Return to Transcripts main page


How Should Media Cover Serial Killers?; How to Avoid Forced Budget Cuts; Obama Speaks on Sequestration

Aired February 19, 2013 - 10:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to a special edition of "Talk Back" -- two hot topics, great guests, your comments. A possible motive for Newtown shooter Adam Lanza and the latest events to stop Washington in its tracks, the sequestration or those forced budget cuts.

Playing with us today, Democratic strategist and former DNC communications chair, Maria Cardona; chief political correspondent for "Politics365" and Hiram College Professor Jason Johnson; CNN contributor and analyst for "The Blaze," Will Cain; and Republican consultant and former South Carolina Republican Party chair, Katon Dawson.

First question, "Talk Back": How should the media report on serial killers?

Maybe, maybe now we know why, why a troubled young man opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It wasn't because he was unloved or bullied, but obsessed with mass murderers like Anders Breivik, a vicious Norwegian man who killed 77 people in 2011.


BOB ORR, CBS NEWS JUSTICE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Officials have not publicly revealed what precisely led them to the motive. But sources say investigators have found evidence Lanza was obsessed with Breivik.

They've also recovered what they call a trove of violent video games from the basement of Lanza's home. Sources say Lanza spent countless hours there alone in a private gaming room with the windows blacked out, honing his computer shooting skills.


COSTELLO: So as CBS reports Adam Lanza was fixated on a real life serial killer and honed his shooting skills playing make believe. If this theory is true it reignites the debate over how much media air time the media ought to give killers. What if the media had never mentioned Breivik's name, never shown his picture and never reported a single story and most importantly never shared with you the who, how and why?

The thing is, killers may be inspired by serial killers they see as media stars, but they're also inspired by other things.

Charles Manson a serial killer was inspired by the Beatles "White" album. Mark David Chapman the man who killed John Lennon was inspired by the classic movie, "The Catcher in the Rye". And John Hinckley by the movie "Taxi Driver" which he saw 15 times. He was so obsessed with its star Jodie Foster, he shot President Reagan so Foster would look into her heart so he could gain her respect and love.

Look it's easy to blame the media for the carnage but in my mind that's a bit simplistic, my guess is you find it essential to know why. It's why you watch the news or read a blog, or a newspaper or a book, or watch one of the dozens of TV shows about serial killers, "Dexter", anyone? So dig deep this morning because what I'm about to ask you and our panelists doesn't have an easy answer.

"Talk Back": How should the media report on serial killers?

Jason Johnson.

JASON JOHNSON, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICS365: Well I think the first thing we should is separate crazy people from actual motivations that may lead people to behave in a crazy way. Where they were looking at Columbine with Dylan Klebold, they are looking at Adam Lanza, these are emotionally disturbed people, if it wasn't some serial killer in Sweden, it was going to be some serial killer somewhere else and it's going to be some video game, it doesn't really matter.

But let's say if you look at Dorner in Los Angeles, that might be a situation we can say, "Hey, look this guy was a military vet, maybe he had mental problems, maybe there are some discrimination issues within the Los Angeles Police Department.

So we've got to separate the politics from the crazy people.


WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, you know I think as we try to step into the mind of a crazy man and readjust how we interact with each other either through the media or actually legislate each other, we need to be careful. Because look, the thing is this, he -- this -- this is a -- you're looking at laws that have broad -- or in the case of the media -- broad, broad sweeping changes. This guy, as you pointed out Carol, there could have been numerous motivations for what -- what motivates this crazy people. I don't know that we have any massive lessons to learn here.

By the way what does media mean? Does that mean CNN? Does that mean newspapers? It's a changing definition, does that mean Web sites and Twitter and Facebook won't post this guy's name and picture?

COSTELLO: Exactly Katon because Will's absolutely right, I mean, Anders Breivik names appeared everywhere not just on CNN, not just on television.

KATON DAWSON, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIR: Well, Carol, one of the things -- I'll give a different take on this. These are very sick individuals and certainly it's the media's responsibility to cover these acts. What I would hope as in Georgia and South Carolina where you can carry a concealed weapon legally, go through a background check, I hope the media reports when a citizen does take up for themselves and the people who are unprotected before law enforcement can get on the scene and start showing those scenes of where we've had enough as a public of people preying on our children and preying on innocent citizens and -- and -- and regardless of what the excuse is or why they did it, that's the kind of coverage I hope to see in the media of where the public has stepped up legally with background checks, carrying weapons and being able to protect themselves. I think that's one of the answers and the solutions.

COSTELLO: And we did actually cover a case exactly like that here in Georgia a couple of weeks ago.

But Maria, back to the notion that the media makes stars of serial killers and that's what inspires mentally ill people to go on these mass shooting rampages. I mean, in your mind, is that what happens?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's -- to blame the media, Carol, is just way too simplistic. And I think that's -- that's what you mentioned and I completely agree with that and it also takes away the personal responsibility from the person and it takes away the collective responsibility from all of us and society and legislator and leaders and community leaders to really figure out how to stop this from happening in the future.

Should the media report on these events responsibly and carefully? Absolutely and the media should be careful to be correct instead of being first to report it. We know that there have been some instances of that. But in terms of blaming the media for this, I think it is a way, way too simplistic to say there's not one reason for this. If you know like you said, there's plenty of reasons to go around as to what inspired these mass killers, if it wasn't the media, it's going to be video games, if it wasn't the video games, we heard initially that it was because he was afraid that his mother was going to commit him.

So we really don't know, but we really should focus collectively on what needs to be done in terms was a solution.

COSTELLO: OK, I want to find out what our Facebook friends think about this question.

The question again, "How should the media report on serial killers?"

This from Dennis, "It's a double-edged sword. The information may help a parent recognize a problem or it could inspire a teenager."

This from Melinda, "It's ironic to blame guns but not the media. Both are tools and resources of troubled individuals."

Keep the conversation going, or tweet me @CarolCNN.

Next "Talk Back" question: What would you say to Congress to avoid forced budget cuts? You know sequestration. We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Now to our second "Talk Back" topic of the hour question: What would you say to Congress to avoid forced budget cuts?

Watch out. Like the asteroid headed to earth, they're coming, $86 billion in automatic budget cuts. And don't bother to try to duck. The President reduced to begging Congress with dire warnings of the impact on small business, first responders and children.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 2013 can be a year of solid growth, more jobs and higher wages. But that will only happen if we put a stop to self-inflicted wounds in Washington. Everyone in Washington needs to focus not on politics, but on what's right for the country.


COSTELLO: Really? The President keeps talking about new taxes even though Republicans say that's dead in the water. Nobody is even talking about a deal. Many Republicans say if these forced budget cuts are what it takes to cut spending, then bring it on, however, painful. They like to remind us it was Obama's idea and they're now calling it Obamaquester for both sides.

Isn't it more about the blame game now? That always boils down to that doesn't it? Question, "What would you say to Congress to avoid forced budget cuts?" Will Cain?

CAIN: I'm going to give you two answers first is do nothing, allow them to go through $1.2 trillion over ten years, step in the right direction, small step slowly turning the Titanic with a battleship around. But look, I know the sequester is not ideal. It's a blunt you know non-prioritized spending cuts.

So what would my second answer be because of that. It will be, put together a comprehensive deal to reduce our debt and deficit. But I've lost faith in Congress's ability to come together to some kind of grand bargain, some kind of grand deal. So go forward with the $1.2 trillion. And by the way, politicians are going to grandstand it. It's called Washington monumenting, like when the Interior Department is threatened with cut, they always say they're going to shut down the Washington Monument as though there's not other things we can shut down, not other cuts we can make. Let them come through.

COSTELLO: This strikes me as so irresponsible, Jason.

JOHNSON: Yes, I would sit in front of Congress and say you know this is your bed, you made it, now you figure out a way out of it. And this is lazy governance at its worst. Obama put this deal together because he thought the Republicans would blink, the Republicans kind of want the deal but they don't really want the cuts. And this is irresponsible government and when we start losing border security and we start losing TSA it think everyone should be concern.

So I would say Congress do your job, come up with a plan. This is lazy politics at its worst.

COSTELLO: And Katon Republicans like to say this was Obama's idea, but many of them voted for it.

DAWSON: Well, one thing the President said that was right was self- inflicted wounds Carol. And it's been years coming and in the making. An example of a deal that was cut four months ago, Congressman Mick Mulvaney, a conservative from South Carolina, Congressman Barney Frank, two unusual allies put a bill up to cap defense spending four months ago and the Senate didn't pass it. Congress did.

So there are people willing to do deals and make progress but these are self-inflicted wounds. Enough is enough, I agree with the other panelists. Let the chips fall where they may, and let's go into it and start dealing with these outrageous deficits that we have and irresponsible spending. That's the easy answer.

COSTELLO: OK, OK so -- so we let these Draconian budget cuts take place, you know who's going to suffer the most? It's not going to be Congress, it's not going to be the President, Maria it's going to be us.


CARDONA: Yes, absolutely, Carol. And so let's be unequivocal about how irresponsible this would be and how it will be a complete abdication of responsibility on behalf of Congress. We could threaten them with really bad approval ratings, but clearly that hasn't worked.

And so you know let's also be unequivocal that if this happens, the majority of the American people will blame Republicans more so than Democrats because they're hearing exactly what we've heard today which is saying, "Oh, let these cuts happen".

Well guess what, who will these cuts affect? Seniors below the poverty line who will no longer get their meals, children who are in special education classes who will be kicked off of those programs, food safety inspectors will no longer be on the job. So it will be all of us.

And so what should we tell Congress? All of those people in those districts who will be affected by this should be calling, should be writing, should be protesting about what these cuts will do.

COSTELLO: I wish -- I wish you could see Will Cain's face.


CAIN: I mean, Maria as much as I love her is doing exactly what I said they would. They will grand stand cuts. Tom Coburn has pointed out over $100 billion in --

(CROSSTALK) CARDONA: This is not grandstanding it's the truth.

CAIN: -- look Maria Tom Coburn has pointed out over $100 billion in duplicative programs. Why do you have to threaten the Washington Monument and border security? Why don't you start with some things that are fairly easy to cut?

And by the way irresponsible, how about the 1.1 whatever trillion dollar deficit we rack up every year? When our creditors cut the spending, it will be blunt, it will be harsh -- it will not be easy --


CARDONA: Let's remember --


COSTELLO: OK hold on a minute, hold on a minute. Wait, wait, one at a time. Jason, Jason, Jason go ahead.

JOHNSON: It's irresponsible -- it's irresponsible because it is Congress's job to try to come up with a budget. It's the Democrat's job to come up with a reasonable one, it's the Republican's job to work with them. They are no -- this is like saying no one can decide on how we're going to wash our car, we're just going to wait until it rains. That's ridiculous.


CAIN: You're right Jason.


CARDONA: And let's -- and let's remember --


JOHNSON: What I'm suggesting is that we get rid of some of these loopholes, we get rid of some of the programs.


COSTELLO: All right, hold on, hold on for just a second, I want to address this to Katon because Nancy Pelosi said something the other day. You know you all want to blame Republicans but let's face it, when it was suggested that Congress should take a pay cut if these Draconian budget cuts would go into effect, Nancy Pelosi said, "Oh we don't want -- that beneath the dignity of the office." And -- and when she said that, it went through my mind, it's like you just don't understand the real world.


COSTELLO: Katon -- Katon, I want Katon to respond.

CARDONA: Let's remember wait, wait -- COSTELLO: OK, Katon.

DAWSON: Nancy Pelosi certainly comes from a really different place than I do. So I can tell you that the irresponsibility is the leadership provided on both sides regardless of where we are.


DAWSON: It's time to fess up and realize that our country can no longer afford everything that Maria and some of the liberal side wants. We have to be able to pay our bills just like the families back home. It's just common sense folks. If you don't have the money, you can't keep borrowing it, so you can make everybody feel good. These guys is Washington need to do their job.


CARDONA: Katon, absolutely, I completely agree with you, but let's remember who has walked away from the grand bargain more than two times. It was not President Obama, it was not Democrats, it was Republicans. The President put on the table a deal that would cut $4 trillion from our debt -- our deficit, including programs in Medicare and Social Security to the chagrin of many Democrats. He did not walk away, the Republicans did. It's going to be on their lap.

DAWSON: Well, let's look inside that deal and let's exactly see where the taxes are and where the burdens are and where some of these things are going to be paid. There's a lot of details in these --

CARDONA: On multimillionaires which is where it should be.


DAWSON: Too much money in Washington.


DAWSON: And I still don't believe that people trust Washington to spend any more money than they're spending right now.

COSTELLO: Well, that is true, Katon. Just to button this up, President Obama is set to speak in, well he's running a little late, so in probably five or ten minutes. President Obama will address the nation. He'll try to convince members of Congress to come up with some sort of deal. He'll surround himself with people who will be affected by this draconian budget cuts.

So Jason what does the President need to say to get a deal done?

JOHNSON: What the President needs to say is I am willing to take almost any plan we can come up within the next 24 hours. The Republicans have some solutions, the Democrats have some solutions. I think he can get this done because this is not -- he can run down the list of states that are going to be most affected, call those members of Congress and say we need to get this done. There's no reason to destroy the economy just when we seem to be back on the uptick. COSTELLO: All right. We'll wrap it up. I do want to get in our Facebook friends' comments. So the question again, "What would you say to Congress to avoid these forced budget cuts?"

This from Roxanne, "Try doing something constructive, just for grins. Everything else hasn't worked."

And this from Jeremy, "Tough times call for tough cuts. When you're broke, you don't go shopping."

Keep the conversation going,, or tweet me @CarolCNN.

As I just said, President Obama is scheduled to speak just moments from now. I'd like to thank our guests: Maria Cardona, Jason Johnson, Will Cain, Katon Dawson. Thanks so much for playing today.

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: All right, we just got a two minute warning, the President about to speak. Let's head to Washington, D.C. and Wolf Blitzer. Hi Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "SITUATION ROOM": Thanks very much. The President will be making his pitch to avoid what's called sequestration. A fancy word for these forced budget cuts, these forced spending cuts.

Jessica Yellin, briefly tell us why the President organized this event next door to the White House?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi Wolf. The President is going to use the bully pulpit here in just a few moments to try to shape debate over the next ten days and then into the next month before the sequester, these across the board budget cuts kick in. And everybody in Washington, Wolf, does now expect those across the board budget cuts to kick in ten days from now. It's $85 billion in cuts this year alone.

And the President will be joined on stage by first responders, what we call in Washington political circles, quote, "real Americans who will be affected by these cuts. They will lose their own jobs when this happens."

His point there is to try to drive the message home that Washington needs to act to change this circumstance before it's too late.

And I see they're coming on the stage now along with the President -- not quite yet, Wolf, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader has already issued a statement saying "Today's event at the White House proves once again that more than three months after the November election, President Obama still prefers campaign events to common sense bipartisan action." A sense you can see already just how partisan and bitter this debate will be. And we expect it to go well into March as Democrats and Republicans battle over a mix of spending cuts versus tax increases -- Deja vu.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States --

BLITZER (voice-over): All right, so the President is now being introduced. He'll make the case to avoid these forced spending cuts. He probably won't tell us that the idea originated in the White House.



Good morning, everybody. Please have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House. As I said in my State of the Union address last week, our top priority must be to do everything we can to grow the economy and create good middle-class jobs. That's our top priority. That's our north star. That drives every decision we make, and it has to drive every decision that Congress and everybody in Washington makes over the next several years.

And that's why it's so troubling that just 10 days from now, Congress might allow a series of automatic, severe budget cuts to take place that will do the exact opposite. It won't help the economy, won't create jobs, will visit hardship on a whole lot of people.

Here's what's at stake. Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce our deficits by more than $2.5 trillion. More than two-thirds of that was through some pretty tough spending cuts. The rest of it was through raising taxes, tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. And together, when you take the spending cuts and the increased tax rates on the top 1 percent, it puts us more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.

Congress back in 2011 also passed a law saying that if both parties couldn't agree on a plan to reach that $4 trillion goal, about $1 trillion of additional arbitrary budget cuts would start to take effect this year. And by the way, the whole design of these arbitrary cuts was to make them so unattractive and unappealing that Democrats and Republicans would actually get together and find a good compromise of sensible cuts, as well as closing tax loopholes and so forth.

And so this was all designed to say, "We can't do these bad cuts. Let's do something smarter." That was the whole point of this so- called sequestration.

Unfortunately, Congress didn't compromise. They haven't come together and done their jobs. So as a consequence we've got these automatic brutal spending cuts that are poised to happen next Friday.

Now, if Congress allows this meat cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness. It will eviscerate job- creating investments in education and energy and medical research. It won't consider whether we're cutting some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness or a vital service that Americans depend on every single day. It doesn't make those distinctions.

Emergency responders, like the ones who are here today, their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded. Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced. FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country.

Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.

And already the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf. And, as our military leaders have made clear, changes like this, not well thought through, not phased in properly, changes like this affect our ability to respond to threats in unstable parts of the world.

So these cuts are not smart, they are not fair, they will hurt our economy, they will add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls. This is not an abstraction, people will lose their jobs. The unemployment rate might tick up again.

That's why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders and economists, they've already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as sequestration, are a bad idea. They're not good for our economy, they're not how we should run our government.

And here's the thing, they don't have to happen. There is a smarter way to do this. To reduce our deficits without harming our economy. But Congress has to act in order for that to happen.

Now, for two years, I've offered a balanced approach to deficit reduction that would prevent these harmful cuts. I outlined it again last week at the State of the Union. I am willing to cut more spending that we don't need, get rid of programs that aren't working, I've laid out specific reforms to our entitlement programs that can achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms that were proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission.

I'm willing to save hundreds of billions of dollars by enacting comprehensive tax reform that gets rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well off and the well connected without raising tax rates. I believe such a balanced approach that combines tax reform with some additional spending reforms done in a smart, thoughtful way is the best way to finish the job of deficit reduction and avoid these cuts once and for all that could hurt our economy, slow our recovery, put people out of work.

And most Americans agree with me. The House and the Senate are working on budgets that I hope reflect on -- reflect this approach. But if they can't get such a budget agreement done by next Friday, the day these harmful cuts begin to take effect, then at minimum, Congress should pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would prevent these harmful cuts, not to kick the can down the road, but to give them time to work together on a plan that finishes the job of deficit reduction in a sensible way.

I know Democrats in the House and in the Senate have proposed such a plan, a balanced plan, one that pairs more spending cuts with tax reform that closes special interest loopholes and makes sure the billionaires can't pay a lower tax rate than their -- secretaries.

And I know that Republicans have proposed some ideas, too. I have to say, though, that so far, at least, the ideas that the Republicans have proposed asks nothing of the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations. So the burden is all on first-responders or seniors or middle-class families. They doubled down, in fact, on the harsh, harmful cuts that I've outlined. They slashed Medicare and investments that create good middle-class jobs.

And so far, at least, what they've expressed is a preference where they'd rather have these cuts go into effect than close a single tax loophole for the wealthiest Americans. Not one.

Well, that's not balanced. That would be like Democrats saying we have to close our deficits without any spending cuts whatsoever. It's all taxes. That's not the position Democrats have taken, that's certainly not the position I've taken. It's wrong to ask the middle class to bear the full burden of deficit reduction. And that's why I will not sign a plan that harms the middle class.

So now Republicans in Congress face a simple choice. Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investments in education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them, or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest individuals and corporations?

That's the choice.

Are you willing to see a bunch of first responders lose their job because you want to protect a special interest tax loophole?

Are you willing to -- to have teachers laid off or kids not have access to Head Start? Or deeper cuts in student loan programs just because you want to protect a special tax interest loophole that the vast majority of Americans don't benefit from.

That's the choice.

That's the question.

And this is not an abstraction. There are people who's livelihoods are at stake, there are communities that are going to be impacted in a negative way. And I know that sometimes all this squabbling in Washington seems very abstract. And in the abstract, people like the idea, you know, there must be some spending we can cut. There must be some waste out there. There absolutely is. But this isn't the right way to do it.

So my door is open.