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Focus On Jolie's Looks Post-Op Misplaced, Says "Slate" Writer; Americans Split On Benghazi; Missing Children Myths

Aired May 14, 2013 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The Pop Lead. There was a time in Angelina Jolie's life when bold meant wearing a vial of blood or perhaps a new tattoo. But today the actress revealed a courageous decision that is inspiring women around the world. And even though it could save her life all some can focus on is how it will affect her looks.

The Buried Lead. Mom always said, don't talk to strangers. It sounds like pretty solid advice but it turns out following those wise words could make kids more vulnerable to predators.

And the Sports Lead. An NFL team shows off plans for a spectacular space-age new stadium, but it's the price tag that's really out of this world.

The Pop Culture lead. She may be an international superstar but we learned today that there is a tie that binds Angelina Jolie to thousands of women, including some in our own family. In a revealing New York Times op-ed today, Jolie admitted to having both breasts removed after learning she carries a mutation of the BRCA-1 gene. That mutation drastically increases the risks of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

In the article she explains, quote, "I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy is not easy, but it is one I am very happy I made." She goes on to write, quote, "I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity."

With that last acknowledgement, Jolie touches on the inevitable discussion that comes with a revelation: not about how the procedure could save her life or raise awareness for other women but how the double mastectomy will affect her appearance. Slate writer Amanda Hess calls it a "misplaced fascination," and she is calling out Jolie's critics in a new article. Amanda Hess joins us now live from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being here, Amanda. Really nice to have you on the show.

AMANDA HESS, SLATE WRITER: Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: First off, what is some of the backlash you've seen to Jolie's announcement that inspired you to write your article? HESS: Well, I was disappointed but not surprised to see a lot of people really focusing on her breasts instead of her life. I read a lot of comments to the effect of "RIP Angelina Jolie's boobs." People talking about how they respect her decision but how they'll miss her curves or speculating as to the size of her reconstructed breasts. I think that even though Angelina Jolie is someone who has always been in the public eye, that sort of attention is something that every breast cancer survivor has to deal with.

TAPPER: This conversation for you, this conversation about her body objectifies not just Jolie but in some ways all women who have undergone or are considering similar procedures, right? Is that what you're saying?

HESS: Right. I mean, on a personal note my mother went through a double mastectomy also earlier this year. And in addition to dealing with a lot of pain and a lot of personal decisions, a lot of fear, we also had to deal with how people see her, how people will react to her. And a lot of times those reactions are not understanding. They're not positive. And they really devalue her as a person.

TAPPER: But in a way it could be argued, I think -- tell me if you think I'm wrong, I know you will -- that the fact that she is a sex symbol, she is somebody known for her curves. That she has appeared, you know, seminude in films, that this could make that decision she made even more empowering for other women because no doubt she is going to continue to be a gorgeous, international star.

HESS: Yes. I mean, I think she has a very powerful platform, not only because she is so incredibly famous, but also because she is known for her looks and she is an actress who works with her body.

But I think when we talk about celebrities we're really talking about this blown-up idea of the culture that we all live in. And so every woman like Angelina Jolie will have to make her own personal decisions as to what she is going to do when faced with this sort of medical reality. And I think the importance is to accept whatever physical outcome comes from that because the important thing is that lives are being saved.

TAPPER: Amanda, before I let you go, how is your mom doing?

HESS: She is great. And she's more beautiful than ever. Watching her wake up from that surgery was such a beautifully powerful experience, and I think that is only an experience people can have when they really view women as people as opposed to just sex objects.

TAPPER: We're glad she is doing okay. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

HESS: Thank you.

TAPPER: Up next, your mother told you not to talk to strangers, but if you want to keep your kids safe these days there is better, newer advice than that. Stick around for an interview every parent needs to hear. And it's like Murphy's Law for presidents. What can go wrong will go wrong after the first four years. So are the White House's latest problems some sort of second-term curse? Stay with us.


TAPPER: In politics, call it the second-term curse. Up until now, President Obama has for the most part avoided getting caught up in scandals. But this month's triple whopper of the Benghazi debacle, the IRS fiasco, and, now, the news that the Department of Justice secretly seized the phone records of Associated Press journalists. Well, that may put the Obama administration in good company with other second-term presidents: Nixon, Clinton, Reagan, Bush, and more, all of whom suffered through scandals that probably would have threatened their re-elections had they happened a year or two beforehand.

Joining me now to talk about it Rick Tyler, a former adviser to Newt Gingrich, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Ron, why, why does this inevitably happen? Is it arrogance, is it overreach, is it people are no longer afraid and start to leak? Why does this happen?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALSYT: It is striking how often -- Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, W. Bush all having second-term scandals that at least partially derailed their administration to varying extents. And I think part of it is arrogance. Part of it is inattention or kind of a sense of the administration gets weary.

But I think also part of it is just the odds catching up with you. I mean, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a dangerous place. You stay in there long enough, bad things happen. The government is a very big institution. You stay there long enough, someone somewhere does something wrong. I think you're seeing that kind of confluence now again with President Obama.

TAPPER: Rick, how dangerous would this have been for President Obama politically if it happened instead of, you know, May 2013, May 2012?

RICK TYLER, FORMER SPOKESMAN TO NEWT GINGRICH: I think it could have been dangerous. I think, look. The curse is always in the cover-up. All of these things, the IRS, what the IRS did, what happened in Benghazi, and the Department of Justice -- these all happened in the first term. So are scandals inevitable? Yes. I guess. Human nature is inevitable. But all of these things happened in the first term and in political pursuit in this case, I think, of holding the office. It is now the cover-ups that may be their undoing.

TAPPER: And Donna, Democrats I know pooh pooh Benghazi. But we've heard Democrats criticize the Obama administration for grabbing the phone records of the Associated Press and also for the IRS scandal. You can't find a friend of the IRS these days. DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, I wouldn't call it a scandal because two of these items are still under investigation. We don't know all of the facts yet. The IRS, while we've heard a great deal, we've heard from the acting commissioner, we know the commissioner who stepped down just recently was a Bush appointee. So we don't know everything yet. We know the Justice Department based on what we heard today from Eric Holder, they are still investigating. So, before we go ahead and call it a curse -- I'm from New Orleans. I think it's a curse.


TAPPER: You believe in curses. This isn't a curse. Right.

BRAZILE: I also believe we can put a spell on those who are trying to cause the curse so it can be reversed. But I do believe we should not rush to judgment and we should wait until these investigations are completed before we begin to write the script.

BROWNSTEIN It is an open question, how much these controversies are going to directly hurt the president. It will depend on future revelations.

But I think it's almost inevitable there is an indirect cost. When you look at what happened in Bill Clinton's second term when they made the big, bipartisan budget deal in 1997. Then Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton were talking about further deals on big issues like entitlements. Impeachment came along and it made the climate utterly inhospitable to really working together.

And I think what's inevitably going to happen here if we have months of hearings and revelations is you are going to see the part of the Republican Party that is most dubious about making any deals with President Obama empowered, and it is going to be tougher for him. Not that it wasn't tough already, but it is going to get tougher to try to act on --

TYLER: If we apply the New Orleans curse to the standard of curses -- we probably (INAUDIBLE), but let's stipulate we do have a scandal and we probably do have a curse. Look, I think when this administration takes responsibility for this administration, the Obama administration would have us believe we have 23 separate, equal branches of government including each one of his departments. And how many times, including today, was spokesman Carney saying, no, go ask Justice. Go ask the IRS. Go ask somebody else. It's always somebody else.

When does this president -- on March 4th of 1987, Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office and addressed the American people and continually in that took responsibility, saying, I didn't know these things but I have to inevitably take responsibility for my administration. When does the president get to take responsibility?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, the president has not covered up anything. He has not provided the country with half-truths. What the Republicans are doing, because they have cursed the day President Obama was elected. They've made it personal and a political decision not to cooperate, not to even agree on things that they previously held as policy. I think this administration has been forthcoming.

Their mistake is that they're not revealing the information and leaking it to the press the way the Republicans are. Therefore they are playing catch up and not doing a good job with crisis management.

TAPPER: I want to show you one poll from the Pew Research Center about whether or not Americans feel the White House has been honest about Benghazi. Honest, 37 percent say the administration has been honest. Forty percent say they've been dishonest. Twenty-three percent says they don't know.

BRAZILE: That's a split.

TAPPER: It doesn't mean anything.


BROWNSTEIN: No, the poll --

TAPPER: That's completely irrelevant.

BROWNSTEIN: The default option from the public in modern politics on any issue is to assume that politicians are being dishonest. I really think here, whatever happens in terms of the revelation --

TAPPER: That's the electorate, 40 percent President Obama --

BROWNSTEIN: You can say it's surprising there isn't a higher percentage that thinks they're dishonest. The context for this is as I said whatever directly comes out of this, whatever damage he ultimately bears from that, the reality is this is coming as Donna said at a moment when the two sides are already moving further apart.

You're seeing heightening tension, I mean, the cabinet nominees being blocked in the Senate. The House is voting again to repeal the health care bill, an atmosphere in which the window is already narrowing. Donna thinks if you're doing this week after week, hearing, confrontation, leak, that just further narrows that.


TAPPER: Thank you, Donna, Rick, and Ron because we have some breaking news.

The abortion provider convicted of killing babies will avoid the death penalty. Dr. Kermit Gosnell agreed to waive his rights to appeal to receive two life sentences. Gosnell was convicted yesterday on three counts of first-degree murder among a host of other charges and will officially be sentenced tomorrow.

Thanks again to our round table. Up next in our "Buried Lead," keeping children safe, teaching them to avoid strangers. Well, that is not the answer it turns out. We'll tell you what can help your children's safety. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In our "Buried Lead," a story we think is not getting as much attention as it should. Three women in Cleveland who were found after being held captive for nearly a decade brought hope to families still looking for missing children holding on to fading memories and forgotten teddy bears.

But for parents who are lucky to have their children at their sides you might be surprised to hear how many myths are out there on how to protect your kids. One man who isn't surprised is David Finkelhor, the director of Crimes Against Children Research Center. I spoke to him earlier about how to keep your kids safe.


TAPPER: Let's go through each of the myths that you wrote about one by one. The first one, the myth that most missing children have been abducted by strangers, that's not the case.

DAVID FINKELHOR, DIRECTOR, CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN RESEARCH CENTER: No. Of the hundreds of thousands of children who are reported missing to the police every year, less than 100th of 1 percent are abducted by strangers in the long-term kind of serious episode most parents are concerned about. They're much more likely to disappear as a result of running away or being abducted by another parent or lost or injured or having some kind of communications mishap.

TAPPER: Myth number two, there is an impression that more and more children are going missing. You're saying that's not the case.

FINKELHOR: No, we don't have good, annual data on this, but lots of things suggest that it is going down. There's been about a 30 percent decline in missing persons in general since 1997. The rate of homicide and sexual assault of children has been declining. In fact, all kinds of crimes have been declining pretty substantially over the last decade and decade and a half. So it's my opinion that the stranger abductions have been declining as well.

TAPPER: Myth number three, the internet has made kidnapping easier. I think there are a lot of parents, myself included, who fear what this new world with instant communication means. You're saying it does not necessarily mean a more dangerous world.

FINKELHOR: No. Given that the crime statistics have been going down and the internet we're still struggling to figure out exactly all the things that it's changing, but my sense is that young people are doing more of their independence striving and risk taking at home using the internet.

And while that can bring them into contact with unsavory people it does mean that some time and thinking has to elapse before the actual crime occurs and frequently it gets discovered by the parent or the youth has some reconsideration of what they're going to be doing. So it hasn't had just the simple effect of making the situation more dangerous for kids.

TAPPER: In fact, you also write this world of cell phones that we're in has actually helped prevent a number of missing children in terms of people being lost or abducted. Let's move on to myth number four, concrete advice for parents. Generally speaking, I think a lot of parents think teach your kids to avoid strangers and that's the best way to prevent abductions. You're saying that's not the right thing.

FINKELHOR: Well, both abductions and all kinds of crimes, sexual assaults and physical assaults, are much more likely to happen at the hands of people that they know. So while teaching kids some caution about interacting with strangers, the whole message about don't talk to strangers is a very difficult one for kids to understand.

Everybody is a stranger before you get to know them. It is really about the context. You'd be much better warning kids about how to avoid people who are behaving badly, who are intoxicated or being overly personal or touching them in ways that make them feel uncomfortable. And this is the kind of thing we should be talking to kids about.

TAPPER: Lastly, David, you say it is a myth that the main goal should be to reunite children with their families as briefly as possible explain what you mean.

FINKELHOR: Well, the majority of children who go missing. Go missing because of a family conflict, protracted custody dispute or because a teenager and parents are not getting along or the young person is being abused. Simply returning a child to that environment the problem continues.

So while locating and recovering the child is important, it's just as important if not more to provide some kind of help to that family to deal with the conflict so that the situation doesn't continue and that the motivation for the child to disappear or leave is resolved.

TAPPER: Thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

FINKELHOR: You're very welcome. Thank you for your interest.


TAPPER: Wolf Blitzer joins me now for a preview of "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf, a tough day for the Obama administration.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": Very tough day. And I suspect with the start of the criminal inquiry, an investigation that the Attorney General Eric Holder announced today, at the Justice Department, looking into the IRS decisions to go ahead and basically target Tea Party groups, conservative groups with the word "patriot" or "patriots" in it is only just beginning.

Because you and I know once these investigations begin, officials all over the government not just in the IRS will be questioned by FBI agents and others who are coming in. They're going to need to hire lawyers some of them. We don't know where this investigation is going to wind up. It starts relatively modest but, as you know, it could wind up in all sorts of places. We'll go in depth.

TAPPER: You have Elijah Cummings.

BLITZER: We've got Elijah Cummings, the Democratic ranking member of one of the key committees investigating and Mike Rogers, Chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

TAPPER: All right, Wolf, thanks so much. We look forward to show.

Winning isn't everything especially if you are an NFL team. One franchise that's never won a Super Bowl is about to get a gift that comes with a nearly billion dollar price tag. That's our "Sports Lead" and it's next.


TAPPER: The "Sports Lead," their team has never won a Super Bowl and they've had a revolving door of quarterbacks over the past five years, but the Minnesota Vikings will soon have one rallying cry they can hang their hats on. Our stadium is cooler than yours.

The team unveiled these plans for a new state-of-the-art facility, which will open in 2016. It features a translucent roof and movable front windows not to mention swanky lounges with real time fantasy football stats. All those fancy bells and whistles don't come cheap. The stadium's price tag is an estimated $975 million and taxpayers will foot at least 15 percent of the bill.

We asked you to earlier send in code names for a CIA plot to recruit Russian spy, James Blonde, drag-niet, Putin on the Ritz. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I leave you in the incomparable hands of Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: All right, Jake, thanks very much. Happening now behind the snooping into reporters' phone records, the attorney general of the United States says it was prompted by one of the most serious leaks he's ever seen, one that in his words, put the American people at risk. Russia is booting out a U.S. diplomat accused of spying --