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Snake-Handling Pastor Killed by Snake; ADHD Drugs Don't Work Long-Term; Eisenhower Tree Removed After Ice Damage; Kerry's Harsh Words for Syria, Russia; Ellen Page, Gay, But Brave?

Aired February 17, 2014 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Just past the bottom of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

And I want to tell you about a man he thought God would save him from the poison of a lethal rattlesnake.

But, instead, this Kentucky preacher, star of "Snake Salvation" on National Geographic Television died just an hour after refusing medical treatment.

Pastor Jamie Coots was handling the snake when it bit him on the hand.

Let me play some sound. This was his son as he tried to revive his father.


CODY COOTS, PASTOR'S SON: I kept smacking him the face. I was like, Dad, come on. Talk to me. Get responsive.

And after he passed out in the bathroom, he never did say nothing else. That was -- his last words was -- he said, "Sweet Jesus," and that was it.


BALDWIN: The pastor died Saturday evening about two hours after being bit.

Let's talk about this practice of snakes in church, bringing in our Belief Blog co-editor, Daniel Burke, in Washington, and in Los Angeles Gabriel Wrye directed this documentary entitled "Heaven Come Down," which examines religious snake-handlers among other things that folks do at these churches.

So, Gabriel, let me play this clip first before we kickoff this bigger conversation from the documentary. Take a look.




BALDWIN: So, this is a piece of the documentary, and, Gabriel, I'm going to come to you in a minute.

But, Daniel, first to you, can you just explain to all of us, the use of snakes, this is how literally some folks translate The Gospel of Mark, correct?

DANIEL BURKE, CNN BELIEF BLOG CO-EDITOR: That's exactly right. The Gospel of Mark is a really important passage for snake handlers, and there's two key lines.

One is that "these signs shall follow those that believe me. They shall take up serpents."

And so people like Pastor Coots really take that as a divine commandment. They really don't have a choice in it. Disobeying that would be tantamount to disobeying God.

BALDWIN: Now, I know that this pastor, from what I read, was missing half a finger. He has been bitten I don't know how many times.

This is generational. His father did this. He was hoping to pass along this church to his son.

But, Gabriel, tell me about what you and your documentary crews saw in these sorts of snake handling and I know fire is involved and drinking strychnine.

What did you see at these churches?

GABRIEL WRYE, DIRECTOR, "HEAVEN COME DOWN": A lot of the services are incredibly passionate. They're -- they last a long time.

There is -- music is a huge component. They play these long jams of rock-a-billy gospel music for -- that can go on for hours.

And the serpent-handling part of it is an organic part of that ecstatic experience. And it sort of comes up naturally in the --

BALDWIN: Sermons, processes, yes.

WRYE: -- procedure. Yeah, in the sermon.

BALDWIN: Did you ever see anyone bit?

WRYE: Yeah. Several people. And one person went -- got medical attention and two people we saw didn't get medical attention.

One pastor who actually died last year was bitten, and we went back to his -- to a home near the church. And people gathered around him, and it was really intense, for hours after the bite.

And after about -- maybe about four or five hours he actually got up, and there was -- some people had brought in a couple of Stratocasters and an amp, and they were playing "I Saw the Light." And everybody was singing in this tiny house that was sort of perched on this edge of the holler. And the thing was literally shaking with all the people inside.

And his brother reached down into a box and gave him a handful of the serpents that actually bit him in the service, not like five hours before, and he began to handle in this little home.

And it was -- you know, it was pretty intense.

BALDWIN: It sounds incredibly intense. And I am trying to wrap my head around why one would want to do this.

And, Daniel, isn't part of it the notion, Listen, I'm going to handle the snakes and, yes, they are venomous, and, yes, they could take my life, but if they take my life, it is God's will for them to do so?

Is that the notion behind all of this, Daniel?

BURKE: That's exactly right. Yes. Because it is a divine commandment as they see it in the Bible, whatever happens as a consequence of that commandment is God's will, essentially.

And so people like Pastor Coots will not seek medical treatment. Even though there were ambulances, there were medical people at his house on Saturday night, he and his family had already decided, and he talked about this a lot.

In fact, in the show, he talked about this, as well. He is just not going to do it. He puts his life in God's hands, very literally in that case.

BALDWIN: And final question, Gabriel, to you. This is against the law. You are not supposed to do this in churches.

But from everything I've read, police sort of look the other way and they don't want to interrupt Sunday church service?

WRYE: It's a freedom of religious expression issues kind of get involved in it, so it's something that I think they -- the fact is that the number of deaths in this community is -- for the number of people who actually do, it is incredibly small.

It's been going on for over a hundred years, and the number of deaths, you can count on your fingers.

And it's not -- it's very dangerous, but you would be surprised at how infrequently people are bit, much more than how frequently they're bit.

And, so, I think that there's -- in these communities that a lot of the communities are so tight-knit that the law enforcement and religious communities are so inner-meshed that they kind of give them a little bit of a breath -

BALDWIN: Break, yeah, that's what it sounds like. WRYE: -- because for the most part, they keep to themselves and they don't bother people, and they're just expressing their own faith.

BALDWIN: Thank you, Gabriel Wrye, again, your documentary "Heaven Come Down, and Daniel Burke with our Belief Blog. Gentlemen, thank you very much for that.

Coming up, do drugs used to combat attention deficit disorders really work long-term? A new report says that for most drugs the answer is no. Stay with me.


BALDWIN: Sitting here talking to Elizabeth Cohen, this is fascinating.

Some startling research coming out about ADHD, this new review of medical evidence suggests the drugs used to treat it do not work long- term.

Here she is, Elizabeth Cohen, our senior medical correspondent here. And, so, first up, obviously, people who have ADHD, they take it, they want better grades, they need to focus.

Why is it not working long-term?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting. This review said that it seemed to work short-term. People took it and their grades went up and they could focus more.

But then when they went back, long-term, it didn't seem to be keeping those grades up as much.

And they're not sure why, but it might have to do with just people's bodies got used to it, or I guess I should say their brains got used to it, and maybe the dosage was not going up as much as it should have been, especially in growing children.

So they really don't know why, but it is this interesting finding. People think, I will put my kid on these like smart pills and they'll be getting better grades.

Well, maybe not long-term.

BALDWIN: So then the issue, and this is what we were going back and forth during the break, is a lot of these kids are taking these drug who do not have ADHD to I guess be able to focus, et cetera, et cetera, who are abusing them.

Is that really helping them?

COHEN: It might be helping them in the short-term. They certainly say that it is, but this review basically makes you think, Is it helping them in the long run?

I spoke to this college student named Jared, and he was so open about taking it. He didn't have ADHD, but his friend did, and so he paid a couple of bucks for a pill.

And here he is taking it, and he was not embarrassed or scared to be doing it in front of the cameras even though, technically, what he was doing was illegal.

And he felt that it made him an A- or a B-student. He went from being a C-student to an A- or B-student.

But it's interesting. He was sort of at the beginning of his experience, and it's unclear whether that would continue for much longer.

BALDWIN: What about side effects of doing it for a while when you don't need it?

COHEN: He said there were none. He said it was all good. It helped him focus. He could stay up longer.

He said, before, he'd be studying and he'd be, Oh, let me check my Facebook status, let me do this, let me do that, and this would make him focus.

And the trick is that we don't really know 100 percent about the long- term effects.

So he is doing this as a college senior. What about when he gets his job? Is he going to keep doing it when he works? And then the next job and the job?

Are these kids going to stay on this forever? What does that do their brain? We'll don't really know.

BALDWIN: We'll follow it, because like you were saying, it's more the exception than the norm that all these kids are taking these drugs.

COHEN: When I talk to college kids, they say it has become almost the norm to be taking this drugs. It's like drinking coffee.

BALDWIN: Let's follow them and see what happens. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much.

Coming up here, the historic tree at the Augusta National Golf Course, severely damaged after that intense ice storm slammed the South last week, the tree has been removed.

And, with the Master's Golf Tournament just about a month away, major change coming to the course. That's next.


BALDWIN: We are 10 minutes away from Jake Tapper and "THE LEAD."

And, so, Jake, let me just bring you in. We played a piece from Ben Wedeman in Syria. I know you're really drilling down on Syria today. What do you have? JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE LEAD": Well, there's been a lot of frustration voiced by Secretary of State John Kerry when it comes to what is going on exactly when it comes to the peace talks.

He's basically accused Assad of stonewalling, of basically just trying to delay these conversations about a transfer of power in the peace process and trying to win this fight on the battlefield as opposed to win the peace process.

And he used the word "enabling" to describe what the Russians are doing when it comes to Syria.

That's pretty strong language to use to talk about Russia, to say that they are enabling what Assad is doing, Brooke.

BALDWIN: They are good friends. They go back a long time. We'll look for you and we'll hear more from what Secretary of State Kerry is saying, coming up at the top of the hour. Thank you, sir.

TAPPER: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: The late Dwight D. Eisenhower finally got his wish. The Eisenhower Tree at Augusta National Gold Club is gone, a victim of last week's ice storm.

The loblolly pine lost so many limbs, they cut it down over the weekend.

The tree also got its name after Eisenhower proposed it to be removed because of his penchant for hitting wayward shots that boinked off the limbs.

And in the wake of actress Ellen Page revealing that she is gay, is the era of coming out over?

My next guest says that Ellen Page's announcement is wonderful, but questions whether or not in this day and age it's brave.

We'll discuss, next.


BALDWIN: In case you hadn't heard, actress Ellen Page says she's had enough. The Canadian star of the movie, "Juno," acknowledging in a very public way that she is gay.


ELLEN PAGE, ACTRESS: And I am here today because I am gay. And because -


PAGE: -- and because maybe I can make a difference to help others have an easier and more hopeful time regardless for me I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Ellen Page, you heard the cheers. What you didn't see was the standing ovation that she got at this conference in Las Vegas on issues affecting the gay community.

So, let's discuss this, Brandon Ambrosino, "Time" ideas contributor, and, Brandon, welcome. Nice to have you on.


BALDWIN: So let me just read part of what you have written here. This is your question.

"In spite of the many wonderful reasons to celebrate Page, I still can't help wondering this.

"Was it brave of Page to announce to a room full of LGBT youth at a room full of human rights campaign that she, a popular, well-to-do Hollywood, 20-something was gay?"

So, Brandon, what did you decide, brave or not?

AMBROSINO: I think with the word "brave," I basically in the piece say there's no way of knowing what is going on with Ellen personally so I can't really speak for her.

But I think when we use the word "brave," we're talking more about the society that is receiving the news than the celebrity.

So what I do know is this. The world is changing and every day we are inching closer to society and, yes, so maybe in her life is did require bravery.

When we use the word "brave" of every person who comes out, we don't really admit and acknowledge the progress that our community is making every day.

I wonder if there might be new language to describe it.

BALDWIN: Progress in the community in our society and, of course, you mentioned Michael Sam, the football player who may be the first out football player.

Celebrating him versus celebrating Ellen Page's announcement, is one a bigger deal than the other, do you think?

AMBROSINO: Yes. I think, objectively looking at it, I think it would be easy for us to say it would be objectively easier to come out in the arena of Hollywood than to come out in the arena of the NFL.

But, again, we just don't know the personal aspects going on. I mean, every person's closet is different.

But I think a lot of us would say what you said is fair to suggest, that it might be quantitatively harder to come out in the NFL than in Hollywood. Hollywood seems very forward-thinking to me.

BALDWIN: So, then, let's just say, bigger picture, because I feel like society has evolved.

I think that was even the word that the president used when he was talking about his personal views on same-sex marriage.

We have now seen what the Supreme Court has said on all of this.

At what point do you think that we as a society will hear about someone, whether they're potentially an NFL player, or an Ellen Page, and say, Oh, they are gay? No bigs.

AMBROSINO: Yeah. I mean, I'm not sure what the answer to that is.

I think different pockets of society, it's different for. And I do think when we're talking about celebrities, you know, I mean, as journalists, we need something to write about, so we're going to discuss that.

But I think that we all know people, and they come out to us, and we say, oh, no bigs. Let's go out to dinner. Next topic.

So, I think we are doing what you're talking about in a personal level. It's just I wonder if the media maybe blows it up a little bit.

BALDWIN: I'm glad we tried to inject a little perspective in this conversation.

Brandon Ambrosino, thank you very much, ideas contributor, "Time" magazine.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. I'm out of time.

Turning things over to Jake Tapper, "THE LEAD" starts right now.