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NY Times Offers Buy-Outs in Newsroom; U.S. Warns Syria on Chemical Weapons; CNN Investigates Chicago Anti-Violence Program.

Aired December 3, 2012 - 13:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, CNN RELIABLE SOURCES: And the question is, what is sports journalism about? Is it just about celebrating the games and the X's and the O's and which team got the upper hand and who played the zone defense, or is it also about important issues of life and death? In this case, this thing had just happened, I think it was unavoidable.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And full disclosure, I worked with Bob Costas for a number of years. I adore him. And he is a fine man and a fine broadcaster. And obviously, this is going to be something he is going to have to deal with in whatever way it shakes out.

I want to switch topics a bit with you, if I can, Howie. And that is this news came down today that "The New York Times" is offering buy- out packages to 30 of its employees in the newsroom. You know, we hear this over and over and over and over again, and then we hear about newspapers closing, but does this -- should we read into this at all, pardon the pun?

KURTZ: What you should read into this, Ashleigh, is that newspapers are going through a very tough time. And even "The New York Times", which has probably the biggest newsroom of any daily newspaper in America, is not immune to the financial pressures caused by a whole bunch of things, ranging from the Internet to a tough economy.

Now, this is kind of a blip compared to what some newspapers, including my former paper, "The Washington Post," have gone through, cutting hundreds and thousands of employees through buy-outs and layoffs, other methods of trimming the payroll. 30 voluntary buy-outs is not that much. But given the "Time's" commitment to spending on journalism and keeping that newsroom big, it shows that even if you are in New York and you are a big national newspaper, you cannot be immune to the tough times facing the print business right now.

BANFIELD: Hey, Howie, thank you. Love your show.

KURTZ: Thank you so much. Talk to you again.

BANFIELD: Howie Kurtz, joining us live on a number of topics.

Also, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a message, and it's for Syria: Use chemical weapons against your own people, and the United States will take action. What does that mean? We'll talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BANFIELD: Just into CNN, the United Nations is now pulling nonessential international personnel out of Syria, and it's suspended its mission there until further notice, as well. All of this coming amid heightened concerns over that country's chemical weapons.

Our secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, in Prague today, issued this warning.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have made our views very clear. This is a red line for the United States. I'm not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people, but sufficed to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur.


BANFIELD: In response to that warning, Syria's foreign ministry is denying plans to use chemical weapons. But intelligence officials say there are worrying signs that suggest otherwise.

Israel's decision to move ahead on 3,000 new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is being roundly slammed in the West. Today, Britain called in the Israeli ambassador to protest. And there are reports that France and Sweden are doing the same thing. The E.U., the U.S., and the U.N. are all warning that expanding Israel's footprint in Palestinian territory will only put a two-state solution that much farther out of reach. It was just last Thursday, you'll recall, that the Palestinian Authority won a U.N. vote to be named a nonmember observer state. That, over furious Israeli and American objections.

A tragic story developing in Japan this hour. Police say nine people have been killed after a huge concrete set of slabs began to fall from the roof of a highway tunnel as the vehicles were driving below. The government has ordered the immediate inspection of 49 tunnels similar to the one that collapsed yesterday. This all happened about 50 miles west of Tokyo. And a company that operates the tunnel says aging bolts and concrete slabs could be a potential cause of that accident.

More than 450 people have been killed in Chicago, and that's just this year alone. Anti-violence programs are actually working in that city, but are they working or are they paperwork? CNN investigates.


BANFIELD: Eight people were killed and another violent weekend in Chicago. And that brings the total number of homicides this year in Chicago to 484. Amazing. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn launched an ambitious anti-violence program two years ago and called it the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. And, on paper, it looked like a great idea, but a CNN investigation has found a serious set of questions about whether this was politics or crime prevention.

Drew Griffin now with our special investigations unit explains.



(voice-over): This is one of the community organizing groups hired to help reduce violence in Chicago, part of a $54.5 million initiative. Governor Pat Quinn's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, or NRI, rolled out just before his contentious 2010 election.

This group called the Woodlawn Organization got $1.2 million.

(on camera): So this is all that's left of the Woodlawn Organization. We walked through a front door that was wide open. You can see the equipment is here. This was de-funded by the program because they couldn't figure out what they had done with the money.

(voice-over): It was one of about 160 community, church, and civic groups that got the NRI money from the state. Now most of the money has run out. Homicides are up. And questions are being raised about just what the NRI was really for, to cut crime or save an election?

What we do know is the money was spread out on Chicago's south and southwest sides. The idea, get communities involved to stop the violence.


GRIFFIN: How? On this chilly afternoon, teenagers across Chicago's south side are paid to hand out flyers --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have a nice day.

GRIFFIN: -- and spread a message of nonviolence.

The NRI is credited with creating about 3,500 temporary jobs, mentoring youth and parents, providing re-entry services and counseling in schools. But our four-month investigation found the jobs not only included handing out those flyers, but also attending yoga class, taking museum field trips, even marching with the governor in a parade. The jobs are now gone.

(on camera): CNN has taken an extensive look at where the money went, what it did, and most, importantly, the timing of how the program was rolled out.

The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative began sending money to tough neighborhoods in the city of Chicago right before Chicago voters went to the polls.

According to these minutes from a state meeting, a member of the governor's staff promised, quote, "allocating some of the funds for this initiative immediately, the rest after the election."

PAT QUINN, (D), GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: I'm happy to say that I'm always honest.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In October 2010, then-Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn was struggling to be elected to the job he assumed after former Governor Rod Blagojevich was removed from office for corruption and misconduct. Quinn, a Democrat, needed a huge turnout in Chicago's heavily Democratic districts on the south side. That's where critics say the NRI money ended up. The governor won that election by less than one percentage point. But the results on reducing crime? So far, there's been 484 murders this year, up 21 percent from 2011.

STATE SEN. MATT MURPHY, (R), ILLINOIS: On its face, it appears to be a waste.

GRIFFIN: The Illinois Republican State Senator Matt Murphy.

MURPHY: About a month before the election, at a time when reports everywhere were showing a diminished interest in the election in the governor's base, and lo and behold, here he comes with a new state program and millions of dollars to get people interested.

QUINN: It's a lot of bologna. You know, they know that. Matter of fact, people make those charges are running against me. It's all politics.

GRIFFIN: In an early November interview, Governor Quinn insisted to CNN the murder rate was so high in the summer of 2010 he had to do something.

QUINN: The city of Chicago is the third-largest city in America. I live in Chicago. I live on the west side. I live in a violent neighborhood. And I know firsthand that you better, in government, do something about the violence because that's what the people want.

GRIFFIN (on camera): But the murder rate is up 25 percent. Would you -- are you saying that the murder rate would be up 30 percent, 35 percent without this program?

QUINN: You take it one year at a time. You try and evaluate the programs and find out what is working, what isn't working so well, and you focus on the things that work well. But you don't just say we're not going to do anything.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Even a member of Quinn's own party, though, Democratic State Representative Thaddeus Jones has questions, asking where are the audits, administration costs, and oversight of the many organizations.

We can show you what the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative did that is proof, say organizers, the money was well spent. Teaching teens to change behaviors. And for $8.75 an hour, this is how the teens work to reduce Chicago's murder rate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This week, we're talking about seeking inner peace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you deal with stress? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My topic this month is about being healthy.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS REPORTER: Governor Quinn does not miss this parade ever.

GRIFFIN: And, yes, the state confirmed, part of promoting positive messages included paying teens to march with the governor in the annual Bud Billigan (ph) parade.

(on camera): Is this the type of thing that you think leads to long- term employment or long-term reduction in violence?

MURPHY: It's another way of providing welfare?

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The director of one of the agencies that received more than $2 million concedes NRI was rushed out without much of a plan.

MICHAEL SHAVER, COO, CHILDREN'S HOME AND AID: Actually, there was a fast and furious nature to it. There was certainly, from the time that the governor who was running for re-election, announced it to the time frames to actually put the money in the community.

GRIFFIN: Mike Shaver says the program, modeled, in part, after a now defunct Philadelphia initiative, did hand out a lot of money, but spent little time determining if it was effective.

SHAVER: I have not seen anything that's been produced by the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority that would make a compelling case that this array of programs, based upon the model in Philadelphia, worked.

GRIFFIN: As we began asking questions of agencies who got the money, we've been getting more and more no comments.

(on camera): You can't talk?

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Remember the Woodlawn Organization, which received $1.2 million?

(on camera): Anybody here? Hello?

(voice-over): The leader of that group isn't talking either.

An audit by the state agency that ran the program could explain the silence. The state found questionable expenses, a lack of clear accounting, a $10,700 check written to a part-time staff member supposedly to pay a utility bill that they didn't prove was paid. The state shut down all funding for the organization. The group's attorney tells CNN all documents will be provided to show it did nothing wrong.

(on camera): I just want to get back to the point of, did this program work, Governor?


GRIFFIN: As well-intentioned as it was, did it work?

QUINN: Yes, it did. It did work. If it saves one life, it worked.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Chicago remains on track to approach 500 murders this year.


BANFIELD: And, Drew, as we said off the top, they're at 484 as of today. But the superintendent of the police has said that just recently the murder rate has been going down, at least for the last few months, anyway, so did something change?

GRIFFIN: Something did change. Believe it or not, earlier this year, at one point, the murder rate was 66 percent higher than the year before. That's when the police superintendent did decide to take some pro-active steps. He didn't get into this handing out flyers or yoga class. He put more cops on the street. He made sure that those cops were arresting more and more gang members. And they began tearing down a lot of the vacant buildings on the south and southwest sides that are used by those gang members. That has reduced the pace, Ashleigh, of the murders. But, as you say this last weekend, the murder rate is still 21 percent higher this year than last year, and last year was a bad year.

BANFIELD: Last year was a bad year. Obviously, your report is going to send some ripples throughout Chicago. And this program, the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, might start actually sounding like a bad thing. Is it gone? What's happening with it?

GRIFFIN: Not completely. The governor insists that it's still vibrant, but it's working with a lot less money, $15 million. A lot of the programs that we talked to, the people there, they're done with.

It's gone under a new agency now that's going to monitor it. There's a huge state audit underway, retroactively, trying to figure out where all the money went.

And in the meantime, the people who run the new modified programs say, if there are any jobs, they're not going to be handing out flyers and marching in parades. It's going to be a more traditional employment. That's what they told us.

BANFIELD: Or maybe part-timers won't be getting $10,700 checks with no receipts to turn in.


GRIFFIN: You know, the state really has some work to do figuring out where that money went.

BANFIELD: You think?

Drew, great work, as always. Thank you for that.

The pope has millions and millions of followers. And now those followers can keep tabs on Twitter.


BANFIELD: Forbe's 2013 version of the Fusion and the Escape barely hit the streets and almost 100,000 of them are being recalled. The problem apparently is the eco-boost engine that was used in both cars. The company says that those engines can overheat and, unfortunately, they can catch fire. And that's why the owners are being told right now to get your car back to the dealer right away. You are going to get a loaner until Ford can figure out how to fix your problem.

Do you have any questions about how a giant leap off a fiscal cliff would affect your particular family? In about 10 minutes, you can take that question right to the president himself, on Twitter. If you pitch a question and use the #my2k, you may get an answer from him. And that is a reference to the roughly $2,000 tax hike that most families are going to face is the current tax rates aren't extended. Also, the name of a new White House campaign that is aimed at getting Congress to support the president's plan for avoiding the fiscal cliff. If you follow the pope spiritually, you can now do it virtually. And this is very cool. Pope Benedict XVI's Twitter account went live in seven languages today and it got thousands of followers just within minutes, even though the pope hasn't sent out a tweet yet. We're told that is to happen next Wednesday. It is a bit weird, isn't it? You have a Twitter account and you to wait a week and a half for the pope to tweet. The pope says he'll kick off the Twitter account with a Q&A session.


ERIC MARRAPODI, CNN BELIEF BLOG CO-EDITOR: Whenever the Vatican does something really big and important, they always do it in multiple languages, which is why they're doing this Twitter feed in English and German and even Arabic.

What will happen on Wednesday is he'll be answering some questions on Twitter. One of the reasons they said he wanted to get involved with this social networking site was he wanted to connect with people in social media. And so what better way than to take a few questions. #askpontifex.


BANFIELD: That is so cool, isn't it? The Vatican says every single tweet will be seen and approved by the pope and it is unlikely he'll use the word "whatev."

There say brand-new royal baby on board. The palace is confirming that Prince William and Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, are having a baby. And, of course, a lot of people are talking about it on Twitter.

Our own Piers Morgan is on Twitter with this one, and it is hilarious. He says this, "Hardly surprising that Kate's feeling so sick. According to the 'National Enquirer', she's been pregnant since 2003." Maria Shriver offered her congratulations and her support. "Wonderful news for Prince William and Kate."

Now, she says Kate Middleton, but you can't call her Kate Middleton anymore. He's the Duchess of Cambridge. She has something called hyperemesis gravidarum. And Maria Shriver says that she had it with her last child. Not fun at all.

Hang in there, Kate. It is really a form of pretty serious morning sickness, and it isn't fun at all.

Dozens of people were nominated, but only one person won the title of CNN's Hero of the Year.


PUSHPA BASNET, CNN HERO OF THE YEAR: My name is Pushpa Basnet, and my mission is to make sure no child grows up behind prison walls.



BANFIELD: A 29-year-old woman from Nepal is this year's CNN Hero of the Year. Last night, Pushpa Basnet won $250,000 for her cause. Look at the reaction. I love that. That money is going to go towards her home and day care program for children who are in jail with their parents. Because Nepal is so poor, the kids of jailed parents have to live with them behind bars.

Here's what she told us inspired her decision to help these kids.


BASNET: I was starting my social work, I got a chance to visit the jail. And when I visited the jail, first time, I felt that how fortunate I am that my parents are working so hard just for me to get a good education. But there are some other children also, just because of their parents, the children are also suffering. So I thought that I should do something.


BANFIELD: Fantastic. One word.

CNN NEWSROOM continues now.