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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Catholic Cardinal Resigns; What Will Be Cut?; "Life Threatening Blizzard" Conditions; Ben Affleck: Last Laugh; What Will Be Cut?; MacFarlane at the Oscars: Funny or Offensive?

Aired February 25, 2013 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning: from dark horse to Oscar gold. Director Ben Affleck snubbed by the Academy gets the last laugh and a Best Picture trophy.

Plus, Jennifer Lawrence takes Best Actress and takes a stumble to the stage.

And the Seth MacFarlane moments everybody is talking about this morning. How he made some in the crowd wince.

We'll have live in depth coverage with our special Oscars edition of STARTING POINT coming to you from the Roosevelt Hotel.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Also, breaking news. A top cardinal quits during Pope Benedict's final days. We are live in the Vatican.

Plus, a crippling blizzard bearing down right now in the Great Plains. Forecasters warning of a life-threatening winter storm.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Cuts that will hurt. We're cutting down to forced spending cuts in Washington. Within days, it will hit you at the airport, the doctor's office, even at the grocery store.

O'BRIEN: Got a packed show for you this morning. We're talking with Tom O'Neil, editor of goldderby.com.

Gene Sperling will join us as well. He's the director of the National Economic Council and the assistant to the president for economic policy.

And also, the Oscar-nominated director who was detained at LAX, Guy Davidi.

It is Monday, February 25th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT, it was Oscar's big night. We'll take a look at all the big winners, and they never call them losers, but just non-winners. All the singing and dancing, all the red carpet fashions, who was wearing whom to the big dance.

And also, Oscar's most memorable moments like Jennifer Lawrence taking a tumble. The newly minted best actress was asked about it backstage, and here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: The fall on the way up to the stage.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE, WINNER, LEAD ACTRESS FOR "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK": Was that on purpose? Absolutely.

REPORTER: Was it a fall? What happened?

LAWRENCE: What do you mean what happened? Look at my dress. I tried to walk upstairs in this dress. That's what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Much more on Oscar's morning after on this special edition of STARTING POINT coming to you from L.A. this morning.

John, though, first, has the look at day's top stories. Hey, John. Good morning again.

BERMAN: We have breaking news this morning. Just as Pope Benedict XVI is entering his final days as leader of the Catholic Church, the Vatican is surrounded by controversy. Britain's top cardinal, Keith O'Brien, is stepping down. This follows accusations that O'Brien abused young men studying for the priesthood back in the 1980s. And it comes just as the Italian media is reporting that Pope Benedict is really stepping down because of a scandal involving Vatican priests and male prostitutes.

A lot going on. A lot of controversy.

CNN's Becky Anderson is live at the Vatican with more. Good morning, Becky.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, John. A bombshell out of the Vatican today. The Pope in his final stretch, as you suggested, he'll be resigning on Thursday. But the amount of news coming out of Vatican City today has been really difficult to keep up with.

So, let's break it down, shall we, for the viewers. Out of Britain today, we heard in the British press, allegations, speculation that the top British cardinal, Keith O'Brien, it was being reported, had conducted himself inappropriately with four priests dating back to the 1980s. That was all over the British press yesterday.

Well, today, we hear that the Pope has brought his resignation forward. When I say that, we now believe that he'd spoken to the Pope in November about resigning, about ill health, about moving his resignation forward. It was going to be about the 15th of March. He's 75 years old. But the Pope has brought it right forward, and it's happened today.

He was the only British cardinal who would have appeared and been eligible for conclave.

We've had a news conference held by the Vatican spokesman today on the speculation and rumors swirling in the Italian press, that of a secret dossier commissioned by the Pope that was presented to him, we believe, last December, which flushed out the fact -- this is what the Italian media is saying at least -- that there is a gay network of clerics at the Vatican who may have made themselves vulnerable to blackmail from male prostitutes.

We've heard today that secret dossier does exist. It is for the Pope's eyes only. It will be forwarded to the new Pope, who will have to deal with it.

You're right to say that the speculation now is that, when the Pope got that secret dossier on what was going on at the Vatican back in December, it was then he made his decision to resign.

More to come, I guess, in the next three days. As I say, hard to keep up with that. At this point, it's the news from Vatican City.

BERMAN: Bombshells, really, Becky, with just three days to go for Pope Benedict XVI. Our thanks to you, Becky Anderson, live this morning from the Vatican.

Meanwhile, the White House Budget Office is getting specific about the programs that would take a hit if the four spending cuts known in Washington as the sequester go into effect on Friday. Food safety inspections, mental health treatments, vaccines and early education programs are all threatened, says the White House. The FAA would have to furlough its employees, causing major disruptions in air travel. And defense cuts would stall maintenance on Navy ships.

We want to go now to Washington where CNN's White House correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by with the details. The White House says grim details, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And, you know, that deadline is quickly approaching. And no sign that there will be a compromise to avert these deep cuts.

Yesterday, the White House releasing a report that sort of spelled out in very stark terms what these cuts will mean to individual states. They've also been talking broadly about what the cuts will win across the country, such as 70,000 children could lose access to Head Start early education programs, 10,000 teacher jobs would be at risk, a 2,100 fewer food inspections would occur.

And then, of course, the FAA would be impacted as well, according to the White House, $600 million would have to be cut from its budget.

And then, of course, you know, there's been a lot of talk about what this would mean in the private sector. You have to look at the military as well and the deep cuts that would happen in defense, 13 percent would have to be cut from the defense budget.

And so, the White House trying to show that, yes, there are real consequences if a compromise cannot be reached.

Meantime, there's a lot of pressure coming from individual states' governors who are here at the White House today. The president will be addressing them. Their concern that if a compromise will not be reached, that this will have a real heavy impact on their economies. Many of the economies have been struggling and are now starting to turn around. There's concern about what this could mean to that, John.

BERMAN: No shortage of finger-pointing, but no signs of progress either.

Our Dan Lothian in Washington this morning.

Meanwhile, call it a severe weather sequel. "Life threatening blizzard" conditions, that's what the National Weather Service says a powerful storm is bringing to the Plains States this morning.

Remember, this is just days after a powerful winter blast already blanketed the area with record snow. Severe weather advisories have been issued for portions of southeast Kansas, northeast Oklahoma, and the Texas panhandle. This same system just left a blanket of white over much of Colorado, canceling hundreds of flights over Denver International Airport on Sunday, and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback worries that this storm has the potential to be more dangerous than last week's.

So, Jennifer Delgado is live for us in the CNN weather center. Hey, Jennifer.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, John. That's absolutely true because now we are dealing with blizzard warnings across four states and already, blizzard conditions are being felt across the panhandle of Texas. Showing you on the radar, you can see where the snow is coming down. Well, it's going to continue to blow up as we go up the day, and we're also dealing with some very strong winds.

You're also noticing some of the rain, as well as the lightning, a lot of convection with the storm.

Now, what we're talking about, as we continue to go throughout the day, we're talking winds and up to about 40 miles per hour. Right now in Amarillo, we're already experiencing that. Interstate 27 had to be shut down because visibility had dropped so bad, it just wasn't safe out there. Visibility with blizzard conditions drops down to a quarter mile or less. That means don't get on the roadways at all today.

Now, with the winds, in addition, we're talking a foot or more of snowfall in some of these locations across Kansas as well as into Missouri. Kansas City, get ready for your snow to really start to pick up later on today. And then for St. Louis, your snow picks up tomorrow morning.

We're also talking Chicago picking up potentially six to eight inches, and they desperately need that because they have been rather dry for the last couple of months.

Also want to point out to you the risk for severe storms for the Gulf States as well as heavy rainfall bringing flooding for parts of the Southeast.

A lot of weather out there -- wind, blizzards, severe storms, lots of snow. John, what more could you ask for?

BERMAN: All right. Jennifer, our thanks to you.

Coast Guard rescue crews searching right now for two adults and two young children in the Pacific near San Francisco. They've been missing since yesterday when their 29-foot sailboat started taking on water. It was about 65 miles off of Pillar Point when someone on board radioed for help. About an hour later, the Coast Guard got a message they were abandoning ship. Authorities think the group could be in some kind of makeshift life raft.

Five-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson has another prize for his trophy room after winning Sunday's Daytona 500. Johnson held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the final lap to win NASCAR's most prestigious race. Earnhardt finished second. Danica Patrick made history as the first woman to ever start the Daytona 500 from the pole position. Patrick finished eighth.

Earlier, former NASCAR Kyle Petty told us it was a good showing for Danica Patrick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KYLE PETTY, ANALYST, SPEED CHANNEL: She ran an incredibly solid, really good race. Wouldn't be a great race unless you win, but it was a good race. She ran solid. She ran in the top five. She ran in the top 10. Still finished eighth.

So, I think she should hold her head proud. I had to eat a little crow over it. I said she wouldn't do that well. But she had a great day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It was also a great day for Jimmie Johnson, his second Daytona 500 victory. He also won it back in 2006. Turning out to be a true NASCAR legend.

Let's go back to Soledad in Hollywood. Hey, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thanks, John. Appreciate it.

It was a happy ending that only Hollywood could script. Ben Affleck, after being overlooked for best director, won the Oscar for best picture for his film "Argo." Affleck became emotional in a really lovely speech, reflecting on his unlikely return to the winner's circle after he won best screenplay 15 years ago for "Good Will Hunting."

Here's how it went.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN AFFLECK, DIRECTOR/ACTOR: I was here 15 years ago or something, and, you know, I had no idea what I was doing. I stood out here in front of you all, really just a kid, and I went out, and I never thought that I would be back here. And I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I love this speech. It was just so redemptive for him.

TOM O'NEIL, EDITOR, GOLDDERBY.COM: And those were really tears. He really meant from the heart.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And because not only was he talking about coming from his professional career. You know, remember he had a stint in rehab. He was down in the dumps in a lot of ways, personally and professionally. So, he fought his way back to the point of being a dad, a husband. He's got a life.

O'NEIL: (INAUDIBLE) for "Gigli".

O'BRIEN: Some big blows but some really big highs capped off by last night.

Let's talk about Quvenzhane Wallis. I had a chance to interview here. She's a lovely little girl. She was the butt of a joke last night that Seth MacFarlane made. Really he was poking fun at George Clooney, but here's how that went.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SETH MACFARLANE, OSCARS HOST: She's adorable, Quvenzhane. She said to me backstage, I really hope I don't lose to that old lady, Jennifer Lawrence.

To give you an idea just how young she is, it will be 16 years before she's too old for Clooney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: You know, I get that he's trying to make fun of George Clooney, but it's like, OK, she's 9 years old. Let's keep that in mind.

Then there's this tweet by the "The Onion". Did you see this? Let me tell you what they said in this tweet. "Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of" -- then they used the "C" word.

TURNER: Oh my goodness. O'BRIEN: And then they went on to say, "Right? #Oscars2013." Which was stunning. I mean, I think people's jaws --

TURNER: Really?

O'BRIEN: I get that they do satire.

O'NEIL: That's a target at her, as supposed to what you just said, which was the other joke was a target at Clooney. She was so in the spirit, pumping her hands, having a great time.

O'BRIEN: I get it. It's supposed to be satirical, they take the sweet.

TURNER: It just wasn't. It was dumb.

O'BRIEN: It was totally inappropriate. It was taken down a little bit later, and they got a lot of flak.

TURNER: Yes.

O'BRIEN: And then let's talk about the first lady, that was really, taking part from a distance.

TURNER: A surprise.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it was a huge surprise.

Here's a little bit how that went when she opened the envelope.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: And the Oscar goes to -- "Argo."

(CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I like that. That was a great moment.

O'NEIL: Here's my theory about this. At the Golden Globes, Bill Clinton introduced the movie "Lincoln." There was such an uproar, people saying, come on, the White House taking sides with "Lincoln." I think somebody said to somebody, you know what? All right. Let's have Michelle give this to "Argo."

TURNER: You know, oftentimes, we see producers build things and kind of build up as something we've never seen before. That's what the producers told me on Friday. Watch best picture. You're going to see something you've never seen before. I said, OK.

Well, we did. We saw the First Lady of the United States.

O'NEIL: It was so great. There were gasps across Hollywood.

O'BRIEN: And she looked beautiful as always. Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT: that one song that no winner wanted to hear last night was the theme from "Jaws". We'll tell you why it was in the show last night.

Plus, forced spending cuts just days away impacting air travel, vaccinations, and food safety. Gene Sperling is the director of the National Economic Council. He'll talk with us about.

You're watching a special edition of STARTING POINT. A short break and we're back in a just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Just four days until your schools, your health, your safety will all be affected by massive forced spending cuts that Washington said would never happen. Politicians are calling it the sequester, but what it is is forced budget cuts that will slash $85 billion in spending.

The White House last night put out a list of how much they say each state will be affected as well as what we can look forward to nationally. The president addressed the upcoming crisis in his weekly address.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe we should work together to build on the more than $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction we've already achieved. We should do it in a balanced way with smart spending cuts, entitlement reform, and tax reform. That's my plan. It's got tough cuts, tough reforms, and asks more of the wealthiest Americans.

It's on the White House Web site for everybody to see, and it requires Democrats and Republicans to meet halfway to resolve the problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Gene Sperling is the director of the National Economic Council. He's the assistant to the president for economic policy. Good morning, Mr. Sperling.

GENE SPERLING, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Good morning.

BERMAN: So, the White House last night put out this comprehensive list of what they say will have to be cut as soon as Friday. Let me read you some of the highlights or low lights, as the case may be. Ten thousand teacher jobs at risk, up to 2,100 fewer food inspections, reduction in work hours for border control, FBI agents, major airport wait times could increase 30 to 50 percent, small business loan guarantees reduced by up to $900 million.

This happens Friday. As you sit here on Monday morning, you look the American people in the eye, do you think this is inevitable? SPERLING: It shouldn't be. It shouldn't be. And I think what the American people are probably thinking is exactly right from a policy point of view, which is why don't we get together here and just have the compromise we need to avoid this type of self-inflicted wound on children, on our national defense, on mental health services. But also on our economy because this type of thing creates uncertainty, and it holds back investment in jobs and expansion.

And you know, all that you need to move forward is to have an understanding that everybody has to give a little bit. Now, what's been frustrating for us is that our Republican colleagues, in the House of Representatives particularly, have taken a position, a very absolutist position, that there can't be one single penny of tax expenditures or loophole closing to raise any revenue at all.

That's the kind -- an absolutist or ideological position. I know some people may believe it. But to have a bipartisan compromise to move forward, everyone's got to give a little bit. So, you know, this is a choice that our Republican colleagues are making. They would rather stay with this absolutist position even if it means that we go into the sequester and start to see these type of harmful cuts.

And what the president is offering is not that you have to do everything the way he wants, but that you just have the type of compromise.

(CROSSTALK)

SPERLING: -- some entitlement savings and some revenue together to bring the deficit down in a reasonable way that's not harmful and moves our country forward.

BERMAN: What are your plans for today to try to reach some kind of deal? You guys -- the White House has put out a list of things that will go wrong on Friday. What are you going to do today, yourself, to make sure these don't happen?

SPERLING: Well, a couple of things. Number one, on Thursday, the president put out to the public, to Congress, in detail, what his last offer was to Speaker Boehner so that people understand that the president had, including interest savings, well over $1 trillion of additional spending cuts.

And all he was asking is that that be combined with some of the tax loophole closers to raise revenues that the Republican speaker of the House had been saying we could find $800 billion of just eight weeks ago.

So, one, we're going to keep letting people know, we have an offer on the table. It does call for bipartisan compromise. And then secondly, we're going to promote the idea that you could also do a short-term deal that also has this type of compromise, spending cuts, few loophole closures. That could give us some months to work together to come up with an agreement.

What the public should want is what the president wants. Everyone compromises. We don't inflict these wounds on our economy, and we come together for the type of bipartisan agreement that will help us stabilize our deficits while still making sure we have enough resources to invest in job creation and helping our workers and helping our children, investing in the future.

BERMAN: Gene Sperling, our thanks to you. You have until Friday. I think what the public wants is some kind of progress. Good luck to you.

SPERLING: Thank you.

BERMAN: Twenty-two minutes after the hour. Let's go back at the Hollywood. Soledad O'Brien talking about the movies a little bit more entertaining, unfortunately or fortunately, than the sequester.

O'BRIEN: A lot more entertaining than the sequester, I'm happy to say.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Seth MacFarlane's debut as an Oscar host. What did you think? Was he good enough that there'll be a second offer for him to come back? Lots of targets for his jabs last night, including Spanish speaking actors. We'll tell you what he said and who he offended on the other side of this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. The Oscars, of course, trending on the web this morning. And, people talking about some of the inappropriate moments by Seth MacFarlane, that Chris Brown the Rihanna joke, the Mel Gibson joke, the Nazi while Christopher Plummer was on stage, making kind of a joke about the "Sound of Music," the boob song. He jokes about juice, and then he had a joke about Spanish speaking actors.

Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SETH MACFARLANE, OSCARS HOST: Well, we've finally reached the point in the story where either Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, or Salma Hayek comes on stage, and we have no idea what they're saying, but we don't care because they're so attractive.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That, combined with the fact that they left Lupe Ontiveros' name off that "in memoriam". I think they had like a hundred names of people they lost during the year. And of course, this is a woman who would talk a lot about she had to put on this heavy Spanish accent just even get considered for roles in Hollywood. I think the one-two punch of that made some people really angry certainly on Twitter.

TURNER: You know, if I'm being honest, when I first heard about it, I thought, oh, I'm not that offended, but then, I took those folks out of it and put African-Americans in, and thought how would I feel if I heard that? And I said, you know what, I'd be offended. So, yes, I get it. I think it was a little bit over the line.

And you're right, coupled with the fact they left Miss Ontiveros off of the in memoriam list, I think, leave some hurt feelings and it's not good.

O'NEIL: Sixty years ago, we were making Ricky Ricardo jokes culturally about his Spanish accent. You would think that we would have advanced much further --

TURNER: Yes, it's always about the accent. It's always the joke about the accent. It really is.

O'BRIEN: He's a clever guy, but maybe move on to new material.

TURNER: Exactly.

O'NEIL: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Then what did you think about the "Jaws" music playing --

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: I loved it.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: You know, back at home, all the past Oscars, you're like, God, I wish they'd take this person off the stage, like the jaws or something, and then, he did it, of course, which I thought was very clever. He's a little bit of how it went for a guy named Bill Westenhofer. He was accepting an animation award for "Life of Pi." Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'NEIL: Gabriel, I love you so much. My children, Christopher Thomas (ph). Jaren Smith (ph), thank you for inspiring me every day. My mom and dad, thank you for telling me I could do any crazy career choice I wanted. Finally, I want to thank all the artists who worked on this film for over a year --

(LAUGHTER)

O'NEIL: -- including Rhythm and Hues. Sadly, Rhythm and Hue is suffering severe financial difficulties right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: You know what I love about him? He's like, I am not giving up the mic. I have stuff to say --

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: I'm swimming from Jaws. I'm going to make it. (LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Paul Kiss (ph) is like, oh.

O'NEIL: You know what, good for him, because they didn't do that to celebrities last night. They only do it to the tech people and everybody else.

TURNER: They didn't do it to Ben Affleck.

O'NEIL: No. They didn't do it to Ben Affleck or Grant right before him who just kept going on and on.

O'BRIEN: Right. So, that seemed a little unfair, but it was funny, too.

TURNER: I thought it was hilarious.

O'BRIEN: It was a good night, overall. How are the reviews that he's getting now?

TURNER: It's interesting. The review in "Variety" this morning said that they thought Seth MacFarlane was a little hamstrung by the telecast itself, and they likened it to other comedians who had done the show, like David Letterman and Chris Rock. People that are so funny but just didn't translate --

O'BRIEN: You've got a couple of difference audiences, right, the audience at home and then the audience in front of you.

TURNER: Right.

O'BRIEN: And if you mess up with either audience, you're in big trouble. So, it seems like he -- it seems like -- I think he did well with both audiences.

TURNER: Yes.

O'BRIEN: We're going to take a short break.

Still ahead this morning, more on the Oscars. We'll take a look also at Seth MacFarlane's quip that some people said were sexist, or really, many of them. There were a handful --

(LAUGHTER)

O'NEIL: Yes.

O'BRIEN: You know, the boob song and more.

Also, we'll talk about Cuba without Castro in charge. The date has now been set. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)