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War in Syria; Portman's Change of Heart; Brangelina's New Wine Hits Market; Pope Francis' Humble Style

Aired March 15, 2013 - 12:30   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CO-ANCHOR, CNN AROUND THE WORLD: The plan had been to embalm Chavez's body, but the government simply waited too long.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CO-ANCHOR, CNN AROUND THE WORLD: Yeah, they brought experts in from overseas and everything, but too late, apparently.

All right, well, two years ago today, the Syrian civil war began.

WHITFIELD: Two years of battles, house-to-house and town-to-town, troops loyal to the Syrian government fighting against a loosely organized rebel force that wants President Bashar al-Assad out.

HOLMES: People in cities all over Syria, Damascus and Aleppo and elsewhere are marching today as they have done since March of 2001.

WHITFIELD: The human toll from this civil war is very high, 70,000 people killed. More than a million people are refugees and they simply too afraid to go home.

HOLMES: And that doesn't count the internally displaced, too.

CNN cameras and reporters are not allowed in Syria at the moment. Our Nick Paton Walsh, though, is Beirut. He has been into Syria before and knows how this war has echoed through generations.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You can tell two years of war will scar for generations when children here in rebel- held and regime-bombarded Aleppo even have to go to school in secret.

This revolt began when children had their nails torn out by police for drawing graffiti. Now, it's spawns these drawings.

The planes, loaves, tanks of a bakery shelled from a girl who lost her uncle and brother to shelling she still hears in her dreams.

DONATELLA ROVERA, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Syria government forces are using inaccurate and indiscriminate weapons designed for the battlefield against civilians, residential neighborhoods, every day.

It is incredibly frustrating precisely to see how little resonance this is having at the international level. The international community is profoundly divided and it has failed spectacularly. WALSH: Pause and see what two years of killing has already done.

We asked them to raise their hand if they've lost someone to the war.

My uncle, she says.

My cousin, she adds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're right now at risk of losing a generation of Syrian children. They have seen extreme violence, often happening to a family member, and they find themselves now often in a foreign land, living in open fields, living in unfinished buildings.

It's the magnitude of crisis in countries like Lebanon that is very difficult to manage.

WALSH: Even now this girl wanted anonymity, fearing a massacre if the regime returns even as she depicts it close to collapse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via translator): In this drawing, I imagine the Syrian regime right now. This is Bashar al-Assad's shadow.

His regime is only an image. The regime has actually collapsed and is afraid of its own shadow and everything around it.

JOSHUA LANDIS, SYRIA ANALYST: The regime and the Alawites are terrified of what will happen to them if they don't prevail in this struggle.

For them, it's really an existential in a moment and that's why they're destroying the country with such vengeance.

Damascus, in a year's time, it could look much like Aleppo, destroyed. Assad is unlikely to lay down his arms.

WALSH: Sometimes class ends before the bell when the power cuts out.

So young, they've already learned to take sides to cheer on fighters to victory, Syria's two years of darkness swallowing their childhood whole.


HOLMES: And Nick joins us now from Beirut.

Yeah, March 15, 2011, tell me about this, Nick. In Brussels, the E.U. meeting and we're seeing Britain and France wanting to revisit the idea of the arms embargo, perhaps wanting to arm the rebels, something the U.S. is very uncomfortable about.

WALSH: Certainly. It doesn't look like they're going to have a huge amount of success in changing the E.U.'s foreign policy, but they have struck out very much on their own, France and Britain.

France clear it wants to give as much assistance as it can to the rebels, including arms, and Britain, without saying it definitely wants to supply the weapons yet, saying that the failure to supply moderates and rebel forces with weapons is meaning that only the extremists in that group and the Syrian regime are actually having the best weapons and, in fact, they're defeating their own cause in the view of the U.K.

They are pushing forward with that and saying they may perhaps use a veto when it comes to the E.U. renewing its sanctions against Syria or, alternatively, saying they'll act entirely on their own as a sovereign nation.

But we're far away yet still from those weapons actually being delivered to the ground, Michael.

HOLMES: Nick, as always, thanks for your reporting there from Beirut, Nick Paton Walsh.

WHITFIELD: Heartbreaking with all that's taking place within the borders there.

All right, in this country, a change of heart, that's what conservative Senator Rob Portman said happened after his son revealed to him that he's gay.

HOLMES: We've got his exclusive interview coming up.


WHITFIELD: Here in the U.S., a Republican senator who voted against same sex marriage says he's had a change of heart.

HOLMES: Yeah. Why? Because he learned his own son is gay.

WHITFIELD: Ohio Senator Rob Portman actually called our Dana Bash to tell her about this and put it all on tape.

Here's the interview.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You probably recognize Ohio Senator Rob Portman from his tireless campaigning for Mitt Romney, even on Romney's short list for vice president. He's been a leading Republican voice on the economy for four decades.

SENATOR ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: We need to spur economic growth and create more jobs.

BASH: Now, the prominent conservative from Ohio will be known for something else, changing his hard-line position against gay marriage which he revealed to CNN and the very personal reason behind his reversal.

PORTMAN: I'm announcing today a change of heart on an issue that, you know, a lot of people feel strongly about. It has to do with gay couples opportunity to marry. I've come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married and have the joy and stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years.

I want all three of my kids to have it, including our son, who is gay.

BASH: That unexpected revelation came from Portman's 21-year-old son will two years ago.

PORTMAN: My son came to Jane, my wife and I, told us that he was gay and that it was not a choice and that, you know, that's just part of who he is and he'd been that way ever since he could remember.

BASH: What's your reaction when he told you?

PORTMAN: Love, support, you know, 110 percent.

BASH: Surprised?

PORTMAN: Surprised, yes.

BASH: You had no idea?

PORTMAN: No idea. Yes. And, again, that launched a process of rethinking the issue.

BASH: Until now all this was secret to most, but not everyone.

You were vetted to be a vice presidential candidate. Did you tell Mitt Romney that your son was gay?

PORTMAN: Yes, of course.

BASH: And how did he react?

PORTMAN: I told Mitt Romney everything. That process is intrusive would be one way to put it. Yes, I told him everything.

BASH: Do you think that was a deal breaker?

PORTMAN: No. I really don't.

BASH: How can you be sure?

PORTMAN: Well, because, you know, they told me.

BASH: Portman was never outspoken on gay marriage, but he consistently voted against it, supporting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, the Defensive Marriage Act and a bill prohibiting gay couples in Washington, D.C. from adopting children.

What do you say to a gay constituent in Ohio who says I'm so glad that he's changed his position. Why did it take him learning that he has a gay son? Why didn't he, as my representative, care about my rights before that?

PORTMAN: Well, I would say that, you know, I've had a change of heart based on a personal experience. That's certainly true.

I'm on the budget committee, the finance committee for a reason. Those have always been my primary issues and my focus. So, now it's different.

You know, I hadn't expected to be in this position.

But I do think, you know, having to spend a lot of time thinking about it and working through this issue personally that, you know, this is where I am for reasons that are consistent with my political philosophy, including family values, including being a conservative who believes the family is the building block of society.

I'm comfortable there now.

BASH: You know, a cynic might look at this and say, he's a politician. Why is he doing this now when he found out two years ago?

PORTMAN: Two things. One is I'm comfortable with the position and took me a while, you know, to rethink things and get to this position.

BASH: The second reason, the supreme court which will soon hear a pair of gay marriage decisions and expected that to generate some questions about his position.

PORTMAN: I thought it was the right time to let folks know where I stand so there was no confusion so I would be clear about it.


WHITFIELD: All right. Dana Bash joining us now live from Washington.

Dana, very candid interview there. At the same time, I understand that Senator Portman did reach out to the House speaker, and even through that conversation, they don't necessarily see eye-to-eye.

What did you learn?

BASH: That's right. The House speaker is also from Ohio. The two of them have been friends and colleagues for years. And the House speaker's office just told our Deirdre Walsh that he, Senator Portman, did reach out to the speaker, let him know about it, and -- but the speaker's reaction was that he respects, admires Senator Portman, but disagrees with him on this fundamental issue of gay marriage because Speaker Boehner believes marriage should only be between a man and woman.

WHITFIELD: All right, Dana Bash, thanks so much.

And, of course, there's more to that interview. You can catch more of Dana's interview with Senator Portman this afternoon on "The Situation Room" starting at 4:00 Eastern time.

HOLMES: That's right, extraordinary interview.

He's going to be talking about -- more about how his son influenced his decision to support same sex marriage.

Again, 4:00 p.m. today on "The Situation Room," 4:00 p.m. Eastern, U.S. time, of course.

WHITFIELD: All right. No doubt "Brangelina" is a power couple in the movie business.

Well, now you can sip their wine while watching one of their films.

HOLMES: Really?

WHITFIELD: And it's not cheap.

HOLMES: Really? Will celebrities interview what wine you buy? Let's discuss that after the break.


WHITFIELD: All right, here are some of the stories making news around the world right now.

HOLMES: Russian President Vladimir Putin. There you are. And you can see who he's with, can't you? He's always been a fitness buff, but he's teaming up with Hollywood action star Steven Seagal.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. Took me a while to recognize him. And now I'm seeing -- yes, there he is, Steven Seagal.

HOLMES: Terrible hair day (ph)

WHITFIELD: Together, they are -- yes, he has a lot of hair going on. OK, together they are promoting the overall health of Russian children. The two macho men opened a new martial arts school in Moscow.

HOLMES: Yes, you may recall Mr. Putin, he has a -- actually a black belt in judo. He's pretty good at it.

WHITFIELD: Uh-huh, quite the athlete.

And the celebrity couple we know as Brangelina, we haven't said it like that in a while, have we? Well, they've launched yet another business endeavor.

HOLMES: Yes, we're talking about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie going into the wine business. They put out a rose. You see it there. It's Miraval. It goes on sale today.

WHITFIELD: Pretty bottle. And you can get six bottles in a case if you'd like for about $140 or $25 a bottle.

HOLMES: Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange.

You know, it's -- I don't know if you've tried it. Have you? Is it any good? ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I haven't tried it, no. Actually, we just learned about this as we were doing research for this story. And you know this. You know, Fredricka and Michael, people love, love to buy stuff if there's a celebrity name on it, whether it's perfume, clothes or food. So, not such a huge surprise that they'd also love celebrity wines as well.

Did you know last week 6,000 bottles of organic rose produced at Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's French chateau sold out in a matter of hours overseas?


KOSIK: Brad and Angelina -- yes. Brad and Angelina joined forces with the Perin (ph) family. And so Miraval, that's the name for the wine that they're making that comes from their home in France. And they actually expect to produce about 100,000 bottles total.

They're not the only ones doing this though. The celebrities getting into the wine biz. Other famous celebs they turned to -- into winemakers as well, including Fergie, Drew Barrymore, David Matthews, Francis Ford Coppola, along with a variety of "Real Housewives."

We talked to and they say one of the most successful for them has been David Matthews -- Dave Matthews Dreaming Tree Wine. I'd never heard of that either. Sorry about that. But, you know, Barrymore's -- Drew Barrymore's Pinot Grigio, that's done well too. You know, I need to go to the wine shop and check some of these out.

HOLMES: You know, I've got to say, I've got -- I get -- when I go to the wine shop, I've never seen any of these. They must be big in Europe, I think.

WHITFIELD: I have tried -- yes, Francis Ford Coppola, I have tried his label, however.

HOLMES: Oh, yes. Yes.

WHITFIELD: And his -- he names one, I think it's a pink champagne, after his daughter, Sofia.

HOLMES: I don't actually get it, though, because I think a lot of serious wine drinkers, they get the wine because it's good or where it's from. And Brangelina's probably got a very nice spot there in France where they grow the vines, but what is it about celeb names? I don't get it. And what are those serious --

WHITFIELD: Cha ching. Cha ching. That's what it is.

HOLMES: Well, I guess. What do wine makers say about it? What are they saying?

KOSIK: You know what I think it is, we've talked to some sort of analysts on this. They say part of it is -- part of the general obsession that people have with celebrity culture in America. We spoke with Gwendolyn Osborn at and she says that the response that they've gotten to this Jolie-Pitt wine has been pretty remarkable. I mean people are -- feel like they're almost getting like a signed photo from them. You know, Brad and Angelina are good at what they do as actors. So what she says is that consumers, you know, wind up feeling like they'd be good at other things like making wine as well.

You know, looking at Paul Newman's Own line. You know, who could forget the tomato sauces, the cookies, the salad dressing.

WHITFIELD: Oh, right. Salad dressings. Sure.

KOSIK: Yes, he, talented actor, great salad dressing. So, there you go. You know, the Jolie-Pitts, they're not -- they aren't making mass amounts of it as well, so it's sort of seen as an artisan product as well. And you talk about you haven't seen these products at the wine stores and here's why, the names of these celeb names are actually on the back of the bottle. So they're not necessarily using their name right out front. It's kind of like a word of mouth thing. Pulling more intrigue.

HOLMES: I reserve my judgment, I'm afraid.

WHITFIELD: That's right.


WHITFIELD: All right, Alison. Well, you know, chin, chin, cheers.

HOLMES: We'll cheer them.

KOSIK: Cheers.

WHITFIELD: Thanks for that.

All right. All right, well, he gave up his chauffeur and he took a bus to work.

HOLMES: Yes, this is a great story.

WHITFIELD: And his apartment.

HOLMES: We're going to take you on a bus ride along the route that Pope Francis took in Argentina before he was pope.

WHITFIELD: And meet some of the people who actually knew him.


WHITFIELD: Since Pope Francis was named leader of the catholic church, supporters have been calling him humble, authentic, a very genteel man.

HOLMES: Yes, hence the name Francis too. A lot has been made of his choices in the past to live, for example, in a small apartment when he could have been in the archbishop's quarters in his home of Argentina, and also take public transportation when he was back in Argentina. WHITFIELD: And, check this out. Pope Francis even jumped on the bus alongside other cardinals instead of riding in his motorcade. Our Shasta Darlington took a bus ride of her own through the poor Buenos Aires neighborhood where the new pope once lived.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the 70. This is the bus that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio took on various occasions once or twice a month to do mass in some of the poor neighborhood. We're going to head to (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE), Villa 2124.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): The bus driver says he's heard about that austere cardinal who would take a seat in his simple black shirt and priest's collar.

DARLINGTON (on camera): But the man who's now Pope Francis was a champion of the poor, but he also lived the life. When he was named archbishop in Buenos Aries, he refused to go live in the official residence. He wanted to stay in his small apartment. And the same goes for the limousine and driver. He preferred public transportation. And this is the bus he continued to take, even after he became archbishop, to give mass, to celebrate mass in this shantytown.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): We asked the passengers if they had ever met Cardinal Bergoglio. Three people right away said yes. This woman said she was confirmed by him. And this man said that they often sat together at San Lorenzo football matches, Cardinal Bergoglio's favorite team. "He was a fan, but not over excited," he says.

The bus lets us off in the heart of the villa, slang for slum here in Buenos Aires. ON the way to the local church, we find two parishioners who knew Father Jorge well. Felix Ruizdiaz (ph) says he was blessed to have the archbishop wash his feet on two different occasions. He gets emotional when we ask about the new pope.

"Now we've lost him," he says. "But of course it's an honor. He deserved it."

DARLINGTON (on camera): We're now right in the heart of (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) villa 2124. This is really a dirt floor neighborhood. I don't know how else to say it. This right up here is the parish church where the cardinal -- hola -- held mass on numerous occasions. And he's just extremely loved here. Everybody tells us what a humble man he was. How he arrived in bus and how he walked these last five blocks all the way to the church.

DARLINGTON (voice-over): Father Lorenzo Liveria (ph) shows us around the church with its wooden benches and painted plaster walls. He says Cardinal Bergoglio was a fervent supporter of sending more priests into the slums. Here, people take personal pride in the new Pope Francis, but they still hope to see him one day stroll up the dusty street from the number 70 bus stop.

Shasta Darlington, CNN, Buenos Aires.


WHITFIELD: My goodness. Incredible contrast to Vatican City.

HOLMES: Great story there by Shasta.

WHITFIELD: It really is.


WHITFIELD: All right, a reminder also to watch CNN's new show "The Lead with Jake Tapper" starting Monday afternoon, 4:00 Eastern Time, for our U.S. viewers.

HOLMES: Indeed. We'll be right back.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back.

HOLMES: Yes, no, we just got some news in from South Africa.