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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Official: U.S. Could Strike Syria "Within Hours"; Death Penalty For Fort Hood Shooter?; Massive Dog Fighting Bust; Trump's School Accused of Fraud; Cleveland Kidnapping Victims Out in Public; Massive Wildfire Threatens Yosemite

Aired August 26, 2013 - 19:00   ET

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


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: "OUTFRONT" next. Breaking news, the U.S. moves closer to war, U.S. officials telling CNN tonight that Navy destroyers could execute a mission in Syria within hours of the president's orders.

Plus, an exclusive update on the three women held captive for a decade in Cleveland's house of horrors and why the city is demolishing even more homes around Ariel Castro's house today.

Plus, a massive wild fire continues to burn out west. San Francisco's water and power supply now being threatened.

Let's go "OUTFRONT."

I'm Jessica Yellin in for Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, breaking news, a U.S. official tells CNN that the U.S. is prepared to strike Syria, quote, "within hours." That is if and it's a big "if" the president orders military action. Today, the Obama administration laid out its case for retaliation because it says the Syrian government did, in fact, use chemical weapons against its own people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Anyone who could claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated, needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass. What's before us today is real and it is compelling. President Obama believes that there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: So what's the reaction from Syria? CNN's Fred Pleitgen has rare, inside access to Damascus and CNN is the only western television network in Damascus right now. Hi, Fred, tell us what's the reaction from the ground there?

FREDERIC PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jessica. You know, the Syrian government hadn't put out statements after Kerry's speech, but they are certainly reacting and you can certainly see that they're at least hearing the message. What's going on is that the foreign minister of the country has called for a press conference for tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. local time and generally you can see the Syrian government reacting.

President Bashar Al-Assad came out with an interview earlier today in a Russian newspaper again saying that it was ludicrous to assume that his forces would have used chemical weapons on the front line saying they would have gassed themselves if they would have done that. Clearly, of course, the U.S. isn't buying that.

On the other hand, though, the Syrian government is still trying to show a show of force. What we've seen as the U.N. weapons inspectors were on the ground in Syria today and especially after they got back to their hotel in Damascus was massive shelling of the outskirts of Damascus, which is, of course, exactly the place where those chemical weapons attacks are purported to have happened.

And the U.S. has been saying for a very long time it believes that Damascus is trying to shell the outskirts to try and tamper with the possible soil samples that the weapons inspectors could find. They believe the more shelling there is, the more difficult it will become for the inspectors to find conclusive evidence about what sort of nerve agent might have been used -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Fred Pleitgen reporting for us from Damascus, a fast- moving story, we have all angles covered. Again, CNN the only television network with reporter, Fred Pleitgen, there in Damascus. Thank you, Fred.

OUTFRONT tonight, Republican Congressman Peter King, he sits on both the House Homeland Security and House Intelligence Committees. Congressman King, thanks for being with us. The White House said today that President Obama has not yet made a decision on how to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. But Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to be sending a pretty clear signal that action could be on the horizon. Take a moment to listen to how he painted the picture of chemical weapons use in Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians and the large- scale indiscriminate use of weapons and this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Congressman, do you think it's now time for the U.S. to act?

REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Especially after what Secretary Kerry said we have to act. I'm not certain where this is going to lead, but once that red line has been crossed and once chemical weapons have been used, I believe the president has to take action, not just because of Syria but because of the entire region. Iran is going to look at how we respond as they go forward with their nuclear weapon program.

Allies in the region, adversaries in the region are going to look so we have to take action, I believe, that cruise missiles would be the best as far as destroying the chemical weapons locations and also, as far as taking out command and control locations. But having said that, I'm still not a big advocate for the rebels because I believe they've become largely controlled or significantly controlled by al Qaeda elements. If the president had taken action two years ago we would be a lot better off.

YELLIN: I want to be clear. What sort of action would you support? You just said missiles. Would you limit it to that?

KING: Right now I would not put American lives at risk. If there's another way, the only other way I can see is cruise missiles other than sending in aircraft and Syria has a very sophisticated anti-aircraft system. If we send in air power we have to assume and expect that Americans will be shot down and that will involve us going in and taking further action. At this stage, I believe we should use -- have maximum use of cruise missiles going at the locations where the chemical weapons are stored. And also, at their command and control locations and also, if we -- any other key targets in Syria that we can hit we should.

YELLIN: I want to ask you about American credibility because we all remember this moment, February 5th, 2003 when then Secretary of State Colin Powell made the case before the U.N. to go to war in Iraq. His proof was that vile which he said could contain anthrax, which was evidence of Iraq's alleged weapons' programs. Now today the U.S. said it has proof of chemical weapons in Syria. So I'm wondering are you at all concerned that we might be wrong here as we were then?

KING: You know, there's always a possibility, but you have to act on what is available. There's more of a concern here that we lose our credibility if we don't act in view of how strongly President Obama has warned Syria in the past not the use chemical weapons.

YELLIN: A year ago President Obama set that red line on Syria here. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Your fellow Republican House Armed Service Committee Chairman Buck McKeon issued a statement saying, quote, "drawing red lines before you know what you're willing to do to back them up is folly, but now that American credibility is on the line, the president cannot fail to act decisively." Do you think the president backed the U.S. into a corner here by setting that red line?

KING: Well, first of all, I agree with Buck McKeon. I think the president should not have set a red line unless he knew what he was going to do. We can't arbitrarily set red lines or lay out threats unless we know what we're doing and why we're going to do it. But having drawn that red line, we have no choice, I feel, now, but to take firm and strong action and, again, Syria and Assad, he's an evil person and a horrible tyrant and a menace to the entire region, but again, my other concern is I'm not sold on the rebels either. They just have too much al Qaeda influence.

YELLIN: You mentioned Iran earlier. Syria is not the only country where the president has set red lines. He said a red line with Iran developing a nuclear weapon. Do you think the president's response here in Syria could serve as a test case for U.S. intervention in Iran and even in Egypt and anywhere else?

KING: Yes, I strongly believe that. We've made it clear to the president time and again has basically said that Iran will not be allowed to have nuclear weapons, that's the red line. If we don't enforce it against Syria, Iran will reinforcing their beliefs that they can go forward without real threat from the U.S. So this is as much a warning to Iran as I see it, as it is action against Syria. Iran has to know we're serious. Otherwise, they are going to go I think even more speedily ahead with their nuclear programs.

YELLIN: Finally, have you been consulted by the White House? Have you gotten any kind of call?

KING: No, I have not. Let me make it clear. I believe the president can take the action without authorization from the Congress. I believe as commander-in-chief he has the right to take this action. It's in his interest to consult with the leadership in the House and Senate, but I don't believe he has to.

YELLIN: Thanks you, Congressman King. Now while the congressman says he doesn't believe President Obama needs congressional approval, other members disagree.

Now, still to come, the convicted Fort Hood shooter cannot be put to death without approval from the president. Would President Obama sign that order?

Plus one of the largest dog fighting rings in American history has been shut down. What led authorities to the ring leaders?

And then Miley Cyrus shocks viewers during last night's video music awards. Did she really cross a line?

And we're on panda watch again. We'll tell you where the next cub could be born.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Our second story, OUTFRONT, will the convicted Fort Hood shooter be put to death? Witnesses began testifying today in the sentencing phase for Major Nidal Hasan who was found guilty on Friday of 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder. The death penalty is a rare sentence for the U.S. military and it would ultimately require approval from the president himself.

CNN's senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is OUTFRONT to discuss this. Hi, Jeff. So would the president, do you think, really approve this if it came to it?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. When you consider the magnitude of this crime, 13 murders, absolutely no repentance or regrets, and that it was really, as he acknowledged, part of a terrorist attack on our troops, I don't think Barack Obama would have a moment's hesitation, if he has the chance, because appeals in this case will certainly drag on for years and it may outlast his presidency.

YELLIN: If it goes on that long, and it's such a complicated case is it possible Hasan could avoid the lethal injection even if he's technically give even the death penalty?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. There's not a lot of legal history as I think you pointed out. There hadn't been a military execution in this country since 1961. The military is not set up, the legal system, for this. It is quite possible that appeals court could find some problem with the case that would result in a life sentence. But he could also get the death penalty because he seems to be trying to get it. There doesn't seem to be much doubt that this trial is a kind of slow-motion suicide.

YELLIN: It's interesting. Most of the victim's families I've talked to don't want him to get the death penalty.

TOOBIN: Which is such a perverse element of all of this, do you want to give him the satisfaction of martyrdom or do you not care whether he gets martyrdom or give him the penalty and he can think what he wants?

YELLIN: Fascinating case, Jeff Toobin, thanks so much. Our third story, OUTFRONT, busted. Federal authorities have shut down one of the biggest dog-fighting rings in U.S. history. Nearly 370 pitbulls were rescued this weekend in a massive raid that stretched across Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

David Mattingly is OUTFRONT on this story. Hi, David. What did investigators find?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, they found 367 dogs, over 100 of them just in one single location. They've arrested ten men. Seven of them came from the state of Alabama. But this goes beyond just fighting dogs and the atrocities involved in that. They're looking at what they also seized here in terms of money. They seized a half million dollars in this raid on Friday that shows you what big money is being had at these dog- fighting operations.

Now they also believe that some of these defendants may have been gambling as much as -- rather, $5 to $200,000 on a single dog fight. Again, showing you what kind of money was involved in these operations. So going much further than just dog fighting.

They're also looking at illegal gambling operations and what sort of organizations might be out there associated with this.

YELLIN: That is big money. What will happen to these dogs?

MATTINGLY: Right now, they're in emergency shelters. They're being cared for, they're getting medical treatment, they're getting food. They're getting a safe place, a comfortable place to sleep for a change. They found some of these dogs tied up with very heavy chains out in the sun.

Clearly not good conditions for them to be living in. And the treatment they were getting is highly, highly questionable right now. But in their immediate future, there's going to be DNA testing. They're going to be starting to track the bloodlines of these dogs because if they believe they're able to follow the bloodlines of these dogs to other parts of the country, possible, other busts down the future, they're going to be able to connect more people and possibly, more illegal activity as they go.

YELLIN: All right, David, gruesome. Thanks for that report.

And in our "Money and Power" segment tonight, Donald Trump accused of running a phony school. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says Trump defrauded customers out of $40 million with a sham university.

According to the AG, Donald Trump's Trump University was supposed to have experts picked by Trump himself. They were supposed to teach students how to get rich in the real estate market but according to the lawsuit that was not the case. The suit makes several acquisitions. For example, the lawsuit alleged instructors insinuated Trump would appear at the seminar but what really happened? Some of the participants had their pictures taken with a life-size photo of Donald Trump.

The suit also alleges that Trump did not pick any of the instructors and had little to no role in developing the curriculum.

These classes weren't cheap either. Students paid nearly $1500 to attend a three-day course and up to $35,000 for the Trump Elite Course.

Now for the record, Trump completely denies the allegations saying the students were happy and on Twitter he suggested the case is politically motivated.

Still to come, the latest from the Ariel Castro investigation in Cleveland. Why even more houses are being torn down in the neighborhood where three women were held.

Plus, an 8-year-old boy kills his grandmother after playing "Grand Theft Auto 4". Why police think the video game played a role in the killing.

And an amazing half-court shot that earned one lucky student full tuition. We'll show you the entire video in tonight's "Shoutout."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) YELLIN: Our fourth story OUTFRONT, remodeling the street of horrors. Demolition crews tore down two more homes in Cleveland today right next door to where Ariel Castro held three women captive for over a decade.

Castro's house was destroyed in early August, days before he was sentenced to life without parole, plus another thousand years. Crews will return to the area tomorrow to begin planting grass and flowers. Meanwhile, Castro's victims continue with their recovery re-adjusting to their new lives and even making some public appearances.

Scott Taylor, an investigative reporter with Cleveland's WOIO is OUTFRONT.

Hi, Scott. What is the latest? Tell us --

SCOTT TAYLOR, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, WOIO: Hey, Jessica.

YELLIN: With Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Dina Jesus.

TAYLOR: We'll start with Amanda Berry first. You know, she's 27 year old, a single mom, very protective of her 6-year-old daughter. Though she has come out publicly, she was at a large outdoor concert. A lot of people saw that Rover Fest. Got up on stage and Nelly actually sang her a song but still being very protective of what she says.

She doesn't want to discuss anything that went on in that house in order to make sure that her 6-year-old doesn't hear anything at all about it.

And then there's Michelle Knight. Michelle Knight made that passionate impact statement in front of Ariel Castro. She's really become the face of the entire story right now when she did make that statement at his sentencing.

She also made sure that she was in front of his house moments before it was destroyed. She read one of her most favorite poems and she also has had a little fun. She actually talked to Andrew Zimmer, the host of "Bizarre Foods." He was here about two weeks ago at the West Side Market, which is a big open-air market. All the farmers come here and trade their vegetables, and so forth.

And Michelle, you might not know, Jessica, loves food, is a -- loves to cook and so they traded some ideas.

And then there's Gina. Gina, who I've come pretty close to with her family, only 23 years old. She is very shy. Probably the most shy out of all of them, doesn't say a whole lot but she did get in a car and actually participate in a parade with her family and friends. Drove through the city and waved at everybody.

She was also just spotted, Jessica, at a roller rink, believe it or not, roller skating with family and friends, something that, you know, she hasn't been done, been able to do for the last 10 years. YELLIN: It's so nice to hear about them emerging. I'm wondering if any of them has returned to the neighborhood where they were held captive and if they've gone, why did they go back?

TAYLOR: Well, they all three have gone back before Ariel Castro's house was destroyed about three weeks ago. They demolished it. Michelle has been there twice. Once before it was demolished then moments before. Gina, I believe, stopped by as well, and Amanda, too.

And I think it's just one of the process of their healing and also making sure that their lives continue. Michelle made it very clear in that victim's impact statement in front of Ariel Castro, that her life is going to continue.

YELLIN: Scott, really touching reporting and so sensitive to what they're going through. Thanks so much for your updates.

Scott Taylor reporting for us.

And still to come, new developments in the NSA leaker investigation. Warning signs in 1983 that were ignored.

Plus Switzerland's controversial plan to combat prostitution. Why the Swiss government thinks sex boxes are a good idea.

And the latest from the massive wildfire out west. San Francisco's water and power supply, in danger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Welcome back to the second half of OUTFRONT.

We start the second half of our show with stories where we focus on our own reporting from the front lines.

An OUTFRONT update on Zachary Reyna, the 12-year-old boy infected with a brain-eating ameba. In a Facebook post Saturday, his family said he was still on a ventilator but it passed away and they decided to donate his organs. Well, in a later post it appears the family may have had a change of heart. The family said they respect doctors protocol but, quote, "believe God will step in on his time regardless of what has been said." They're asking others to believe with them.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill must be digging their heels in the sand. Today Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the United States will reach the $16.7 debt ceiling by mid-October. Unless Congress raises the limit, the U.S. could run out of money and default.

Complicating matters -- there are only nine legislative days scheduled in September, according to one lawmaker. Last time around, you remember Congress procrastinated for about seven months before making a deal on the day the government was set to run out of money.

OUTFRONT has also learned groups behind the Bitcoin, the virtual currency, met with government officials today to talk about setting up some rules. Bitcoins are backed by high-profile investigators. But the currency is vulnerable to hacking and not insured and blamed for illegal activity like money laundering.

The general counsel for the Bitcoin Foundation tells us they welcome the talks with the Feds.

Some new drive-ins are opening in Switzerland today, but they're not the kind you think. They are sex drive-ins. In an attempt to take opened prostitution off the street and keep the women safe, Zurich is opening nine garage-style structures equipped with alarm buttons and security guards that will help protect prostitutes. As many as 40 women are expected to work at the drive-ins each night, which will be opened from 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. and can only be accessed by car.

According to one estimate, prostitution is legal in nearly 80 countries around the world.

And breaking news now: an update on our top story. Senior administration officials tell CNN that President Obama will be presented with final options regarding actions against Syria in the next few days. If the president does decide to order military action, it could come as early as midweek. But the official did caution it could come later than that.

Another U.S. official also tells CNN that the U.S. is prepared if necessary, to strike Syria, quote, "within hours."

Now, we want to be clear. The president has not yet ordered any military action. And the White House has stressed today that it is still evaluating all options.

And now, our fifth story OUTFRONT: breaking news on the massive wildfire threatening Yosemite National Park and San Francisco's key water power sources.

You are looking at new pictures from the front lines. Our crew there just shot these.

One hundred forty-nine thousand acres have been scorched so far. And that burned area equals the size of the city of Chicago. Three thousand six hundred firefighters are working to rein in that blaze. But so far, the fire is only 15 percent contained.

Casey Wian is on the ground in Groveland, California -- Casey, hi. Tell us how concerned are authorities there that this fire will spread further.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly is spreading further, Jessica, and they are concerned. You can see behind me, some of the smoke from this giant fire. I'm at one end of the fire. On the other end, we drove through there earlier this afternoon, 13 miles of nothing but devastation, burned-out forest.

This is now the largest fire, according to California fire official in the history of the Sierra Nevada range. Now, over 150,000 acres. Here's what one fire official had to say about the impact on this area.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE BENTLEY, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: Really a tremendous impact. Highway 124 into Yosemite on the Northgate is closed now. So the town of Groveland, it's actually their biggest economical weekend of the year, there's no one there. It's like a ghost town. It's like I had some of my fire officers up at Pine Crest Lake, real famous. And usually on Sunday, there's 10,000 people there, zero yesterday. So, it's -- everywhere, smoke impact and we're losing so much economy it's unreal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIAN: Now, despite that bleak assessment, fire officials say they they're starting to feel like they're getting a pretty good handle on things. You mentioned earlier, excuse me, Jessica, 15 percent containment figures. That's actually good news because it was just 7 percent yesterday.

The other good news? The humidity levels: 60 percent, which is really helping firefighters battle this blaze, Jessica.

YELLIN: Casey, is there a real threat to the Yosemite and San Francisco water supply still?

WIAN: Well, there is a real threat but it's probably lessening. The good news is, this fire burned really close to a key reservoir that supplies about 80 percent of San Francisco's drinking water. The good news is that is surrounded by granite and the fire stopped before it got into the reservoir, according to fire officials.

In terms of Yosemite Valley, we also drove through there earlier today. Fire officials say they've got at least two more lines of defense beyond the current one that they're trying to set up before this fire actually reaches the Yosemite Valley, which is the main tourist area.

We drove through and the air quality is not too bad. Yosemite officials are saying, come on up. Right now, it's still safe. There's a couple of ways to get into the park. So far, so good, Jessica.

WIAN: So far, so good, Jessica.

YELLIN: All right. Let's hope it stays safe. Casey, thanks so much for the report.

Our sixth story OUTFRONT: can a video game lead to murder? An 8- year-old boy in Louisiana shot and killed his 90-year-old grandmother moments after he finished playing the videogame "Grand Theft Auto 4". So far, police have not revealed a motive, but they suggested the video game may have played a role because it's, quote, "a realistic game that's been associated with encouraging violence and awards points to players for killing people."

But can a video game really train someone to kill?

OUTFRONT, Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of HLN's "Dr. Drew on Call".

Dr. Drew, a pleasure to be here with you.

DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN HOST: Thank you so much.

YELLIN: Police have been making this connection between the violent video game and murder.

PINSKY: Yes.

YELLIN: Do you agree there's really a link?

PINSKY: There's a link between video games and aggression but a causational link is pretty tough to make. I mean, there's so much going on in our culture that contributes to violence in young people to point a finger at one aspect -- meaning violent video games, I think, is misplaced. There's so much else to be concerned with.

And, by the way, the kids that get in trouble are kids who are already at risk, already in trouble.

YELLIN: That makes sense. There have been about 25 million copies of "Grand Theft Auto" sold since 2008. You wonder why all those people haven't gone out and committed crimeless if there were a link.

So, who -- talk more about the people for whom this does lead to violence?

PINSKY: Jessica, just put a little coat on what you're saying, or everyone who goes in the military would return home and become violent offenders. I mean, it doesn't happen. You could say they had specialized training, but the kinds of people at risk really are people that come from destroyed families, have aggression or violence in the home. That is somebody who is at risk.

There's also certain mental health issues that can put people at risk for violence, but not if they're properly treated.

So, again, I wouldn't encourage somebody to watch a violent video game if they have these sorts of risky circumstances in their life. But to blame it, I think we've got to be very careful about that.

YELLIN: So, let's say we're talking about we're talking about one of these people, comes from a very troubled home, has violence around them -- what does science show if they start playing these video games, what then happens to them?

PINSKY: Science does show there's an association between violent video game and violent behavior. That association is there. But causation, to say that it's causing that I think is a little bit misplaced. I mean, I see people acting out on one another in social media all the time, and we don't worry about that. All the bullying and horrible things that are said to actual people in social media, let alone cartoons.

I promise you, if you have a young male son out there, he's playing a violent video game of one sort or the other. That does not mean he's going to go kill somebody unless there are other issues in his life.

YELLIN: Isn't this the same thing we've heard for decades. Comic books at one point were thought to lead to violence. So if you have a troubled kid in a troubled home and you gave them a comic book, then they would get in trouble?

PINSKY: Absolutely. Listen, novels -- when the novel arrived, that was supposed to have a horrible influence on people and possibly, they do. Perhaps it's a cumulative affect of all these things. But again, there are so many much more important issues that come to bear on the behavior of youth that I just think -- boy, spending a lot of energy worrying about this may be misplaced.

YELLIN: Thank you, Dr. Drew. It's always great.

And be sure to catch his show tonight on HLN. Dr. Drew and his behavior bureau will look at what's going on with Jodi Arias and with Miley Cyrus. That and more at 9:00 Eastern on HLN.

And check out this story. The National Security Agency scandal just got a little weirder. According to reports, NSA officers admitted using the agency's eavesdropping powers to spy on their own romantic partners and spouses. Since those revelations, the #NSAPickupLines created a storm on Twitter. Users are tweeting their own jokes and lines and the most common NSA pick-up lines on Twitter are actually song lyrics that should be very familiar. At least to some of us who are old enough to remember.

Hundreds of users have been posting the lyrics to the police song "Every Breath You Take." And that brings us to tonight's number: 1983. On this day in 1983, the song "Every Breath You Take" was the number one song in America. And in a lot of ways the seeds of the current NSA scandal were planted that year. 1983 is when the world's first commercial mobile phone went on the market and that's when we started using the cell phones the NSA loves so much.

And in 1983, "The New York Times" published this column by David Burnham titled, "The Silent power of the NSA" warning this virtually unknown federal agency has repeatedly sought to enlarge its power without consulting the civilian officials who theoretically direct the government. That was written 30 years ago.

Yes, we know, 1984 has long been considered the year of big brother but it looks like that may have been a year late.

Still to come, Miley Cyrus' raunchy routine at the VMAs sparks controversy. But does the criticism really add up?

And panda-monium, another cub on the way?

The shout-out tonight, an amazing shot -- Colorado State University freshman Andrew Schneeweis has won a year's worth of tuition after sinking a half-court shot during a pep rally. He was selected randomly and given three opportunities to make the shot and he only needed one.

It's a very similar shot to the one we saw from a ball state freshman last week! Amazing! Wow, look at that. The student won a semester's worth of free tuition. And the shout-out tonight goes to four Colorado State University coaches. The men's and women's basketball coaches, the football and volleyball coach were the ones who donated the money to pay for his prize. Unbelievable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: And we're back with tonight's "Outer Circle", where we reach out to our sources around the world.

Tonight, panda-monium. A couple of weeks ago, a panda cub was born at a zoo in Vienna. It was a much-celebrated birth because that panda was conceived naturally and that's, apparently, very rare. This was only the third successful attempt to breed pandas naturally in Europe. Then, on Friday, a panda was born at the national zoo in Washington. So far, that cub appears to be in excellent health.

And that brings us to Scotland, where a panda at the Edinburgh Zoo might be pregnant. I asked Erin McLaughlin what zookeepers there will be watching out for.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, the U.K.'s only giant female panda could give birth within the next two weeks. Zookeepers at the Edinburgh zoo are watching Tan Tan 24/7. Hormone tests points to the possibility that she might be pregnant after being artificially inseminated in April.

She's being watched for signs of labor such as restless behavior. Now, this is an extremely sensitive time for a panda pregnancy, but still not certain she will actually give birth. Experts say that it is possible for the fetus to be reabsorbed or rejected, and the birth itself could last a matter of minutes because the baby cubs are so small. Zookeepers say they are keeping their fingers crossed -- Jessica.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Thanks, Erin. So cute.

Now, let's check in with Anderson Cooper with a look at what's ahead on "AC360."

Hey, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did you just call me cute?

YELLIN: I did. You're adorable.

COOPER: Thank you.

Jessica, much more on the breaking news tonight. What are options, of course, on Syria and which ones are being considered by President Obama? Are we on the verge of a military strike? We'll get a live report from the Syrian capital of Damascus and we're going to talk it over with our panel. Also tonight, keeping them honest -- chasing down a charity that collects millions of dollars to grant wishes for dying kids.

It sounds great, right? So, why does it spend on them less than 3 cents of every dollar it raises? A whistle believer exposes their operation tonight.

Also, the horrific battle to control one of the worst wildfires in California history. It's entering Yosemite National Park. It's threatening San Francisco's water supply. Our Gary Tuchman went behind the fire lines to bring us tonight's report.

Those stories and tonight's "RidicuList" and all at the top of the hour, Jessica.

YELLIN: That sounds good. And plenty of cute, Anderson. Thank you. We'll watch coming up.

Our seventh story OUTFRONT: Miley Cyrus stuns.

The 20-year-old singer left jaws hanging after last night's risque performance at the MTV Music Video Awards. Check it out.

First, you can see Cyrus strutting around the stage with giant Teddy Bears. She then strips down to a nude, apparently latex bikini and starts dancing or gyrating, whatever you call it, with Robin Thicke, and a giant foam finger.

Yes, it's a performance many call offensive. But did Miley Cyrus actually accomplish exactly what she set out to do?

OUTFRONT: radio show host Stephanie Miller, CNN opinion contributor Dean Obeidallah, and Mediaite's Joe Concha.

All right. Joe, I'm going to, first, start with you and play some of the reaction to her performance from this morning and we can talk about it. Listen to this.

JOE CONCHA, MEDIAIATE: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Where have you gone, Hannah Montana? Last night, it was Miley MTV style. The 20-year-old twerking her way on stage and out of her clothing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The paper said it included plenty of lewdness and molestation of Robin Thicke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that Twerking is now officially been banned by every senior prom this year, thanks to Miley. Look, there are many people on Twitter going, where are her parents?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Twerking, so everyone knows, is a she was dancing. It's dance style.

So, are those folks overreacting? Everyone is offended. Was it really that bad?

CONCHA: Where's the line anymore, Jessica, right? I mean, remember in 1984, in "Like a Virgin" when Madonna and she was rolling around -- I know we were like 4 years old at the time -- but rolling around at the stage at the VMAs.

YELLIN: You were.

CONCHA: All right. So, that at the time was considered the end of Western civilization. Then, in 2013, you see Miley do this.

In 2033, we're probably going to look back at 2013 and Miley, and probably in 2033, you're going to have like Miley's daughter like actually having birth on stage. Then, you know, that will be considered provocative.

So, it seems like the MTV Music Video Awards is all about expecting the unexpected. Doing something more provocative than the person did last year. So, this is all a matter of one-upmanship, or in this case, one-downmanship.

YELLIN: So, Dean, he's really saying this is just a way for her to make money. Is that a problem?

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: No -- it's her choice. This is her career, she's succeeds at making Lindsay Lohan look better, which is remarkable. She's done that. And she makes Katy Perry look like a nun at this point.

But the reality is she wants us to talk about her, actually what she's doing.

But the woman's worth $120 million, that's her networth. Her song is number three in the charts. She does not need to do this to get better known. Her talent can do it.

She's a child star, trying to be an adult star now. It's desperate. You watch it. It's like I feel bad. It's like a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, but it's not funny. I feel bad for her --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: Stephanie, let me ask you. Madonna's video, "Justify My Love", the music video was banned from MTV when it came out in 1990, because they said it was sexually explicit. And she ended up making out on that controversy.

Listen for a moment to what she told ABC's "Nightline" after it was announced her video was banned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

MADONNA, SINGER: What next? What should we do? We decided, let's sell it, let's sell like a video single, it's never been done before. And, you know, the controversy just happened, it wasn't planned, but, you know --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But in the end, you're going to wind up making more money than you would have?

MADONNA: Yes, so lucky me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Lucky me. What's wrong with Cyrus taking a page from Madonna's playbook, being provocative and owning her sexuality?

STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO HOST: You know, your other guests make good points, Jessica, I'm wondering what we have to do to top ourselves. I'm wondering what I have to do for this segment to get enough attention. I was not able to get a giant foam finger. It's such short notice.

And let me just say, Jessica, I'm going to allow that maybe I'm a crotchety old woman at this point. But you know the old saying about you can't define porn, but you know it when you see it, to me, this crossed the line into porn. This was simulating a sex act in front of kids. I mean, if you saw the looks on Will Smith's family, it was a hilarious springtime for Hitler moment.

YELLIN: Do you have the image of Madonna gyrating on stage, you guys? If we're talking about simulating a sex act -- because that's what people accused Madonna of doing back in the day too.

Go on, Stephanie.

MILLER: Well, this was just -- this is pretty graphic is all I'm saying. I mean, not that Dean wouldn't like me to do that with him right now, but I'm just not going to.

(LAUGHTER)

CONCHA: Hey, Steph, how about me?

MILLER: I don't care about the ratings, but I'm done twerking, I'm too old.

I don't know if it's a generational thing, or like you say, it's a people trying to top themselves. But it's the difference between watching a sexy movie with good actors and watching porn. I just thought this was just porn.

YELLIN: She -- I'm just going to be blunt, if she were more talents, if it had been a better performance, would she be as criticized? CONCHA: Right. There's no artistic value. At least Madonna has some talent.

Here's the bottom line -- this is a bridge to Miley's next career, that is taking a page from the Kardashian playbook. The Kardashians have a reality show.

What makes up a reality show? You've got to be a little crazy. And Miley appears to be. You've got to have a somewhat famous father. You have Billy Ray Cyrus, right?

I guarantee you, E!, Bravo, MTV, all their people are talking to Miley's people. She will have a reality show within one to two years.

YELLIN: And she's burning up on Twitter. All right. Thanks, guys. Got to peek -- looking at those pictures. It's working for her.

All right. And still to come, President Obama honors a true American hero.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: This afternoon, President Obama awarded Medal of Honor, to the nation's highest decoration to Army Staff Sergeant Ty M. Carter. CNN's Jake Tapper had the opportunity to speak with this true American hero.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): When President Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Ty Carter, he not only heralded Carter's heroism on the battlefield at Combat Outpost Keating during one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was chaos, the blizzard of bullets and steel into which Ty ran not once or twice, or even a few times, but perhaps 10 times. And in doing so, he displayed the essence of true heroism.

TAPPER: He pointed out that Carter has made it his mission to de-stigmatize the posttraumatic stress that hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops and veterans are dealing with.

Carter was once a skeptic of what he calls PTS. He doesn't want the D, he says it's not a disorder.

STAFF SGT. TY CARTER, U.S. ARMY, MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT: I didn't believe it was real until I experienced it. I thought it was just an excuse to get out of duty or not do a job. But once it hit me and I realized it, I was blown away. How could I be so ignorant?

TAPPER: No longer.

During the horrific battle at Combat Outpost Keating, an enemy RPG explosion caused Carter to lose some hearing. CARTER: Ever since that day, I've had this high pitched ringing in my ears.

TAPPER: In the dark, quiet moments, the constant ringing in his head brings him back to battle. Since he left the outpost, Carter has been receiving regular treatment for posttraumatic stress. It's a treatment that is allowing him to continue to his career path in the Army.

Someone not so fortunate was one of Carter's battle buddies, Private Ed Faulkner, Jr., who suffered from both posttraumatic stress and a drug problem, and was discharged from the Army a few months after the battle at Combat Outpost Keating.

When Faulkner returned to his parents home in Burlington, North Carolina, his posttraumatic stress got severe, he would stay up late watching videos of the attack that insurgents had posted online. Not even a year after the attack, Faulkner overdosed on methadone and Xanax. There was no evidence of suicide, but either way, friends felt his death was as a result of the horror of his time in battle.

CARTER: I honestly believe that, yes, he was the ninth victim of Combat Outpost Keating. And I also believe that he won't be the last.

OBAMA: To any of our troops who are watching and struggling -- look at this man, look at this soldier, look at this warrior, he's as tough as they come. If he can find the courage and strength to not only seek help but also to speak out about it, to take care of himself and stay strong, then so can you.

TAPPER: Jake Tapper, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Thanks so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts right now.