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1.2 Million Air Travelers Grounded By Storm; Cable Merger Would Affect 30 Million Customers; Olympic Skier: No Regrets For Topless Pics

Aired February 13, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Speaking of elements, you guys, get out of the elements. Susan Page, Ryan Lizza, thank you so much.

Anyway, coming up on THE LEAD, thousands of flights canceled and it's not just in the area being hit by the snow. We'll have a look at the impact on travel for the upcoming holiday weekend next.

Plus, one Olympian is forced to defend herself after topless footage of her surfaced online. What she is telling us about that decision and the reaction to it ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm standing on a rooftop overlooking our nation's capital in the midst of the biggest storms of the season. It's windy, it's wet. What started as sleet seems to have turned into hail. Basically I'm living the dream. This same system that turned Atlanta into a ghost town and Raleigh, North Carolina's interstates into a parking lot is now blanketing parts in the northeast in more than a foot of snow.

In Connecticut it started coming down at a rate of 3 to 6 inches an hour with wind gusts topping 35 miles per hour on the coastline. Hundreds of thousands of families are dealing with storm-related power outages, making it almost as miserable inside for them as it is outside.

And for those of you stuck in the middle of the mess, having a want to get away moment, the odds that you're going to go anywhere, well, they are going nowhere fast. More than 6,000 flights were canceled today. With the storm system crippling major airports up and down the east coast.

Let's go live to CNN's Rene Marsh. She is at Reagan National Airport where runways have been shut down all day. Rene, any idea when Reagan is going to get up and running again?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Short answer, Jake, no. No clue. They hoped to get it up and running at around noon, but we all know it's well past noon. So here is the situation, you have a lot of planes that are parked at the gate. They simply cannot go anywhere. This is the other side of the airport here where there's no flight activity. But there is some activity here and it's a lot of plowing. Take a live look. This is why the runways have not been able to reopen. They need to clear away the snow from the terminals. The runways look pretty good right now, but then you also have to be concerned about the taxiways because once the plane lands, you have to be able to get the plane right to the gate.

So all of those areas have to be cleared off and that's why we haven't seen the runways reopen here at Reagan National because they are focusing, again, on the taxi ways as well as the area right around the terminal so that when things are up and running, those planes are able to move.

We were just inside of the airport. We saw a long line of people looking to rebook themselves. One lady said her flight says on time at 5:30, an indication that perhaps soon things may change for the better -- Jake.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much. Stay warm. Even if you live as far away as California, this winter storm here on the east coast may have found a way to ruin your weekend. Mark Murphy is a travel expert and the founder of

Mark, this is a holiday weekend where airports were already expected to be busier than usual. How many people nationwide are being impacted by these flight cancellations?

MARK MURPHY, TRAVEL EXPERT: Right now it's 1.2 million and climbing. That number is going to go up because more flights are going to get canceled because we have a second wave coming through here. Right here in Philadelphia it's right behind me. So stay tuned. There will be more cancellations.

TAPPER: And how long do we expect this storm system to have an impact on your travel?

MURPHY: Well, if you were scheduled to get out of Philadelphia, let's say today, you probably can't get rebooked until Sunday or Monday. So bye-bye holiday weekend, you're not getting anywhere and then you'll be back at work on Tuesday and that little bit of a vacation is going to be a thing of the past. It never happened.

TAPPER: And even though it's just the east coast airports getting shut down, this will affect travel plans for people all over the country. Explain why.

MURPHY: Yes, so take U.S. air. U.S. Air has a Charlotte hub, has a Philadelphia hub, both hubs are majorly impacted. A lot of flight crews and planes originate out of those hubs and may be going to Phoenix, for instance. So if you have a flight crew that was originating out of the east coast or a plane that's originating out of the east coast or connecting through any of those hubs, it could impact a flight as far away as Phoenix.

There are delays on flights out of Austin because of flights originating out of Atlanta-Hartsfield, and going into Atlanta- Hartsfield. So you just never know. So you really want to figure out where that flight is coming from and if your flight is going to be on time.

TAPPER: Because we've seen so many major storms this winter, I'm wondering if you're noticing an uptick in travel to warm weather locations this winter. Is it -- are you seeing that and is it more expensive to fly south because of that if it's happening?

MURPHY: Well, number one, the search traffic for warm weather beach destinations is up two to three times. Search traffic. Travel agents are reporting an increase of some cases 35 to 40 percent in demand for warm weather destinations right now so the demand is up. The challenge you have, how do you get there?

And with the limitation in air competition, fares are up already and you throw this in and you have fewer seats, guess what, it's tougher and tougher. Prices are going up and seats are scarce. That's why people are taking three and four days to get rebooked. It's something you have to think about when you're planning ahead to get away.

TAPPER: Mark Murphy, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

When we come back, the two biggest cable companies in the country want to merge. What does that going to mean for your cable bill? I'll talk to Senator Al Franken, a Democrat of Minnesota who thinks it could be a raw deal for customers.

Plus, want to warm up? How about a one-way ticket to the Winter Olympics? The creative way that athletes are dealing with the balmy weather in Sochi, ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We are here with Senator Al Franken. He is here to talk about our "Money Lead." How much you pay to watch video whether in front of the TV or hunched over your iPad might be about to change. This morning, Comcast, the biggest cable company in the country announced plans to buy out Time Warner Cable, which is the second largest.

The $45 billion deal would give Comcast access to 12 million more subscribers so where does that leave you? Comcast says it will lead to better service and technology, but this morning, Senator Al Franken sent a letter to the Justice Department and other government officials saying the deal will hurt consumers.

Quote, "A handful of cable providers dominate the market leaving consumers with little choice, but to pay high bills for often unsatisfactory service. I am concerned that Comcast's proposed acquisition of Time Warner would only make things worse for consumers."

Before we go on, I just want you to know, Time Warner Cable will spun off from Time Warner, CNN's parent company in 2009. So there is no need to divulge any sort of connection, but I wanted people to know that.

SENATOR AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: There is no need to divulge.

TAPPER: So Senator Franken joins me now. So Comcast defends this merger.


TAPPER: They say that the two companies share no customers with the same zip code, but you argue the merger will mean that prices go up?

FRANKEN: Here's the biggest cable provider in the country and the second biggest cable provider in the country and they don't compete anywhere?

TAPPER: Right.

FRANKEN: There's not enough competition. We need more competition, not less. This is going exactly in the wrong direction and consumers are -- I am very concerned are going to pay higher bills, they are going to get even worse service and less choice.

TAPPER: You live in Minnesota. You have Comcast?

FRANKEN: We get Comcast.

TAPPER: Are you allowed to -- are you comfortable telling me how your service is?

FRANKEN: Only if you tell me, how your Comcast service was?

TAPPER: I had Comcast and --

FRANKEN: Did you get rid of it?

TAPPER: We don't have Comcast anymore. I didn't find the service satisfactory. What about you?

FRANKEN: No comment.

TAPPER: We had a quid pro quo here.

FRANKEN: It's your interview.

TAPPER: The other concern, of course, is the internet because a lot more people are getting their entertainment from the internet, from YouTube, from other certain, Netflix. In terms of internet service, Comcast says the merchant will give 30 percent of the market's internet subscriber, not the majority.

FRANKEN: Thirty percent is a huge part of the market.

TAPPER: But not a majority. Not a monopoly, as they say.

FRANKEN: No. But it's too big. As I said, we need more competition, not less.

TAPPER: And how do you do that? How do you have more competition? What needs to be done?

FRANKEN: Well, we look at this. We don't allow the two biggest companies to merge. That's how you have more competition.

TAPPER: Do you think that there are a lot of senators that --

FRANKEN: We need to look at it, is what I'm saying. I haven't come down one way or the other, but I expressed my concern to regulators.

TAPPER: You think that -- philosophically you think that the two biggest should not be allowed to merge?

FRANKEN: Well, yes. There's this concentration meeting. I was against Comcast merging or acquiring NBC because now about three dozen other cable networks -- if you're a cable provider, you better have the Olympics. So if you're not Comcast, you've got to pay NBC Comcast or Comcast NBC for the rights to the Olympics and Comcast can charge whatever they want. They have to pay themselves the same thing by law, but they are taking out of their right pocket and putting it in their left pocket. So that's anti-competiveness, as far as I'm concerned.

TAPPER: Is there evidence, has there been studies that when these mergers happen, especially when it comes to, let's say, Comcast and NBC Universal, that that has definitely resulted in prices going up and customer service going down?

FRANKEN: One of the things we did because I was objecting so hard was to put conditions on this. So we haven't seen that necessarily yet. We can't prove that, but they haven't complied with a lot of the conditions that the FCC put on it. I gave you an example that will relate to you. CNN is a cable network news. It's what it is.


FRANKEN: There's a thing called neighborhooding. You know what that is, right? CNN and MSNBC and Fox News --

TAPPER: Put them all near each other?

FRANKEN: All near each other. Well, they were supposed to put Bloomberg in the same neighborhood, but because Bloomberg competes with CNBC, which is a financial news network, Comcast didn't comply with that and they finally had to be ordered to do that, but they fought it tooth and nail look --

TAPPER: Al Jazeera America has had a lot of problems getting on the networks.

FRANKEN: Well, that is a very -- competition is what we need and this is not -- this is going to, I'm afraid, result in higher costs of -- the consumer is going to pay for this. Neighborhood Bloomberg, as they were supposed to do, if they don't comply with the conditions put on in the last merger, which was very controversial, why would you say, OK, you didn't comply with those, but we'll have you do this? I think we seriously need to look at this and my concerns are what it means for a consumer is higher prices, worse service and worse choice.

TAPPER: As somebody who worked many media in your previous career, do you know a lot of these players?

FRANKEN: I do know a lot of these players, one of the reasons I was against Jeff Zucker who --

TAPPER: Wonderful guy.

FRANKEN: Head of CNN, he was for the NBC/Comcast thing because he was at NBC, but he knows and I -- we had a hearing in which I pointed to a decision was made about something called financial syndication that the network swore -- they wanted to get ownership of the shows they put on TV and I said, this is years before I was in the Senate. I said, that's going to hurt competition for independent producers and boy, did it and this is exactly the same kind of thing that is going to happen and it's going to be less choice, higher cost, poorer service.

TAPPER: I want to ask you one question about Obamacare as long as I have you. In Minnesota, lawmakers are concerned about the (inaudible) --

FRANKEN: I got my policy through that.

TAPPER: They are concerned not enough people have signed up on the paying end of it as opposed to those who get --

FRANKEN: Medicaid.

TAPPER: Medicaid. Are you concerned at all? I mean, it looks like the projections are not being made in Minnesota.

FRANKEN: Well, we are concerned the level it's improving. I think we saw it from the federal numbers today that we've an uptick that's what happened in Massachusetts. You know, I certainly don't want to go back to days where people could be turned down for having pre-existing conditions.


FRANKEN: Where more than half of the bankruptcies in this country were caused by someone having a serious illness. We have 90,000 people in Minnesota who have policies now under the ACA. So I think that we have to work to fix it rather than to go back to that old system.

TAPPER: Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

FRANKEN: Whose idea was this? TAPPER: Go get warm. We appreciate it.

Coming up next, one athlete making headlines at the Olympics for something she did years ago. How she's defending topless photos of herself. Stick around Senator Franken, you want to see this report after her own country turns against her.

FRANKEN: I don't want to see this.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm back in this warm studio because, quite frankly, it was lightning out there. Thunder snow, so I was told I have to come inside. In the "Sports Lead now," while we suffer through the winter weather in the U.S., it's so warm at the winter games. How warm is it? That's what you're supposed to say. It's so warm that the skiers are wearing tank tops.

American Olympic skier went sleeveless on the slopes as temperatures hit the 60s in Sochi, Russia. The Canadian women's hockey team was even spotted outside warming up in the sunshine, some of them in shorts. One Olympian is in trouble for taking off too many clothes, not in Sochi, but during a photo shoot that took place years ago, footage of which just conveniently surfaced online during the Olympics.

Behind the scenes, video of Lebanese skier, Jackie Chamoun was taken on the slopes of a famous Lebanon ski resort almost three years ago for an Austrian ski calendar. Now she's the subject, believe it or not, of an investigation by Lebanon's Olympic Committee in order to avoid, quote, "harming Lebanon's reputation," unquote.

Many of her fellow countrymen and women are baring all now on social media to show that they have her back and frankly, her front as well. Nick Paton Walsh is in Sochi. He has that report -- Nick.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Days ago, Lebanese Jackie Chamoun was just another skier and then these pictures shout three years ago for a skiing calendar when she was just 19 surfaced online with a more revealing video of the making of that calendar. Lebanon's conservatives erupted in outrage, the minister for sports even demanding an investigation. Chamoun was under the wrong spotlight, but in her first interview, she's defiant.

(on camera): Do you now wish you never went to the mountains for that photo shoot? You still would have done it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, I wish the making of it would go out, but I don't regret doing the calendar.

WALSH (voice-over): And to Lebanon's minister for sports who was offended, what does she say?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I cannot say anything about political leaders.

PATON (on camera): Why not? He said lots of things about you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He can say whatever he wants, but I don't like to criticize anyone, anyway.

WALSH (voice-over): Conservative outrage was fought with liberal outrage many asking why this brief nudity mattered at all in a country where bombs and sectarian violence infect lives daily. Hundreds of Lebanese women and men began posting pictures of themselves naked with the hashtag #stripforjackie in solidarity. Chamoun is grateful.

JACKIE SHAMOUN, LEBANESE OLMYPIC SKIER: I would tell them to be free and not to strip completely naked. I saw this movement and pages were created for me. Lebanese are just doing funny pictures. This is so amusing and funny that I think that it has to stop. It has to stop.

WALSH: What would she say to the conservatives who criticize her?

SHAMOUN: I'd like to apologize to them.

WALSH (on camera): Why would you apologize?

SHAMOUN: I don't think also I did anything wrong by doing the calendar. I don't want to affect them.

WALSH: Shouldn't they come to the modern time rather than you go back to the past?

SHAMOUN: Yes, I believe they should but it's going to take time.


WALSH: In many ways, I think a young woman only 22 there now exhausted by the attention of the past few days, bewildered by the focus she's received from conservatives in Lebanon and wanting to get on with the skiing -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh in Sochi, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.