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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Journalists Discuss Media Role in Covering Newtown Massacre; Cory Booker's Political Future; Good Luck Rob Marciano

Aired December 21, 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. Just days from Christmas a nasty storm is causing holiday travel mess. New England expected to get slammed later today by the very same system that's affecting the Midwest this morning.

Victor Blackwell is in Cleveland seeing lots of gusty winds and a little bit of snow on and off. How is it looking and how is it going to look later this morning?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now we're in the off version of that on and of snow, we're between chapter one and chapter two. We had chapter one of snow was about 2:00 a.m. to about 8:00 a.m. this morning with the flurries, then we're in this break. What comes next is right now over Lake Erie and we could see more snow coming.

In Cleveland the roads are below freezing we've been told by the Ohio Department of Transportation from their Web site. They've prepared for that with brine and salt hoping to keep the roads from freezing over and creating icy conditions.

The big question is what happens in Chicago at their two major airports, Midway and O'Hare. Yesterday 500 flights were canceled at the airports. About 270,000 people are expected to travel through those airports today. We're expecting an update in the next ten minutes from Chicago's Department of Aviation on what will happen and what is expected today with all the people who planned to travel today whose flights were canceled yesterday.

The concern here is the wind has been gusting but we'll see what the snow does as it approaches in the next 50 minutes to maybe hour and a half.

O'BRIEN: We'll be standing by watching for that. Appreciate that, Victor.

John Berman has a look at some of the other stories making news this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Thanks so much, Soledad. The Assad regime in Syria firing more scud missiles in the past few days. That's what NATO's Secretary-General said this morning. He believes this is a sign the regime is desperate and about to collapse and more proof turkey needs. Turkey started receiving patriot missiles from NATO to shoot down anything Syria might launch over the border.

A moment of silence to honor the victims of the Newtown shooting at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, exactly one week after the 20 children and six adults were gunned down inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School. States across the country will join Connecticut today as an official day of mourning.

President Obama plans to observe the moment of silence in private at the White House. In a video message released this morning, the president says he has received an outpouring of support for tougher gun laws and says some gun owners suggested steps to protect rights and kids. Mr. Obama says he'll do everything in his power to prevent a repeat of tragedies like Newtown.

The U.S. is on alert for Islamist anger with the release of "Zero Dark Thirty." That's the movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. This is according to the "Washington Times." The movie depicts some harsh interrogation tactics that the film claims where used on Muslim detainees. A senior defense official tells "The Times" the U.S. does not expect violent protests but forces are always on alert.

A dollar for, "Do I know you?" Facebook is now testing a $1 fee to message users who are not your friends. That buck will guarantee thaw the message ends up in a person's inbox with their friend e-mails and not any other folder which many people never checked. I didn't even know it exists, part of Facebook's efforts to show investors it can make money on mobile apps. Good luck with that, guys.

O'BRIEN: I don't know how I feel about that. That seems very weird. Yes? No? Everybody's like I can tell, no one cares about it, not going to happen.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: It's not going to work.

Let's talk about the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Today it raises questions about how the media covered it and the general tone of journalism especially when there are tragedies that are covering, because many of the victims were six- year-olds and seven-year-olds. All kinds of questions, like what is the appropriate age of a person to interview, is it a child? Lots of questions about gun legislation. Should reporters have perspectives that they bring to the conversation when they do those interviews.

Howie Kurtz is host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" and also the Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," and Lauren Ashburn is a contributor for "The Daily Beast" and editor in chief for the "Daily Download." You guys, in the new year, we need a shorter title for both of you.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: For today, a couple of issues. Do you think it's OK to interview children?

LAUREN ASHBURN, CONTRIBUTOR, "THE DAILY BEAST": No, absolutely not. I do not want to see it.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": With the parents' permission.

O'BRIEN: Mostly children were the eyewitnesses to this. It wasn't like a massive pool of adults but hundreds of children eyewitnesses.

ASHBURN: Let the investigators interview the children. I just -- these were babies, innocents, and I just I don't want to see that. I think it's an invasion of their privacy and I think even if the parents say so, what, if your mom says come on interview, let's do an interview, they're going to do it even if they don't feel comfortable doing it.

KURTZ: On the broader question of journalists and their emotions, I think I saw a lot of people on the air choking back tears and showing how deeply this tragedy affected them. Everybody told me they had to turn off the coverage, they were crying, that's the reason I don't think the story will fade, even though with a lot of reporters pulling out of Newtown, because this was a gut punch to people in the business.

ASHBURN: I always say you're wrong at least once on this show, Howie, this is it right here. This is typical the media has ADD, right. We're going to go on to the next tragedy, next shooting.

KURTZ: Plan b.

ASHBURN: Plan b, fiscal cliff.

O'BRIEN: Let me read you, an anonymous woman said this, digital media first is where this comes from, "We need to you help us beg people to stop calling the victims. They're in mourning. Someone actually pounded on a friend's door and literally they were shouting, someone in this town has to start talking to us. This is our story. That's how we're being treated," the sense that the media is there and it's really stressful and annoying to the people who are trying to make their way through this tragedy.

ASHBURN: That's what we do, the famous song "get the widow on the set." You stick a mike in their face.

O'BRIEN: I've never pounded on someone's door like that.

ASHBURN: Not pound on the door, but that is what we are trained to do. You want the exclusive interview, you want to get the person who has the most information and get them on camera. In situations like this it's wrong.

KURTZ: I do think there was a heavy media footprint. I do think they were starting to resent people and I think we need to pull back in terms of leaving the community alone. What I'm saying is the whole issue about guns and violence and culture, which the press has largely shied away from except in the aftermath of tragedy, this time I think is different. I don't think we'll let this go.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: After Al Gore's defeat in 2000, Democrats made a decision.

KURTZ: Ran away.

BROWNSTEIN: This was a losing issue, incorrectly reading the polls. The polls show although the country is divided in half, the half of the country actually open to voting for Democrats remains for gun control, but without a debate there's no place for the media to come in.

KURTZ: But do we have to rely on politicians to talk about issues they would rather duck in order for us to do our job and say this is important?

(CROSSTALK)

ASHBURN: That's what happens in a presidential campaign. We talked about etch-a-sketch, binders full of women, big bird. How many times did you hear the words "gun control"?

CHARLES BLOW, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": If they're not talking about it you're not covering it. There's a component of that, but I do believe that there is an inflection point in this cause, and this is it. And there comes a point where people start to say why can't you talking about it. That's a different question to say than are you going to cover it.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We're proceeding with the premise we don't have a gun control debate in year. But the issue that captures my attention Howie brought up is I'm really curious and interested in the role of emotion in journalism and I don't think we can expect reporters to not be human, to not respond to emotion but at some point we also make a transition where emotion is embraced, emotion is embraced on this television set, not this particular, not my point but it becomes the point of journalism at some point.

ASHBURN: I wrote a piece about this in "The Daily Beast" and how in the beginning I felt reporters had that shield up. When you were headed to a tragedy, you're finding your laptop and power cord and getting the information and on the set and it wasn't until I saw President Obama get a tear in his eye that was almost a signal to journalists everywhere that it's OK to show some emotion.

BROWNSTEIN: I think you're right, it is an inflection point. Doesn't mean you'll pass legislation, but you'll have a more robust debate than we've had in the last dozen years about what the options are and choices are and costs are.

BLOW: Who knows if there will be legislative action.

BROWNSTEIN: There will be a discussion.

KURTZ: I do think the extent to which journalists thinking about their own kids deeply affected by this, because for some reason this cut to the core unlike even the other mass shootings. I think that emotion will power the debate. We have to be fair and can't push an agenda.

ASHBURN: Soledad, I'd love to hear your opinion. You were there. You have small children. How did it affect you?

O'BRIEN: I started crying through some interviews. It was very painful, and I think you identify if you have a small child and there are pictures of children to look exactly like your kids, exactly the same age. You understand the terror they must have, you get what their backpacks look like hanging up in a room. You fully can see them huddling together. I can clearly visualize it.

CAIN: That's completely expected. From the journalist side of yourself do you try to turn that off? Or do you share that?

O'BRIEN: No, I don't think you turn it off. You want of it to frame your questions better. I don't know how anybody -- how do you sit down and write a eulogy for a six-year-old? Like honestly, I could not do it. I could not do it. And so I think it frames your questions for people.

I have to say I talked to kids and I thought they provided in some cases you know with their parents' permission and I thought they provided in some cases really interesting insight. And I thought would I let my kids talk to the media? Probably not. But I feel like my job if the parents are willing to allow them to talk to me, and usually I would talk to them like all together, that to them seemed to be the way that they wanted to handle their children getting through this. It wasn't they were being ambushed. They felt if my kid can talk about what they saw, that's going to be our strategy for our family to heal.

But one thing I would add, we all know whenever we go to the live things you bring a satellite truck, cables, you logistically mess up a community because we take up a lot of space and port-a-potties and the whole range of stuff but when we leave, the focus leaves, too. It's a double edged sword.

ASHBURN: That's what I said. Now we're gone, it's out of the public eye.

O'BRIEN: You're not anchoring from Newtown, Connecticut, you're doing weather stories and we'll talk about Cory Booker and the fiscal cliff and not spend two hours on Newtown. We'll spend 30 minutes of a two- hour show.

ASHBURN: President Obama has a different agenda. He is working on the fiscal cliff, plan blew up in the Republicans' face, and now gun control is going to take a small piece of the pie.

KURTZ: Life goes on. (CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Next week it will be 15 minutes and the week after that eight minutes and the week after that four minutes and after that --

ASHBURN: I'm very cynical about our profession and our ability to --

BROWNSTEIN: Journalists do this all time. They go into places where there's tremendous suffering all the time and they do this and they do it in a professional way, and they talk to all sorts of people, including children, and they get stories. This is not like -- this is local. This is an American tragedy, but these tragedies happen all over the world and we send American reporters to cover the stories all the time. Journalists can do this.

O'BRIEN: It would be nice if it didn't leave the headlines if all of these things kept the conversation going.

BROWNSTEIN: Ultimately the political system --

ASHBURN: The shootings in cities across the country --

O'BRIEN: Like Chicago, for example, we never talk about that.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about Cory Booker. He's not going to challenge Chris Christie after all for a term as governor. He does have some political plans. We'll talk about those details, next.

And the U.S. embassy staff in Poland is wishing everybody happy holidays. Here is them redoing Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas." It's kind of bizarre. Listen.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back everyone a couple of stories to tell you about right now.

Mark Sanford is launching a political comeback. He resigned you remember as South Carolina's governor after admitting he ran off to Argentina to be with his mistress. Now Sanford tells CNN he's going to run for the congressional seat he held almost a decade ago. The seat is being vacated by Congressman Tim Scott who was appointed to the Senate earlier this week by Governor Nikki Haley.

Newark, New Jersey -- Mayor Cory Booker is revealing his plans for his political future. There have been some speculation the Democrats would challenge Republican Governor Chris Christie when Christie runs for re-election next year. But that is not happening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D), NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: I will explore the possibility of running for the United States senate in 2014. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Explore the possibility. Booker hopes to replace Senator Frank Lautenberg's term ends in 2014. Lautenberg I believe is 88 years old now. But here's the thing, you know he hasn't said that he's retiring yet.

BROWNSTEIN: You know in the modern, in the modern Republican House Mark Sanford by the way would be a moderate I mean, he would actually be a moderate member much more moderate than Tim Scott whom he would be replacing. And Cory Booker, I think the Democrats you know, I mean the Democratic Party as you said before are heavily dependent now on minority voters, very few -- the Republicans have done a better job of actually elevating minority officials at the top of the ticket in both governor and senate races. I think Cory Booker would be something that would be valuable for Democrats at the national level.

CAIN: I don't know do you think at 89 Frank Lautenberg's done. Has a lot left in him.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: 89, can you imagine, wow, 89 he looks good, too. He doesn't look like -- he doesn't look like 89.

BROWNSTEIN: Not a day over 75. No, seriously.

BERMAN: And it's like all of the levels of candidacy now, he's not just exploring the possibility of running right now, it's like several layers removed from actually declaring his candidacy.

O'BRIEN: Exploring and thinking about the possibility of possibly one day exploring should he in fact run for the Senate.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

O'BRIEN: All right, coming up next we're going to say good-bye to a member of our team. A guy who's been a member of our team for quite a long time. Rob Marciano is heading off but not without taking a look back at some of his work. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody.

You have seen him in the middle of tornadoes. You have seen him being blown over by hurricanes. You have seen him covering disastrous fires. After nine years at CNN Rob Marciano is saying goodbye to us today.

And Rob is with us for a final so long. Rob Marciano we're going to miss you. You and I started just roughly about the same time.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And you've been very patient with me over the years, Soledad. I thank you for that. O'BRIEN: What are you talking about, not at all. No I mean I -- we used to sit there and watch you, what is more interesting than watching Rob Marciano holding onto a tree because he decided to stand outside in a hurricane. It's insane. You're going to miss this gig, I got to tell you.

MARCIANO: I'm desperately going to miss it. And my family here at CNN, it's the entire organization has afforded me so many experiences and opportunities that I could never get anywhere else. So it's -- it's been an amazing ride. I've grown as a person and as a journalist and I can't thank you guys enough. I'm going to miss you, Soledad and the whole gang for sure.

O'BRIEN: Oh thank you, you're so sweet. I had nothing to do with any of that but I do follow you on Twitter so I'll take that.

MARCIANO: Yes, likewise.

O'BRIEN: So we have you, shots of you dressed up as a zombie tell me about why you were doing, like what does that have to do with weather?

MARCIANO: Well speaking of becoming a better journalist that was one role that I embraced. You know -- you know, I'm always -- I've always been the guy like Mikey, you know he'll try that. So if it's an assignment that nobody else wanted to do, they would come to me so I would gladly do it and I try to make the best of it.

BROWNSTEIN: And he's moving awfully fast for the average zombie. You know the average zombie can't amble much more than that.

O'BRIEN: You know he's going to Hollywood now.

MARCIANO: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: I hear that, I hear that.

O'BRIEN: He's going to Hollywood.

MARCIANO: Hey Ron, thank you -- Ron thank you for putting up with my stupid political questions.

O'BRIEN: What are you going to do in Hollywood? What are you going to cover in Hollywood? Come on, man.

MARCIANO: Hey listen, you could argue that there are plenty of disasters and storms to cover in Hollywood.

O'BRIEN: Yes you are right.

MARCIANO: So I've got to switch gears just a little bit.

O'BRIEN: Metaphorical hurricanes.

MARCIANO: I'll be on "Entertainment Tonight" co-hosting, that show and an amazing opportunity with the Blue Chip organization.

O'BRIEN: Well we can't wait to see you there.

MARCIANO: So a great journalistic stuff there as well. So it's going to be fun.

O'BRIEN: We're going to miss you. We're still going to follow you on Twitter though and see everything you're doing.

MARCIANO: Please do it. And I'll be following and watching very closely and in the words of Lloyd Lindsay Young "I salute you."

O'BRIEN: Oh you're so sweet. All right, Rob, take care. We love you.

MARCIANO: You got it.

O'BRIEN: "End Point" is up next everybody we're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: So our "End Point" today has to be about the fiscal cliff and what happens next.

CAIN: You asked that question several times this morning, what happens next. Ron has -- during the commercial breaks I should say, several times that for every $1 you potentially go up from 250 between 250 and 1 million you lose one Democratic vote to gain one Republican vote. What I would suggest in the debate will be is $500,000 for Republicans, going between $250,000 and $500,000. is that better than giving up the debt ceiling? I think Republicans are fighting to retain the power of the debt ceiling to get spending cuts sometime in mid-January.

BROWNSTEIN: And which is problematic in itself because the President is very clear he's not going to negotiate the spending cuts as part of the debt ceiling.

I mean look, the basic question here, where do the Venn diagrams overlap? Is there any plan as we said before that we get a majority of House Republicans President Obama could still sign. I think the answer is no, which means that the critical issue of whether we go over the cliff is the same as it has been. Is John Boehner willing to bring a bill to the floor that a majority of House Republicans oppose?

But there may be an even deeper problem, maybe there's no point where the Venn diagram overlaps to 218. Where if you go up high enough on the tax threshold you gain more Republicans. But Will, as you say, you lose one Democrat for each Republicans you gain. It's going to be a pretty rocky few weeks and as Christine was suggesting before maybe the markets have to put some pressure on Washington.

O'BRIEN: Can I ask a question. So how much of a political problem is it for Democrats if they cannot say that they were willing to raise taxes on folks $1 million and up? I have to imagine, right?

BROWNSTEIN: Democrats?

O'BRIEN: Republicans.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I mean look --

O'BRIEN: Isn't that -- I see that coming back and biting you later, right, because your middle class voter is going to flee if someone can say accurately they wouldn't even raise taxes on millionaires.

BLOW: I think it's huge because the Democrats were already going to be a little bit ticked off with the 400 because one of the only campaign promises that Obama had in the campaign was 250 and he was going to abandon that. And so they're already a little ticked off.

But the Republicans let him off the hook because they said that not only don't we agree with that, $1 million we don't agree. There's no number.

BERMAN: National politics is fundamentally different than congressional politics. What we'll see over the next 10, 11 days, maybe in January is how skillful John Boehner is at developing some kind of acceptable coalition, whether it's a majority, or half and half, or a number to pass this bill. We'll see if he tries or if he can even do it. Or we're going to see if Nancy Pelosi is able to keep that unbelievable iron grip on her caucus.

BROWNSTEIN: There's a fundamental role reversal since 1990. Democrats have been more divided on taxes, Republicans have been more unified. Now we are seeing really for the first time, the two parties reversing roles. You may see the same things on immigration and even gun control, it's a different Democratic coalition and it's providing for more unity while Republicans are caught between exactly what John says, local politics and national politics.

O'BRIEN: CEOs are mad, right? They're angry because we're going to go over the fiscal cliff. It's certainly looking like it. People who are trying to deal with their tax refunds and all that, they're going to be angry. I tell you, I would not want to be an elected official holding this bag, that's why I'm not in politics.

BERMAN: Merry Christmas.

O'BRIEN: And with that we say happy holidays.

Time for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. It begins right now. We're off for the next couple of weeks but we'll see you when I'm back from holiday.

Hey Carol, good morning.