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Boeing's Dreamliner In Crisis; Flu Outbreak: Nasty and Dangerous; Some Say "No Thanks" to Flu Shot

Aired January 11, 2013 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, as the flu spreads misery across the country, why are some people deliberately avoiding one of the best defenses against this dangerous illness?

Also, after several incidents, federal officials will investigate Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner.

Is it safe to fly?

And diplomatic troubleshooter, Bill Richardson, he's back from a controversial visit to North Korea. I'll ask him what he learned, what he accomplished.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


It's nasty and it can be deadly and most of the United States is now in the grip of a flu outbreak. The number of states reporting widespread activity is now up to 47. Only three are relatively unaffected.

But conditions have eased in five states. That means less than half are now reporting the highest levels of flu activity.

Some places have been -- have been hit hard. Areas across Massachusetts, for example, are now reporting flu vaccine shortages. In Ohio, 22-year-old Emilia Perry (ph) died from complications from the flu. She was one of hundreds hospitalized in the state during the first week of January.

So the flu has been spreading, but the intensity appears to be down in some areas. We're seeing a drop-off, for example, in the Southeast.

Let's bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- Sanjay, it seems to be get a little bit better in some places, worse in others.

What should we take away from these brand new CDC numbers?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you certainly could infer that, as you point out, down in terms of the highest level of -- of activity in five states but up in four others. It's a bit of a wash right now, Wolf, in terms of saying that there's been significant changes in the level of flu around the country.

You know, what's interesting is if you have -- you have this one point in time, a reflection of this one week. You want to look at the next couple of weeks to see if we're truly on the downward slope.

What we can say is, if you look at the flu seasons of -- of past, there's sort of a 12-week period that's the most intense. We're about half way through that 12 week period right now. But how the rest of the season plays out, it could go up and down still, a little bit, Wolf. I wouldn't be surprised if it does.

Three states, as you mentioned, California, Hawaii and Mississippi, don't yet report widespread activity. But they might over the next couple of weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What makes the flu worse some years than other years, Sanjay?

A lot of people are asking me the -- this.

Does it have anything to do with the weather, the type of virus?

What do we know?

GUPTA: You know, it's not really much to do with the weather. People think the flu comes about because of the colder weather in the fall and the winter. That's actually not probably the case. More people actually stay inside. It should diminish flu.

What -- what seems to happen more is more kids go back to school in the fall and winter. And that probably is what sort of incites the flu season, at least here in the United States.

This particular strain appears to be the problem. Every year, the flu sort of changes a little bit. The flu virus that's circulating changes. And this year, it changes in something known as H3N2, which is just a more severe flu. It's just a stronger, more potent virus.

But we've seen this virus before, Wolf. This isn't one of these unusual or new or novel viruses that comes from, for example, Southeast Asia. This is something that has circulated before. It was severe before. And it's sort of behaving the same way now.

BLITZER: If someone, Sanjay, is sick right now, how do you know when it's serious enough to actually go to the hospital?

GUPTA: Yes, luckily, for most people, they won't need to do that. They -- they probably just need to be at home getting rest and fluids. But there are a few red flags, if you will, Wolf. Sudden onset of dizziness, for example. That can spell profound dehydration. Obviously, difficulties breathing, if it's gone from just your upper part of your respiratory tract to your lungs.

Chest pressure is -- is, obviously, always a concern.

And then this bottom one, Wolf, I think is -- is really important. Someone who's had the flu, they think that they've -- they've beat it, they're feeling better and then a -- a couple of days later, their fever returns. That's a concern, Wolf, because in the medical community, we'd be worried that now, after the flu, they've now developed a bacterial infection. Oftentimes, those bacterial infections occur in the lungs. Often, it's caused by Staphylococcus. And that is the most common way that young people die from complications of the flu -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sanjay, stand by for a moment.

Probably the best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated. But many people out there want nothing to do with the flu shot.

We asked our Lisa Sylvester to take a closer look into this.

And it's a real problem out there -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Wolf, we hear the doctors say it again and again, get a flu shot, that this is shaping up to be one of the worst flu seasons we've had in a while.

But there are still people out there who refuse to have a flu vaccine. And we looked at some of their concerns and asked a doctor to weigh in.





We have to save some for when you play with your friends.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): It's one of the best defenses against the flu, hand sanitizer. But when it came to getting a flu shot for her 2-year-old daughter, Dana Weinstein was less certain.

DANA WEINSTEIN: For me, I'm just always nervous about putting things into our children's bodies, they're so young and still developing. But, you know, the fear of autism and -- and other things like that, that I know there's reports back and forth on if it's connected or not connected.

But because there's nothing definitive, it makes me nervous. But I really thought about it and between the odds of her having a bad reaction versus catching the flu, I felt like the flu and having her down and out and possibly risking her health or her life wasn't worth it.


SYLVESTER: Dana ended up getting a flu shot for her daughter, Danika (ph). But others we talked to say no thanks to the flu vaccine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm busy with work and it just didn't seem to -- it didn't seem to affect me, I don't think.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not sure I am confident in its ability to really protect me.



SYLVESTER: There are concerns with the flu shot that lead some not to get one. Many of those reasons, though, are actually baseless.

The first notion is that the flu shot can actually give you the flu.

Dr. Greg Cope is an ER doctor at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington.

DR. GREG COPE, SIBLEY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: So the virus has been broken down into many parts that are inactivated and will not cause the flu.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not really. Not in here.

SYLVESTER: Another common complaint is that the flu shot isn't effective. While it is true that scientists who developed the vaccine project which strains of the flu they think will be prevalent in any season, and sometimes they can miss problem strains, on the whole, Dr. Cope says the flu vaccine is still worth getting.

COPE: But I think generally, the effectiveness for all ages is approximately 60 percent.

SYLVESTER: One of the most common concerns is that the flu vaccine preservative, thimerosal, a form of mercury, might be linked to autism. The issue has been looked at extensively by the medical community. A 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study concluded, quote, "Thimerosal-containing immunizations did not increase the risk of any of the ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, outcomes.

Even for those with concerns, you can get a flu shot that is thimerosal-free.

Still, a flu shot is not for certain people, says Dr. Cope. COPE: I have nothing but reassurance to give in reference to the vaccination. The people that I think should not be candidates for the vaccination is people who have true allergies to the vaccination. And sometimes it's people that have severe egg allergies or the very young, below six months. But it's generally very, very safe. Generally, the healthier you are, the -- the more efficient it will be.


SYLVESTER: Now, another argument we often hear is that some people, they just don't like needles and shots. And that is a valid concern. But they do make the flu mist. It's a quick squirt up the nose and then, Wolf, you are good to go. So that's another option as for the folks who do not like the needles.

BLITZER: A good option, indeed.

Lisa, thanks very much.

Let's bring back Sanjay -- Sanjay, what do you say to those people out there who doubt the flu shot really works?

GUPTA: Yes, well, no -- nobody likes shots. That -- that's for sure. But I think, you know, the evidence is pretty clear. It's not a 100 percent protection. It's about 60 percent protection. But it, you know, that's certainly better than nothing.

I think there's a larger issue here, Wolf, in that the flu shot, in some ways, isn't just for you, but it's for the people around you, as well, the people who are, if they get the flu and then you subsequently infect somebody who has an underlying medical condition, who is very elderly, you've potentially put them into a life- threatening situation.

So, you know, it's a public health concern -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How young to -- is too young?

In other words, how many months old, years old should a little -- a little child be before eligible to get that flu shot?

GUPTA: Well, they say around six months. And it sort of raises two points. One is that pregnant women, women who are about to deliver in the next couple of months, should get a flu shot, because it will actually pass on some protection to their newborn baby, because that baby can't get a flu shot.

And, also, I should point out, you know, I've got -- I've got -- I have three young children and all of my children, you know, were vaccinated. So, you know, this is -- I look at all these concerns that people have. I've weighed all the evidence and I can tell you, you know, the proof is in the pudding, in many cases. And I actually went ahead and had the shot myself and for my children.

BLITZER: I went to the -- my local drugstore and got my shot. They wanted to charge me $35, which is fine, but I had a -- I showed them my health insurance card and they charged me zero. So zero dollars is pretty good for a flu shot, which is very, very nice.

Sanjay, thanks very much for that.

GUPTA: You've got it, Wolf.

BLITZER: In our next hour, by the way, we'll be talking to the CDC's Dr. Lynn Finelli, who will be answering your questions, questions that you Tweeted us about -- about the flu, practical -- more practical information you need to know.

A fire fuel leak and cracked engines -- problems are starting to add up for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner. And now, federal authorities are launching a thorough investigation.

And I'll speak with diplomatic troubleshooter Bill Richardson. He's just back from North Korea. He's fighting back against criticism of his trip.


BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. U.N. AMBASSADOR: We weren't used for propaganda.



BLITZER: The Boeing Dreamliner 787 is safe to fly -- that's the word from the FAA and the Transportation Department -- despite a week of glitches, including two more today.

CNN's Rene Marsh is joining us now with more on what passengers need to know about this new jumbo jet.

What do we need to know -- Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, there's been a lot of talk surrounding these Dreamliner jets.

But did you know only 50 of them are actually flying worldwide, including six for one U.S. airline?

But with its lightweight composite body, fuel saving ener -- engines and comfortable interior, experts believe it's the plane of the future. And that is why a string of problems with the plane has captured public attention. And it's why the DOT took action Friday.


MARSH (voice-over): A week of glitches with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner has raised questions about safety.

RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: I believe this plane is safe and I would have absolutely no reservation of boarding one of these planes and taking a flight.

MARSH: Despite the assurances, the government is stepping in to figure out what's going on.

MICHAEL HUERTA, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: We want to determine the root causes of these recent events so that they won't happen again.

MARSH: The FAA's newly sworn in administrator, Michael Huerta, ordered a team of experts to scrutinize how the plane was assembled, how its parts were manufactured with an emphasis on the plane's electrical systems.

(on-camera) The problems aren't in just one area or with just one plane. Monday, a battery fire in an auxiliary power unit in the belly of a plane and Tuesday, a fuel leak because of an open valve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, that's Japan Air may not know it, but they've got fuel or something spewing out the outboard left wing there quite a bit.

MARSH (on-camera): While unusual, investigators said, it wasn't a problem at all. Then, Wednesday, a problem with the braking system. Friday, a crack in the cockpit window, and then, fuel leaking from a left engine.

(voice-over) Experts say the issues raise questions about whether the FAA has an efficient process of certifying planes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The review should continue with the FAA looking at their own internal practices on how they certify aircrafts to make sure that it is keeping pace with the new modern technology airplanes at Boeing's building.

MARSH: The FAA says its logged 2,000 hours of technical work on the jet, and crews took numerous test flights before certifying it was safe. Meantime, Boeing says these problems are not unusual.

RAY CONNER, BOEING CORP: The 787 in service performance to this point is on par with the past successful commercial airplane introductions.


MARSH (on-camera): All right. Well, United Airlines, the sole U.S. carrier with the Dreamliner in its fleet says that it still has confidence in the aircraft. Dreamliner flight will still fly in the more than 800 jetliners on order will be delivered, Wolf, without delay.

BLITZER: Let's hope. Let's hope they fix these problems. Rene, thanks very much.

And Richard Quest is joining us now. Richard, how embarrassing is all of this for Boeing, the manufacturer, of the Dreamliner? RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is extremely embarrassing and no matter what brave face they put on it in their statement, today, talking about safety and insurance of safety and all those issues, the fact is the Dreamliner was their prestige project. It is their prestige project.

And not only because it's their newest, most expensive airliner, but also, because it was made in a revolutionary way for Boeing, composite fibers. It was made using an outsourcing mechanism. They hope to ramp up supply that have been phenomenal sales of the plane. It was three years late.

Throughout from start to finish, it has been bedeviled by these snags and these difficulties. So, now, to have a pro into the design manufacture and assembly of a crucial part is embarrassing.

BLITZER: And what would be really embarrassing, it would be very, very bad if they had to recall Boeing. If they had to recall, they had to recall all of their existing aircraft.

QUEST: Well, there are 50 that have been made. 800 or so are on order. If there was any whiff, I mean, of that, then, there would be real trouble. What -- I mean, what would not be so bad if the FAA come out with (INAUDIBLE) of directive and things that have to change, the wiring that might be needed -- that wouldn't be too bad.

If there was a wholesale grounding or anything like that, it would be in a different league but we're not looking at that at the moment, Wolf. We're a long way from that. The other thing that's embarrassing is for the FAA, because of course, the certification process for this plane. Everybody knew this was new.

It was different, it was revolutionary, it would bring down the cost of flying and what now the FAA will be saying, well, were we hard enough in the certifying of the aircraft? Shoot (ph), we have demanded more from Boeing. So, nobody will be sitting comfortable about this, at least of all the airlines go having to have their brand-new planes sitting on the ground.

BLITZER: What are passengers likely to feel the impact in terms of the cost to flying from this setback as far as the Dreamliner is concerned?

QUEST: They won't, because any energy aircraft on ground costs. Any compensation will be paid by Boeing. Any changes that need to be taken will be paid by Boeing. The price for the planes has already been set. The only people that will feel the pinch ultimately will be Boeing shareholders. The shares were down. If it gets worse, they'll go down even further.

BERMAN: Well, there better be err on the side of the safety. God forbid, worst case scenario, Richard, would be some sort of crash, some sort of disaster, fire on board, injuries, something along those lines. They've got to make sure, first and foremost, that doesn't happen. QUEST: You have really touched -- you've gone straight to the elephants in the living room there, Wolf, because that's the unspoken. That's what everybody jumps around and talks about. Is this plane likely to fall out of the air? Is it so serious that there's a real, serious safety risk? And the answer is no. Of course, there are issues.

They will be fixed, but the FAA says it's safe. The experts I've spoken to say it's safe. And as I've been saying all day, wolf, you buy me the ticket, and I'll board a Dreamliner tonight across any ocean.

BLITZER: Richard Quest, thanks very much as always.

Two years ago, I traveled with Bill Richardson to North Korea. He just returned from North Korea, and while change come slowly there with a new leader, is anything really different? My conversation with Bill Richardson when we come back.


BLITZER: Lawyers for James Holmes want a long delay before they'll have to enter a plea for the accused Aurora theater killer. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what do you have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have learned that the next hearing for Holmes is likely to come on March 12th. His lawyer said they need more time to study evidence against Holmes. He's charged with 166 counts of murder and attempted murder among other charges. At the end of today's hearing, a father of one victim in Aurora shouted out, quote, "Rot in hell, Holmes." He later apologized to the court for his outburst.

And Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, visited the White House today. And if he and President Obama were polite in public, it's possible they were saving the tough talk for close door meeting. The U.S. has floated the idea of leaving Afghanistan with no American troops after the 2014 drawdown. Earlier, the president talks about his hope for a responsible end to this long war.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our path is clear and we are moving forward. Every day, more Afghans are stepping up and taking responsibility for their own security and as they do our troops will come home. And next year, this long war will come to a responsible end.


SYLVESTER: House speaker, John Boehner, has asked President Obama to give the State of the Union address on February 12th. The president could outline his priorities for the next year, including immigration reform, gun control, and tackling the federal debt. If the debt ceiling isn't raised, the country could run out of money just days after the speech.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, mama. This is very early for you to be up (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: War makes early risers of us all.


SYLVESTER: OK. And if you dream of a wedding worthy of the Crowley (ph) Family, well, this could be your chance. A high clear castle is the building featured in the popular TBS show, "Downtown Abbey," and it's available for events large and small for around $24,000. That's all it was (INAUDIBLE).

Well, this venue can be yours for a small ceremony in front of up to 400 guests. And in case you are wondering, corporations can also rent out castle. "Downtown Abbey's" third season debut on Sunday.

And I have to admit, I have never watched the show, so I'm not that familiar with it, but I'm sure many of our viewers are, Wolf.

BLITZER: -- castle.

SYLVESTER: It is and --

BLITZER: Good to have a castle.

SYLVESTER: $24,000 and you can rent out that venue, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up to 400 guests can show up.

SYLVESTER: That's right.

BLITZER: I'll be busy (ph). Thank you.

Gun control advocates say there's a gaping hole in the system right now. We're taking a closer look at background checks for would- be gun buyers. Do they work? Should the system be expanded? Stand by.


BLITZER: He's been a diplomatic troubleshooter for many years, pulling many Americans out of world hot spots. The former New Mexico governor and former U.N. ambassador, Bill Richardson, is now just back from North Korea where another American is in trouble. After leaving North Korea where he was joined by the Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, Richardson made a pitch for cooperation.


BILL RICHARDSON, (D) FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: We think it's important that the United States and North Korea start having some positive, bilateral discussions, but we need dialogue, not confrontation on the peninsula.


BLITZER: And Bill Richardson is joining us now in the SITUATION ROOM. Welcome back to the United States.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: What did you accomplish?

RICHARDSON: Three things. One, a very strong message of a free internet and more cell phones, more access to information. Secondly, we found out some important information about Kenneth Bae (ph), the American detained there, that his trial is going to happen soon. That he's being well treated.

And then, lastly, we sent a very strong message that North Koreans don't get because we don't talk to them and because six-party countries don't have a dialogue with him and that is, one, stop any further missile, stop any further nuclear tests, a moratorium, especially on missile launches ,and enter into dialogue, enter into negotiation. Don't isolate yourself.

BLITZER: Before you went over there, you said you hoped to have an opportunity to meet with the American citizen and maybe even bring him out. They wouldn't let you meet with him, would they?

RICHARDSON: They wouldn't. She was very far away from Pyongyang, in the northern part of the state of the country, under local authorities. And they said to me that until his judicial proceedings start, they are not going to let me see him.

Now, the Swedish ambassador has access to him and I was assured by vice Minister Ree, who you and I met with while we were there, that he is in good condition. I was allowed to provide a letter to his son. I had given it to the North Koreans from his son in Washington State.

BLITZER: Did you speak to the Swedish ambassador? Has the Swedish ambassador actually met with him?

RICHARDSON: Yes, the Swedish ambassador has been given that consulate access.

BLITZER: He has met with them. Did you get a chance to meet with anyone you previously hadn't met with in high levels of authority or just the same cast of characters that you and I met with two years ago when I covered your last visit?

RICHARDSON: We met a broader front of people. We did meet with the foreign policy ministry three times, very intensive discussions. But we met with some of their top scientists, their top software engineers, their top educators, we met with students, and I think the message of Eric Schmidt of Google that we need a free internet, that that is good economically for the country, that we need more mobile technology, that the North Koreans should not control the access to the internet so tightly, would be good for the country.

BLITZER: They say they are going it up?

RICHARDSON: Yes. They said they were going to take steps to open it up.

BLITZER: Do you believe them?

RICHARDSON: I think they will take some minor steps first, but I think it's going to happen. And if you recall the power internet with the Arab spring, with facebook, with twitter, I think there's a possibility of not just improving their economy but their access to information which will make the North Koreans thirstier for democracy.

BLITZER: It would have been good if Kim Jong-un would have met with you. But that didn't happen?

RICHARDSON: That didn't happen. He only meets with heads of state. I mean, we were private humanitarian delegations. We weren't representing the U.S. government. We felt that we would have a strong impact, a strong message, and I think we did. I think that any time you talk to the North Koreans that are isolated, they are unpredictable. They don't hear bad news.

When we told them that it was devastating what they did with their missile launches, it was devastating, this talk of a nuclear test, of not going into a dialogue with the west. You know, one of the things that we saw the economy there is improving a little bit but all of the buildings, they are massively cold. There's no heating.

BLITZER: We saw you walking around with winter coats inside.

RICHARDSON: Students go to school with their jackets because there's no heating.

BLITZER: Yes. When I was there with you I saw the same thing. You've been severely criticized by John McCain. He was here in the SITUATION ROOM this week and I interviewed him after that tweet that he put out calling you and Eric Schmidt useful idiots, a term that they used to call Americans who represented the communism during the Stalinists regime.

Listen to what McCain said.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Do you think that the North Koreans are going to take Governor Richardson and Mr. Schmidt to see one of those (INAUDIBLE)? I don't think so. And so what this does, it provides a propaganda kind of success for this four-star general with his tables, see, the Americans have come to see us. And finally, how many trips has bill Richardson taken to North Korea and what have been the results of it?


BLITZER: He's pretty tough. He hated the fact you went there, that the North Koreans could use you for propaganda purposes.

RICHARDSON: Let me tell you what I think I've been able to bring back. I've been able to bring back American soldiers, American hostages, the remains of seven of our warriors from the Korean War. I don't know if senator McCain knows about that.

I'm surprised at the personal nature of his comments. We weren't used for propaganda. Is it propaganda for me and the head of Google to be photographed with students expanding the internet to deliver these tough messages about the American detained there, about missile launches, about the free use of the internet?

BLITZER: I guess his concern is that you were being used for propaganda domestically with the North Korea. They could show these pictures of the former governor, the head of Google walking around in North Korea and domestically that could be used to help that regime.

RICHARDSON: No, not at all. I think if anything, the message of free internet was something that the North Korean people very strongly supported. And the fact that Americans are there talking about opening the internet and opening information. I think it's a very powerful message on our part.

And, look, a lot of these North Koreans have some kind of access to the outside world. When we say missile launches are not a good idea, when we say that we care about the American detained there, that's a powerful message.

BLITZER: Are you going to brief state department officials, White House officials, Pentagon officials? They were not happy that you went there.

RICHARDSON: We've sent a report. If they want to talk to me, I'm pleased to brief them.

BLITZER: They haven't invited you over in the state department at the White House.

RICHARDSON: No. I just got. But, I sent a report.

BLITZER: You are here in Washington. Nobody has asked you to give an eyeball to eyeball briefing?


BLITZER: But usually you do when you come back.

RICHARDSON: Yes. I've sent a report in and if they want to talk to me, I'm pleased to talk to them.

Look. They were nervous about this trip, I know. But I've been going to North Korea a long time and I have had had substantial success. And I think this trip was successful, mainly because of Eric Schmidt and Google.

Forget the politics, forget foreign policy. The fact that we can talk about a free internet, free exchange of information, more mobile technology, there's a thirst around the world for this kind of technology and that's good because people are communicating with each other.

BLITZER: Let's see if they do anything about it.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

It's one of the hot button issues out there, the gun debate. What to do about background checks for gun buyers? We're taking a closer look at the controversy.


BLITZER: Vice president Biden met today with representatives of the video game industry as he continues to hear from all sides of the campaign to try to curb gun violence. Biden has promised to have proposals ready for the president by Tuesday. One controversial issue, background checks for gun buyers.

CNN's crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns is here in the SITUATION ROOM.

You have been looking into this part of the story. What are you finding out?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We know, Wolf, to a lot of people, even some gun owners, it just sounds like commonsense, requiring universal background checks, a regulating every transfer of a firearm regardless of whether it is a private sale between gun owners or sales at certain gun show, even transactions over the internet. This does have the appeal of a simple solution but in reality it could be tough for federal regulators to pull off.


JOHNS (voice-over): In 2011, Oscar Ortega-Hernandez made this video about God, guardian angels, marijuana and his purpose owner.

OSCAR ORTEGA-HERNANDEZ, ALLEGEDLY FIRED SHOTS AT WHITE HOUSE: It's not a coincidence that I look like Jesus. I am the modern day Jesus Christ that you all have been waiting for.

JOHNS: Weeks later he allegedly fired shots at the White House with the Romanian AK-47 style rifle. Law enforcement sources tell CNN Ortega-Hernandez bought the rifle in a private sale in Idaho. It's the kind of transaction that typically involves no background, a big problem for gun control advocates.

DAN GROSS, BRADY CAMPAIGN TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: It's really a gaping hole in our system that every day is allowing convicted felons, domestic abusers, dangerously mentally ill, God forbid terrorists on the no fly list, it allows them to buy guns every day in our country and we're paying for it with American lives.

JOHNS: Vice president Biden's task force has been debating a potential solution.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Total universal background checks including private sales.

JOHNS: So how does a background check works? Chuck Nesby, an employee and NRA instructor at a gun store in Virginia walks us through the process.

CHUCK NESBY, NRA INSTRUCTOR, NOVA FIREARMS: Decide what firearm you want to buy and then you fill out the federal form 4473 and you also fill out the state form.

JOHNS: On the federal form, there are a number of questions about the buyer's criminal background, drug use, mental health, and citizenship which could disqualify them from buying a gun. Once it's filled out, the state and an FBI office in West Virginia check out the purchaser.

NESBY: And within seconds we get a response back from the computer whether the sale's been approved or not. Probably about one out of every ten gets delayed for some reason or another.

JOHNS: Since the federal government started doing this, it has denied almost one million applications or about one percent of the total transactions since 1998.

Sheriff Richard Stanek, one of the law enforcement officials that met with vice president Biden last month says that's part of the problem.

RICHARD STANEK, SHERIFF, HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA: That's really, as we told the vice president and his cabinet, America's dirty little secret in terms of the background check itself. Those databases are overpopulated. They are overwhelmingly not accurate and that cause a problem for local law enforcement when we provide these background checks.

JOHNS: And of the federal government tried to tackle private purchases, Sheriff Stanek is skeptical.

STANEK: How would you regulate something like that or how would force it? We understand that FFL dealers, we understand maybe even at gun shows, but through the internet? That would be incredibly difficult to try and regulate.


JOHNS: We just do not know how many gun sales go under the radar. Gun control experts have been quoted as saying that 40 percent of firearm purchases don't get background checks. But the feds who do those checks told me today, they couldn't venture a guess at what the real number is. And by the way, just because you get a background check doesn't guarantee anything.

James Holmes, the alleged Aurora, Colorado, shooter bought his through a licensed dealer. BLITZER: Yes. But that loophole is enormous. You can go to a gun show. And if you find individually from a friend or a neighbor or someone, there's no background checks.

JOHNS: No, no background check and it's actually against the law to transfer - I mean, ATF has a law that says, you can't do this but there's no way the bureau of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms can enforce that. They just don't have enough people.

BLITZER: Joe, thanks very much for that report.

With the administration vowing to take action on gun violence, in Florida, the rush is now on to purchase guns and obtained concealed weapons permits just in case.

CNN's John Zarrella has been looking into this part of the story for us.

What's going on in Florida, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, when you talk about Florida, it comes with the second amendment. Florida has gun laws that are more friendly than in many states. You have concealed weapons permits, privacy laws, and of course the stand your ground law. And all of this comes from a long history.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): Mel Englander has been a gun owner for years and he just bought himself this shotgun.

MEL ENGLANDER, GUN OWNER: Well, this was the weapon that I was looking at getting for a while.

ZARRELLA: Englander, a photographer, also just completed the required course to obtain a concealed weapons license.

ENGLANDER: This is the certificate of completion. I carry a lot of very expensive equipment with me. And I just wanted to be totally legal on carrying the firearms.

ZARRELLA: He's got plenty of company. Florida is the first state to pass the one million mark in concealed weapons permit holders. As long as you are a law abiding citizen, the license is fairly easy to get.

And in 2006, legislation passed protecting the identity of concealed weapons licensee. An example of why Florida is considered one of the more gun friendly states, says attorney and gun law expert, Cord Byrd.

CORD BYRD, ATTORNEY, GUN LAW EXPERT: I would have to say that Florida is probably in the top five of states that are respectful of the second amendment.

ZARRELLA: Occasionally, there is pushback, like now. A case can labeled docs versus Glocks is making its way to a federal court. It centers on a 2011 Florida law banning doctors from asking patients questions about guns in their home.

Doctor Brent Wollschlaeger, a gun owner himself, is the lead plaintiff.

DOCTOR BRENT WOLLSCHLAEGER, LEAD PLAINTIFF: So there's a gun safety, a public health safety, a public safety issue and has nothing to do with gun ownership. It's primarily a first amendment issue, our ability to ask questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do we know that that doctor is an expert in firearms or firearms safety?

ZARRELLA: The state argued nothing in the act penalizes docs from asking about firearms, but a Miami federal jaw ruled the law unconstitutional. It is now before the 11th circuit court of appeals. Separately on a federal level, a provision in Obama care bans doctors from documenting patient answers to questions about guns. But overall, gun owners enjoy a lot of leeway in Florida. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just our heritage and tradition, we were, you know for most of Florida's history, we are a rural state and the people here grew up using firearms for hunting and self-defense and that tradition is continued.

ZARRELLA: But in the wake of Sandy Hook, gun shows are swamped. Eight thousand people last Saturday in Orlando, concern that even here in Florida the future for gun owners might not be quite so friendly.


ZARRELLA: This weekend, a gun show in Ft. Lauderdale, next weekend in Miami, and at both locations they expect huge, if not record crowds - Wolf.

BLITZER: John Zarrella, thanks very much for that. We are going to have much more on this story coming up in our next hour.

So, could the shoddy work of a medical examiner's office employee made it impossible to convict rapists in a hundreds of cases? Why authorities are now asking that question.


BLITZER: The New York medical examiner's office is now reviewing 800 rape cases going back a decade. And what investigators are finding is very disturbing, the possibility that one employee's incompetence could literally have paved the way for guilty suspects to go free.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us with more on this disturbing story.

What's going on, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, you know, Wolf, this revelation is being met with shock. The medical examiner's office says it discovered errors on its own through its own quality control testing, reported it and has been reviewing the cases. But it's raising questions about how one employee could be the reason for hundreds of cases to be reviewed.


SNOW (voice-over): The New York city medical examiner's office known for its highly praised forensic technology is now in the midst of controversy. The M.E.'s office says it is reviewing 843 rape cases after detecting mistakes made by a technician, surprising many who first read it in the "New York Times." The M.E.'s office says so far that review has led them to discover biological evidence in 26 cases that was initially missed. The newly discovered DNA evidence has already led to an indictment ten years after the crime.

Sonia Ossorio of the national organization for women says it's the crime victims who pay the price.

SONIA OSSORIO, PRESIDENT, NOW, NYC: Ten years is a long time to live not getting any justice especially in the face of the fact that there was evidence there at the scene. And if it would have been done right, there would have been justice much sooner.

SNOW: In these letters to a forensic oversight body, the New York City medical examiner's office said a red flag was raised in 2009 when a long-time employee made mistakes during her DNA analyst training program. The employee was moved to a lower level job and left in 2011. It was that year that the review of cases began. The M.E.'s office declined our request for an interview, but a spokeswoman stressed that the cases where evidence has been discovered were false negatives, meaning that no one was wrongly convicted. But one city official has many questions.

CHRISTINE QUINN, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: It would be unacceptable if one DNA case was mishandled. But 800 plus cases of DNA around rape and sexual assault, how does that happen?

SNOW: Former New York City prosecutor and CNN legal contributor Paul Callan says credibility is at stake.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: DNA evidence has become the gold standard in the criminal justice system because of CSI, law and order, jurors come into court saying, hey, if there's DNA evidence, you know, showing the guy did it, then he must be guilty. This destroys the gold standard.


SNOW: And New York City's council says it plans to hold an emergency hearing later this month to find out exactly what went wrong and what steps must be taken to make sure it doesn't happen again. That was spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office says so far the office has reviewed roughly 400 of the 800 plus cases it's examining.

BLITZER: How long has this employee worked there, Mary? SNOW: Yes, you know, she remains unidentified. And she worked there from 2001 into 2011. Now, here's the question. The red flags were raised in 2009. And she was demoted, but she continued to work there for two more years. A spokeswoman for the M.E. says she was closely supervised during those last two years. But a total of 800 cases now are being examined and questions are still unanswered about why that certain employee was still there, if potentially she is putting cases under review.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much. Very, very disturbing report.

We've invited a key member of the centers for disease control into the SITUATION ROOM to answer your questions that you sent us about the flu. Stand by for that.


BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's hot shots.

In Malaysia, look at this. A man walks by a giant I love Malaysia billboard in a busy district.

In Germany, cars are covered in fresh snow.

In Berlin, in India, girls dressed as folk dancers gesture, they fly kites at their school.

And look at this in England, rare and exotic butterflies sit on a worker's hand in a butterfly garden.

Hot shots, pictures coming in from around the world.

The nation's capital features prominently some of the biggest Oscar-nominated films. Lincoln, "Argo," "Zero Dark Thirty." Is that how Washington really works?

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is here. He has been taking a closer look. What are you seeing?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I mean, who would've thought that the beltway would translate so well to the box office. But if you come out of these movies thinking you've seen the real Washington, think again.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Maybe they ran out of superheroes or aliens weren't available.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are only bad options. It's about finding the best one.

LAWRENCE: Hollywood is turning to government analysts so anchor its hit films.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Joseph Bradley, our station chief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice to meet you.


LAWRENCE: Former CIA officers admit the agency's Virginia headquarters isn't exactly a tourist destination.

BILL HARLOW, FORMER CIA SPOKESMAN: Most of what the American people think they know about the CIA comes from Hollywood.

LAWRENCE: So, what do moviegoers take away from "Zero Dark Thirty"?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was a great fictional.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was pretty accurate portrayal.

LAWRENCE: Ouch, say those who worked at the agency.

PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA ANALYST: This isn't the life I lived.

LAWRENCE: Phil Mudd spent 20 years at the CIA. He says don't sign up to gallivant around the world.

MUDD: If you want to spend 99 percent of your time doing pain stake and research, building a case, understanding a problem, that one percent, though, at the end of the game is pretty -- is pretty much like what you might see in the movies. That's exciting.

LAWRENCE: And it's not just spies. America's 16th president has been around for years, but Hollywood spotlight on Lincoln's political life could mean gold come Oscar time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are more reptile than man, George. So low and flat that the foot of man's incapable of crushing you.


LAWRENCE: Critics and movie goers cheered the insults, lies, and vote trading that went into passing the 13th amendment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will not yield for the gentleman and the gentleman will observe regular order.

LAWRENCE: But the good will doesn't translate to today's politicians. Can you believe telemarketers now have higher approval ratings than Congress?


LAWRENCE: Sorry, Mr. Speaker, it is true.