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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Deep Freeze Grips U.S.; New Book Explores Practice of Scientology; "Mob Wives" Big Hit

Aired January 24, 2013 - 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: Good morning, welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Ahead this half hour we take you behind the church of scientology with the author of a controversial new book.

And from the hit reality show "Mob Wives" Big Ann Raiola and Ramona Rizzo will join us to talk about their new season. First though, John Berman has a look at the day's top stories.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Thanks, Soledad. We have a deep freeze gripping so much of the country, wind-chills expected to be dangerously low in the upper Midwest and northeast and northern Ohio the lake-effect snow piled up as temperatures plunge into the teens and single digits. Roads turned into a giant sheet of ice and shut down in PA after freezing temperatures burst a water main there. Also, a ski resort in New Hampshire recorded a wind-chill of, ready for this, minus 85, minus 85. It goes that low.

Here is a look at the suspect of the shooting at a community college. Authorities say 22-year-old Carlton Berry got into in an argument with another student Tuesday and used a gun to settle their differences. Investigators think a second person might have been involved. They're still looking for a weapon.

New this morning, CNN has just learned from an administration official that later today President Obama will nominate former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White as the chair of the Securities Exchange Commission. If confirmed she would take over for Alyse White. The president is also set to re-nominate Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Less than two hours from now Senator John Kerry will be in a nomination hearing for secretary of state. The current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to introduce Kerry to the Senate committee.

So here's something that might keep you warm on this frigid morning, a sneak peek at the new Mercedes Super Bowl ad featuring "Sports Illustrated" cover girl Kate Upton, excuse me. She is washing a car, yes.

O'BRIEN: Are you going to make it through the segment just checking. BERMAN: They say sex sells, but some critics are saying it is too sexy for the Super Bowl. One person who posted on the Mercedes-Benz Facebook page, hot girl, great car and somehow I think this is the worst car Mercedes ever made.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's it? That's sexy?

BERMAN: I don't know.

MARTIN: I'm just saying, she's blowing suds. That's too sexy, seriously.

BERMAN: That's what they're saying. I'm just reporting the news.

MARTIN: The GoDaddy ads have been sexy.

O'BRIEN: Actual naked women painting their bodies.

MARTIN: That's more sexy than that?

BERMAN: I'm not an expert on sexiness like you.

MARTIN: Well that's obvious, Manti.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: And we're moving on. So this morning we've got a first look at a new book that takes us inside the world of scientology, it uncovers details about the secretive group that were never before known. The book is called "Going Clear, Scientology, Hollywood, and the prison of Belief" by Lawrence Wright. It's already in its second reading. The church's response has been swift and furious. We'll talk to the author about that in a few minutes.

First, Anderson Cooper takes a look at the group's controversial history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The Church of Scientology was founded by a science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, its stated goals to help people "Live in a civilization without insanity, without criminals, and without war where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights."

Members pay to take courses designed to help them work through issues of their past and reach a higher state of consciousness. To understand what's holding them back church members are tested with a device called an e-meter used to monitor their feelings and reactions.

L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986 and since then this man, David Miscavige, has been the leader. He oversees the religious order inside the church, an order that's responsible for church management called the Sea Organization. Members of Sea Org sometimes wear naval style uniforms, they sign billion-year contracts, promising to remain in the church for many reincarnated lives to come. The Church of Scientology opened some 170 churches around the globe and claims 10 million members worldwide, 6 million in the U.S. In 2009, then church spokesman Tommy Davis put it this way.

TOMMY DAVIS, CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY SPOKESMAN: Dave Miscavige is responsible for the current renaissance the church is experiencing. And the fact is the church has doubled in the last five years and flourished under his leadership.

COOPER: The American religious identification survey cites much lower numbers. According to the survey the number of self-described practicing Scientologists in the U.S. actually dropped from 55,000 to 25,000 in the years between 2001 and 2008.

The church is a famously vocal critic of psychiatry, opposing what it calls brutal and inhumane psychiatric treatments. But for most, this is how the public identifies with scientology through high-profile believers. The church reaches out to well-known performers and caters to their needs with a celebrity center in Hollywood. Kirstie Alley, John Travolta are long time Scientologists, as is Tom Cruise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: Being a scientologist when you drive past an accident, it's not like anyone else, you drive past you know you have to do something about it because you know you are the only one who can help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Cruise is so close to church leader David Miscavige he asked him to be his best man at his wedding. He's Cruise praising David Miscavige at a scientology event in 2007.

CRUISE: I say to you, sir, we are lucky to have you, and thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: In 2010 we met with many former members, including Tom Cruise's former councilor, or auditor in Scientology parlance, who says everybody is not as it seems within the church leadership. Marty Wrathbun, who used to work directly under David Miscavige, says there's been a culture of violence within the leadership of the church, the culture encouraged by Miscavige himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He treats his subordinates in all of their national management like slaves in a slave camp and literally beats them down.

COOPER: It's a claim the church vigorously denies. The say Rathbun is a liar and out to destroy the church. Tommy Davis says there was violence in the church, but he blames Marty Rathbun for it, as well as some others making allegations against David Miscavige.

DAVIS: The allegations are absolutely untrue. There's nothing of the sort as they are describing by Mr. Miscavige.

COOPER: He's never kicked somebody?

DAVIS: Absolutely not.

COOPER: Never punched somebody?

DAVIS: No.

COOPER: Never strangled somebody?

DAVIS: No, never, never, never, absolutely not.

COOPER: As CNN was providing our 2010 report the church provided us with large stacks of affidavits from current and former church members, one-time colleagues, even ex-wives who remain in the leadership of the church. Some interviewed with us to defend the church, saying their former husbands and co-workers are liars.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never saw one scratch, I never saw one bruise, I never saw one black eye, nothing, nor did he complain about anything personally.

COOPER: Now Lawrence Wright has written "Going Clear, Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief." He details the church's creation by its founder L. Ron Hubbard and explores these allegations of abuse, allegations the church continues to strongly deny, and they created a website to refute the book chapter by chapter.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Coming up next, my conversation with Lawrence Wright. He'll tell us what he learned that upset the church so much that they created that website. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: If you're just joining us we're talking about a controversial, new book from Pulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright which exposes the history and the inner workings of the church of scientology. The book is called "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief." We just heard a report from CNN's Anderson Cooper and I had to chance to talk with author Lawrence Wright about his book.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: The book is called "going clear." what does "going clear" mean?

LAWRENCE WRIGHT, AUTHOR: It's a stage in scientology and the progress up their ladder. The idea is that there are two minds, one is a rational mind, analytical, and the other is what they call the reactive mind, and it's full of all the things that cause you fears and neuroses and triggered by ancient memories. And the goal is to eliminate those memories. When that happens, you go clear, and then you have these kinds of extraordinary powers. You're more intelligent, you never get ill, and you're at peace with the universe and able to control your environment.

O'BRIEN: What does scientology and Scientologists have that others don't? What's the promise at the end of scientology for people?

WRIGHT: What you discover inside scientology oftentimes in the auditing sessions with an e-meter between the two of you, you might discover a past life. And that comes as great news to a lot of people, the idea is that you're immortal. Other people I've spoken to have, in scientology terms, have "gone exterior." In other words they've had an out of body experience, they've had the sensation of being able to leave their incorporated body and move around the room to other planets.

If you've had that experience, then the criticism and the logic others might bring to bear about scientology is not going to affect you very much because you've had a life-changing experience.

O'BRIEN: It certainly is talked about when you know a celebrity who is also a Scientologist. What is the answer to that? Clearly they are aggressive in getting celebrities to be Scientologists.

WRIGHT: Oh, from the very beginning, the church was established in L.A., and the celebrity center there, it was all with a goal of as L. Ron Hubbard, the founder said, taking over the entertainment industry.

O'BRIEN: But taking over to what end?

WRIGHT: Well, if you have somebody of that reputation, it's very appealing to other people. Just as you see with Tom Cruise, I mean, he makes a huge impact in the world as a Scientologist. If you subtracted tom cruise and Kirstie Alley and John Travolta and others from the list of Scientologists, I don't think people would really know what that organization is.

O'BRIEN: There are people who are celebrities, and I'd say they are maybe less famous than the huge celebrities, who have said scientology has helped them.

WRIGHT: I believe scientology has helped some people. And oftentimes when you're drawn into the church they ask you, what is your ruin, what is the thing spoiling your life you'd like to change? And you might say it's my job or my relationship or something like that. And they say we have courses that can help you, and they may well help you. I don't dispute that at all.

O'BRIEN: You said though, as you go up levels it gets expensive. What do you mean by expensive?

WRIGHT: Very expensive. I mean to get to the top of the ladder, more than half a million dollars.

O'BRIEN: Tell me about the leader, David Miscavige.

WRIGHT: He's a very controversial figure in Scientology right now, for years there have been allegations of abuse, physical abuse on his part against the other executives in the church. I talked to 12 people who told me that they had been beaten by the leader of the church.

O'BRIEN: Physically beaten?

WRIGHT: Physical beaten. I have 20 witnesses who witnessed such attacks.

O'BRIEN: What do you think is the biggest most valid criticism of scientology? You talk about children being put to work in the book.

WRIGHT: That's the part of it that disturbs me the most, the exploitation of children and what -- they have a clergy called the Sea Org or Sea Organization and children, very young children, are often --

O'BRIEN: How old?

WRIGHT: Some as young as six, they sign a contract for a billion years of service. They essentially surrender any real education, they're impoverished by their service, they get paid about $50 a week and they're secluded from the world.

O'BRIEN: They say your sources many of them are completely unreliable.

WRIGHT: Yes, we talked to more than 250 people, I'm not sure exactly which ones they're complaining about, but most of the people I talked to were Scientologists or former Scientologists, many of them had been at the highest levels of the church.

Now, I asked the church repeatedly for the opportunity to talk to other executives and to their leader, David Miscavige.

O'BRIEN: What did they say?

WRIGHT: They absolutely denied me that opportunity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: CNN reached out to the Church of Scientology. They responded to Lawrence Wright's claims of physical abuse saying this, "The stories of alleged physical abuse are lies concocted by a small group of self-corroborating professed liars. The hard evidence clearly shows that no such conduct ever occurred and that, in fact, there is evidence that shows it did not occur."

Church of Scientology also responded to Lawrence Wright's allegations about the exploitation of children saying this "Regarding the claim that the Church made children work long hours, the Church diligently followed and continues to follow, all child labor laws in every state or country in which it operates." It went on to say "their chores never amounted to child labor." Making the Church of Scientology responses available at CNN.com, just search under the word "Scientology" in the search field.

Coming up next, we'll turn to reality TV, the stars of one of the wildest reality TV shows will join us. Big Ang Raiola also Ramona Rizzo too from "Mob Wives" are with us. You're watching STARTING POINT. Back in just a moment. Hi, ladies.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Gangsters, snitches, blood feuds, offers you can't refuse, it's all part of a normal day for "Mob Wives" VH-1's reality show which begins its third season this month. The show follows six women from Staten Island after their husbands or fathers are arrested and imprisoned for crimes connected to the mob.

Take a look as the godmother of the group, Big Ang, tries to settle the scores of two mob wife rivals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whatever you want to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. I really don't think it's Renay's business. Sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's none of your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) business.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not one, not two.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Put it down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll talk last if I want. Too bad. You say what you say, shut the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Put it down. Put the knife down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd like to stab you, you (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to stab. Get up and do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Wow is all I can say, when you say put the knife down, kind of says it all.

BIG ANG RAIOLA, "MOB WIVES": It's a butter knife.

(CROSSTALK)

RAMONA RIZZO, "MOB WIVES": Yes what could she do with it?

O'BRIEN: So let's back up a little bit, so Ang you are the niece of Salvatore "Sally Dogs" Lombardi, is that right?

RAIOLA: Right.

O'BRIEN: And he was the captain of the Genovese crime family.

RAIOLA: Right.

O'BRIEN: Ramona you're the granddaughter of Benjamin Ruggioro, who was -- who's nickname was "Lefty Guns".

RIZZO: Guns.

O'BRIEN: Right so I'm going to assume when grandpa's nickname is "Lefty Guns" good chance he's in the mob. For people who haven't seen the show what is -- what is -- what is it about besides the drama?

RAIOLA: It's a lot of glamour.

RIZZO: I just think it's about the struggle you know the women go through for either relatives on men, people that they know that are incarcerated. You know the other side, the family side of what how we have to handle it on a day by day situations.

O'BRIEN: How much of it is real? You know because sometimes reality is like reality.

RIZZO: Oh it's real.

RAIOLA: It's real.

O'BRIEN: Like that fight is real?

RIZZO: Oh yes.

RAIOLA: Yes, it's in my house, very real.

RIZZO: It's on Twitter it's in -- you know it's in the neighborhood. It's awful right now, things are bad.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all I hate most reality shows, ok I'll tell you, I'm serious "Housewives" take your pick, (inaudible) I don't get the back and forth who wants to actually watch folks yell, scream, cuss, act the fool.

O'BRIEN: A lot of people apparently.

MARTIN: I'm just trying to pick out -- but what is the value in that and for you, are you sitting there going seriously we're yelling and cussing for exactly what?

RIZZO: Well I mean, sometimes it depends on the subject and how passionate you are about it but a lot of times when you're saying you don't want to watch it, if it doesn't happen the ratings go down so usually when we're really want to kill each other which is real, the ratings go high, so you know.

O'BRIEN: But you know but the whole history of the mob right.

RIZZO: It's crazy.

O'BRIEN: For the most part people who were in the mob or someone had a relative they would keep their mouth shut, you know like your security would be like, how can we do that and do a reality show?

(CROSSTALK) RIZZO: Because we are talking about our business, that's the issue, how it affects us. My grandfather I'm just speaking about the fact you know when he was incarcerated how it affected me. I'm not telling anybody's deep dark secrets. You're not going to call me up, "Hey Ramona do you know where a body is?" I don't know that, I'm a girl in this family so it's none of my business.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Does your family approve?

RIZZO: My family hates it. My family is so against it. My family is the real deal and they were so -- fighting with me every day.

O'BRIEN: How about you Ang, how about your family?

RAIOLA: My family is all for it because my uncle passed away so his wife said it was okay and I went with it.

O'BRIEN: You said it's glamorous, too, that's really true. We don't have a clip of it but you guys like dress to the 99s I guess. Has it been surprising to you that you've become, I know you cannot walk down the street without people stopping, like your life has had to have changed.

RAIOLA: It's crazy.

O'BRIEN: Tell us about that.

RAIOLA: Everywhere I go it's out of control, just being in the bar, like last night I'm home, they're calling me, my bartenders, Angela, we have people here from PA, could you come now? No. I'm at home. I have a family.

RIZZO: But she was -- you know what -- she did have a fan base before the show. People do love her so now it's international and it's national. But people always are looking for you.

RAIOLA: (inaudible).

O'BRIEN: It borders now towards stress.

RAIOLA: They come with busloads from Philadelphia Sunday night, 30 people on a bus.

O'BRIEN: Really? Is that great, because I got to assume that that translates into a big old paycheck at the end of the day or is that weird?

RAIOLA: No, it's cool. It's good. They're nice. They come with (inaudible) and they came with the pretzels from Philadelphia, big.

O'BRIEN: They come on the bus and they drop off the pretzels.

MARTIN: Is there anything off limits? Anything?

RAIOLA: Not for me. RIZZO: I really don't like to discuss people's personal business. If I know a secret about you I'm not going to really put it out there unless you really, really push me. I'm not -- you know, I'm not that type of person.

MARTIN: So when another woman was cheating you're not going to talk about it.

RIZZO: That's really not my business to say. I do have certain limits but I don't really those things like that.

MARTIN: But if it's good for ratings --

RIZZO: Like I said if someone's going to come after me then we're going to get into it. But a lot of times there's things that I withheld because, you know, I just don't feel it's appropriate to really burn somebody that bad.

O'BRIEN: So third season, what can we expect more of the butter knife slashing fighting?

MARTIN: Yelling, cussing, fighting.

O'BRIEN: I love that. I like that.

RIZZO: I'm a mom so it's not just about -- you have to tune in, you'll see other things, I'm a single mom with four kids by myself so you get to see that. It's not always cursing and fighting.

MARTIN: But I got to get pass all of that. Am I going to through all that to see that?

RIZZO: When you play football games sometimes you have to go through some bogus stuff to get to good things.

MARTIN: Like what a deep pass?

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm sorry, Ramona.

O'BRIEN: -- and Ramona. Nice to have you guys. Good luck in the third season. I'm dying to know what unravels there. There's a lot of fighting and cursing. I like it; it's kind of crazy.

Nice to have you guys, appreciate it. Got to take a break. "End Point" is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: We end as always with "End Point". who wants to start, Mr. Martin you want to start?

MARTIN: I hate most of these reality shows because I find them despicable. I just -- the whole yelling and going back and forth is ridiculous and also in terms of how they portray folks. I am somebody, all you actors in Hollywood I am your biggest fan. Give me scripted shows, please, "Good Wife", "Scandal", take your pick. But please my God, give me a scripted show not this madness.

O'BRIEN: Some reality shows are very, very entertaining, you cannot let your children watch because they're completely inappropriate.

Will Cain? You just dropped your --

CAIN: You won't believe I lost my mike and battery.

O'BRIEN: Here I'll give you mine.

MARTIN: Way to go, Will. Way to go.

Dude, hurry up; we don't have much time.

CAIN: I will point out in the spirit of self-awareness and a slight bit of irony that Roland was pointing out the fighting on TV, this comes from a pundit, not a personal statement, gut pundits do a lot of yelling on TV.

MARTIN: No, I don't do yelling on TV.

CAIN: I said it wasn't a personal statement but we should be aware of what have we do for a living.

MARTIN: You know what I do for a living.

O'BRIEN: Tomorrow on STARTING POINT" --

MARTIN: Give me a butter knife.

O'BRIEN: -- celebrating 25 years of "Phantom". We'll have the stars from "Phantom of the Opera" on the show. That's ahead, that's tomorrow.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. We'll see you tomorrow.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi Soledad, happening now in the NEWSROOM with Standoff, a champion of gun control unveils sweeping new vision that could impact and outrage millions of Americans.