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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Fuel Barges Explode in Mobile, Alabama; Tsarnaev Parents Tearfully Speak Out; George W. Bush Library Dedication; Obama to Speak at Dedication; Tracking Down Ricin Scare Source; Heart Failure to Nearly Double by 2030; Sexually Explicit Material; Memorial Service for Victims of Blast; Morning Show Wars

Aired April 25, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We're following breaking news in Mobile Bay, Alabama. Dangerous flames have burned all night aboard two fuel barges appeared to be dying down. Those barges loaded, we're told, with gasoline, exploded last night.

Firefighters forced to stay away because the flames were too hot. As daylight breaks, firefighters plan to get a better look at the situation. At least three people are hospitalized in critical condition. Back to you in Boston -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're also following breaking news here in Boston. The parents of the suspected Boston marathon bombers speaking out at a news conference this morning. The mother of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev claiming that the U.S. is accusing them of being terrorists and will not allow them to see their surviving son.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is live in Dagestan with the latest details. Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. She had this press conference which I believe is still ongoing. She said she received guarantees from her lawyer and if she goes to the United States, she won't be arrested on these outstanding charges to deal with shoplifting.

That's odd to me because I spoke to her earlier on and she did suggest she was concerned about that. Maybe she's trying to force the issue. She goes on to saying, according to my colleague, Nic Robertson, at the press conference.

They showed pictures of dead body of Tamerlan. I did not look. I could not believe it was my son. She said, she mentioned that she herself feels accused of being a terrorist and goes on to say, they already told us they will not let us see Dzhokhar.

Now, that is also interesting because during the conversation I had with her she wasn't sure if that was possible or not. So it seems like a more emotional plea here trying to seem like the wrong party and perhaps push U.S. authorities into a more sympathetic reception on her arrival. BERMAN: All right, Nick, Nick Paton Walsh for us in Dagestan. Standby one second, Nick because we have Nic Robertson on the phone. Nic is actually inside that news conference. Nic, what can you tell us about what the parents are saying?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, it has been at moments very emotional. It's been going on for about 45 minutes. Questions have been going back and forth between Russian and English.

What we have heard from in particular Zubeidat, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar's mother is that she is considering relinquishing her U.S. citizenship. She says that she would like Tamerlan to be brought back to this region, to Dagestan, to be buried.

She said she's not sure that that's possible. She said at the moment somebody is working on that but if it doesn't happen then this is in the hands of God. And she also says that at the moment Dzhokhar is in hospital. She says he is unable to eat solid food.

That he is being fed by a tube. She says her lawyers -- his lawyers have told her that. She's in regular contact with his lawyers. She also says that he, Dzhokhar, has not been formally questioned yet.

This she says is according to Dzhokhar's lawyers and she said she is talking to regularly. She maintains, as we have heard all along, that she believes her sons are innocent. She found in some parts confused about the different videos that she's seen.

The different photographs and does seem to hold to some sort of conspiracy theory that in some way that she can't fully explain her sons are being set up. Her husband, Anzor, has said that he will leave today for the United States.

She is holding off on that, although she does say that she has guarantee that if she goes she won't be arrested on the outstanding shoplifting charges.

BERMAN: Nic, you suggest that the mother is still maintaining the boys' innocence, suggesting that they were somehow set up. You also say she's in conversation with Dzhokhar's lawyers. Are the lawyers giving them any reason to believe that they believe there was some conspiracy? Is that some kind of defense that they plan?

ROBERTSON: She hasn't linked it to any kind of defense. It gives the appearance at the moment of being an emotional state of mind that she is in when it comes to focusing on the precise details of what happened. She hasn't said that this is how the lawyers will proceed and she hasn't given an indication yet on how the lawyers will seek to tackle his particular case.

BERMAN: Clearly interesting though that she is speaking to the lawyers. I don't know if you brought this up, but did they indicate when the father does come to the United States as early as tomorrow, whether the father will look to somehow visit Dzhokhar? ROBERTSON: He said he will try to do that. I'm going to ask him that question. Sir, will you speak to Dzhokhar when you go to the United States? Will you try to speak to Dzhokhar when you go to the United States tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

ROBERTSON: You will? You will speak with him. So I just talked to Dzhokhar's father right there and he tells me he will try and talk and speak with Dzhokhar when he goes to the United States. He just said that that he expects to be there tomorrow -- Chris.

BERMAN: All right, Nic Robertson for us in Dagestan where the parents of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were just giving a news conference right now. The father is intending to come to the United States. He could be here tomorrow.

And Nic just spoke to him, you heard him just say to our Nic Robertson that he would like to speak to Dzhokhar when he gets here. It would be extraordinary and in some ways very shocking if the authorities here let that happen.

But again, the father did say he would try to do that, interesting, to say the least. Let's go back now to Christine Romans in New York with more of today's other top news. Good morning, Christine.

ROMANS: Good morning again, John. In just over three hours, five living former and current U.S. presidents will stand together on the campus of Southern Methodist University for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

America's 43rd president preoccupied these days with painting and being a grand new grandfather. He said the library is designed to show people what it's like to be commander in chief. Brianna Keilar joins us live from Dallas this morning. Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. As you know, 9/11 unexpectedly defined George W. Bush's presidency, and so it's very much represented inside of this museum, which I had a chance to get a sneak peek at yesterday, 9/11 as well as the wars that followed.

One of the most striking exhibits that you see in here is this sort of twisted hulk of metal that comes from the south tower of the World Trade Center. Employees inside told us it was believed to be the point of impact of that tower.

You also see the bullhorn that President Bush used on September 14th at ground zero just a few days after the attack in a speech that was so memorable, as well as Saddam Hussein's gun, which he was found with when he was captured in 2003 is on display inside of this museum here at Southern Methodist University.

One of the key parts of this museum is what's called the Decision Points Theatre. It's an interactive exhibit and it allows visitors to go in and make decisions like President Bush did. The decisions that he considers his toughest are on Iraq, on Hurricane Katrina, on the financial crisis.

Visitors can go in and getting actual advice from the real advisers to President Bush. They can talk to military commanders. They might even get some input from the press as well and then they get a vote on how they would have decided. After which President Bush will say what his decision was and why. And he spoke to our John King about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: It also points out that the dilemmas that presidents face. Not just me but every president has got a series of conflicting advisers. And you just got to pick and make the best judgment call you can.

And hopefully people will go to the "Decision Point Theatre" and say, wow, I didn't understand that and now I understand it better. It's interesting to me they say how presidents make decisions and hopefully allow them to make better decisions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now since President Bush was the president who dealt with 9/11, John asked him as well about the bombings in Boston, and here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I was reminded that evil exists and that there are people in the world who are willing to kill innocent people to advance a cause. I don't know what this cause is, but we'll find out. During the same week in a town close to us at Crawford, a plant exploded and both incidents remind me of how fragile life can be for some. And both incidents, you know, made us weep, knowing that somebody was hurting a lot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And that was an interview conducted several days ago, ahead of the opening here of the library. This is going to be a huge gathering. The big thing, of course, is going to be the fact that you have all of the former presidents, as well as President Obama, here. But there's also a number of current and former heads of state who will be attending. We just got an updated list, Australia, Korea, El Salvador, Italy, just to name a few -- Christine.

ROMANS: Thanks so much, live for us this morning in Dallas. Stay with CNN in the next hour of STARTING POINT. John King and former first lady Laura Bush take you on a personal tour of the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

Then at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, Wolf Blitzer is your host for live coverage of the dedication from the campus of Southern Methodist University.

We're following new developments in the investigation of those ricin tainted letters sent to President Obama and to other officials. The FBI's focus has now shifted. They are now searching the site of a former martial arts studio in Tupelo, Mississippi, and the home of a former politician who was an instructor there.

Victor Blackwell following these developments for us here live in Tupelo. Victor, have investigators found anything and have they been able to connect the dots here?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, and there are more and more dots every day. We do know that there was one more search yesterday. I spoke with the attorney for that taekwondo instructor/former politician and she says that the FBI wanted his car.

So he took it to them for processing so they could search to find out if there was any connection to who is trying to or tried at least through those ricin tainted letters poison President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL (voice-over): The home of a former Republican candidate for the Mississippi State House is now involved in a federal investigation into who sent letters tainted with ricin to President Obama, a Mississippi senator and a county judge.

Federal agents in full body hazmat suits searched his home on Tuesday. His attorney said it was related to the ricin investigation. In a YouTube video posted this week the former candidate Jay Everett Dutschke talked about the search.

JAMES EVERETT DUTSCHKE, FORMER POLITICIAN AND MARTIAL ARTS INSTRUCTOR: I met with the FBI. I consented to a search, signed a piece of paper saying go ahead and search the house.

BLACKWELL: On Wednesday, agents spent several hours searching a taekwondo studio Dutschke had rented until January. It's not known if anything was found. The studio shutdown after Dutschke was arrested on child molestation charges. His attorney says he is now free on bond.

The FBI has not filed any new charges in the ricin investigation and Dutschke has not been named as a suspect. The charges against celebrity impersonator Kevin Curtis have been dropped.

DUTSCHKE: During Kevin Curtis' the ricin mailer, during his pre-trial hearing, his attorney accused me of being the one that sent out the ricin letters instead of him.

BLACKWELL: His attorney told CNN, Dutschke had nothing to do with the letters, but earlier Curtis told CNN he still believed he had been set up.

PAUL KEVIN CURTIS, FORMER RICIN SUSPECT: I knew if -- it had to be or they just had the wrong person.

DUTSCHKE: I don't have anything at all to do with this. I don't hardly know the guy. In fact, we've only met on two occasions.

BLACKWELL: Curtis says Dutschke has bad mouthed him for years and has now implicating him in a plot to poison the president.

CURTIS: That's serious. That's when someone says, we want him gone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: We have put in a call to the U.S. attorney and FBI day after day and, thus far, over the last three days at least they have said very little, if anything, about this case. We'll try again today to see if we can get a connection if any from this man to this case -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Victor Blackwell, a mystery, quite frankly, in Tupelo, Mississippi. Thanks.

In our "A.M. House Call" this morning, heart failure in America expected to shoot up by nearly 50 percent by the year 2030. The cost to treat it is expected to more than double. That's the word from the American Heart Association and it's warning that patients and doctors alike need to be better informed about how to prevent and treat it.

A new study claims that exposure to explicit material does not have as much impact on the sexual behavior in adolescence and young adults as previously thought. That's according to a report published today in the "Journal Sexual Medicine." University of Copenhagen researchers say exposures to pornography via the internet, videos and magazines is just one of many factors that may influence the sexual behaviors of young people.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, President Obama attending a memorial service today for the victims of the Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Investigators hope to find clues into what caused that blast. We're live in Waco next.

One of the most anticipated new books, author and journalist, Brian Stelter, here live with his expose on the scandals surrounding network morning shows. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: New developments this morning in the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in the small community of West, Texas. Today, President Obama attends a memorial service in nearby Waco for the 14 people who were killed there.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is there right now for us. Good morning, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Well, thousands and thousands of firefighters are expected to attend the memorial service today for the 14 people who were killed in that explosion, this coming the day after we got our first up close look at the explosion site.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: A bomb has went off inside here. It's pretty bad. We've got a lot of firemen down. LAVANDERA (voice-over): Captured from firefighter radio transmissions, those were the frantic moments just after the West, Texas explosion sent a deadly shockwave through this Central Texas town. This the first up close look at the blast site.

(on camera): This is the blast site here. You can see the crater, which is 93 feet wide, 10 feet deep. That was part of -- one of the buildings that was on the ground here. Investigators say they still don't know what caused the fire or what triggered the explosion about 20 minutes after firefighters were called to the scene.

ROBERT CHAMPION, ATF SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: It's like putting puzzle pieces together. Re-enacting that fire to see what transpired to cause the explosion.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The damage is so extensive that state and federal investigators are using shovels to sift through the debris, looking for clues to what ignited the fire that led to the explosion.

KELLY KISTNER, ASSISTANT TEXAS FIRE MARSHAL: It could be remains of the buildings. It could be electrical components. It could be fertilizer remains if that's what we're looking at chemical remains. It could be that the way the material was stored. Maybe you will find containers, pieces of containers. There's a whole list of things they are looking for.

LAVANDERA: This is an aerial picture of the fertilizer facility before the explosion. This part of the building is where the explosion erupted. This is the site after the blast, the twisted and charred remnants of two fire trucks are still at the scene.

(on camera): You can see the charred remains of a second building that was on this site. And between these two buildings we're told is where many of the firefighters and EMS teams that were killed in this explosion were working at the time of the explosion.

LOUISE MILLS, VICTIM'S SISTER: It's killing me, killing me bad inside. I just want some answers.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Louise Mills is still waiting for investigators to identify her brother's remains, 41-year-old Morris Bridges was the father of three children. He joined the West Volunteer Fire Department three years ago. He was one of the first people on the scene.

(on camera): So you just pray he didn't suffer?

MILLS: Yes. I do, every day. I know he didn't suffer. I know he didn't. We're suffering. We want him back.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Louise Mills says her brother loved wearing his bright red firefighter shirt and showing off his volunteer firefighter badge. For Morris Bridges, jumping into harm's way is how you earned the firefighter's badge of honor.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LAVANDERA: And, Christine, that powerful display of solidarity will be on full display here later on today. We are already seeing here at the site of where this memorial service will be held. Firefighters starting show up in fire trucks from around the region, thousands and thousands of them are expected to attend -- Christine.

ROMANS: We really thank those first responders, you know, it's just real awareness over the past week or so about how important first responders are for all of us. Thanks so much, Ed Lavandera.

All right, ahead on STARTING POINT, it's one of the most anticipated books about the drama and scheming surrounding network morning news. Journalist, Brian Stelter live, we're going look at his new book "Top of the Morning." That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Normally people reporting the news don't like to be the news. Our next guest has turned the spotlight on a TV day part that we personally here are quite familiar with, it's the morning, and in a new book called "Top of the Morning, Inside the Cut Throat World of Morning TV." The author is Brian Stelter. He is a media reporter for the "New York Times." He joins us this morning. It's nice to see you today.

BRIAN STELTER, AUTHOR, "TOP OF THE MORNING": A hard job, one thing I learned.

ROMANS: Why morning news. You cover the media for "The New York Times," why morning shows?

STELTER: It's a time of day that's growing and people feel intimately connected to the people they watch, because they are waking up, half dressed, often in bed or making breakfast and yet they want to know what's going on with the world and be entertained. It's a mix of information and entertainment.

ROMANS: Let me talk about how things have changed when I was a little girl. You started watching one of these shows, you watched for life and they had humungous audiences. This is what you say about how the web, internet has really changed the dynamic for these morning shows.

The rules of morning TV were changing as cable TV, the internet and cell phones all gave people more choices when they wake up. Why wait for Al Roker's weather forecast on today when the Weather's Channel phone app can tell you whether it's going to rain. So tell me what inning we are in on the changes for a morning television because of technology?

STELTER: Probably in the third or fourth inning. You know, there's a lot of evolution to go. There's more morning shows than ever. There's more competition than ever, and yet every morning in the last month when I've rolled over in the morning.

I turn to my cell phone to find out did North Korea actually set off that missile they've been warning about? It's my first way of finding out what's going on. So morning television shows are going to have to be more about the stories behind the stories, more about interviews, more about things you can't get from tweets or text messages.

ROMANS: You have to do Justin Beiber right next to Kim Jong-Un?

STELTER: And that's why these subs are still hard because anchors make it look so easy. I don't mean to flatter you unnecessarily, but this is hard work at a really weird time of day and yet people on air have to make it look effortless.

ROMANS: I'll take the flattery. I'll turn the tables because usually you are the one writing about the media, and now people are writing about you. I want to read one of the reviews of the book.

It says it's a breezy read with more than a little overblown prose, some of it just plain silly. How does it feel to have the tables turned on you, as you know, 27-year-old media critic. Now they are looking at you.

STELTER: It's good for a reporter to be reported on because it makes me more sympathetic as a reporter when I'm in of another people. I expected a tough view from "The New York Times" though because if they were to review my book and I worked there. A nice, pleasant review with lots of cheery language, people wouldn't believe it anyway.

ROMANS: Let me talk a little bit about a lot of the book, much of the book, the buzz about the book is the drama between GMA and the "Today Show." The 16-year run that is being exploited and turned around, undone by GMA. What is GMA doing right, what is "Today" doing wrong?

STELTER: The "Today Show" got too comfortable at number one. This happens in lots of industries and lots of businesses. When you get too comfortable at first place, that's when your rival usually creeps up and overtakes you. And that's what happened with the two shows.

In the more and more competitive world, these are still the two biggest morning shows and they have all of the others nipping at their heels. I think now both "Today" and "GMA" are aware of how competitive it is.

The "Good Morning America" people who have been number one for almost a year now they say we are still acting as if we are losing by half a million. They want to act like they are number one. They won't talk about being number one because they don't want to jinx it.

ROMANS: So what's the lesson for cable and what's the lesson for cable shows? They have been very niche products. You know, what about cable and how cable fits into this surroundings?

STELTER: It seems to me that chemistry is more important than ever because if we are getting our headlines on the web or on our cell phones, then the chemistry among co-hosts, relationships we wake up and see in the morning seem to be more important than ever. And "Good Morning America" was able to get that right last year. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was skill, but they got that right at a time when the "Today" show got it wrong. ROMANS: It's a good read, the background stuff, what's happening behind the scenes, a very good read. Brian Stelter, thanks so much. It's nice to see you.

Next, the latest on the breaking news out of Alabama, a massive barge explosion, fire on the Mobile River, and we go live to Dagestan where parents of the alleged Boston marathon bombers have just held a news conference, speaking out on accusations and conspiracy at the top of the hour. You are watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. We begin with breaking news here in Boston. The parents of the marathon bombing suspect, speaking out to reporters this morning, they are talking to us about allegations, made against them, and conspiracy theories regarding their children.

We're going to go live to Dagestan with details on that. We're following breaking news from overnight too, explosions and fire on barges, carrying fuel on the Mobile River leaving at least three people hurt.

Plus, five U.S. presidents will be in one place today, for the opening of the President George W. Bush Presidential Library. It gives the former president a chance to reflect on his legacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: History will ultimately judge the decisions that were made for Iraq and I'm not going to be around to see the final verdict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Later, we'll have the first images of the Bush library and a tour with former first lady, Laura Bush.

It is Thursday, April 25th. This special edition of STARTING POINT begins right now.