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Idaho Senator Crapo Accused of DUI; Protester Disrupts NRA's Statements; National Wreath Project; Make-a-wish Girl Makes Wishes for Others

Aired December 24, 2012 - 09:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It is 30 minutes past the hour. Good morning to you. Happy Christmas Eve. I'm Carol Costello.

Stories we're watching right now in THE NEWSROOM:

Just seconds ago, the opening bell rang at the New York Stock Exchange. Stocks futures pointed down. It's a short trading day. U.S. markets will close early, 1:00 Eastern for the holiday.

If you're wondering who's ringing the bell, these are the 12 festive dancers from the Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. I wish they'd ring the bell every day, don't you?

All right. Onto the news -- there they go. Onto the news now:

U.S. Senator Michael Crapo is apologizing after being arrested and charged for driving under the influence of alcohol. The Idaho Republican was pulled over early Sunday after running a red light, that's according to police, in Alexandria, Virginia. His blood alcohol level at the time was 0.11. The legal limit in Virginia is 0.08.

According to his biography, Crapo is a Mormon. As you know, Mormons are prohibited from using alcohol. Crapo has a court date set for January 4th.

"Newsweek" has released a cover of its final print edition. It features an archive photo of former "Newsweek" offices in New York, mixing the old and new. The cover reads "#lastprintissue".

"Newsweek" editor Tina Brown says the magazine could no longer afford to keep producing a print version. The magazine will continue in the New Year as a digital only publication.

The NRA is not can backing down on its proposal, calling for armed guards in every school in America after the December 14th massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The 4 million member gun lobby has been criticized after coming out Friday and stating its position to keep something like that from ever happening again.

Its CEO stood by the group's position on NBC's "Meet the Press." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO/EXEC. V.P., NRA: If it's crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our school to protect our children, then call me crazy. I'll tell you what the American people -- I think the American people think it's crazy not to do it.


COSTELLO: One person who might think it's crazy that the NRA's CEO Wayne LaPierre is advocating guns in schools is the co-director of the peace group Code Pink.


MEDEA BENJAMIN, CODE PINK: NRA has blood on its hands! Shame on the NRA!


COSTELLO: That would be Medea Benjamin, holding up a sign saying the NRA has blood on its hands as she's led out of the room after disrupting LaPierre's speech on Friday.

Medea joins me now live from Washington.

Good morning.

BENJAMIN: Good morning, Carol. Happy holidays. Thanks for having me on.

COSTELLO: Well, thanks for being here. We did invite the NRA, by the way, but they declined. So, I just wanted to make it clear to everyone that we did do that. We reached out to you. You very kindly accepted.

First of all, I was just curious. How did you get in? There were many security sweeps. There were bomb sniffing dogs. The NRA was very careful to keep unwanteds out.

How did you manage to get in?

BENJAMIN: I just slipped in under the radar.

COSTELLO: Do you guys -- I mean, you guys do this a lot. You protest passionately against things in which you don't believe. So, do you have a plan in place before you go into these types of press conferences?

BENJAMIN: Well, actually, our plan in this case was to sit quietly and listen. I thought, perhaps naively, the NRA sensed there was a mood change in the country and they were going to offer something, like an assault weapons ban. But I was amazed to hear Wayne LaPierre coming out like a bully saying that what we needed was more guns.

So we felt that that was our cue to get up and to protest. I think from the outpouring of support we've had around the country, people are really happy to see somebody stand up to the bullies in the leadership of the NRA.

COSTELLO: You have that gigantic sign. Where was that? How did you get that into the room?

BENJAMIN: I just tucked that into my bag, Carol. It was no problem.

COSTELLO: So do you think that your actions will have any, you know, concrete action as far as lawmakers go or what the country thinks?

BENJAMIN: Well, I think that the message that they're giving out about armed guards in the schools is something that people are really countering. Why don't we have conflict resolution taught in the schools? Why don't we bring back the school nurses and the guidance counselors who used to be able to detect and help troubled youth? There are so many more rational answers.

And, of course, even the majority of the people in the NRA and the country are saying, let's have a ban on assault weapons and those high capacity clips and stronger background checks.

The country is ready for a rational gun policy, and we have to stop this cabal within the NRA from dictating our policies.

COSTELLO: Some people might say that your action, as well-intentioned as they might be, kind of, hurts the cause because you yourself seem kind of crazy.

BENJAMIN: I don't think so. I think, as I said, we're getting so much support from people. The leadership of the NRA doesn't even represent the majority of the people within the NRA who want to see an assault weapons ban, who want to see a change in policy after 20 of our children got killed. I think I represent the rational majority that is no longer willing to be silent on these issues.

COSTELLO: Medea Benjamin, thanks a lot for coming in on Christmas Eve. We appreciate it.

BENJAMIN: Thank you so much for having me on. Happy holiday.

COSTELLO: You too.

Several stars have come out with a plan for gun control. We'll bring you their message from Hollywood. But is it enough?



COSTELLO: I don't know about Russell Crowe's singing, how about you? But it's a much anticipated movie, that's for sure. "Les Miserables" gets to theaters on Christmas Day. Anne Hathaway already generating a lot of Oscar buzz as best supporting actress for her role as Fantine.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then you're exactly the one I'm looking for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey. Stop talking to him.


COSTELLO: Another film making its debut tomorrow is Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained." The film's Los Angeles premiere scheduled for last week was delayed after Newtown, but it opens on Christmas Day as scheduled.

Joining me now from Los Angeles is CNN's Kareen Wynter.

Good morning, Kareen.


You know, Foxx is doing a whole lot these days. You can see his film comes out on Christmas day. But he's also part of a special campaign just really acknowledging the tragedy that the whole really has been shaken by in Newtown, Connecticut.

We spoke to him after the Newtown shooting. And at that time, he talked about how broken up he was about this incident and how this country needs to come together and make some changes. So, Foxx, listen to this, Carol, and a group of his celebrity friends, including Beyonce, Jennifer Aniston, John Legend, and Will Ferrell, they've all teamed up to film a public service announcement for the Demand A Plan campaign.

We have a sneak peek for you. Let's take a look at the PSA.














UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many more colleges?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many more classrooms?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many more movie theaters?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many more houses of faith?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many more shopping malls?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many more street corners?







WYNTER: So many familiar faces there with the same message. Carol, you know, this campaign is being funded by an organization called Mayors Against Illegal Guns. It's a bipartisan collection of more than 800 mayors who say, quote, "They're working to make America's community safer by keeping guns out of dangerous hands."

The co-chair of the organization is outspoken gun control advocate and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. So, you know, we see this often in the Hollywood community, Carol. People coming together to really raise as much awareness as possible after such an extreme tragedy like this.

COSTELLO: OK, I'm going to ask you this question. So, is Hollywood itself doing any self-reflection about violent movies and glorifying violence and making killing cool?

WYNTER: It's such a great point. You know, for example, "Django", they had to reschedule their premiere. A lot of movies, for example, "Parental Control," they cancelled premieres. Stars we spoke to at junkets were so sensitive about touching on the issue that those who did speak talked about steps that Hollywood needed to make to be accountable for everything going on.

So, it's baby steps here, but again, you're not going to see this industry say we are to blame singlehandedly. But again, awareness like this is really a starting point with Foxx and all of his celebrity friends. COSTELLO: Well, it's just interesting to me, Kareen, that everybody is saying, it's not my fault. It's their fault. It's not my fault. It's their fault -- and they're passing the buck.

Shouldn't we all reflect no matter who we are and what we do? We all live in the same culture, right?

WYNTER: Absolutely. Valid point. That's a message that we're hearing here from studios. You can't just blame the things you see on the big screen.

This starts with parents monitoring what children watch at an early level -- commercials, marketing, advertising. There are many players involved. So, to point out one industry, again, we're doing our part. But to say this is the root of the problem isn't the message we're hearing here.

COSTELLO: Kareen Wynter, thanks so much, reporting live from Los Angeles.

WYNTER: Thanks, Carol.

COSTELLO: Our talk back question today: Should Hollywood rethink violent movies? Your responses, next.


COSTELLO: All right. We're going to have to update where Santa is right now. This is courtesy of NORAD; NORAD follows Santa's route every single Christmas. And we understand that he is -- he just was in Russia and now he's over the Great Wall of China.

But previous to that, he made his way to Australia. You can see him flying past the famed opera house there. So he's delivered all of his presents in Australia, all of the presents in Russia, all the presents in Japan, and also South Korea, and, of course, now he's busy in China, on his way, of course, over here to the United States. We'll keep you posted.

Wreaths across America. It's a program that's become part of the healing process for military families during the holidays. Today's giving in focus takes a look at a tree farm in Maine that helps turn grief into finding peace.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know when Chris died, we kept thinking about how we were going to remember him. And we kept thinking that his spirit was moving through the trees every time you saw them moving. I seem to be drawn to Maine even though I've never lived here. It's pretty amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in the wreath business and have been since 1971. Columbia Falls is a little town in coastal Washington County. The perfect little country town kind of thing. We're looking for 12 to 18-inch pieces. As fast as this brush is coming in, we're using it on the other end.

We're out on the land that produces the tips for national wreaths across America day.

RENEE WORCESTER, WEATHER ACROSS AMERICA: Each wreath is made of balsam that is picked off of our own land. It began as a family tradition to donate 5,000 wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A great source of pride for my family. It's our little way of giving back to the country is through the Veterans Wreaths Program and also the new "Veterans Remembers" trees program.

WORCESTER: That's Captain Brent Morale, U.S. Marine corps. This is another tree has been tagged. Corporal Benjamin Cot, "forever in my heart".

This is a way of connecting the families of the veterans to the area. We saw as most our families came, both our mothers, they loved coming out and seeing where the balsam grew.

RUTH STONESIFER, GOLD STAR MOTHER: This is the one that I got out of the car, solid, and I knew that it was part of Chris' energy that was helping me pick it out.

There he is. I put the picture one on there.

Christopher Stonesifer was my son. He was born in August of '73, and he died 38 days after 9/11. The dog tags hang closer to the branches. The ribbon designates red, white, and blue that it's been dedicated to a loved one. They're never cut down. The greens that are cut down will be used for the wreaths that will go to Arlington.

That's an amazing gift that we as family members know that our loved ones will not be forgotten.



COSTELLO: "Talk Back" question of the morning. Should Hollywood rethink violent movies?

This from Kyle, "Not unless you also want to rethink art, literature, poetry and every other means of expression out there. Educate people, don't censor them."

This from Shop, "Columbine where the killers dressed up in trench coats and tons of weapons wearing sunglasses. You can't say "The Matrix" didn't play a role. But we need restrictions on guns, not movies.

This from Jake, "Hollywood is not responsible for these killings. The person who kills children is responsible not guns, movies or games."

This from Abbishek (ph), "I just watched Rambo last night. I don't think the violence has changed much since the '70s or '80s. NRA please stop using Hollywood as your scapegoat.

And this from Ziad, "No ban the real killers -- guns. I'm 100 percent anti-gun and against violence but I love a good violent movie." or you can follow me on Twitter and respond that way @carolCNN. More of your responses in the next hour of NEWSROOM.

A nine-year-old girl makes a wish for many more wishes. Not for herself but for other kids facing life-threatening illnesses. You'll see her dream and the dream of so many others come true.


COSTELLO: In an age of e-mails and tweets, it's nice to know that a letter can still be a powerful tool. It also helps if you have a powerful role model. That would be a nine-year-old Gabriella Miller. She got strangers from around the world to write letters to Santa and that outpouring will bring joy for severely ill children just like Gabriella.

Jake Korff from our affiliate WJLA has the story.


CHRIS CROLL: We have a mountain of letters here.

JAY KORFF, WJLA REPORTER: Chris Croll's cramped foyer in Lizberg, Virginia. Yes, just put them on the table for the next super's orders.

KORFF: -- which was transformed Saturday into a remarkable repository of letters.

KORFF: UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here's a heavy bin. If anybody's feeling wrong.

KORFF: For weeks she and a small band of volunteers have been counting, culling and reading.

CROLL: This one says "Dear Santa, LL want is to marry Justin Bieber.

KORFF: Seasonable notes to Saint Nick --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dear Santa I wish that I could see you when you come out of the chimney.

KORFF: They are handwritten by children from across the country and around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Letters some come in from Saudi Arabia and Ecuador. And all of them are heroes. And most of them are one kid writing one letter at a time.

KORFF: But they read like dreams. Instead of superficial demands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dear Santa, I wish Gabriella's wishes would come true.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dear Santa Clause my only wish is to have Gabriella better.

KORFF: Because they aren't meant for Kris Kringle at all.

CROLL: Love Jesse, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. I love you Gabriella.

KORFF: Only a month ago, Croll's dear friends Mark and Ellen Miller learned their vivacious nine-year-old daughter Gabriella, had an inoperable brain tumor. Thanks to Make-a-wish, Gabriella gets to travel to Paris.

But before going, this thoughtful fourth grader had a selfless epiphany.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know, we still have Mal coming. She asked for letters to Santa because Macy's donates a letter back to make a wish for every letter received. Gabriella figured other children's struggling just like her deserve their dream.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every night at some point I burst into tears because children are so good in their hearts.

I will not stop praying for you. From Kennedy Bodka.

KORFF: They blew past their goal of 10,000.

CROLL: Each bag probably has a few thousand letters in it.

KORFF: Social media made 50,000 a reality.

CROLL: It's really buoyed her spirits during this time that otherwise might have felt really, really lonely and really dark, letter campaign organizer.

KORFF: Then all the expectations were shattered. 100,000 became 150,000 which morphed into more than 200,000 letters. A moving company donated a truck. The U.S. Postal Service bags and carts. So this avalanche of love could be delivered to the Macy's at Dulles Town Center.

CROLL: It highlights what the community can do when they really do believe. It's pretty incredible.

KORFF: Despite arduous chemo and radiation treatments this is where Gabrielle made her first public appearance.

Hundreds filled the atrium to support a girl who symbolizes so much of what we admire in the human condition.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On behalf of make a wish foundation, we thank you for everything that you have done.

KORFF: Then Chris Croll. CROLL: Thanks to everyone who believed.

KORFF: Made the announcement.

CROLL: It's 240,983.

KORFF: What happened next no one expected. One final letter would be read.

GABRIELLE CROLL: Dear Santa, I'm Gabriella, the one with the tumor. Make a wish has really helped me.

KORFF: Cancer makes Gabriella physically weak, her speech altered but you can hear her strength in every word.

G. CROLL: I want to say one more thing. This is my motto and I think you should use it too. You might have a bad day today but there's always a bright side to look forward to tomorrow. Look inside. What's your bright side? Thank you. Happy holidays.

KORFF: It's impossible to calculate a love that starts in a little girl's heart, travels around the world and returns with the immeasurable gift of hope.


COSTELLO: You go Gabriella. That's from Jay Korff from affiliate WJLA reporting. Macy's by the way has donated an additional $25,000 in Gabriella's name to the Make a Wish Foundation. That total donations will allow 36 children to see their wishes come true.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

Stories we're watching right now. It's the rush to get to the stores for those last minute gifts and some similar 17 million people are doing just that today. If you're one of them, some good bargains could be coming your way.