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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Arctic Blast; Mitt Romney Talks Foreign Policy; Big Bird Lives On; Columbus Statue on Display for Columbus Day; Photojournalism at the Debate

Aired October 8, 2012 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Our "starting point": Arctic blast. Freezing temperatures and snow stun parts of the U.S. this weekend. And fall's just started. Is relief from the cold in sight?

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Next January, we'll be watching him leave the White House for the last time.

O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney prepares to hammer President Obama in a key foreign policy speech today as the running mates get ready for their showdown.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI) VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We think he's probably going to come at me like a cannon ball.

BRETT O'DONNELL, PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE COACH: I am sure that Vice President Biden got a phone call from the White House and said, we didn't go after Governor Romney as much, and so you have got to turn up the heat.

O'BRIEN: And breaking a record. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees passes a major milestone and enters the record books.

It's Monday, October 8th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Happy Columbus Day or Merry Columbus Day if you're Ryan Lizza. That's what he likes.

Michael Skolnik is joining us today in our team. He's the editor-in- chief for GlobalGrind.com. Also, the political director for Russell Simmons. Ryan Lizza -- Merry Columbus Day. He's Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." And Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway joins us this morning. John Berman is sticking around as well, helping us with the news as well.

Good morning, everybody. STARTING POINT is what they called Blue October. If you look at the map, take a look, early cold snap covering about two-thirds of the country this morning. Overnight, dozens of cities were seeing record lows. In fact, the whole weekend, actually. Midwest is in early deep freeze. Take a look at the temperatures in Sioux City, Iowa, where it bottomed out at 15 degrees.

Alexandra Steele is live for us in the extreme weather center. It was cold in New York. Nothing like Iowa. Wow.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, absolutely. In Nebraska, it was 10.

What we've got, we've been talking about it for a few days. Blue Northern -- temperatures precipitously dropping. Take a look, St. Louis yesterday, 51. It should be 68 this time of year. Dallas high of 53. It should be at 78.

So, temperatures on the whole between 15 and 25 degrees where we should be. Coldest air of the season in place. You can see all this blue delineating where we have a freeze threat, be it a watch, advisory or warning.

Ohio just, for example, running about a week and a half earlier than usual for a frost or first freeze.

Temperature outlook, Soledad asks and this begs the question, are we going to warm up? We certainly are. This is the six to 10-day outlook coming up. On the whole, 80 percent to 85 percent of the country will be above average. It's just a quick hit. Officially winter is 2 1/2 months away. Really, we've got some time.

Temperatures today 50s in the Northeast, 60s in the South. Even today, 64 in Minneapolis. Tomorrow, temperatures warm still. You can see temperatures mild, warming into the 70s.

So, Soledad, as we head through the next couple of days, temperatures are certainly going to warm up. You can see by Wednesday, peaking 65 in New York City. And then slight cool-down on Thursday. But we're on the up and up, that's for sure.

O'BRIEN: That's what we like to hear. Alexandra, thank you.

STEELE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Big day for Mitt Romney ahead. He's been a harsh critic, of course, of the President's foreign policy. Now, he's turned to lay out his own positions. Later this morning, Mr. Romney is going to be giving a foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.

National political correspondent Jim Acosta is traveling with him. Hey, Jim, good morning.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Soledad. Good morning. That's right. You know, after that debate performance that was widely viewed as a victory for Mitt Romney, he's going to be going after the President on foreign policy this morning as you mentioned in that speech over at Virginia Military Institute in a few hours from now.

He's going to do a few different things in this speech, Soledad. The campaign has released some speech excerpts that we can talk about. But first of all, he is going to be talking about those diplomatic attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Mitt Romney's going to be accusing the President of showing weakness on that particular subject. And he's basically going to say that those attacks were essentially the work of the same forces that attacked the United States on September 11th.

So he is going to be talking about al Qaeda later this morning.

The other thing he's going to be pledging to do, he says he's going to help arm the Syrian rebels in their fight against that country's leader, President Bashar al-Assad.

And the other thing that Mitt Romney will pledge to do in this speech later this morning is reverse some of those steep defense cuts that are part of that fiscal cliff that is looming at the end of the year. And here is one excerpt from the speech that we'll be hearing from Mitt Romney later on this morning. It goes after a chief theme of President Obama, not only over his presidency but over his first campaign.

And here it is. It says, quote, "I know the President hopes for a safer, freer and more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy. We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut. When we have no trade agenda to speak of and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity."

And, Soledad, what's also interesting to note is yesterday, some of his senior foreign policy advisers had a conference call with reporters. And they were sort of laying out some presidencies of past that they think Mitt Romney might share some of these principles with. And the presidencies that they mentioned were President John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman and even Bill Clinton. They also threw Ronald Reagan in there.

But it was interesting to note the foreign policy team for Mitt Romney talking about Democratic presidents after that debate performance last week when a lot of pundits on the right and the left were sensing that Mitt Romney was moving to the middle on domestic policy.

We might hear some of that on foreign policy later on today, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Interesting point. Jim Acosta for us this morning -- thank you, Jim.

A recent poll shows President Obama has a seven percentage point lead over Mitt Romney when it comes to who would handle foreign policy better.

Let's get to Richard Williamson. He's a former Ambassador to the United Nations for special political affairs. He's Mitt Romney's senior foreign policy adviser.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us.

Let's focus on some -- actually what Jim Acosta just said. Let's talk about that first. As you heard, there was a phone call with some of the foreign policy advisers and when they listed sort of the foreign policy that maybe Mitt Romney would be, I guess, fashioning his own after they listed as Jim Acosta just told me -- Kennedy, Truman, Clinton, Democratic presidents.

Does that an indication of moving to the center for somebody like Governor Romney?

RICHARD WILLIAMSON, FORMER ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: First, thanks very much for letting me be here.

Today, the governor's going to lay out a clear contrast between his views on foreign policy and national security and those of Barack Obama. And there's two elements that really deserve emphasis.

One, President Obama has tended to be passive. He's led from behind. That's contributed to the turmoil throughout the broader Middle East, where Governor Romney believes America must draw upon its exceptionalism and provide leadership and that America and the world is better off.

And second, that peace through strength is the criteria that should guide our foreign policy. The peace through strength approach began after World War II with Harry Truman, continued with Kennedy through Reagan. It's the mainstream of the foreign policy, one that Governor Romney embraces.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting.

WILLIAMSON: It's really been President Obama who's been the outlier. It's really been President Obama who's had a different approach.

O'BRIEN: OK. When Jim Acosta reports that foreign policy advisers are saying it's President Kennedy, President Truman, President Clinton, that's how Mitt Romney would sort of look to that foreign policy strategy, all Democratic presidents, he said that could be read as possibly a move toward the center. Is that unfair to say?

WILLIAMSON: Well, it's a move to America's traditional engagement with the world and a rejection of the weak leadership over the last four years which contributed to the turmoil throughout the broader Middle East that we have today.

O'BRIEN: OK. Let's talk specifics. Iran -- we know from some of the excerpts that have been sent out already. Mitt Romney's going to say this as part of his speech: "I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran."

As you well know, sir, there are people who've said the position on Iran for both the President and Mitt Romney is very, very, very similar.

WILLIAMSON: Well, Soledad, we would disagree with that. The President came to power with a hand outreached for engagement. He kept quiet during the green revolution when those seeking freedom and space with civil society in Tehran were being beaten, arbitrarily arrested and even killed. And he's continued to reach out.

These sanctions he's now imposing now actually were forced on him by Democratic Senator Menendez and Republican Senator Mark Kirk. The White House opposed those.

So, the message in Tehran has been one of weakness. And not resolve. You know, Bismarck, the great leader in Europe in the 19th century once said that diplomacy without the use of force is music without instruments.

And this administration doesn't have credibility. The result is that the President of Iran comes to the United States, and he -- he says that Israel should be eliminated. He says that we don't have a right to contain his nuclear breakout. Then our president doesn't have the time to meet with our best ally in the region, Bibi Netanyahu but goes on Whoopi Goldberg. It's just a contrast in approach.

O'BRIEN: As you know, critics have continued to have a field day with Governor Romney when he has spoken about foreign policy. The Olympics would be an example. The headliner there was "Mitt the Twit" because some of the gaffes he made there.

When he was speaking to Wolf Blitzer back in March, he said this about Russia: "Russia is without question our number one geopolitical foe." There's a lot of fallout about that. Recently talking about the Spanish economy, which made Spaniards very, very unhappy.

Are these going to be things that are difficult to overcome when he is also, polls show, as we started the piece, well -- decently behind President Obama on foreign policy?

WILLIAMSON: Well, the American people have big, bold choices to make a month from now on Election Day. On the domestic side they have these record deficits versus moving to a balanced budget. They have President Obama's anemic record on job creation versus Governor Romney's comprehensive plan.

In foreign affairs they have a contrast between passivity and listlessness versus bold leadership. They have a contrast between managing the decline of America, weaker defense versus stronger defense. And I think those are the issues that matter.

It's very interesting to me for example with the hubbub of what happened immediately after Benghazi when the reporters for a few days were focused on what Mitt Romney said and when about the apology that came out of the Egyptian embassy, the U.S. embassy. In fact, his statements were very consistent with what the secretary of state said seven hours later.

O'BRIEN: Right. But the problem was that they pre --

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMSON: Shooting before you aim. But it was he who shot before he aimed because he was talking at the time of spontaneous demonstrations. Now, reluctantly they've admitted there was a preplanned terrorist attack.

O'BRIEN: Wouldn't you argue both were wrong? I mean, one to say it was not a preplanned attack, obviously they changed that. You're right. That was completely erroneous.

But at the same time, to put out a statement before -- to criticize a statement that had been put out earlier that was also shooting from the hip? I thought both were deemed to be in error, I would say. Both of them were both in error on that, sir.

WILLIAMSON: Well, with all due respect, you're entitled to your opinion. But what Governor Romney said was that when the U.S. Egyptian embassy issued a statement that implied this was all the result of a video and apologized for the video, apologized for American values, they were wrong.

And the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed with Mitt Romney when she made her statement the next morning. So, the substance, there's no disagreement on. It was Chicago political talking points that a lot of reporters who engage about the timing.

O'BRIEN: No. He was criticizing -- he was criticizing an apology that had been put out by the Benghazi district that had said that it came from the White House. That was what happened then. That is not exactly accurate, sir.

WILLIAMSON: No.

O'BRIEN: I am happy to continue this conversation.

WILLIAMSON: With all due respect --

O'BRIEN: You want to pull the transcripts on it. More than happy to do that. Miguel, will you grab those for us? We'll talk about it in our next segment. You bet. That's one of the things we could do now.

Ambassador Richard Williamson, we're out of time, but, of course, we loved talking to you. He's a former Assistant Secretary of State --

WILLIAMSON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: -- and Mitt Romney campaign senior foreign policy adviser, joining us this morning.

We'll pull those notes on that. Obviously, the transcripts and get that to you.

Other news, headlines? John's got that for us.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Tanks, Soledad.

Ninety-one people now infected with fungal meningitis and health officials say that number could keep on growing. Seven people have died. Investigators in Massachusetts are trying to find the precise source of the outbreak at the facility where potentially tainted steroid injections were made.

The search for a missing Colorado girl turning up new clues. Police say they found a backpack with items inside that has Jessica Ridgeway's name on them. They were found about six miles from the 10- year-old's home in Westminster, Colorado. Jessica was last seen walking to school Friday morning. Hundreds of volunteers joined the search over the weekend.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he is staying in power. He endured the strongest political challenge yet but he did win a third term overnight. Supporters marking the victory with fireworks and celebration outside the balcony of the presidential palace. Plus, there are questions about whether Chavez who has rebounded from cancer, we think, there are questions about whether he's healthy enough to complete another six years in office.

Another football milestone for New Orleans Saints' quarterback Drew Brees. He's now thrown a touchdown pass in 48 straight games. He broke that record which was held by Johnny Unitas for 52 years. Brees had four TD passes in all last night, as the Sints won their first game of the season, 31-24. They beat the Chargers.

And I understand that Drew Brees will be a guest here on STARTING POINT Wednesday morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, he is. I'm going to be talking to him obviously to congratulate him on his big victory. That's nice.

BERMAN: He credits his appearance on STARTING POINT with helping go over the top.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, I did teach him a few things, you know? I'm known a little bit for my football skills.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: forget the V.P. debate. Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart took on the debate with a comedic flourish. Listen to it a little bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERS)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: Wait, wait, wait, wait. And what would you like for Christmas, little boy?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Are voters taking cues from these kinds of debates instead of the real debates? We'll talk about that.

In the final lap, a heart-stopping crash of 25 cars at Talladega. What triggered the accident? We'll talk about that when we come back. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: It was billed as a rumble in a temperature controlled room with a wrestling belt as a prize. When conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly and comedian Jon Stewart met on Saturday there were lots of jokes to be had. Here's a little piece of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": I have come here tonight to plea to the mayor of [bleep] mountain. Talk to your people.

O'REILLY: What would you like for Christmas, little boy?

HILL: If you could see any American elected president, who would you choose and why?

O'REILLY: I'd say Clint Eastwood would have to be my guy.

STEWART: Why don't we ask him?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: In between the laughs, was there some actual substance in there? Howard Kurtz is host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." Also Washington bureau chief of "The Daily Beast." Nice to see you.

Walk me through. Obviously we showed some of the highlights. Parts of it were really, really funny. Did they get to sort of the gist and nugget of what you need or hope to get in a debate which is some strong facts?

HOWARD KURTZ, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": Having paid my $4.95 to watch this online, Soledad, I was surprised the debate was as serious as it was. You showed some of the lighter moments. As the two men were standing rather awkwardly at those podiums they were really going at it on issues from redistribution of income to foreign policy. Jon Stewart wants to show he can be a political prognosticator as well as a funny man and Bill O'Reilly trying to --

O'BRIEN: Let's play a little chunk of what they did say about their health care plans if they were picking. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'REILLY: You have the private insurance companies. However, they have mandates. They can't throw you off if you're sick. They have to keep basically --

STEWART: Did you say mandates?

O'REILLY: Yes. Mandates. The government has an oversight capacity. Doesn't take it over. Because the government's going to screw it up.

STEWART: Here's what I would do with health care. I would decouple it from work. I would make sure employers are not responsible for the health care. What that would do is free people up to have more mobility in terms of changing jobs, in terms of not worries about illness putting them into bankruptcy, and all those types of situations that we're in now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Outside of health care, I thought that they made some excellent points. Not necessarily related to the actual debate that the two candidates have been having.

KURTZ: There were some good arguments there. And freed from the constraints of having actually to run for office, they were able to illuminate things in a certain way. I have to say this, Soledad. Both of them showed a lot more energy than Barack Obama did last week.

RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER": Howie, it's Ryan. Listen. In that clip, the thing I thought was interesting about this debate is Jon Stewart, it seems to me he's sort of grown into a more of -- less of a comedian and more of a pundit role in the last couple years. His thing was always that you can't really hold him responsible for his views because he's strictly a comedian. He would laugh about the fact he's on Comedy Central, this low budget cable channel. There he is talking about what he would do about health care. Do you think this guy has sort of -- there's an evolution here going on with Stewart?

KURTZ: Absolutely. I've been watching that evolution for years. You'll remember he had the million moderate march or whatever it was called down on the mall here in DC a couple years ago. He wants to be taken seriously. He's a very sharp critic. Not just of those of us in the media who sometimes get stung by what he has to say. But of the political scene. And I think as you watch him on the daily show, yes, he is a very cogent comic. But more and more he is playing to the serious crowd. I think that's one of the reasons he wanted to go toe to toe with O'Reilly.

MICHAEL SKOLNIK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, GLOBALGRIND.COM: The one thing, Howard, I noticed, Jon for young people is probably the most important news source for them. They watch him every single night. I think the debate on Wednesday night, a lot of young folks didn't tune in. Going back and forth about tax policy is not that interesting to us. To hear Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly go at each other especially for young people is quite interesting. Speaking in our language. Speaking about things we care about. I thought there was a lot of substance in that debate. The one thing that was funny Jon Stewart said, here we are fighting about the world's problems and Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird. For our generation we saw that on Mitt Romney Wednesday night, that's not our problem is Big Bird.

KURTZ: There's a little bit of a misconception about the Daily Show. the people who tune in wouldn't get the jokes if they didn't have some passing familiarity with the headlines. But, of course, a lot of people do rely on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Saturday night live for that matter which we saw lampooning the President over the weekend for their political fix. We in the beltway bubble tend to forget not everybody's watching all the political shows. This is a way of breaking through the static and serving up some actual political substance by coating it with the patent of comedy.

O'BRIEN: Howard Kurtz this morning. Thanks for being with us.

Been a strong year for the stock market. Is the rally over? Christine Romans will break down what's going on with stocks. Exclusive new CNN Money survey is straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The S&P 500 is up more than 4 percent s 14 percent so far this year. Investment management and money managers surveyed by CNN Money, they say the stock market rally may be over. The majority expect the S&P 500 to end the year right where it is right now at the 1440 level. Any further gains expected to be held back by uncertainty surrounding the presidential election, the fiscal cliff and the debt crisis in Europe. Although a couple of my sources this morning are saying once you get over the presidential election and because the fed is still pumping so much money into the system, Soledad, they think stocks will still go higher.

O'BRIEN: Interesting to see.

Still ahead this morning on "STARTING POINT," she is one of Fortune's most powerful women. What Sherry Westin says about having it all. And Mitt Romney's plan to cut funding to PBS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. You're watching STARTING POINT. We start with John Berman with an update on the day's top stories.

BERMAN: Mitt Romney spells out foreign policy positions again in a speech this morning at 11:20 at the Virginia Military Institute. He'll compare and contrast his positions with those of President Obama. Romney has harshly criticized the Obama administration, and he says he'll work to support allies to confront hostile governments such as Iran.

Family, friends, and colleagues in Arizona say good-bye today to U.S. border patrol agent Nicolas Ivey at a public funeral service this morning. During visitation yesterday loved ones walked past his black and tan boots, straw hat, his casket draped with an American flag. Federal investigators say they believe ivy was killed in a case of friendly fire.

You may recall the story of Jason Russell. He's the creator of the movie "Kony 2012" which highlights the brutality of Joseph Kony. Back in march he had a public breakdown in the streets of San Diego running into streets with no clothes on. He tells Oprah Winfrey in an exclusive interview that aired last night on her program "Oprah's Next Chapter" that he was hospitalized suffering from a condition called reactive psychosis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASON RUSSELL, FILMMAKER: You don't go through something this traumatic, dramatic, public and not learn a lot from it. And not grow closer to your wife and to your family and to the people who are in your tribe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The good news is Jason Russell says he feels like he's on top of the world these days, which is nice to hear.

A wild finish, a pile-up involving 25 cars during Sunday's NASCAR race at Talladega. Driver Tony Stewart tried to make a move on the race's final lap, which didn't work at all. Set off a massive chain reaction wreck. Amazingly every driver, thankfully, was able to walk away from this.

O'BRIEN: Amazing.

Some of the top female leaders in business and government and academia and the arts recently met for "Fortune's" Most Powerful Women summit. I had a chance to sit down with one of those leaders, Sherrie Westin. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Penny Sellers was telling me the other day at the current rates it would take 70 years for the number of women on corporate boards in the United States to match the number of men for sort of, you know, equality on boards. Which was, I don't know --

SHERRIE WESTIN, EXECUTIVE VP, SESAME WORKSHOP: Surprising.

O'BRIEN: It's really surprising and depressing as well. Do you think that that's -- that that's -- when we're having this conversation, you and in 65 years?

WESTIN: This is somewhat controversial, especially when you're in a conference like this when you see so many impressive women, women CEOs, heads of Fortune 500 company major divisions, and leaders in the nonprofit area as well. It's a wonderful example of how far women have come. But I think there is also that element of choice where women are struggling to balance home and work. And I think often the reason there's not more of those women CEOs is not because they aren't able, not because they haven't been offered, but because at certain times they've decided they have to be in a position that allows more flexibility and choice.

O'BRIEN: Can you have it all?

WESTIN: I relate to some of that. I served in the White House. I was one of the highest ranking women in the Bush 41 White House quite a ways back. But I did that when I didn't have children. I can't imagine at this stage in my life with a 10-year-old and a 17-year-old holding that same job.

I think success for an individual woman is being able to create the kind of environment where she is content, that she believes she's dedicating the time she needs if she has children to those children and to her career. But I do think there is -- there is an importance in having larger numbers at the top because, let's be honest, women leaders are often different. And to have a mix of both male and female at the top of a corporation I think is a really important mix.

O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney has said that he plans to propose eliminating funding for PBS.

ROMNEY: I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I like Big Bird.

O'BRIEN: The national endowment of the arts, should he be elected President of the United States. Of course PBS is where "Sesame Street" airs for people who watch it domestically. What do you think of the proposal?

WESTIN: Well, listen, Sesame Workshop is a nonprofit organization and also a nonpartisan organization. So I don't want to be critical of any camp. But I don't think -- the perception that gives is a little bit misleading, because while we have been on PBS for some 43 years, and we're partners with PBS and proud of it, so we would always be supportive of broadcasting money. But interestingly Sesame Workshop receives very little money from PBS.

(CLIP PLAYING: BIG BIRD RAPPING)

We are able to raise our funding through corporate underwriting and sponsorship. Quite frankly, you know, you can debate whether or not there should be funding in public broadcasting, but when they always sort of tout out Big Bird and say we're going to kill Big Bird, that actually is misleading, because "Sesame Street" will be here.

O'BRIEN: Big Bird lives no matter what.

WESTIN: Big Bird lives on.

(CLIP PLAYING: BIG BIRD RAPPING)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: A rapping Big Bird. Sherrie Westin. You know, we did that interview before the debate and she said to me after the debate that she would never want to imply that somehow "Sesame Street" would be abandoning PBS because she was saying "Sesame Street" and the Workshop has its funding, so financially they'd be in OK shape.

But there is something like 176 PBS stations. Some of them get 50 percent of their financing, their money, from federal funding, and they would go under, which means that "Sesame Street" wouldn't be carried in those communities, you know, if the station was off the air altogether.

We should mention that we're going to have some of those highlights from that conference, "Fortune's" Most Powerful Women conference all during this week.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, day off from school, parades and major retail sales are the usual ways to celebrate Columbus Day. This is the view outside of my window. It's a way to give people a chance to get to know Christopher Columbus up close and personal. As weird as that might sound, it's true. We'll explain up next.

And the moments that tell the full story about the presidential debates. The photographer who took some of the pictures explains the images he got behind the scenes. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. It is Columbus Day, of course. The large Christopher Columbus statue which is right outside of our studios here in New York City, this is kind of the view outside my window, usually looks like a statue of Christopher Columbus. Not this scaffolding kind of mess. This is an art installation. The artist built the statue, a home, a living room so people could explore the explorer. Richard Roth checked it out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christopher Columbus has stood tall in New York's Columbus Circle since 1892. One big problem, though.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) NEW YORK: I've been living in this city since 1966. Columbus circle has always been there. You don't look up. You can't see it.

ROTH: Faster than you can say Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, the city and a public art group set sail to bring the people to Columbus. To discover Christopher Columbus's statue here you could walk up six flights of steps, which to me more arduous than a boat ride.

Columbus may have discovered the New World. Now New Yorkers and tourists enter another new world to rediscover Columbus. Columbus is standing on a coffee table in living room Americana, couch, cable TV.

NICHOLAS BAUME, DIRECTOR, PUBLIC ART FUND: Columbus stayed exactly where he is. This all took shape around him.

ROTH: Only Columbus has seen these views before of major New York avenues.

BAUME: I like to think of it a Christopher Columbus finally getting a piece of the American dream. His own home, front row, in New York City.

ROTH: Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi who specializes in transforming public spaces brought Columbus out of the cold.

TATZU NISHI, ARTIST: I am so happy to have my work in New York city.

ROTH: Some people are not happy an Italian icon is hidden away in a living room.

ROSARIO IACONIS, ITALIC INSTITUTE OF AMERICA: If they wanted to exalt him they wouldn't have encased him in this box and frame.

ROTH: I walked up more steps at Italy's New York consulate to discuss what was done to an Italian sea captain by a Japanese artist in Manhattan.

NATALIE QUINTIVALLE, ITALIAN CONSUL GENERAL OF NEW YORK: Art is a language which is supposed to unify people in different cultures.

ROTH: I ordered Chinese takeout. Will the delivery man be able to come up here to the living room so I can watch some TV along with Chris?

(LAUGHTER)

ROTH: You can explore this exhibit until November 18th. Then the ancient mariner, freed from New York pigeons, gets major cleaning and repairs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: That looks so cool. I would love to go see that, literally the view. Now it's covered in scaffolding. So I no longer see Christopher Columbus. That's got to be awesome.

BERMAN: I want to check it out.

O'BRIEN: Meanwhile, there's a growing movement to change the name of Columbus Day to exploration day. I don't know why. We learned, of course, in school how Christopher Columbus discovered America, which was really the Bahamas, by sailing the ocean blue in 1492. Those who want the holiday renamed say that his treatment of Native Americans was horrific and that they shouldn't be celebrating Christopher Columbus. They should just talk about exploration. I don't know that that's going to catch on.

LIZZA: I went to UC Berkeley.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

LIZZA: And that UC Berkeley you might not be shocked to learn it was -- it was known as I believe Native American Day. O'BRIEN: Right.

LIZZA: So that actually some -- some locations have changed already.

O'BRIEN: Maybe it would change.

LIZZA: And so the idea behind exploration day is what? You celebrate the virtues of Columbus?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: We're also talking about space exploration?

O'BRIEN: Right, just exploration generally. That seems very general to me.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: How about we just have our kids go to school? Honestly why are they off?

CONWAY: Well, my kids are in school. I'm half Italian. The Italians raised me. I wanted my kids to have off today. So we should have them --

O'BRIEN: Really? I think that they don't go to school enough.

CONWAY: No, my kids are in school.

O'BRIEN: Right mine don't go to school. I want them to be in school. Today they're off. They're off tomorrow which is not Columbus Day.

SKOLNIK: We have two days for Columbus Day.

O'BRIEN: In service day as well.

LIZZA: Is this some kind of Italian.

O'BRIEN: Clearly we're celebrating a fine work.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, it is the smallest gesture but it could explain what's going on with the candidates. Our next guest shot this picture at the presidential debate. Says it reveals some of the striking differences that you may not have realized in that debate.

We're back in a moment with that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone.

A few stories to tell you about this morning. Jerry Sandusky is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow. The former assistant football coach at Penn State is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison. In June he was convicted of multiple counts of sexually abusing boys over a span of 15 years. The House Intelligence Committee reports says two of the world's biggest telecom companies could pose a threat to national security because of their ties to the Chinese government. The two firms have tried to expand operations in the West. They dispute the findings from Congress.

A record-shattering men's run at the Chicago marathon by its first Ethiopian winner. The 25-year-old Tsegaye Kebede slashed the course record by about a minute. He also broke Kenya's streak of nine consecutive wins.

O'BRIEN: Wow amazing, amazing time.

Well, the presidential campaign coverage seems to rely, of course, on live TV events, quick sound bites. So more often the campaign moments that go down in history end up being captured by still photographs.

Getty Images photographer Chip Somodevilla joins us this morning. He took some pictures at the debate. First start by describing the tone in the hall. What did it feel like before you even started snapping pictures?

CHIP SOMODEVILLA, GETTY IMAGES PHOTOGRAPHER: Before the debate begins, the room starts to fill with people from everywhere and all over the community. They're all very excited. Moving around, snapping pictures of the First Lady's chair where she's going to be sitting, snapping pictures of anything and everything in the room. Then the crowd settles. And Jim Lehrer came out and told everyone to be absolutely silent and then the candidates come out and the anticipation is palpable.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: How did they seem as? You know, President Obama looked distracted, discouraged, to name a bunch of adjectives that are negative about that debate for him. And -- and Mitt Romney looked very confident and aggressive in sort of, I think, a strong way. How did they feel to you as a photographer as you were taking pictures?

SOMODEVILLA: Well, they felt very much the way that everyone saw them. The -- the President looked down a lot when he was listening to Governor Romney. And then Governor Romney's gestures, as you can see from the photographs, were very exuberant and very confident. People talk about owning a stage or owning a location. And when you saw the images side by side of the two -- of the President and Governor Romney, it was apparent who -- who was feeling more confident that evening.

O'BRIEN: We've got another photo of the Obamas as well. I think it's -- you see right after the debate President Obama and Mrs. Obama standing off to the side. There it is. Tell me a little bit about this picture.

SOMODEVILLA: Sure, after the debate is over, the -- the First Lady and Mrs. Romney came on to stage and -- and Governor Romney's family came on and everyone greeted each other and visited and -- and patted each other on the back, shook hands. And then afterward, Governor Romney returned to the podium to collect his notes. And the President looked off stage for kind of guidance as to where to exit.

So that moment happened very quickly. And it happened after the debate was over. I'm not sure if it was live on television. And I thought that it -- it kind of spoke to the entire debate. The Governor seemed to return back to the podium as if he was trying to get back to where he was having a great time.

O'BRIEN: And the President is looking for the exit.

LIZZA: Exit stage left.

O'BRIEN: Oh the metaphors run rampant. There's a shot we've been showing of President Obama sort of patting Governor Romney on the back. Let's throw that picture up if we can. Tell me a little bit about that.

SOMODEVILLA: Sure. The President is an extremely friendly person. He's a very -- he's a touching person. When he campaigns, he shakes hands. He fist bumps. He gives hugs to his supporters. He -- he is very comfortable with who he is and the way that he interacts with other people.

So this is after they had finished the debate and they had shaken hands and then the President was moving around to greet the First Lady as she came up on stage. And he was still touching the Governor. That's just his -- that's his way. It's how he interacts with people.

CONWAY: And how did Romney react -- how did Romney react to that? He's not a very physical guy.

SOMODEVILLA: No he's not -- he's not a very physical guy. I -- I can say with some confidence after covering the campaign and covering Governor Romney since last summer starting with the Iowa state fair, he's not a hugging person the way that the President is. But he's still -- he was still fine. He shook hands. He came in close to the President. They had words before and after. And they seemed comfortable with each other.

CONWAY: I was glad he got rid of the mom jeans and he's actually traded that name for some of these anecdotes.

O'BRIEN: Back to the suits -- the suits are good.

LIZZA: The mood in the room at the end, what was different than the beginning?

SOMEDEVILLA: With the -- when the candidates come out, as you see on television, it's very quick. They come out. They shake hands. And they say a few words. And -- and for us as photographers, it's very exciting. Because it's the only time that we see them together between the beginning of this race and the end.

And so we're trying to read as much as we can in to it. And afterward the mood was -- it was clear that -- that Governor Romney and his family were exuberant.

LIZZA: When you're shooting an event like this, are you actually watching and listening to the debate to understand sort of how the commentary is going to describe this so you can sort of capture a photo that illustrates that? Or are you just sitting there shooting the whole time and not really paying attention to the dynamics?

SOMODEVILLA: That's the journalist in photo journalist. Our job is to make an image that speaks to what's happening in the room. Normally we have a lot of freedom at rallies and other events as political photographers to move around, to find the angle, to find a picture that's story telling.

But with the debate, we're glued to one spot and we have to do what we can to glean meaning from that one position. And so that -- so we have to begin to look for a gesture. We have to begin to look for a -- for an expression. And we have to be very careful to make sure to capture what we can and make sure that it adheres to what's happening in the -- in the story.

LIZZA: Did you detect the dominant story of Obama not really showing up and Romney dominating?

O'BRIEN: There was some people in the room who said they didn't feel as bad as it read on television. Is that how it felt to you?

SOMODEVILLA: No, no.

LIZZA: That's the photo you were looking for.

SOMODEVILLA: I wasn't looking for it as much as I was seeing it. It was there. I didn't have to go out of my way in order to illustrate what was happening in the room. But I had to make sure to do it carefully.

O'BRIEN: The pictures are beautiful.

SOMODEVILLA: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Chip Somodevilla, nice to have you with us.

SOMODEVILLA: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Getty Images photographer who took pictures of the presidential debate. Thanks.

"End Point" is up next. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: "End Point", Michael, you want to start with us?

SKOLNIK: Yes. I just got back from Florida yesterday registering voters for the past five days. Russell and I were down there campaigning for the President. Tomorrow is the deadline in about 15 states across this country to register to vote. If you haven't registered yet, please, go out there and register. Let's vote.

O'BRIEN: Kellyanne, you're a pollster. What do you think the post debate polls are going to show.

CONWAY: They're going to show a true bump for Romney. Particularly among the undecided voters. He gave people a reason to vote for him and the President gave people an excuse to vote against him. That's a double whammy in the course of 90 minutes. I think the vice presidential debate is going to be important because Joe Biden basically debated Sarah Palin to a draw. If they hadn't we'd still be talking about Sarah Palin's poor debate performance. She was great.

And I think this one's important because the Democratic Party has done great through Clinton and Obama, their last two presidents, of talking about the general zeitgeist of passing the torch. So you're going to have Joe Biden and Paul Ryan on the state. Ryan is going to be the one trying to save entitlements into the future.

It's going to be very fascinating. The Republicans are not accustomed to having the 42-year-old talking about generational change in politics.

O'BRIEN: We will see. All right.

Well, we are out of time. We'll see everybody back here tomorrow morning.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. Hey Carol, good morning.