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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Tennis Player Criticized for Imitating Serena Williams; Meteorologist Fired for Publicly Defending Hair Style; Last Minute Holiday Shopping; Romney Claim Wins "Lie of the Year"

Aired December 12, 2012 - 08:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. John Berman starts us off with a look at some of the stories making news today. Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Thanks, Soledad. Police here in New York City trying to find a killer who may be a professional. A gunman walked up beside a man on Monday in broad daylight just down the street from here and shot the man in the head. The victim did have an arrest record on the west coast. Mayor Bloomberg said this killing was not random.

A Maryland health official is confirming a second person has died in the fungal meningitis outbreak. The patient died in November and had been reportedly receiving treatment. Nationwide 590 people have been infected in this meningitis outbreak, 37 people have died.

You're looking at live pictures of the first section of the spire at one world trade center. It is going up slowly. Nine of the spire's 18 sections arrived yesterday, when it's concluded it will sit on top of the 104-story skyscraper making it the tallest building in the western hemisphere, a welcome sight.

Changes are coming to the Martin Luther King Jr. monument in Washington, D.C. An edited version will be removed and not replaced. The inscription was, "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." Here is the full quote, the speech from the year 1968, the year he was assassinated. It said, "Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And that all other shallow things will not matter."

Poet Maya Angelou pointed out the partial quote could make Dr. King sound arrogant.

O'BRIEN: You can't quote people with quotes they didn't say on their memorial. The point of a quote is that they actually said it. He did not say that.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You can get away with shortening quotes on Twitter about you not monuments.

O'BRIEN: I'm not even sure on Twitter you can quote someone. BERMAN: We have one more story people are talking about this morning. Tennis pro Caroline Wozniacki's over the top imitation of tennis super star Serena Williams is creating an uproar. The Danish tennis player was competing in an exhibition match in Brazil. Look at this.

She stuffed her shirt and skirt with towels and pranced around the court. Her imitation of Serena got plenty of laughs around the crowd and competitors, but Wozniacki is taking heat online, some calling this racist. This is not the first time Wozniacki has done this and other tennis players have done this, and Williams and Wozniacki are close friends. I have not seen comment from Serena Williams on this so far.

O'BRIEN: Which is the only thing that comments. If Serena is offended by what her friend has done, I'll be right there with her and say be offended.

BERMAN: She's done this before.

O'BRIEN: Because they're friends and she thinks what her friend is done is funny then I think --

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's sort of going after ugly stereotypes that are rooted in racism in some way?

DEEPAK CHOPRA, AUTHOR, "SUPER BRAIN": But if Serena makes the choice not to be offended that's graceful. I think that would win her a lot of support.

O'BRIEN: I don't see an ugly stereotype. I don't think it's racist. I think we throw the word "racist" around a lot. It might be offensive. If Serena is offended because of something someone has done and says wow, she's somehow mocking her body. But you know --

BERMAN: It doesn't have to be racist to be offensive.

O'BRIEN: Serena has a slamming body and looks great, and her friend is probably just making fun. But if she's offended that's the only person whose opinion I care about on that. And that's the final word.

How about this story which in a way is an interesting connection to this. Rhonda Lee, meteorologist, worked for KTBS in Shreveport, Louisiana, and I said worked for, because she got fired the other day. As you can see in her picture here she has short natural hair. The viewer who wasn't fond of her style wrote this on the station's Facebook page, "The black lady that does the news is a very nice lady. The only thing is she needs to wear a wig or grow some more hair. I'm not sure if she's a cancer patient, but still it's not something myself that I think looks good on TV."

So Rhonda took to Facebook and wrote back, "Showing little girls being comfortable in the skin and hair god gave me is my contribution to society. Little girls and boys for that matter need to see that what you look like isn't a reason not to achieve their goals. Conforming to one standard isn't what being an American is about and I hope you can embrace that. Thank you for your comment and have a great weekend and thanks for watching," which, by the way, is so much nicer than I would have been if someone had written that on my Facebook page.

BERMAN: I have read some of the comments.

O'BRIEN: By the way I like your hair style. Is this the first time that someone has commented on your looks on Facebook, the station's Facebook page?

RHONDA LEE, METEOROLOGIST: I would probably say yes the first time on a Facebook page, mainly because the medium itself is so new, but I would say in this business, it's unfortunately rather commonplace. I've been denied job interviews because of my hair. I've been asked would you be willing to maybe grow your hair out. I've even had a news director once say that my hair was too aggressive for Sacramento, so I wasn't allowed to interview at that point. So it's been an interesting journey with my hair.

O'BRIEN: When you say interesting, you mean not so great I think is what you're saying there. But you responded to this one. I thought your response was again much nicer than I would have ever done because I kind of tell people off on Twitter and occasionally on Facebook. Why did you feel the need to respond?

LEE: Well, one the message itself had sat and pretty much festered on her Facebook page for about six days before I had even replied at all. But I think what I said was exactly what I meant. Edification for these kinds of topics is crucial to moving past tough racial issues in our country.

And at the time, honestly, I didn't think of it as anything more than what it was, which was just replying to a viewer and letting him know I'm perfectly healthy. In fact, I ran a marathon in Dallas this past weekend. So I'm fine in every way and I'm blessed to be the way that I am. And as an American citizen, I'm OK with being accepted for my hair and everything that it encompasses.

O'BRIEN: The station that fired you released a statement, and here's what they said. This is from KTBS: "Unfortunately, television personalities have long been subject to harsh criticism and negative viewer comments about their appearance and performance. If harsh viewer comments are posted on the station's official Web site, there is a specific procedure to follow. Ms. Rhonda Lee was let go for repeatedly violating that procedure. And after being warned multiple times of the consequences if her behavior continued, Rhonda Lee was not dismissed for her appearance or defending her appearance, she was fired for continuing to violate can be procedure."

They're saying there is an official thing you should have done and did not do and you've been warned. Is that true?

LEE: Not necessarily -- in fact, not at all. I have yet to see this policy. Upon my termination, I was asked could I see it, and I was told no. I pled for my job again just this past Friday and asked to see the policy, and was told that there isn't anything written down. So if I was in violation of something, I would also assume it would be in my employee file. There's nothing there. O'BRIEN: They sent a staff e-mail to people, and I know you're included on that e-mail, and I'll tell what you it says. "When we see complaints from viewers it's best not to respond at all. If you choose to respond to these complaints there's only one proper response -- provide them with," they crossed the person's name out, I'll guess it's like the person who runs this area for you, "contact information and tell them that he would be glad to speak with them about their concerns. Once again this is the only proper response."

This was sent August 30th of 2012 and that's a screen graph from that e-mail.

LEE: I can honestly still say that I did not see that at that point, and as far as I was concerned, it was addressed to me, so I felt the need to address it, and seeing as how at the time that the message was up there, the station didn't do anything.

And in these kind of instances, it behooves everyone, I would feel, to address these sort of topics because racial instances, racial comments can be very sensitive, and if they're allowed to just sit there, to me it's almost condoning harsh comments like that, instead of perhaps even defending the employee. But I would say in this instance, I didn't necessarily find my topic controversial at all.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask the question. Have they taken it down yet? Because when I saw a version of it, it was "liked." Someone at the station, whoever runs your Facebook page liked the original comment, which is creepy in and of itself.

LEE: As far as I know, it is still there. It was there last week. I don't know if it's still there now.

O'BRIEN: You know what's so interesting, Jennifer Livingston. Remember Jennifer Livingston? She was that reporter in Lacrosse, Wisconsin, and she went out and did this impassioned response to an equally nasty e-mail that came in about her weight. And her station fully supported her and she used it as an opportunity to say that, you know, that this is something that she's been dealing with, that she's a healthy person, et cetera, et cetera, and her own struggles, and I think people cheered her. But they used it as an opportunity to have a conversation about how painful it is to be unpleasant to somebody over e-mail about the size of her body and women and weight, all these things were covered. And I think your station kind of did the opposite, like there's no conversation.

CHOPRA: You would think the station is in China instead of California.

O'BRIEN: No, it's in, where is your station?

LEE: Shreveport, Louisiana.

O'BRIEN: KTBS is in Shreveport, Louisiana. Why do you think they didn't -- you could have almost done, we did this "BLACK IN AMERICA" the other day, everybody wanted to talk about skin color and race and sort of perceptions in America. You could have used your story to really launch an interesting conversation about why is your short, natural hair scary to people. Why is it aggressive? I think that's fascinating. Why do you think they didn't do that?

LEE: I honestly, I wish I had an answer, because for me, my first response was education. And in the case of the other woman, that was one of the first things that came to my mind was, I feel like I was being punished for defending myself. Whereas other people are given platforms, I was given a pink slip instead. I feel that a lot of times and particularly in the deep south that racial issues can be scary. They can be very touchy, and my former employer saw it as controversial.

To me, as I said before, they may have had this policy that again I can honestly say that I have not seen, you may have the policy but I also feel that there's a responsibility to educate viewers, and if that opportunity comes up, then grab it. Take hold of it, embrace it, and use it as a platform for helping repair relations within our community. And I really feel that hiding is doing more of a disservice than actually helping to educate the viewing population when you have the opportunity.

O'BRIEN: Well, KTSBS might be regretting the way they strategically handed this one. Rhonda Lee, sorry that you lost your job by taking a stand on this and by speaking out about it, but we appreciate you talking to us this morning. Thank you.

LEE: Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

We've got to take a break. Still ahead on STARTING POINT, during the presidential campaign, well, we talked about this a lot, lies, lies and more lies from both sides of the aisle, lots of things that were not true. But which one was the lie of the year?

The editor and founder of Politifact.com will join us with their big reveal, the biggest liar in the campaign, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

I'm Christine Romans. In today's "Smart is the New Rich", U.S. stock futures are higher after a strong performance yesterday and ahead of an appearance by the Federal Reserve Chief later today. Investors expect the Federal Reserve will announce more economic stimulus today. The Fed's moves have pushed interest rates on cars, homes and saving accounts to record lows but not credit cards.

And many say the Fed's stimulus has been rocket fuel for the stock market. The S&P 500 is up more than 13 percent so far this year. Market analysts though say a tumble off the fiscal cliff would mean a tumble for stocks early next year.

We're 20 days away from that cliff but less than two weeks from Christmas and 58 percent of Americans say they are nowhere near done with their holiday shopping this year. This according to a new poll by Reuters IPSOs, about a third say they've not even started yet. Only 18 percent say they've already bought their holiday presents this year.

Last-minute shopping can often lead to overspending. Americans have more debt on their cards this year than last year, already about $4,996 in the third quarter. So be careful out there, remember not to buy anything you can't afford to pay off in the next 30 days.

And as Deepak like to say we don't need to run around spending money we don't have to please people we don't like to buy things we don't need right?

CHOPRA: That we haven't earned yet.

ROMANS: That we haven't earned yet.

UF1: That's called Christmas.

ROMANS: But on fun, God bless America.

CHOPRA: Yes it's stunning though, that if you translated this whole fiscal crisis to a family and took off lots of eight zeros, then we earn $24,000 and we owe $850,000. That's not viable.

O'BRIEN: That's always bad math.

LIZZA: You can't pay that off in 30 days.

HOOVER: No.

ROMANS: What are the interest rates on that? Interest rate on America's credit card is like nothing but we don't get those low interest rates.

O'BRIEN: I haven't even started my shopping yet.

LIZZA: Me either. I'm in the 28 percent.

O'BRIEN: Really?

LIZZA: Yes.

O'BRIEN: That's why we're going to be running through the mall buying whatever the day before. Got to take a break.

But up next this morning, you heard lots of lies, just so many really, the show was just based on people lying to us constantly on the show that was during the presidential campaign but what was the biggest lie of the entire year? We're going to reveal that coming up next.

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O'BRIEN: So we know that in any political campaign both sides make extreme statements, a.k.a., big fat lies and then the fact checkers get to work and they have to cut through all the talking points to figure out the truth, I was going to say something else but I'll say talking points.

So PolitiFact, of course, is one of the most prominent fact-checking Web sites out there. And every year their staff picks what they consider to be the most outlandish, incorrect, phony untrue statement of the entire year in politics. Bill Adair is the editor of PolitiFact.com and he has got the 2012 "Lie of the Year." What has the world come to that we have the lie of the year?

All right who wins for "Lie of the Year?" What -- what lie is the victor?

BILL ADAIR, FOUNDER & EDITOR, POLITIFACT.COM: It's the claim by the Romney campaign that Jeep was going to move its production to China at the cost of American jobs. This was a last-minute point in an ad made in Ohio, but it really had ramifications far beyond Ohio.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I think we have a clip.

ADAIR: We've chosen it as the "Lie of the Year."

O'BRIEN: Let me play that clip so people can remember.

(CROSSTALK)

ADAIR: Pardon me, oh OK.

O'BRIEN: -- so people can remember this ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AD NARRATOR: Mitt Romney has a plan to help the auto industry. He's supported by Lee Iacocca and "The Detroit News." Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That's so interesting. That thing only really aired I believe in Toledo right? But it was the aftermath that went absolute crazy. Let's talk about that.

ADAIR: Absolutely, in fact the reason we chose it, is it was just so brazen. It began with something Romney said on the campaign trail, they put out that ad. They also put out a radio ad that said the same thing, and they continued to repeat it even after Chrysler and the fact checkers had said it was simply not true.

Jeep was actually expanding its production in the U.S. The reason it was thinking of building -- that it's planning to build a plant in China is to meet the increased demand for Jeeps in China. So it was just blatantly false and yet they persisted with it. O'BRIEN: You know what's interesting, too, remember when the Chrysler CEO, Sergio Marchione I think, had to put out a statement basically saying, "Liar, liar, pants on fire, this is not going to happen." I mean, that's never -- and you know, or more nicely, "I'm obliged to unambiguously restate our position. Jeep production will not move. It's inaccurate to suggest anything different."

There were Republican strategists I remember talking to them who -- who were stunned that this ad, that this was being said, because they thought it was -- it was kind of signaled a desperate move. What were -- what was -- what was the runner-up, what was the next runner-up that could have been picked as the biggest lie?

ADAIR: Well we had -- we had ten -- we had ten finalists and -- and I should note that we had a readers' poll where we also allow readers to vote on their top choice. The readers' top choice was a claim by Rush Limbaugh that Obamacare was the largest tax increase in the history of the world and that was the number one for the readers. We didn't pick that one. We felt this one was just bigger.

I mean this was a -- this was a lie that backfired. I think the Romney campaign, as you just noted, Soledad, this was something of a desperate measure at -- at the end of the campaign, and it didn't work, in fact, it actually backfired because there was so much fact checking and debunking and the statement you mentioned from Chrysler that it just didn't work.

O'BRIEN: Bill Adair, is the founder/editor of PolitiFact.com. Thank for your Web site. We rely on you guys a lot, as well in our own fact-checking of course. So we -- we spent a lot of time together you and I during this election season.

ADAIR: Yes, thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: You don't know that, but we did. We appreciate it, Bill, thank you for being with us. We've got to take a short break.

ADAIR: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: We're out of time today. We'll see you all back here tomorrow morning. "CNN NEWSROOM" with Don Lemon begins right now. Good morning Don.