Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Opens Up on Race, Marijuana; Marijuana Overdosing?; Dennis Rodman Checks into Alcohol Rehab; High Rate of Suicide Among Attorneys

Aired January 20, 2014 - 11:30   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama opened up on controversial issues like race and drugs in a candid interview with "The New Yorker" magazine. And some of his comments are resonating with people and others are raising eyebrows, usually the way, isn't it?

I'm joined again by Wolf Blitzer to help us break all of this down.

I want to read some of the quotes if I could, Wolf, just to start off this conversation. And let's read the quote that starts off dealing with race.

The president says, "There is no doubt that there are some folks who just really dislike me because they don't like the idea of a black president. Now the flip side of it is that there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I am a black president."

To some people, Wolf, this might seem like the intuitively obvious. To others it may seemed very controversial. But I just wondered politically where you think this will land in Washington and elsewhere?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: It seems pretty obvious to me. Some folks are understandably very proud that there's an African-American president of the United States. And they're anxious to give that president the benefit of the doubt even when they may disagree on some of the substantive issues.

And, you know, as much as our country has improved over these many generations, there is still a residue of racism out there that simply don't like him for -- in part because of some of the substantive policy issues he supports but also because he is African-American. That's simply a fact of life.

So I don't think it's all that controversial what he's saying. I think there's substantive proof to what he's saying. Now that doesn't mean that everybody who disagrees with the president is a racist. A lot of people disagree with the president and there are African- Americans who disagree with him on substantive issues.

They may not like Obamacare, they may not like his policies toward Iran or Afghanistan or whatever. But there is that element that residue there that the president speaks about. And he's pretty eloquent in this long article in the "New Yorker." And he makes that point. So I don't see all that much controversy there.

BANFIELD: Well, the definite talking point that follows that is the drug stuff. And the president was answering some questions about legalizing marijuana.

I want to read for you an excerpt as well and ask you about it.

"As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."

And while that might raise a lot of eyebrows, he went on to say, and I would counsel my daughters against this, against using it. But those are pretty strong words that semi reflect federal policy. And I only say that because we all know where the feds stand now on the states that are legalizing marijuana and where the fed stands on it still being classified along, you know, with heroin.

BLITZER: You know, this is going to generate, I assume, a lot of studies. Is pot use, marijuana use more or less dangerous than alcohol use? We know that if you abuse alcohol, it can cause all sorts of ugly, horrible, dangerous problems. If you abuse -- if you abuse marijuana, can that cause similar problems? And is marijuana what they call a gateway drug to heroin or cocaine or more serious kinds of drugs out there?

I think there's going to be a lot of discussion about what the president said in this "New Yorker" article, in this very, very long article, I must say, by David Remnick. He had extraordinary access to the president.

One thing the president does point out, he says that there's got to be fair legal part, because so many of those people who are sent to jail for marijuana use or selling marijuana or whatever, he says they're minorities, they're African-Americans, they're Hispanics, and that middle class white kids probably aren't going to get the same kind of jail sentence as some of the minorities.

That's a subject that's worthy of discussion as well. And the president is pretty firm on that. And he also says it's sort of hypocritical that those who send these young people to jail for marijuana use probably themselves broke the law and used marijuana when they were younger.

And so he's raising some significant issues if you read the whole article, as I say, is very, very long. I think what the president has done, and I think it's a good idea that he's done it, it's going to generate a discussion. Sensitive issues like race, sensitive issues like marijuana, and if you read the whole article, a bunch of other stuff he throws out there that's going to generate some good commotion. I think it's worthwhile -- it's worthwhile what the president did.

BANFIELD: And he's not the first president to admit to smoking pot. So the headline may get less exciting as time wears on. Wolf Blitzer, thank you. Good to see you as always.

BLITZER: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Wolf will be back at 1:00 Eastern. Make sure you join him on that program.

The president raised some eyebrows with those comments certainly about marijuana not being any more dangerous than alcohol. And it really begs some comments from our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, who is an expert in this area.

How based in fact is that? Because you can get different answers from different people depending on who they are and where they fall in the spectrum? Just how dangerous is marijuana medically speaking?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's interesting because the president compared it to the effects of alcohol. And we want to just sort of break it down into various kind of sub categories. And for that I turn to my friend and colleague, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who's done such amazing work on medical marijuana.

So I took some of the data from his documentary, "WEED." So let's break it down to the facts and what we know from the research. So first of all, let's look at how likely is it that you're going to overdose from marijuana.

So what Sanjay talks about in his special is he says there are virtually no reports of fatal marijuana overdoses. But when you look at alcohol, certainly, there have been times where people have gone on huge drinking binges and, indeed, have died.

Now let's take a look at how addictive marijuana is. And that's something that people talk a lot about. So when you look at marijuana, 9 percent of marijuana users, will become dependent, but 15 percent of alcohol users will become dependent.

Now let's look at the effect that marijuana has on young brains because, you know, we're seeing so many young people smoking marijuana. So what -- what preliminary research shows is that early onset smokers are slower at tasks, they have lower I.Q.s later in life and they have a higher risk of strokes and increased incidents of psychotic disorders.

Now -- that's marijuana. And when you look at alcohol, you know, you also see that there are some real concerns about the effect that alcohol has on the young brain, there -- you know, preliminary research there shows that it has some bad effects. So, you know, it's hard to say sort of overall is pot worse than alcohol. You really have to divide it up into different areas of concern.

BANFIELD: All right. Elizabeth, thank you for that. Do appreciate it.

COHEN: Thank you. BANFIELD: And since we're talking about substances and being addicted to substances, I have to bring up Dennis Rodman because he's now in rehab this morning saying that he did himself and his family a disservice after this.


DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA STAR: I was just saying, no, I don't give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I don't give a rat's ass what the hell you think. I'm saying to you, look at these guys here, look at them.


BANFIELD: You'll probably remember that exclusive interview with our Chris Cuomo. It was like a train wreck. Now Rodman's agent is saying that Dennis was drunk. He was drunk in North Korea and that his drinking escalated to a level no one has seen before. So now he says his client is in rehab.

Coming up next, we're going to talk with one man who has treated Dennis Rodman before and can talk a little bit about what you're seeing, what was said and whether rehab will make a difference.


BANFIELD: So we led our newscast with the story about Chris Christie's lieutenant governor and the claims that that lieutenant governor had actually strong armed a mayor of Hoboken into approving a development project in order to get some relief money after Superstorm Sandy.

Well, now the war of words is flying. And we can now tell you that we've got a statement that's just -- just come into our office from the Hoboken mayor, Dawn Zimmer, who is making these claims against the lieutenant governor. She's responding to the lieutenant governor going on television at an MLK event and making a very strong statement about her.

And here it is. I'm going to read it verbatim. "I am genuinely disappointed that Lieutenant Governor Guadagno has lived up to her promise that she would deny linking Hoboken's application for Sandy Hazard Mitigation Funding with expediting a private development project." This coming from Mayor Dawn Zimmer.

She went on to say, "I met with the U.S. attorney for over two hours yesterday, answered all of their questions, and turned over my journal in which I describe my conversation with the lieutenant governor and commissioner constable. I stand by my word, remain willing to testify under oath and I will continue to answer any questions asked of me by the U.S. attorney's office."

So I guess you could say this conversation continues.

A couple of other things we want to bring to your attention. We've got some new videotape of the American citizen named Kenneth Bae. It came to our offices today from North Korea. He's been imprisoned in that country for the past 15 months, sentenced to years of hard labor there for what's being quoted as hostile acts against North Korea.

Have a listen.


KENNETH BAE, AMERICAN IMPRISONED IN NORTH KOREA (Through Translator): I want to be pardoned by the North as soon as possible and returned to my beloved family. For that, I ask the U.S. government, press, and my family to make more active efforts and pay more attention.


BANFIELD: There were a lot of people who thought ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman should have used his influence with North Korea's leader to try to help get Kenneth Bae released during his most recent visit there in the last couple of weeks. But when CNN's Chris Cuomo asked Dennis Rodman about Kenneth Bae, the former NBA star became highly agitated.


RODMAN: I was just saying, no, I don't give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I don't give a rat's (EXPLETIVE DELETED) what the hell you think. I'm saying to you, look at these guys here, look at them.

If you understand what Kenneth Bae did.


RODMAN: Do you understand what he did in this country?

CUOMO: What did he do? You tell me? You tell me, what did he do?

RODMAN: No, no, no, you tell me. You tell me. Why is he held captive here in this country?

CUOMO: They haven't released any charges.


BANFIELD: So there was that. And Rodman later apologized to Kenneth Bae's family for those comments and Rodman's agent is now blaming alcohol -- alcohol and stress for that outburst and said that Rodman has gone into rehab for alcohol abuse.

Bob Forrest is a recovering addict and a specialist on treating addictions. And he joins us live from Los Angeles.

So I just want to get your reaction to this news breaking that almost upon setting foot back on American soil, his agent says he's in rehab. Did that make sense to you or did this sound like a cover?

BOB FORREST, CERTIFIED ADDICTION SPECIALIST: Absolutely. I saw the tirade and I thought he is in a blackout. He was in a blackout. It was very obvious to me. I have seen Dennis drink like that. And he didn't even know he was there until it's so great that he's landed in treatment and that he's landed in a treatment center that seems to be, you know, much more humble than coming out to Malibu or something like that.

I'm very happy for him.

BANFIELD: So -- listen, I just become curiouser and curiouser every time I hear somebody behave badly and then immediately check into rehab.


BANFIELD: And sometimes it's just for stupid things they say. So when is it that all of the sudden, you just don't get a ticket out of this by suggesting rehab is the answer?

FORREST: Well, the idea is that these events are called in the history of an alcoholic. You have the genetic predisposition, you have childhood trauma, you have exposure and then you have what you are witnesses, use of substances in the face of adverse consequences. And that's what gets you into treatment.

So, yes, the media, these faux pas and self-critic can be as simple as -- DUIs motivate people to go and get help and face the problems of their lives every day. And we find that socially acceptable. When Dennis goes on a binge in North Korea and makes a fool of himself and doesn't really respect the situation he has been put in, it's his alcoholism that's dictating it.

And he needs treatment. He needs to stop drinking. There's no doubt in my mind. He's known it for years. He can't stop. He hasn't had consequence enough to motivate him to stop.

BANFIELD: So I guess I still don't really know if I believe that this is about the drinking, because I've watched Dennis Rodman over the last 20 years and he always sounds like that. It didn't sound like he was drunk. He just sounded like he was Dennis Rodman.

So how am I to believe that this is really about alcohol and not about saving Dennis Rodman, whatever image he might have left?

FORREST: Well, that's the thing. He has become a character of himself by just being drunk all the time. I mean, there's very few days, I think, that Dennis hasn't had a few drinks. He is an alcoholic, an admitted alcoholic who's been on his own since he was 11 years old.

I'm not making excuses for his behavior. I'm just saying there are markers that are leading him either to death or sobriety. And I witnessed it on CNN.

BANFIELD: Yes. Well, you know, if, in fact, it's true, and this really is what led to his abhorrent, you know, behavior in North Korea, then I wish the best for him. But if this is just a cover, it's shameful and it really besmirches those who really need rehab and deserve rehab and deserve a second chance after going through rehab.

Bob, good to see you. Thanks for your insight. Appreciate it.

FORREST: Thank you very much. Thanks a lot.

BANFIELD: Take care.

So of the professions with the highest suicide rate. Who do you think is near the top of the list?

I have a revealing report to share with you next. And it is probably not who you think.


BANFIELD: Amidst news of death penalties on the decline and the murder rate dropping in cities like Chicago, it actually might be surprising to hear that there's one death rate that's going up. Lawyers. Lawyers are killing themselves at alarming rates across the country. The same smart, driven, and successful people who litigate life and death issues in America's courtrooms every day.

As Rosa Flores reports, CNN has uncovered some unnerving statistics showing that profession has a mysterious dark side.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The string of obituaries seemed endless. One after the other. About 15 in all successful Kentucky lawyers all found dead.

JOHN MYERS, DIRECTOR, KENTUCKY BAR ASSOCIATION: To a large degree, it's been trial attorneys. The men are primarily middle-aged.

FLORES: But the biggest shock was yet to come. They're all suspected of taking their own lives. Harry Rankin, by hanging. Jim Didwoody, a single gunshot wound. As for Dan Schwartz?

(On camera): How did he kill himself?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shot himself upstairs here.

FLORES (voice-over): We discovered similar patterns in Montana, Florida, North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Ohio and Oklahoma, which in 2004 and 2005 saw one lawyer suicide every month.

The terrible outcome of high rates of depression, which this lawyer's colleague battled before killing himself.

ERIC DETERS, OHIO LAWYER: The biggest factor in the profession and why there is a problem in this country, and it is called stress.

FLORES: The Centers for Disease Control calculated available suicide data. Among all professions for CNN, lawyers were in the top five. Lawyers also suffer from depression, the root cause of suicide, at a rate 3.6 times higher than non-lawyers.

YVETTE HOURIDN, KENTUCKY LAWYER ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: You know, you're dealing with a judge, opposing counsel, witnesses who may or may not say what you thought they were going to say. A jury you're trying to persuade. It is all very high drama all the time.

FLORES: Some of these attorneys are highly functional until the very end. Tabitha Hocksheid's legal partner Ken Jameson generated $600,000 of billable hours his last year.

TABATHA HOCKSHEID, KEN JAMESON'S LEGAL PARTNER: His wife gave his eulogy and she talked about how proud he was of his children, and his best friends got up and talked how -- what a wonderful man he was. And then you think, why would this person take their own life?

FLORES: Two more lawyers in her office building also killed themselves. Hocksheid formed a mental illness assistance group in Jameson's name for when the stresses of a profession surrounded by conflict is just too much.


BANFIELD: And Rosa Flores joins me live now to talk a little bit more about this.

What are they doing about this within the legal community, now that they've identified we've got a problem?

FLORES: Yes, well, the bar associations are jumping in and they're saying, OK, here's the deal. We're going to have to do something about it. Some of them are changing their legal continuing education requirements, and they're adding a mental health component. So not only lawyers can identify the symptoms within themselves, but within the community. So they can say something.

And it appears to be working, Ashleigh, because all of the states that we've talked to that have either had a hotline or a counseling session or an awareness session, those numbers are declining. And we can report that in Kentucky, in the past nine months, they have not seen a suicide.

BANFIELD: Wow. And what about this notion that it's trial lawyers? There's all sorts of kinds of law out there, and certainly appellate lawyers deal with some of the most serious ramifications, but it's the trial lawyers who are really the highest proportion of those who are dead.

FLORES: You're absolutely right. And what we've learned is that it's not only stress, but conflict. And the best anecdote out there that we've seen is the comparison of physicians, because they have a lot of stress and attorneys. And they say, OK, a surgeon in the surgical suite, trying to save somebody's life, does not have another surgeon trying to kill the patient, and that is what they say the trial attorneys see in the courtroom.

BANFIELD: It's really interesting. I'm just -- sort of bizarre --


FLORES: Fascinating.


FLORES: It really is. It really is.

BANFIELD: Sort of came out of the blue and was pretty astounding, especially that they're fourth. The other one that shocked me was that pharmacists were number two.

FLORES: Yes. Yes.

BANFIELD: That is really shocking.

FLORES: Yes. Followed by physicians.

BANFIELD: Physicians and lawyers.

FLORES: Yes, amazing.

BANFIELD: All right. Rosa, thank you for that. Appreciate it.

A mother facing murder charges this morning for what police say was an attempt to perform an exorcism on toddlers. Incredible grief and sadness as detectives try to piece together this bizarre and stressing case.

The details next.


A heartbreaking scene outside of a home in Germantown, Maryland, take a look.

I could have saved her!

BANFIELD: A heartbreaking scene outside of a home in Germantown, Maryland. Take a look.

Two women are being held without bond for allegedly stabbing two small children to death. One child just a year old and the other just 2. There were two other children ages 5 and 8 who were wounded. One of those women arrested was the children's mother, and she's been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. Strangest part is that police say it appears the women were trying to perform an exorcism.

Want to switch gears to something completely different. And that is football. Because it was big for a lot of people this weekend. Denver and Seattle fans may be recovering from what you call the football hangover this morning. Broncos and the Seahawks secured their trips to Super Bowl XLVIII last night being billed as a super match-up.

The Broncos' number-one rated offense is going to face off against Seattle's number-one-ranked defense. And a key member of the Seattle defense went on the offense after a huge play against San Francisco's Michael Crabtree. And Richard Sherman looks like a pretty nice guy here. Nice enough, right, in the post-game news conference? But check him out just a few minutes earlier with Erin Andrews. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD SHERMAN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS CORNERBACK: Well, I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get. Don't you ever talk about me.

ERIN ANDREWS, REPORTER: Who was talking about you?

SHERMAN: Crabtree. Don't you open up your mouth about the best, or I'm going to shut it for you really quick. LOB.


BANFIELD: Well, OK then. So poor Erin Andrews, Sherman had to say he was sorry if Erin Andrews thought that he was actually yelling at her. But the look on her face suggested she agrees with (INAUDIBLE) about the whole thing. Hey, Erin, good job.

Thanks for watching, everyone. Nice to have you. AROUND THE WORLD start right now.