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Interview with Congressman Paul Ryan; Fake Deaf Interpreter At Nelson Mandela's Memorial Service; Teen That Killed Four People While Driving Drunk Does Not Face Jail Time; Interview with Congressman Tim Huelskamp; Should Snowden Be "TIME's" Person of the Year?

Aired December 11, 2013 - 19:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jake Tapper, in for Erin Burnett.

Tonight, backlash against the budget deal. Not everyone in Washington is jumping on the bipartisan bandwagon. And the first crucial test comes tomorrow when the vote is set in the House.

Speaker Boehner is doing everything in his power to keep his party in line. Today, he lashed out at conservative groups who are urging Republicans to vote against the deal.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: They're using the American people for their goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you're for more deficit reduction, you're for this agreement.


TAPPER: Earlier today, I spoke with one of the architects of the deal. The chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan. I asked him how the two sides were able to find common ground and compromise.


TAPPER: What's the secret allowing yourself more time to deal with each other? Setting low expectations? Never going on bed angry? What is the advice for future negotiators?

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), BUDGET CHAIRMAN: All of those are pretty good pieces of advice. We decided from the outset, number one, to talk a lot. Get to know each other. Keep our emotions in check. The other thing was we wanted to make sure that we didn't demand or insist that the other person had to violate a core principle. We would instead look for where the common ground exists.

We basically took all of our budgets, ours including the president and the Senate budgets, kind of overlap them all and then looked through that prism to see where the common ground existed. Then we solicited other ideas from our colleagues to see if we could get common ground. Add that up and see what that would do with respect to replacing "The Sequester." They're having an across the board approach. We think that's crude. We wanted to see if we could find smarter spending cuts in other parts of government and there's a lot of government that's on auto pilot spending that has not been attended to by Congress and that's where we got the additional spending cuts.

Basically we came up with $85 billion of savings from what we call mandatory spending to pay for $63 billion of some relief from "The Sequester." We still keep the fiscal discipline. We still keep on track and this will actually result in more deficit reduction. That's very important to me, my Republican colleagues. Patty got a lot of the things that she wanted and neither of us had to give up a core principle to get this and that's how we are able to achieve this I think.

TAPPER: So speaking of your Republican colleagues, you just met behind closed doors with conservatives at the Republican Study Committee, which meets every Wednesday where you tried to sell this plan. These most conservative members of the House Republican caucus, how did that go?

RYAN: It went very well. It went very well with not only the RSC, but also our House Republican Conference this morning. A lot of members were very excited and pleased that we actually have an agreement. We found a way to make this divided government work. We have basically a broken divided government. We would like to make it work.

This prevents future government shutdowns from happening either in January or October. And what a lot of my members, my colleagues were pleased with is that we're taking the power of the purse and bringing it back to Congress. When we pass these continuing resolutions every year like we've done the last three years, we basically seeding the lawmaking power to the executive branch and we are reclaiming that.

That we think is a very good step in the right direction. That allows Congress to actually prioritize spending. Something we haven't done for like three years around here. Those were very, very attractive to our members. The fact that we have excessive savings, which results in net deficit reduction and that there isn't a single tax increase in this is what made most of our members very pleased.

TAPPER: Still a lot of criticism from people like, Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Rand Paul. It doesn't sound like the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is going to support this. Are you going to ultimately have the votes to pass it?

RYAN: We will. We feel good about that. We're in the majority. We have to govern just like Patty Murray is in the majority and she has to govern. You can't get everything you want, but you can get things done if you focus on that common ground area. I'm not going to begrudge anybody who for one reason or another chooses not to vote for it. These things aren't perfect, but we think this is a step at the right direction.

Look, we have laid out our vision very clearly, Jake. Our budget which balances the budget and pays off the debt is our vision. It's ultimately where we want to go. We know in divide government we won't get that. The question that we're asking is, can we get a step in the right direction? I clearly think this is a step in the right direction.

Others would like us to go farther in that right direction. I don't begrudge them of that. I think this is a step in the right direction and that's why this is very important that we do this. And show that we can make this government work a little bit.

TAPPER: When you talk about, you want to go farther in the direction of deficit reduction, a lot of critics out there, the conservative groups say this kicks the tough decisions down the road. I don't think you would even dispute that necessarily in terms of the big budget items causing the national debt and the annual deficits. Does your having work with Patty Murray give you any confidence that those big decisions that would probably necessitate both of you violating core principles, that there is any solution there to be had?

RYAN: You know, I'm going to focus on this right here, Jake, at this moment getting this done, making this Congress work. The reason I hesitate to even speculate is because the president and the Senate Democrats have never once ever proposed to balance the budget. Let alone reduce the debt. Our budget does pay off the debt ultimately so we are so far apart on that issue. You have to deal with entitlements.

The big entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid, the primary drivers of our debt, let alone Obamacare. You have to reform those programs to prevent a debt crisis. We simply do not have much interest from the other side to do that. I don't know if there's movement on that side to bridge that gap. You can't tax your way out of this fiscal problem.

You have to reform entitlements to do that. We've offered entitlement reforms in these negotiations in every other way we can conceivably do so. There doesn't seem to be much take-up and interest on that. I don't want to make that spoil this moment, which is just getting to us common ground.

TAPPER: Sorry to be such a spoiler. That's kind of my role. Let me ask you about some criticisms from the left. Many Democrats are balking at this deal because it does not include extending unemployment benefits. They say that's 1.3 million people who face being cut off at Christmas. Why not include it?

RYAN: There are a lot of things people wanted that aren't in here themselves want farm bills. They want a stimulus spending in here. They wanted a tax increase in here. They are a lot of things that they wanted in here that we couldn't do. We're putting in what we can agree to. There was no offset requested for that. That's $20 billion that would have shot a hole through our deficit reduction. There are a lot of things that are not in this agreement that people wanted. That's the way compromise and common ground works.

TAPPER: Another criticism from the left. This package does not include closing a single tax loophole, but it would increase TSA fees that all Americans face. So how would you respond to a critic the next time you're having a town hall in Wisconsin that says why are you in favor by any other name, a tax increase on middle class Americans --

RYAN: A user fee.

TAPPER: Pretend I'm Joe Blow in Wisconsin.

RYAN: A ten-year Wisconsinite and I'm in a town hall meeting. Before 9/11, the person getting on an airplane paid for all their security when they paid for their ticket. They covered all of it. Since 9/11 that person is paying for less than 40 percent of their security and the nonflying public, the nonflying taxpayer is subsidizing the rest it. We think that the user should pay for the services they're using instead of making some hard working taxpayer that never uses those services pay for it.

Here's what this fee does. It says if you have a connecting flight, you pay $5. If you have a direct flight, you pay $2.50. We say this five across the board. And then there was a tax on airlines that was distributed in a very strange way. Not treating them the same and we got rid of that tax. And that is added to the fee so $5.60 a ticket whether you're connecting or flying direct.

And it helps defray the costs of security. And even with this, Jake, that general fund taxpayer who never gets on an airplane is still subsidizing that person who does fly on an airplane.

TAPPER: All right, if I am a Wisconsinite, I'll take that. It is obviously easier to say no and criticize a deal like this. Are you at all concerned that this deal could hurt you with grassroots Republicans should you ever need grassroots Republicans to support you in the future?

RYAN: Yes. People ask me that kind of question all the time. If you compromise, isn't that going to hurt your personal contrary? If I think like that, we'll get nothing done. I was elected by people in Wisconsin to solve problems here. I'm the chairman of the Budget Committee so my colleagues have asked me to be a leader in helping solve problems. If I cloud my judgment by what is good for me politically or not, how does this juxtapose me against somebody else, that's not right in my opinion.

I'm going to do what I think is right. What people in Wisconsin like me to do, my colleagues asked me to do and I'm not going to let any personal political consideration down the road cloud that judgment. I quite frankly don't think that's right. With respect to future I'll let the chips fall where they may and I'll sleep really well.


TAPPER: My thanks to Congressman Paul Ryan.

Still to come, not all Republicans are happy with Ryan's budget deal. A Republican congressman who said he will vote against it will join us tonight.

Plus shock and outrage directed at one man. Was the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial a fake?

Plus, a teen who killed four people while driving drunk gets probation because apparently he had bad parents.


TAPPER: Shock and outrage around the world tonight directed at this man. He was the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial yesterday. Many in South Africa are calling him a fake interpreter who was in fact not interpreting at all. According to the Deaf Federation of South Africa, they say he was simply making up gibberish as he went along.

My guest tonight is actress, Marlee Matalin. She lost her hearing when she was 18-months-old and went on to become the youngest person ever to win the Oscar for best actress. She currently appears on the ABC family series "Switch At Birth." Marlee is joined by her long time interpreter and friend, Jack Jason. Thank you so much both of you for being here.

MARLEE MATLIN, OSCAR-WINNING ACTRESS (through interpreter): Thank you for having us.

TAPPER: What was your reaction when you saw this man signing at the memorial?

MATLIN: In fact, when I first saw it and for the very first time I saw it at home. I thought, great, there's an interpreter there. I was happy for the fact because it is great for the world and people in South Africa to be able to watch and participate through the benefit of having a sign language interpreter so they wouldn't miss anything.

So they can participate and they can celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela. And then I looked at him a little bit longer and I kept thinking, this is hard, I've been to South Africa before and I could understand some South African sign language. I thought to myself, wait a minute. This isn't anything. It was almost like he was doing baseball signs or whatever they do,

I was appalled. I was appalled. And I knew that at any moment, the entire world, whoever was watching, there would be so much noise. It would create an explosion and it did.

TAPPER: I want to play a clip from the memorial. Mandela's granddaughter reading part of a poem with the so-called fake interpreter, we've added subtitles of what she is actually saying.


ZOZUKO DLAMINI MANDELA, GRANDDAUGHTER OF NELSON MANDELA: You are lodged in our memory. You tower over the world like a comet leaving streaks of life for us to follow.


TAPPER: So knowing what she is saying and watching that, can you tell that he's faking it?

MATLIN: You can tell. I can tell and I can tell that he is thinking to himself, no, how should I do this? Well, let's see what I just did. I'll do it again.

TAPPER: One of the other signs is that he wasn't making any facial expressions. That's not normally how it is done, right? It is important for someone.

MATLIN (through translator): That is exactly a giveaway. I mean, sign language involves all kinds. Let me emphasize is that sign language is not international. So each country has its own sign language. But in this case, each language shares something which is facial expressions as part of the grammar. And to see someone standing there without any movement of his body, without any facial expressions that one incorporates into sign indicates that he has no understanding of the culture or understanding of the language. I knew exactly right then and there that he was not authentic at all and it was offensive to me.

TAPPER: Your show, switched an episode recently that was done entirely in sign language. It was called one of the best TV episodes of 2013. That must be give you hope that there is growing awareness and appreciation of the challenges that deaf people face and also in embracing of that community.

MATLIN (through translator): Absolutely. It has been a long time coming, clearly, when shows like what you just mentioned, "Switched at Birth," in television history can broadcast an entire else without any sound. Maybe, just a little of musical cues and focus entirely on the beauty of the language. And this is something that everyone can see. And understand and appreciate that sign language is a legitimate language. It is part of deaf culture and now with a new generation coming into play, a lot of people want to learn sign language. They want to be able to talk with deaf people and part of hearing people. And we've been oppressed for too long to have something like this happen again, push aside. Put into the corner.

It is important that interpreters, we should understand that interpreters are part of our lives. We need them to be able to understand and on create access in to our lives, to make advancements in the world, and to be able to go to school. Interpreters need and are important parts of our lives. We need to put them in every situation where people communicate. I use interpreter in a situation like this.

Interpreters have a tough job and they are trained and they need to be certified and they need to be able to work in environments such as courts, such as in educational settings and that is why this situation is highlighting this.

TAPPER: Jack, thank you so much for interpreting this evening. And Marlee, I had to say. I've been a fan of yours ever since "Children of a Lesser God." Keep up the great work and thanks so much for joining us tonight.

MATLIN (through translator): Thank you for having me.

TAPPER: Still to come, a shocking story out of Texas. A teen killed four people while driving drunk. His sentence did not include jail time at all.

And a story of survival, a family of six survives two days lost in the freezing wilderness. We'll tell you how they did it.


TAPPER: The rich kid defense. A 16-year-old drunk driver from a wealthy family is avoiding jail after killing four people. He was going 70 miles per hour on a rural road with a blood alcohol level that was three times the legal limit. He was facing up to 20 years in prison but the Texas judge gave him just ten years probation because, get this, his lawyers argued he was suffering from Affluenza and was never taught right from wrong.

David Mattingly is live in Dallas.

David, first, explains exactly this teen's defense.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, looking at the crime here, Ethan Couch was 16-years-old when he left a party with three times the blood alcohol level that is allowed in his system driving a high rate of speed, plowed into the side of the road where a group of people had gathered to help a stranded motorist. His truck was also full of other teens. He killed four people in the side of the road. Two people in his truck also remain seriously injured.

But when he went before the judge, his attorney was arguing that he was the product of an a affluent but totally dysfunctional home where he was never given any supervision and he was never taught the meaning of consequences for his actions. They actually put a psychologist on the stand in the defense who described this as Affluenza. And apparently, the treatment for that is an intense therapy away from his parents.

The judge listened to this argument, agreed with it, so he is not going see jail time. Instead, he will to go a private facility where he will get this intense one-on-one therapy but see no jail time.

Here's what his attorney had to say.


SCOTT BROWN, ETHAN COUCH'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Taking him away from his family and teaching him to be a responsible citizen, that is a consequence.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: The prosecutors in this case were seeking the maximum which could have been 20 years behind bars. They argued unsuccessfully that this teen would still be able to get some kind of therapy behind bars as well. The judge didn't go along with it. And now you have the outrage that comes from this kind of ruling.

TAPPER: And David, what exactly has been the reaction from the victims' families? I can't imagine what they're feeling.

MATTINGLY: You know, it was very emotional in the courtroom toward the end of the proceedings where they were allowed to address the court, say what was going on with them. It was very emotional. One parent actually looked at the 16-year-old and said, we forgive you. But it was not a very forgiving mood in that courtroom among the families. And now you can listen to some of their comments. They're having difficulty moving forward from here.


MARA MITCHELL, VICTIM'S MOTHER: He'll be feeling the hand of God definitely. He may think he's gotten away with something but he hasn't gotten away with anything.

ERIC BOYLES, VICTIM'S FATHER: We had over 180 years of life taken, future life. Not 180 years lived but 180 years of future life taken and two of those were my wife and daughter. And unfortunately the wounds that it opened only make the healing process that much greater, much more difficult.


MATTINGLY: And no comment from the family of the teen in this case. It has been reported that there has already been one civil suit filed in this case.

TAPPER: David Mattingly, thank you so much.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Not everyone is hailing the bipartisan budget deal in Washington as a victory. Lawmakers on both sides have some pretty big concerns. One major issue for Democrats, the deal does not extend unemployment benefits for more than 1 million people.


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: In terms of unemployment benefits, the president feels strongly that those unemployment benefits should be extended.


TAPPER: Still, the president says he will sign the bill if it passes through both houses of Congress and lands on his desk but will it get that far?

One Republican who wants to prevent this bill from becoming a law, Congressman Tim Huelskamp.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

You likely heard the warning today, quote, "If you're for more deficit reduction, you're for this agreement."

So, I presume you're for more deficit reduction. Why are you against it?

REP. TIM HUELSKAMP (R), KANSAS: Jake, let's go honest here. This is a spending increase. The only way you can concede that it is a deficit reduction measure is somehow believe that eight to nine years from now, Congress is going to maintain the cuts.

What they're trying to undo is the agreement, a 10-year agreement and replace with it another one, at higher levels of spending. At the end of the day, they aren't maintaining sequester. It's more spending, which is in my mind, why it's bipartisan. Both sides have agreed to raise spending. And it's also going to increase fees and taxes and I think at the end of the day, it's not good for the American economy or the American people.

TAPPER: I spoke earlier with your fellow Republican, Congressman Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who crafted this bill, along with Democratic Senator Patty Murray.

Here's what Congressman Ryan told me. I want to get your reaction.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: We have laid out our vision very clearly, Jake, our budget which balances the budget and pays off the debt is our vision. It's ultimately where we want to go. But we know in divided government, we're not going to get that.

So, the question that we're asking is, can we get a step in the right direction? I clearly think this is a step in the right direction. Others would like us to go farther in that right direction. I don't begrudge them of that. I want to go further in that right direction, but I think this is a step in the right direction. And that's why I think this is very important that we do this and also just show that we can make this government work a little bit.


TAPPER: Congressman, his basic argument, it's divided government. There is a Democratic-controlled Senate, a Democrat controlling the White House, and it's better to go along with this and let the government work a little bit rather than not at all.

Your response?

HUELSKAMP: Well, Jake, the sequester is the law of the land. It is a small limited amount of cuts. Actually, conservatives opposed it because we didn't think it was robust. It wasn't targeted enough. It didn't deal with entitlement reform, and what we could have with doing nothing is all of the sequester.

This is actually a step backward, not a step forward. And that's why conservatives are upset because it is making promises about cuts sometime in the future with spending increases today, which is what usually happens often in Washington in December. The Washington winter wonderland of spending increases and calling it a deficit reduction package.

I understand if you cannot get it done but to say it's a great thing, it's a deficit reduction package I think is very misleading.

TAPPER: Well, I think "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page called it the least worst option even those who people are saying that it should pass are not saying it's a great deal.

Paul Ryan's argument is, this is the best that can be done right now. You know that appropriators, both Democrats and Republicans and a lot of people who are on the military related committees who -- obviously the Pentagon and those in the defense industry really hate those sequester cuts, that there was going to be something of a rebellion and Ryan's argument is this is the best we can do right now.

Do you disagree? Do you think you could have negotiated a better deal with Patty Murray?

HUELSKAMP: Doing nothing maintains the sequester. The negotiation here is to undo the limited spending cuts of the sequester. And if the leadership was really committed to the sequester which they claim to have been for three years, or two and a half years, they have said the crowning achievement of Republican control of the U.S. House are these limited cuts. That's what they're trading away.

Actually, it was just a couple months ago where the Democrats were demanding a clean CR and Republican moderates were demanding a clean CR. What the conservatives said, OK, we agree. Pass a clean CR across the floor and hopefully we can agree to a CR, continuing resolution spending levels for the remainder of the fiscal year. But this is actually a step backwards in my opinion.

TAPPER: Last question. Paul Ryan seemed to indicate some optimism. He thinks there will be the votes to pass this deal. He said we will. We feel good about that.

At the end of the day, even without your support, do you think that votes are there to pass this?

HUELSKAMP: When you increase spending in Washington, that's usually the bipartisan deal. So, my guess is it will pass. It just depends how many Americans are finding out about the spending increases in Washington and they're not focused on Washington this time of year. They're worried about holidays, worried about Christmas and doing other things. But this happened last year at this time where they went through part of the sequester.

Usually bad deals happening in Washington in December. And another one seems likely to happen tomorrow.

TAPPER: All right. Well, speaking of Christmas, Christmas to you, sir.

HUELSKAMP: You, too, Jake.

TAPPER: Congressman Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, thank you so much.

New details tonight in the deadly crash of Asiana flight 214 in San Francisco. The National Transportation Safety Board just released this chilling video of the plane as it approaches the runway. In it, you can see the moment of impact when the plane breaks apart. The July 6th crash killed three people. And the NTSB is holding an all- day hearing in Washington today to determine what caused it.

Rene Marsh is following the story.

Rene, what are the key findings from the hearing today? This hearing that's still going on right now?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the new details suggest that the pilot at the controls didn't fully understand how the plane's automatic flight systems work, hard to imagine. Most passengers trust that the pilot knows what they're doing in the cockpit.

So, here are the highlights. A relief pilot in the back seat of the cockpit called out sink rate three times, warning the plane was descending too fast. The pilot flying, acknowledged he heard the warning but he tried and failed to make the right moves to correct the problem.

The pilot at the controls admitted he was uncomfortable landing the plane visually and he wasn't confident. He knew all he should about the plane's automatic systems.

In fact, investigators said the pilot misunderstood how the plane's automatic throttle worked. He thought even in idle, the auto thrust would kick in speed if it was needed, but that is not how it works.

Take listen to Captain Sully Sullenberger's take on today's revelations.


CHESLEY "SULLY" SULLENBERGER, FORMER U.S. AIRWAYS PILOT: Right now, airline pilots are not getting enough in-depth training and knowledge about these complex systems. And it is also important that they know how to monitor them and be ready with well-learned manual flying skills and able to quickly and effectively intervene when it's not doing what it should be doing.


MARSH: All right. Well, investigators are also digging into whether Korean culture played a role in the bungled landing. When asked if he thought about aborting landing, the pilot at the controls said, in his culture, the higher level person would make the final decision, saying it would be very hard for the first officer or a low level person to make that call, Jake.

TAPPER: Very interesting. Rene Marsh, that culture angle is one that we've discussed at CNN before. And as the investigation continues tonight into the cause of Asiana's deadly crash, the NTSB says they're at every factor.


DEBORAH HERSMAN, NTSB CHAIRMAN: Certainly in any cockpit, in any country in the world, there are cultural issues. And in the NTSB, what our job is to be very fair and to base our information and our investigation and our findings and our recommendations on the facts.


TAPPER: CNN's Kyung Lah has more with this part of the story.


CAPTAIN SEUNG-YOUNG KIM, EXEC. VP OF FLIGHT OPERATIONS, ASIANA AIRLINES: To the passengers who are injured and to the families who lost their loved ones, we are deeply sorry.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the South Korean airline, the day began with an apology, to the passengers of flight 214 and a promise for the future.

SEUNG-YOUNG KIM: We at Asiana are committed and doing everything we can to prevent such an incident from ever happening again.

LAH: The man behind the controls says Asiana Flight 214 crashed was Captain Lee Kang Kuk, a trainee, making his very first landing at San Francisco International in a 777.

The NTSB says he had just 35 hours in that aircraft. Far more junior than his supervisor who had landed 777 with no distress calls before landing.

Newly released documents show the NTSB also looked closely at possible cultural factors at play in the cockpit. When Captain Lee was asked by investigators if he considered aborting the landing at 300 feet and doing a go-around, he said that's very hard. In Korean culture, he said, higher level pilots make the decision to do ago around. Even when asked if he wore sunglasses in the cockpit, Lee said, no, it would have seemed impolite when flying with a higher ranking pilot.

Communication in cockpits raises an alarm to USC aviation safety professor Naj Meshkati, who he has studied culture in cockpits for two decades. In the '80s and '90s, Korea's largest airline Korean Air suffered a series of accidents, including night Flight 801 in Guam in 1997, and the airline was criticized for its authoritarian culture in the cockpit.

Then, in 1999, Korean Air Cargo 8509 plunged into a village near London. The investigation later revealed the junior officers were so deferential to the captain that they failed to speak up before it was too late. Social hierarchy and deference to elders is paramount in Korean culture.

While Korean aviation today has safety standing standards rated among the highest in the world, Meshkati says hierarchical cultures can lead subordinates to stay quiet even in the face of safety problems.

NAJMEDIN MESHKATI, AVIATION SAFETY EXPERT, USC: If you have that cultural norm that doesn't help or is not conducive to this type of a behavior, then you cannot have an appropriate level of a questioning attitude which is a requirement for safety culture.

LAH: The unspoken rules of Korean culture may also help explain this curious comment by Asiana 214 flight attendant Yoon Hye Lee.

Immediately after the plane stopped skidding after the crash, Lee went to the captain. "I knocked on the cockpit door," she says. The captain opened it and I asked, "Are you OK, captain?" And he said, "Yes, I'm OK". "I asked, 'Should I inform an evacuation?' And he told to wait."

For OUTFRONT, Kyung Lah, CNN.


TAPPER: And our thanks to Kyung Lah.

Still to come, Pope Francis versus Bashar al-Assad versus Edward Snowden. Who is the real person of the year?

Plus, President Obama gone wild? Why that claim might not quite add up.


TAPPER: Who is afraid of Edward Snowden? The infamous NSA leaker was named runner up to the pope for "TIME's" Person of the Year. It's not the first time he's fallen short from the top spot of a media outlet's list of who's who?

Does the Pope really trump the long term impact of Snowden's leaks? Or would there have been a backlash against "TIME" magazine if he had got the top spot? That's our "Money and Power" segment.

And here to talk about it, "Mediaite'" Joe Concha, Father Edward Beck, a CNN contributor, and senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter.

Gentlemen, thanks for being here. Appreciate it.

Joe, I'll start with you.

"TIME" went with what the editors say is the most inspiring, controversial and fascinating figure of the year. Is the pope that person?

JOE CONCHA, MEDIAITE: Inspiring, Jake? Yes. Is he controversial? Is he fascinating? Forgive me, Father, because I think I'm about to sin. No, unfortunately not.

If you look at the actual definition of what "TIME" magazine's Person of the Year is, it goes to the person who shamed events most over that entire year. And the pope, yes, he did say some things that caught people's attention. He did inspire some people.

But Edward Snowden would be the most bold in this case. And, Jake, here's the reason why I think they went away from Snowden. More and more journalism is a business these days. It's more competitive, more stuff to watch, more places to read things.

And as a result, you know, a business perspective, if you're goal is to sell more companies of something then I think the pope is the way to go because of something called seasonal synergy. Pope, "TIME" magazine, two weeks before Christmas, person of the year, that's going to sell more copies than Ed Snowden, which a complex story that many people may not understand. They may not understand the impact. As a result, if we're just talking about a business decision, "TIME" went with the pope I think because he's going to sell more companies.

TAPPER: But look at it journalistically, Brian, Snowden has been in the press almost daily since June. Here are just a few examples.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What Snowden has revealed has caused irreversible and significant damage to our country and to our allies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Snowden has damaged national security and caused terrorists to change the way they operate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty-nine-year-old Edward Snowden risked everything to steal some of America's biggest secrets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think he is a traitor?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I know he damaged the country. The Obama administration will deal with it.


TAPPER: Snowden also didn't make the top spot on Barbara Walters' list of the most fascinating people.

Brian, is there possibly some fear of backlash on the part of the media? The government paints Snowden as a bad guy. Why reward a bad guy with an honor like this?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's personally my most fascinating person of the year. I'm not sure if he belongs as "TIME's" Person of the Year because you can make a very strong case for the pope.

But I think this raises the issue in journalism, actually re-raises it, which is about whether the press has taken Edward Snowden as seriously as he should be taken and giving him the respect he deserves, you know? Because a lot of people view him as a whistle blower, who has done something very courageous. Of course, many others view him as a traitor, as we heard in that sound bite.

He is such a polarizing figure. The "TIME" magazine, which like CNN, is owned by Time Warner, at least, for the moment. "TIME" is being spun off next year. Maybe "TIME" magazine decided he was too polarizing for the cover, to get to Joe's point.

But, you know, as a journalist, I think he is at the top of the list.

TAPPER: Father Beck, let's have you make the case for the pope. I mean, some people have compared the poem getting this award with President Obama getting his Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe someday he will deserve it but not right now.

Why does Pope Francis deserve this honor?

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm kind of baffled that there would be any question. I mean, world peace, feeding the hungry, extending oneself to the outcast and preservation of privacy. I mean, I don't think there is even a debate here.

First of all, the pope interjected himself in the war in Syria. He has done more on the global stage right now e certainly than anyone I can think of and NSA contractor who stole documents and then who fled the country or refused to be prosecuted for it.

So, if he's so convinced he did something noble -- I mean, civil disobedience says come and you take care and just deserts them. I don't really think there's any comparison here. And, you know, the people I talk to say they're not that concerned that people's privacy is maybe sometimes is breached, but what they are concerned about is they get protection from terrorist and many would say that the NSA is justified in what it does.

I'm not taking that position, but normal people I talk to, my parishioners say they are not that concerned about Edward Snowden. It doesn't affect their daily lives. People say Pope Francis does affect their daily lives.

CONCHA: I would say -- and, Father, I would say with all due respect, the award is not a positive accolade however. It doesn't go to the guy that did the most great stuff, all right? I'm an Irish Catholic, trust me, I'm not here to diss the pope, particularly two weeks before Christmas.

But in terms of shaping news and somebody who had the most influence doing that, you can make a case for Edward Snowden, I would even make a case, even though it's a little bit of an outlier, which would be Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman because that was the biggest probably of this year --

BECK: But Edward Snowden --


CONCHA: So, we're not questioning whether the pope did great things. We're questioning how much did he influence the news?


TAPPER: And one could make the argument Bashar al-Assad impacted the world more, not for good, but impacted the world more. You have to go to 1979 to find "TIME" magazine giving this honor, which as Joe rightly points out, it's supposed to go to the person who shapes the world the most --

STELTER: And whoever you name --


TAPPER: And that's Ayatollah Khomeini.

STELTER: It puts a spotlight on that, and they could have used the spotlight and put it on Assad to remind the world which doesn't seem to remember Syria every day what's going on there.

CONCHA: And to that point, Brian, in 2001, Osama bin Laden was clearly the choice for "TIME" magazine's Person of the Year. Obviously, that's a very unfortunate choice and one that "TIME" magazine would have experienced severe backlash. They went with Rudy Giuliani instead.

So, sometimes, you can't give it to the controversial guy, because in 1979, when they gave it to Ayatollah Khomeini, boy, that was a problem because they experienced negativity there. So, they shied away from that. So, sometimes not the best guy in the class necessarily is going to win the award. Sometimes, it's the guy who makes the most news, good or bad.

TAPPER: So, let's leave it there. Father Beck, Brian Stelter, Joe Concha, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Still to come, world leaders gone wild or is there another angle to this story?

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Finally from us tonight, it has been said that a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes -- and that was said before the Internet, believe it or not, which brings us to the subject of the selfie seen around the world.

President Obama and two other world leaders teamed up for a photo at the Nelson Mandela memorial yesterday. Critics complained it was an inappropriate move at a memorial ceremony. That's up to you, I suppose.

What caught our notice was a gossipy fan fiction some in the media concocted from photographs taken around that time. The meme based on some, let's be kind vivid imaginations, suggested that the president got a little too friendly with the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, which much to the chagrin of first lady, responded with some glum looks on her face. Did the select photos show the whole story?

Well, earlier today, I asked the man that took the photos, Roberto Schmidt, just that.


ROBERTO SCHMIDT, AFP PHOTOJOURNALIST (via telephone): She was, you know, talking with Cameron and the Danish prime minister. They were together in a group and they were talking. Michelle Obama just minutes before this happened was having a long conversation with Cameron, not a long conversation, but they were talking with Cameron all in a group. So, yes, the fact that she's kind of looking serious in the picture, I think she was just, you know, wasn't involved with that moment.


TAPPER: He called the meme misleading, so not as controversial as some thought or not controversial at all, really.

Reminiscent of past compromising shots, remember this photo that seemed to show President Obama checking out a woman going up the stairs seemingly damming yet ultimately false.

When you watch the video, you see the president helping another woman down the steps. And then there is all of these other shots of President Obama taken from compromising angels, sometimes it appears he's the instigator or other times like he's trying to stay out of the way.

And it's not just President Obama of course, here is President Clinton enjoying Kelly Clarkson's performance at the inauguration.

And President Bush watching a volleyball game.

Hillary Clinton got up close and personal with Christina Aguilera.

And Mitt Romney, well, to be honest, I'm not exactly sure what is going on in this one.

But the fact is, some of these people are some of the most photographed people on the planet and as a result, sometimes they get caught in less than flattering lights, sometimes in lights that aren't real. A picture may tell a thousand words but sometimes a picture used improperly, well, it tells lies.

Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts right now.