to become taxpayers. That's where he was tonally wrong and tonal deaf. It's why I said that night they're not victims.
COOPER: But his response now is saying he was completely wrong which is different than what he had said earlier which is, like, well, I stated it inelegantly. He's now using this blanket statement which allows people to interpret it as they will.
FLEISCHER: I think what he is saying there is that he was completely wrong to speak pejoratively of the 47 percent and he was completely wrong to do that. He is right about the basic economics of our country.
FLEISCHER: We have gotten to the point where the country is half paying no income taxes and getting the advantages of government.
FLEISCHER: Does that mean it's the right number, too high, too low? That's a good argument to get into.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, I'm utterly confused right now. I'm utterly confused because Ari is trying to explain the original comment from Mitt Romney, which I thought Mitt Romney was very clear on what he was saying.
And now Ari is trying to explain the new comment of Mitt Romney, where he was very clear when he said he was wrong. Ari, there's no need for spin. There's no need for explanation. Mitt Romney said, I was wrong. The bottom line is, why is he saying this? Because he knows that he has been hurt by it.
He knows full well that when he is now going to the final days of the campaign that he was hurt by it and people who likely are voting for him are in that same category.
COOPER: Roland, do you think it a mistake for President Obama not to ask him about the 47 percent during the first debate?
MARTIN: It was a mistake of President Obama not to ask him about that. It was a mistake for President Obama not to say, Mitt Romney, are you calling out fellow Republicans who refuse to vote for the veterans jobs bill in the United States Senate?
President Obama left a whole bunch of stuff on the table he could have brought up. But he absolutely should have asked him about it because it is a central issue when you talk about where we stand in this country. And I simply say to Ari, I know he's your guy, but here's the deal. Sometimes you don't have to spin for him when it's not necessary.
COOPER: Ari, not just on the 47 percent now, even on the health care thing during the debate, he's saying preexisting conditions will be covered, but under current law, people who lose their jobs can keep their health insurance. They just -- you know, for a time. That's not really what people think of when they think of a preexisting condition.
FLEISCHER: Yes, that was a head-scratcher.
When he said that, my instant reaction was I don't know what's in his policy that would cover that provision. Now, it's something that when Republicans repeal Obamacare and try to replace it, they are going to have to come up with that replacement, so people don't game the system.
COOPER: So, was he lying or mistaken about his own policy?
FLEISCHER: Well, there is a provision in there, Anderson, that would cover a portion of the people who don't have health insurance. In other words, if you paid your premiums and you had health insurance, you can't be turned down.
What he's trying to do is stop people from gaming the system where you never cover yourself, never sign up and pay for health insurance and then once you get sick, you say you can't deny me so now I want my insurance.
FLEISCHER: But that's the provision he was trying to get to.
COOPER: But, Roland, correct me if I'm wrong. Under most people's idea of if you have a preexisting condition, you will get coverage, it means if you have a preexisting condition and you apply for health insurance, you can't be turned down because of it.
See, here's the deal. This is where you take somebody actually at their word based upon what they say. There's no need to parse. The reality is Mitt Romney wants to have it both ways. He wants to lead the dance and he also wants you to lead the dance.
So again, there really were two Mitt Romneys there and we're utterly confused as to which one it was. And so this is where President Obama didn't do a good enough job of pinning him down. Maybe he thought Jim Lehrer was going to do it. And so I say, no, take him at his word.
Mitt Romney wants us to suck up all the stuff that he's throwing out because he wants to make everybody happy. He's not clear. He's double-talking. That's what he's doing.
FLEISCHER: No, Anderson, the problem is if you don't have a mandate for health care, which is what Mitt Romney and Republicans want, they don't want to have the mandate, but...
MARTIN: Except in Massachusetts.
FLEISCHER: And people want to get health insurance. You can't have a system in which you never sign up and you don't pay and then you wait until you're sick because insurance companies can't turn down. That's the problem Republicans have.
MARTIN: That's not what he said, Ari.
FLEISCHER: The solution Romney announced is the actual solution for it.
Now, policy gets complicated. It's harder to talk on a short show like this. It's easier to talk about it in the length of the debate. But let me remind you, in 2008, President Obama ran when he was trying to get to the left of Hillary Clinton saying he opposed NAFTA. He ran on that in Ohio.
And then as soon as the Ohio primary was gone, he never talked again about renegotiating NAFTA. In fact, we found out later he sent one of his top aides to Canada to say ignore what the candidate... (CROSSTALK)
COOPER: We got to go.
COOPER: One at a time. One at a time.
COOPER: Let Ari finish, please.
FLEISCHER: My only point is both candidates have engaged in tactical maneuvering. This is nothing new.
COOPER: Right. I guess I'm not saying it's anything new and I'm not saying both candidates don't shift and move to the center after primaries and stuff.
The point is, it seems like he is doing that right now.
We got to leave it there. Ari, appreciate it. Roland Martin, thank you.
MARTIN: Thanks a bunch.
Up next: breaking news, new information about a Border Patrol officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty. We talked about him last night. The question tonight, was it friendly fire? What the FBI is saying tonight -- next on 360.
COOPER: New cases of deadly meningitis have been linked to those tainted steroid injections that came from a Massachusetts company. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins me ahead with more on two deadly meningitis outbreaks.
We will be right back.
COOPER: Breaking news tonight in that fatal shooting near the U.S./Mexico border. The FBI says the death of a border patrol agent, Nicholas Ivy, and the wounding another agent on Tuesday was likely the result of friendly fire.
However, the investigation is ongoing. The results of ballistics tests are pending. The agents were shot after responding to a tripped ground sensor near the border in Arizona.
Up close tonight, health officials now say patients in nearly two dozen states may have received steroid shots tainted with a fungus linked to a deadly meningitis outbreak. So far, at least 47 people have been sickened across seven states, five of those patients have died. All of them received steroid shots that came from the same manufacturer in Massachusetts.
Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is following developments closely. He joins me now. There are different types of meningitis, Sanjay. Which type is this?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is something known as fungal meningitis. It's a type of mold, actually. That's what's causing the illness here.
Bacterial meningitis is a different form, caused by bacteria, obviously. It can be treated with antibiotics. The most common form of meningitis, the type that you hear for example on college campuses, that's typically viral meningitis.
Viral meningitis and bacterial meningitis more common, but also typically more contagious. That's why viral meningitis is found on these campuses.
If there's any good news about the fungal meningitis, Anderson, it's typically not contagious. It's very hard to spread it from person to person.
COOPER: So they traced the source of this infection to a bad batch of steroids distributed by the New England Compounding Center. What is compounded -- what is that?
GUPTA: This is a real medical investigation, I have to tell you. We have been following this along for some time. What happens is that you have a manufacturer, makes the medication, in this case the steroid as you mentioned.
But then it may go to a compounding facility because it's arrived in bulk, they got to divvy it up into smaller doses. Sometimes they will concentrate the doses, sometimes they may mix it with other medications.
It's not actually making or manufacturing the medication as much as it is changing the dose and mixing it in some way. So that's what compounding facilities typically do.
They are not, incidentally, Anderson, really quickly, not regulated by the FDA because of that, because they're not actually making or manufacturing these medications.
COOPER: So the symptoms I've read often take weeks to appear after a person becomes infected. What kind of symptoms are they?
GUPTA: Well, you know, with fungal meningitis, it can be a little bit different than with viral or bacterial. First of all, it can take, as you say, up to 28 days, which made the investigative part of this more challenging.
But what happens with this fungal meningitis, and again, they believe the mold literally was in these vials that were being injected into the lower backs of these people, it can get into the small blood vessels.
It can eventually cause almost mild stroke-like symptoms, so people may have numbness or weakness on one side of their body. But ultimately, what meningitis is, it is an inflammation of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
So people will get terrible headache, they may get dizziness, may lose consciousness. As you know, Anderson, you said the numbers, they may die. We know these patients typically were older patients. They typically got the injection because of back pain, but again, fungal meningitis, a really rare thing.
COOPER: There's also been an outbreak, a different outbreak of meningitis of a very contagious form of meningitis among gay/HIV positive men in New York. Is that correct?
GUPTA: That's correct. And this is with bacterial meningitis, usually you identify a particular bacteria. It can also be more common in people who have weakened immune systems, as you mentioned in this case, HIV positive.
But the tougher part -- while it's not usually as deadly, it can be deadly but not usually as deadly as fungal meningitis -- it is as you point out, Anderson, much more likely to be contagious. So you get the increased transmissibility as a trade-off with it not being nearly as lethal.
COOPER: So that's actually transmissible with fluids, and I have read that it's like a pain in the neck and rashes are the symptoms for that kind.
GUPTA: Yes, typically stiff neck is one of the things that people will notice early on, lots of back pain. They can develop rashes on their skin. Profound headache often, even something known as photophobia, where literally just light of any sort, not just bright sunlight, but just light of any sort is very hard to tolerate and people need to be in darkened rooms.
COOPER: So people should be on the watch for that as well. Sanjay Gupta, thank you.
GUPTA: Thanks, Anderson.
COOPER: In Massachusetts, thousands of criminal cases have been called into question. This is a stunning thing you need to know about. After this woman's arrest, she's accused of tampering with drug evidence while working as a chemist in a state police lab. A huge fallout from this legal nightmare ahead. We'll talk about it.
COOPER: A crime lab worker accused of tampering with evidence. Her arrest has called into question 34,000 criminal cases. What would possibly drive someone to do this? We'll talk with a deception expert when we continue.
COOPER: Welcome back. In "Crime and Punishment," an extraordinary story to tell you about tonight. A Massachusetts chemist who worked for a state drug lab for nine years is facing some mind-boggling allegations of brazen misconduct.
Annie Dookhan is accused of faking drug results, forging paperwork, and mishandling drug samples. The damage she may have done, if all this is true, could be enormous. Police say she tested drug samples involving 34,000 defendants while employed at the lab.
Lawyers and judges are now scrambling to deal with the fallout, and so are the people whose convictions were based on the science that's now in question. Here's Susan Candiotti.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was refreshing because I didn't think it was real.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But it was real. Until last week, Mylazia Johnson was doing about three years in prison on a drug conviction. Then she was suddenly set free.
(on camera): What is it like to be out of prison?
MYLAZIA JOHNSON, SENTENCE VACATED: Free now. I can breathe.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Free because of the bizarre alleged actions of this woman, former Massachusetts chemist, Annie Dookhan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us what happened?
CANDIOTTI: The state of Massachusetts is accusing Dookhan of tampering with drug evidence that could call into question at least 34,000 cases going back to 2003, 34,000.
At the moment, she faces only three charges. However, in Boston alone, the D.A. estimates as many as 500 convicted felons could be set free.
(on camera): How big of a mess is this?
LISA HEWITT, MASSACHUSETTS COMMITTEE FOR PUBLIC COUNSEL: At this point, Susan, we don't know.
CANDIOTTI: At this lab, now closed by the state, Dookhan allegedly mishandled drugs seized by police for evidence at trial. She allegedly estimated the amount of drugs at times by simply looking at them, and certified some drugs as cocaine that are now testing negative.
(voice-over): She didn't just write down the wrong thing. Prosecutors accuse her of doctoring evidence to change test results. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She would take known cocaine from an area that she knew was cocaine and actually add them to the sample to make it cocaine.
CANDIOTTI: Dookhan is also charged with lying on the witness stand about the credentials on her resume, including a master's degree in chemistry she never received. But the question is why.
Was Dookhan trying to help police? Was she trying to make herself look good? So far, it's a mystery. The only thing we know is what's in this court document, where investigators say at first, Dookhan denied doing anything wrong.
But they Dookhan she later admitted quote, "I screwed up big- time. I messed up. I messed up bad. It's my fault." In some cases, Dookhan's alleged tampering may have destroyed solid police work. In others, it may have wrongfully convicted the innocent.
HEWITT: This is the most egregious situation, because this is government tainted evidence that has been presented against these individuals.
CANDIOTTI (on camera): How can something like this happen?
HEWITT: I don't have the answer for that. The community has no confidence right now in the justice system, because they're being told that the scientific evidence, which we're all supposed to depend on, in the year 2012, is faulty.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): We tried unsuccessfully for two days to reach Dookhan's attorney. Dookhan's free on bail, wearing a court monitor. Judges are in the process of staying sentences and setting felons free on bail until everything is sorted out. Making moms like Stephanie Cooper (ph) nervous.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do worry for my safety, you know, and my son also.
CANDIOTTI: Community organizer Michael Kozu is worried about what will happen to this Boston neighborhood.
MICHAEL KOZU, PROJECT RIGHT: We're concerned about with people letting get back out, that it's going to go back to what it used to be.
CANDIOTTI: Mylazia Johnson insists she was wrongfully convicted of intent to sell crack on the street. After serving about half her sentence, she's free for good, and plans to challenge her conviction down the road. What she cannot get back are the nearly two years she lost with her daughter, born eight weeks before she was sent to prison.
JOHNSON: I lost my child. I lost custody of my child, and I don't know how I'm going to fix that.
CANDIOTTI (on camera): What do you think of the chemist who is now accused of --
JOHNSON: She destroyed my life, but I forgive her. As long as I have my daughter, that's all I care about.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Susan Candiotti, CNN, Boston.
COOPER: The story raises so many questions. Digging deeper now, on what could possibly drive someone to do something like this, and how could she get away with it for so long.
Let's talk to Dan Ariely, author of "The Honest Truth About Dishonesty," a professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University. He joins us now.
Obviously you don't know this woman, you haven't interviewed her. But what's so strange to me about this, it doesn't seem like there was any inherent reason for her to do that, because there was no -- she wasn't involved in the cases.
DAN ARIELY, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY AND BEHAVIORAL ECONOMICS, DUKE UNIVERSITY: Well, usually when we look at crimes, any kind of crimes, we think it's about just selfish motivations.
But the reality is if you look a little deeper in it, it's often not about just the selfish motivations. In this case, it's particularly interesting, because there are no selfish motivations.
Here she was. And I can imagine one of two things. She was either thinking she was helping the justice system along, right, there was some kind of -- getting some evidence for that, or she was under tremendous pressure to do her work correctly and then doing things--
COOPER: That this would somehow reflect positively on her?
ARIELY: Reflect positively on her, be the right thing for the organization. We've tested lots of people when they cheat, and usually when we look at criminals, we have a sense of saying it's them and not us, and we could have never done that, what she's done.
But here is what we generally do. We take a little test, a sheet of paper, with 20 simple math problems, and we ask people you have five minutes to solve as many of those as you can in 5 minutes. I will give you a dollar per question.
People work as hard as they can. At the end of the 5 minutes, we say take the sheet of paper, go to the back of the room and shred it, and then come back and tell us how many questions you got correctly. People do this, they said they solved six problems, we pay them $6.
What people don't know is we fixed the shredder so the shredder doesn't shred the whole sheet of paper, and we can find out how many questions they got. What do we find? People solve four and report six. You can say, what about big cheaters? After about 30,000 people we have tested so far, we found 12 big cheaters. And together they stole about $150 from me. We found 18,000 little cheaters.
ARIELY: That together stole $36,000.
COOPER: And yet the ramifications of even little cheating for her, I mean, she's in a position where 34,000 cases, it's now going to cause chaos. Also, lying about her master's degree, even though her job did not require her to have a master's degree.
ARIELY: You know, I've looked at all kinds of cheating on resumes. It's kind of interesting. Again, you look at the end goal. You look at somebody's C.V., head of Yahoo!, you know, lots of examples, and say how could somebody lie this way?
But the reality is that often they did not start by lying this way. They took one step, and they changed something in the resume. Imagine we could take a resume and kind of wind the clock back, right? I'm not sure about her, but in most cases, what would happen is that it's not that people have long term plans about where they want to end up. I'm sure that in her case, this was not the goal but --
COOPER: There's a bunch of little steps.
ARIELY: And the interesting thing is that once you take a certain step, you slightly become a different person. And then you become another person. You become slightly, and you have rationalized something else and you got used to something else.
This doesn't excuse all of these crimes. It doesn't help us with the damage, the tremendous damage she's causing, but the reality is that if we just point the finger at her and other people and we say it's just them, it could have never happened to us, we're not going to create safeguards that would actually help us.
COOPER: One thing I think I have learned as a reporter from traveling around and seeing people in war zones is that any of us are capable of anything. We are capable of great acts of kindness and consideration, also great acts of brutality and barbarism.
But it's interesting to me that it is small steps. It's not a big thing, and over the course of nine years of working there, even if she's taking small steps, she gets to a place where it's cataclysmic results.
ARIELY: Here's another interesting thing. Imagine that I do the test and I have a chance to cheat for myself. That's one condition. Another condition, I have a chance to cheat for myself, but every time I cheat, you benefit as well.
So now what happened? Is my cheating going up or going down? It's going up, why? Because now I'm slightly altruistic. So when people cheat for themselves, they actually cheat less than when they cheat for other people.
That's also by the way why politicians lie so much, because they can very easily say to themselves it's not just for me. If I get elected, this is clearly good for you as well.
COOPER: We have got to have you on to talk about the political aspects. Dan Ariely, appreciate it. Thank you. Fascinating stuff.
Still ahead, two suspects are being questioned in connection with the deadly attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. The latest on that investigation next.
COOPER: Welcome back to the program. Look who's here? Isha's here. Let's check in with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Isha Sesay with the "360" bulletin. Two Tunisians are being questioned in Turkey about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. That's the word from a U.S. official who said the Tunisians are being questioned at the request of the United States after they entered Turkey this week.
Extremist Islamic cleric Abu Hamza Al-Masri and four other terror suspects are headed for the United States. The move comes just hours after London's high court ruled the men could be extradited. Al- Masri's charges include conspiracy in connection with the kidnapping of 16 Westerners in Yemen in 1998.
And a bold robbery caught on tape in Northern England. A man walks up to a stroller and grabs an iPhone out of the hand of this 20- month-old girl as she's watching "Barney and Friends," and then walks calmly away as if he's done nothing wrong. Police are still searching for the suspect. Anderson.
COOPER: Coming up, everything is not A-OK on Sesame Street after Mitt Romney said he wants to take away federal money for PBS. Turns out Big Bird may have an even bigger enemy. The "Ridiculist" next.
COOPER: Time now for the "Ridiculist." Tonight we're adding all the feathers that have been ruffled over Mitt Romney's comments about PBS, or as I like to call it, this whole Snafulogagous (ph). No one could figure out how to spell that bit of wordplay. That's why we didn't put it up on the graphic, Snafulogagous (ph).
By now, you've certainly heard that Mitt Romney wants to get rid of federal funding for PBS. It came up in the debate, and there's been a lot of talk about a certain Big Bird since then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too, but I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: For all you moms and kids out there, don't worry. Somebody's finally getting tough on Big Bird. Elmo, you better make a run for it. Governor Romney is going to let Wall Street run wild again, but he's going to bring the hammer down on Sesame Street.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: First of all, full disclosure, I know Big Bird. I'm sorry to be a name dropper, but it's true. It's not like I go to dinner with him. I don't want to overstate it. I haven't been over to his nest for drinks or anything, but I have gone to his workplace.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: This is Anderson Cooper in for Oscar The Grouch, who's on assignment at the dump. I'm here with two legendary grouch newscasters, Dan Rather Not and Walter Cranky to discuss today's letter in the news. The letter G. Say hello, Dan Rather Not.
MUPPET: I'd rather not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I wonder what Dan Rather Not is up to these days. He's a true journalistic inspiration. So some are saying it's a war on Big Bird, that Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird.
But at the end of the day, I'm not sure that Romney is the Republican we need to be most concerned about when it comes to Big Bird's overall safety.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Would you kill Big Bird?
RICK SANTORUM, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, as a matter of fact, I voted to kill Big Bird in the past. So I have a record there that I have to disclose. That doesn't mean I don't like Big Bird. I mean, you can kill things and still like them. I mean, maybe to eat them, I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Yes, ladies and gentlemen, apparently Rick Santorum not only wants to kill Big Bird, he wants to eat him. Santorum knew right away that maybe that didn't come out right, but there are no do-overs on the HMS Piers. Oh, no, not with Captain Morgan at the helm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTORUM: That's probably -- can we --
MORGAN: No, that was beautifully badly phrased. I think we should end on that note. Just to make you feel really uncomfortable.
SANTORUM: That was -- that was -- that's a badly -- (CROSSTALK)
MORGAN: You can kill things but still like them. Rick Santorum, what a perfect way to end the interview.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: You can kill things but still like them -- words to live by on the "Ridiculist."
That's it for us. Thanks for watching. Have a great weekend. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.