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North Koreans Celebrate; Man Fatally Shoots Self Inside Courthouse; Smokestack Death; Shooting On Train Caught On Tape; Asking About Sexual Orientation; Buzz Over Bin Laden Thriller; Rice Out Of The Running; Former President George H.W. Bush Improving; Fumbling In Philly; "The Revolution Was Televised"

Aired December 14, 2012 - 07:30   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Let's begin with John Berman. He has a look at today's top stories.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Thanks, Soledad. They are dancing in the streets of Pyongyang. North Koreans toasting the country's first successful satellite launch into space, even though the U.S. government has indicated that the North Koreans might not have control of the satellite.

Even Supreme Leader Kim Jung-Un is getting into the act. The North Korean government releasing this photo of the launch this as leaders in Washington, Tokyo and Seoul, all call for punishment, insisting that the North Koreans have moved one step closer to being able to launch nuclear weapons across the Pacific.

Authorities in Birmingham are taking another look at security procedures after a man shot and killed himself inside the federal courthouse. The U.S. marshals said the man worked in the building and slipped the gun passed security because he used as employee entrance. Visitors have to pass through metal detectors. Police say no one in the courthouse was ever threatened.

An aspiring actor and comic killed after falling into the smokestack on the roof of the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago. This is an awful story. Police say 23-year-old Nicholas Wieme was taking pictures on the hotel's famous onion-shape rooftop dome with a friend.

When he fell and became wedged in the chimney. It took firefighters hours to finally to get to him, but he was pronounced dead 45 minutes after they were able to free him.

The wild scene on board an elevated train in Philadelphia, surveillance video captured a confrontation between a few young men who police say were arguing over a basketball game. That's was one of the men, as he was leaving, turned and fired a handgun into the train. You see it right there, wounding two people. Philadelphia police right now say they are searching for assailants.

The University of Iowa is the first public university in the country to ask students about their gender identity and sexual orientation on its applications. Students aren't asked specifically if they are gay, only if they identify with the lesbian, gay, transgender community. This is an optional question that will help the university meet student needs and track retention rates in population -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I'm not sure how I feel about that. I guess in some ways good to be able to provide opportunities, if you have whatever percentage of gay students, people who are identifying however that question is phrased. But on the other hand, it seems weird to me, crickets, OK.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: I would say the University of Iowa is the first public institution to do this, and I'm not sure I would have worded the question exactly the way they worded it. But I think it's a good idea to know what --

O'BRIEN: How would you word the question?

SOCARIDES: Are you gay or lesbian? They seemed to have made it a little more complicated than it needs to be.

O'BRIEN: Why not just ask the question you want the answer to, rather than asking around the question. Ultimately and you don't have to answer. You could just ignore the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be held against you.

SOCARIDES: You don't have to answer, and also they say it's their business because it helps them serve different populations, the same way you ask optionally about race.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't say do you identify with white people?

SOCARIDES: That's why I say it's a silly way to ask the question.

O'BRIEN: You start off very quietly, people, but I appreciate the conversation. "Zero Dark Thirty," hotly anticipated thriller over the hunt of Osama Bin Laden, already it's a major buzz and some controversy too.

Graphic depictions of brutal interrogations, and a young operative, which is purportedly modeled after a real life CIA agent. Howie Kurtz is the host of the CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" and Washington Bureau chief for "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast."

And Lauren Ashburn is a "Daily Beast" contributor and editor in chief of the daily here to talk about that. It's just a movie. Why are people going completely nuts about this?

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES": It's just a movie. But the woman in the center of it, the CIA operative, whose name we don't know, was basically trashed on the front page of "The Washington Post" the other day being described by unnamed CIA sources as being abrasive, as being a passed over for promotion. Do you have a problem with that?

LAUREN ASHBURN, CONTRIBUTOR, "THE DAILY BEAST": It's a docu-drama. It's a movie.

KURTZ: But this a real person who can't defend herself because she is not allowed to speak to journalist that's why we don't know who she is.

ASHBURN: Right, but we don't know -- there is a big question here whether or not the CIA actually gave them all of this information, all of this access. The White House gave her access. You don't know who she is.

KURTZ: But she knows who she is and she is being vilified.

O'BRIEN: First of all, she could have her friends leak stuff back this is how the press works and certainly gossip pages work. She could have her friends leak stuff back. It would all be fine, work it out.

ASHBURN: The more important thing is the torture. There's a half an hour of torture scenes in here.

KURTZ: And I'm sure that's because they want to tell the story in the most accurate historical context, right?

ASHBURN: Well, I don't know if it's accurate or historical because it's a docu-drama.

O'BRIEN: It's fun to watch you fight. But seriously, is there a requirement -- you've done movies obviously. Is there a requirement that a movie about war has to be accurate? There have been a ton of movies around a real topic. A real experience that have been, you know, taken poetic license on certain things.

SEBASTIAN JUNGER, AUTHOR AND FILMMAKER: I have never made a fictional movie, only documentaries, but I think in a fictional movie you can do whatever you want as long as you don't call it a documentary.

I mean, that said, I think the torture issue actually goes to the broader issue of why we're in Afghanistan, in a sense. I've had this argument with people and very happy with Bin Laden was killed.

But outraged that we're in Afghanistan and the point that I make is there's no way we could have killed Bin Laden without being in Afghanistan. You're not going to fly SEAL Team Six from Northern Virginia into Pakistan and kill him.

You don't get the intel and forward operating bases. We had to be in Afghanistan in order to do that. So the moral question for America is, was that a correct decision to be at war in order to kill that person? The finer point is, can you torture in order to kill someone that you need to get? I don't know what the answer is.

KURTZ: The filmmaker and Director Catherine Bigolow are presenting this as a journalistic enterprise. They are not calling it a docu- drama even though there are composite characters and things. They got a lot of cooperation. Some people an unusual degree of access to CIA, White House, which wanted to spin this into a positive movie for President Obama.

ASHBURN: But I think the positive piece of it is this woman at the center who is getting all of the credit for actually getting Bin Laden killed.

KURTZ: And why is there a woman at the center of this movie?

ASHBURN: To be more interesting?

O'BRIEN: Wasn't there a woman at the center of the story? I mean, she's based on a real character, right?

KURTZ: She's part of a team and I think she's a heroine, and that's why I come back to the notion that she is now being trashed. And this is a woman who should be getting a medal.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I haven't seen "Zero Dark Thirty" and I think Sebastian presents an interesting question. Can you separate the controversial topic of torture from the killing of Bin Laden? How does the movie treat that connection?

KURTZ: Based on critic who's have seen it, they are saying there is a clear implication that we would have not gotten Bin Laden have we not beaten --

O'BRIEN: Torture seems to have worked, softened up the character, the person who eventually gave information.

KURTZ: Investigators are not convinced we would have gotten Bin Laden.

O'BRIEN: You cannot tell me that a movie like "Argo" did not at some point, which goes off declassified information, does not at some point take license and create drama in certain scenes that did not happen. I don't believe that. Mississippi burning created entire characters around a real event.

ASHBURN: You know, the thing about too is I think that the person who gets highlighted, the woman at the center, if it was a guy at the center, people who are at the agency who had something to do with it are now starting this whole trash talk, well, she's this, she's that.

KURTZ: You can say it's just a movie, but movies like this it looks like a big Box Office movie shape perception for a lot of people who don't follow stories that closely.

ASHBURN: That's their fault, right? I mean, go read a newspaper. Don't rely on movies as your source of news.

SOCARIDES: Don't you think organizations like the CIA have decided that it's in their best interests to put storylines out there like this.

KURTZ: I don't have to guess at this. A whole bunch of e-mail traffic that shows CIA operatives saying we need to pick a winner. This movie is going to be big. We need to cooperate. ASHBURN: If you were in the White House, wouldn't you do this? Cooperate and say here is the real side of the story?

SOCARIDES: I guess, the problem, what are the messages? What message is it trying to send? The message torture works? Everybody could see if you torture somebody they will -- where does it leave you? Where does it leave you if we are a country that tortures people?

CAIN: Do what Sebastian does, which is you write nonfiction, documentary, the message is only truth. When you venture into fiction and open to criticism. What are you trying to tell us?

ASHBURN: It's like Pocahontas --

O'BRIEN: Mark Ball says he wants it to be judged as a movie, it's a cinematic venture. It's not a documentary and I think that it is the final word on it. It's a movie, not a documentary.

All right, we have to take a short break. Still ahead, we'll talk about Ambassador Susan Rice. She's now taken herself out of the running for secretary of state. Does that mean that Senator John Kerry is a shoe-in for secretary of state? Possible choice from across the aisle, talk about that coming up next.


O'BRIEN: So this morning, we have been reporting that Susan Rice has withdrawn her name for consideration as secretary of state. The Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says repeated Republican attacks on her character are shameful. That's a quote. Rice says the confirmation process would have been too disruptive. Listen.


SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I withdrew my name because I think it's the right thing for the country and I think it's the right thing for the president. And putting those things together that makes it the right thing for me and my family.


O'BRIEN: Will Cain, do you think that she was pushed to this by Republicans or do you think there's more at work here?

CAIN: I think there is more at work here definitely. But certainly Republican opposition to her in the wake of her -- not testimony, but her going out in front of all the -- in front of an American audience on Sunday shows played a role, but let's not --

O'BRIEN: About Benghazi.

CAIN: About Benghazi, but Susan Rice did not have a strong well of Democratic support behind her anyway. She had been ruled to not be the most diplomatic person in what would be the leading diplomatic post of the United States.

SOCARIDES: But she had one very important supporter for that post, the president of the United States.

O'BRIEN: Is this the president showing weakness as some people suggested? The president put into a corner by Republicans who started immediately saying that they wouldn't accept her as secretary of state and by supporting her he kind of --

BERMAN: The president is trying to pick the fights he can win and I think you have to look at this in the greener prism of what else is happening in Washington right now with the fiscal cliff debate.

And the president probably has to sit there and choose where is he willing to go to the mat? Is it going to be on the fiscal cliff, issue of taxes or am I going to fight -- have these two fights, one of them about Susan Rice?

SOCARIDES: I actually think that what would happen is that the president decided that she was probably not the best person to be secretary of state for the country, and for our diplomatic initiatives.

I mean, she served extremely well at the U.N. and she is a terrific diplomat. But there -- you know, John Kerry should be secretary of state. Perfect for it, and coming after Hillary Clinton, you need someone with a big international gravitas. And John Kerry will be great. He's in.

JUNGER: Also, a lot of people haven't heard about her until now. John Kerry, everyone knows Rice, like for a lot of Americans, who is that? And the president was in a position of pushing someone relatively unknown until the controversy.

O'BRIEN: I agree. All right, we have to take a short break.

Still ahead, we're going to talk about TV, one of my favorite subjects changed a lot in the last decade. One of the most popular critics say we can thank the sopranos for that. We'll talk about that. We're back in just a moment.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Former President George H.W. Bush is expected to be home sometime before Christmas. This is good news. He's been in a Houston hospital for three weeks recovering from a stubborn bout of bronchitis. He is 88 years old now, the oldest living former president.

Thursday night football turned up to be more like a game of hot potato, the stumbling bumbling Philadelphia Eagles, they fumbled the ball four times, they threw an interception but this was the worst. They blocked their own punt. You don't do that in football. That helped them to a 34-13 loss at home. They don't teach you how to do that.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's talk about TV if we can this morning. If you noticed a change in your TV viewing habits over the years. There are what feels like dozens of award winning shows on right now. I mean, "Madmen" "Breaking Bed," "Downtown Abby," "Newsroom," many, many more and TV critic Alan Sepinwall says it all started with "The Sopranos." He's got a new book out, which analyses out TV viewing changes called "The Revolution Was Televised." Nice to have you with us.


O'BRIEN: What changed TV drama do you think?

SEPINWALL: Well, what happened was in the middle to late '90s, so many more channels producing original programming that the audience started to fracture. So where once upon time the goal in television was to say we're going to get the biggest audience possible and we're going to make it palatable to as many people as possible and dumb it down.

Now it became the audience is going to be smaller so instead of trying to aim for wide net let's go deep and get something that makes people very passionate about what they do. You have a bunch of different networks like HBO willing to give creators to do what they wanted.

O'BRIEN: You say this, Chase didn't set out to write a mob drama. He set out to write a show about his troubled relationship with his late mother. He just wanted to find a way to make the stakes high enough that viewers would care.

Who would anyone watch a show about a precision optics salesman being henpecked by his mother? I think the point is the writing has improved so much. When you look at some of the shows that we just named there have been business changes, viewers started really to expect some high quality writing in dramas.

SEPINWALL: I mean, basically the TV dramas on cable in particular over the last 15 years have replaced the kinds of movies that adults used to expect to see. Now the movies are blockbusters and really, really low budget art films and not a whole lot in between. So now if you want serious drama about adults and adult issues and what's going on in America right now, you look to HBO and FX and AMC and Showtime.

BERMAN: Why is that? I worked at a broadcast station for a long time. I used to wonder why can't we get some of these shows. Why is it all on cable?

SEPINWALL: Well, I mean, they've tried and there are a few broadcast shows in my book, I write about "Lost" and the problem is with broadcast the threshold is higher. You have to attract a certain audience. Fox did a show a couple years ago called "Lone Star," which was basically their attempt to do an AMC style show, canceled after two episodes because not enough people watched.

O'BRIEN: People embrace an anti-hero in cable than on network, people like the flawed, terribly damaged person manufacturing drugs and stuff like that, you could see networks executives being, my God, we could never possibly have this show on our air. BERMAN: Archie Bunker was an anti-hero in some ways. They can happen.

SEPINWALL: He still had to be fundamentally (inaudible) as core like they did an episode when he runs in the Ku Klux Klan, those are the racist. Archie is just ugly and says offensive things.

SOCARIDES: I still miss "The Sopranos." Was it the greatest television series ever?

SEPINWALL: Either "The Sopranos" or "The Wire." I go back and forth all the time, but those are two incredibly great shows.

SOCARIDES: Was the ending the best ending on television ever?

SEPINWALL: It is certainly the ending we've talked about the most of any television show ever and I'm still getting arguments about it to this day.

O'BRIEN: Simon, he talks about how I real writer wants to do something, envision a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end and seems like a different format than years ago when the goal was to be on TV for as long you can, right, your show has as many seasons as possible. Versus we have an arc and when that story is told we're done.

SEPINWALL: One of the things that happened a lot during this period, have producers go to the network heads and say I want to end this show, I've told the story, the producers of "Battlestar Gallatica" and it's no longer let's drag this out. It's here's the story, tell it in the best way possible in the minimum amount of time possible and let's go before people get sick of us.

CAIN: Changing viewing habits, because I watch "Homeland" "Breaking Bad," but something else changed in my viewing habits is now, I watch them all on demand or I stream them. I rarely watch them when they air. Now, it occurs to me that a lot of these are funded by channels by packages where you pay for 100 cable channels and I don't watch 99 of them. If we move to ala carte do these series continue?

SEPINWALL: That's the one great unknown right now because if ala carte happens or if people start cord cutting and deciding I'm going to -- the networks have made things so easy to watch on the internet now that if people say I don't need my cable anymore. I just want internet the money may not be there for the shows.

Netflix now is starting to produce their own shows. They have one coming up called "House of Cards" with Kevin Spacey that's their attempt to be the next HBO. So we're going to have to see what happens.

O'BRIEN: I shot something for that. I'm so excited, in March it comes out.


O'BRIEN: The book is called "The Revolution Was Televised." Alan Sepinwall, nice to have you with us this morning.

SEPINWALL: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead, we're going to tell you the story of some basketball players who lost their high school basketball game by 105 points. It was 107-2. So was that bad sportsmanship at work or just good old-fashioned competition? We'll talk to the losing coach and her team from Bloomington South High School about the big loss, straight ahead.