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AMERICAN MORNING

WWL Radio New Orleans On Air During Katrina, Lifeline to Serve the Public; Now in the News, Widow of Soldier Killed in 'Fragging' Fights to See, Attend Hearings of Accused Soldier

Aired September 16, 2005 - 09:30   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Welcome back, everybody. Just about half-past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING.
Miles is just east of New Orleans this morning. He's in Chalmette, Louisiana. That's in St. Bernard Parish. That is where he joins us from this morning.

You know, in every single shot, Miles, that you have showed us is different. You're obviously moving around a lot. The destruction, there's nothing that looks good there, nothing.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: No, and that -- we've tried to find something that would give people some shred of hope. The reason we're looking is tomorrow is the first opportunity for many residents to go to their homes and see if they can recover anything. This is what they're going to see.

This is somebody's TV room right here. This is somebody's living room. This is where they shared family moments and joys and children and schools, all that your house entails. All that it means, all the things, too, gone in an instant.

And it's difficult to imagine the magnitude of that when you think about 68,000 people here, St. Bernard Parish, each of them with that scene awaiting them; 15 feet of water in some places, 20 feet of water, toxic water. This will have to be leveled.

In any case, finding out about things like that when you have an opportunity to come and see your house is a difficult thing in this part of the world, because of all the communications difficulties, lack of power, you name it, on and on it goes. Into that breach has stepped a radio station, which has done an admirable job broadcasting here on its tower normally and on the Internet, too, which offer as lot of assistance to people who have had to evacuate to outlying areas -- Houston -- we've been talking to people from Salt Lake City, who have evacuated there.

WWL has been on since the storm, through the storm, and to this day providing a tremendous public service. David Cohen is the news director.

David, you've been doing a great job. Quite frankly, you've been very helpful to us as we've been driving around listening to you. The public service you've done is wonderful. Before we talk about what you've been doing, I just want to get a little sense from you as to what your listeners have said to you this morning about the president's speech?

DAVID COHEN, NEWS DIRECTOR, WWL RADIO: Well, we're hearing really two or three distinctly different things. There are those people, and a lot of them, who are very enthusiastic and optimistic. They were looking for that kind of a boost, that kind of a, "yes, we will rebuild, yes it will be better and, yes, everything's on the same page now, the federal government, the state government, and the local government.

We heard it from our governor the night before. Last night we heard it from the president. And a good number of people are very excited about that.

But others I've talked to say, come on, is the government really going to do what it takes? Can they really afford -- can the federal government really stay here as long as it takes and pay as much as it's going to take to really rebuild this region? Some are doubting whether or not the commitment will be there long term, and after all of the cameras have gone, and after the story has faded somewhat from the national spot light.

And yet others, I talked to a man this morning, his house is still under eight feet of flood water. He said, "I don't want to hear about it now. I want to see what's happening with my house. I can't even think about the future yet."

M. O'BRIEN: Boy, interesting range. When you talk about St. Bernard Parish, we're talking perhaps a 20-year rebuild. So, you're right. To have sustained presence, money, funding, support is really something I think people -- I can understand why they would be skeptical of that given the government's track record in this particular storm.

Let's talk about how you managed to stay on the air. Where other stations have been unable to do so you have been a constant. How?

COHEN: Well, we had a contingency plan. We knew about the worst- case scenario. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, and out local emergency managers all told us what would happen if a Category 5 or Category 4 storm hit the New Orleans area.

So, even though our downtown studios, the windows were blown out, it was like gravel from other buildings in the central business district starting hitting the windows when the storm was coming in like bullets, piercing the windows and shattering them, and then wind came in and blew the windows out, while we were on the air in the studio while we were broadcasting.

We had a contingency plan. Myself, and some of the other broadcasters and some of the engineers had moved to a secure location on the west bank of the Mississippi River, right by our broadcast towers. So even if our studios were blown out, even if our antennas downtown, right at the Superdome couldn't get the signal to our antennas on the west bank, we knew we could broadcast from the west bank of Jefferson Parish. We were there and maintained our operation. We have six radio stations that are owned by Entercom (ph), who owns WWL. Throughout the storm, at all times, at least four of them were on the air. We had stations go up and down as generators failed or power failed or transmitters went underwater. The whole time we were able to keep at least four of those stations on the air keep the information going.

And, you now, caller after caller keeps calling and telling us we were a lifeline. I had a man from St. Bernard Parish, from Arabi (ph) call us on the air this morning. He said the last time he had seen his neighbors they were on the rooftop side by side with the water all the way up to the shingles. They rescued his neighbors with the jet ski and he hasn't seen them sense. He called this morning saying, where are they?

We have felt the responsibility, not because we wanted to do this, because we had to keep broadcasting to people. And we had to keep taking these calls from people who were standing in chest-deep water in their homes asking us as they're holding their two-month old baby, what should I do? What should I do? The water is coming up.

So, you know, we felt we had to stay on the air and our engineers were unbelievable in keeping us on the air.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Dave we are out of time. I've got to ask you before we get away, how long will you sustain this? There's no ad revenue. This is all public service. How long will this go on?

COHEN: Well, thank goodness our company, Entercom and Clear Channel Communications, have found some facilities and enough people and enough resources to keep us on the air. We have no plans of scaling back any time soon. We are making a little bit of money. There is some ad revenue coming in. It's not covering it but we have no choice but to continue this public service because the people need us now. So many of them still don't even have electricity; we're their only source of information.

M. O'BRIEN: David Cohen is with WWL Radio. And if you're watching this from outside New Orleans, you can hear them on the web and if you're interested in what's going on here right now, real-time information, and you're an evacuee, I invite you to do that. In addition, of course, staying tuned to CNN. Back now to New York and Carol.

COSTELLO: Thanks, Miles.

Good morning, everyone. "Now in the News": President Bush remembers Katrina victims at a National Day of Prayer. Less than two hours from now he'll attend a service at the National Cathedral in Washington. During a prime-time speech last night, from New Orleans, the president vowed to rebuild the city and the lives of those affected by the hurricane.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Oh, the price tag could be steep, though. The price tag for the president's rebuilding program expected to reach $200 billion, plus.

In Iraq, CNN confirming now at least 10 Iraqis have been killed in a suicide car bombing north of Baghdad. The blast coming this morning outside a Shiite mosque. More than 20 others are wounded. At least 12 others were killed in a series of other attacks today. A cleric and a mayor among the casualties. More than 200 people have been killed in a surge of violence in Iraq this week alone.

Chief Justice Nominee John Roberts is another step closer to confirmation. Thursday the Senate Judiciary panel wrapped up its public questioning of Roberts. Their set to vote on his nomination next week; supporters want Roberts to be on the bench when the Supreme Court reconvenes in October.

Oscar-winning actress Renee Zellwegger is untying the knot. The "Bridget Jones" star and country singer Kenny Chesney are calling it quits four months after their surprise wedding in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Reps for both celebrities confirm the split saying the marriage is being annulled. No details on the reason for the break up, but Zellwegger apparently checked off fraud on court documents. It was the first marriage for both.

And Ophelia now a tropical storm drenched parts of North Carolina, so let's check with Chad for more on when Ophelia will be out of here.

(WEATHER FORECAST)

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Chad, thanks.

Still to come this morning, we talk to the widow of an army lieutenant who was allegedly killed by one of his own soldiers. Find out why she is now fighting the military in order to have a chance to see the trial begin. We've got her story just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: U.S. Army is taking the first step toward convening a court-martial for a National Guard sergeant who is accused of murdering two officers. In a moment we'll talk to the widow of one of the victims, but first, some background on the case that stunned the military.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA PREBOSS, MARTINEZ FAMILY FRIEND: What could ever cause a young man to want to take the lives of two of his comrades? It's -- I hope it isn't so.

S. O'BRIEN (voice over): Staff Sergeant Alberto Martinez is charged with killing two of his commanding officers at a U.S. Army base in Iraq back in June. The victims, Captain Philip Esposito, the company commander and First Lieutenant Lewis Allen, an operations officer. All three served with the New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division.

BARBARA ALLEN, LT. ALLEN'S WIDOW: The man who did this to Lou, Phil and our families, he's a traitor and a coward. God may have mercy on him, but I hope that no one else will.

S. O'BRIEN: It was first thought the officers were victims of an enemy mortar attack, but Army investigators determined it's a fragging, the term is used for a soldier killing his superior. It's the second reported case of the alleged fragging during the Iraq war. And 37-year-old Martinez faces two counts of premeditated murder.

An Article 32 Hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, begins on Monday. At the same base in Tikrit where Captain Esposito and Lieutenant Allen were killed. If Sergeant Martinez is found guilty, he could face if death penalty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Barbara Allen is Lieutenant Lewis Allen's widow. It is nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us.

How are you holding up and managing? You have four small boys.

ALLEN: Depends on what day you ask me, how we're managing. Really. Anybody who has been through this, there are a lot of widows out there, a lot of families lost somebody in this war. So they'll know how I'm doing. As well as can be expected, I guess.

S. O'BRIEN: In addition to all of that, the Article 32 hearing begins, and you want to take part in it, completely understandably. You want to be there. It's essentially for people who don't know military speak. It's essential the grand jury hearing. What have they told you about this hearing?

ALLEN: I received quite a crash course in all the military world now. The article 32 is the equivalent to a grand jury hearing in the civilian world. This is just the prosecution will present the minimum amount of evidence needed to prove they have enough evidence to be held over for trial. And then it will be decided whether or not they need to go to trial or a trial is justified.

So this is the first step in the whole trial process. And to us, it's extremely important. We need to be a part of every step of this way.

S. O'BRIEN: Critical step really. ALLEN: Right.

S. O'BRIEN: And you can't go.

ALLEN: It's being held in Iraq on the same base my husband was killed. That pretty much excludes me from attending. I have to put the kids first. I would personally love to be there.

S. O'BRIEN: So why not set up closed circuit TV and you could be there pretty much without physically being there?

ALLEN: That's an excellent question. One that we have been asking for well over a month now. We -- we knew this was going to be held in Iraq. All the witnesses are over there. It makes sense, this part of the trial to be over there. So that part we weren't overly shocked at when we found that out.

Once we figured out it was going to be over there, we began requesting a live feed, they call it a VTC. And we went through all the proper channels. I have been through countless meetings. My CAO has been taking me to, and meeting this person and that person and sending letters.

S. O'BRIEN: What's the reason they give you that you can't have it?

ALLEN: They've actually stated that it would require too much broadband width.

S. O'BRIEN: I think I have that statement. Let me read it. It's a little complicated, "Our VTC" as you mentioned, "capabilities in Iraq are intended to support military operations. This usually requires that our VTCs be short in duration, as they consume a great deal of bandwidth that is otherwise required for military operational communication."

Sort of saying we can't let you hear the start of your husband's grand jury hearing because it could compromise our ability in other operations. Do you believe that?

ALLEN: I don't know what I believe and what I don't believe anymore. It's all very complicated. I would have to take their word for it. If they say they don't have the broadband width, I'm going to have to go with that because I have no way of personally verifying that. I choose not to believe that they're not intentionally deceiving me. Be that as it may, go low tech.

S. O'BRIEN: People can do these sort of technological things on their laptops now.

ALLEN: Right, right.

S. O'BRIEN: Maybe not high broadband quality but good enough.

ALLEN: Right. They've stated apparently it's some kind of regulations, rules regarding the court procedures why only certain types of broadcasting would be permitted. I say, we've been working on this. We knew this was an issue from the get-go. Find some way. There is a loophole provided in the very book that was quoted to me as a reason for not allowing it.

S. O'BRIEN: If the judge so decides.

ALLEN: If the judge so decides. He opted to provide us with the audio feed, which is one of the options given in the book. It's not acceptable to us. This audio feed is more than likely going to be interrupted on several occasions throughout this. Not to mention, this is the middle of the night proceeding for us. We're exhausted emotionally, physically. I mean, how are we supposed to sit there and space out on speaker phone for up to 12 hours. There's going to be background noise. I'm assuming they're not going to be mic'd or anything, so we're going to miss so much of it. And just really frustrate us even more.

S. O'BRIEN: Barbara Allen, thank you for talking with us. I know over the next few days and as this trial goes forward we will talk more, too. Thanks.

ALLEN: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Ms. Allen and the second widow, Chavonne Esposito (ph) have both decided that, in fact, they're going to try to get to Tikrit to catch the start of this Article 32 hearing. They're now negotiating that.

Short break. We're back in a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back. You've been looking at some of the faces of some of the children who are still missing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Laura Bush, the first lady, was visiting the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children today, giving some support and some kudos to the folks who work there. Let's listen to what she had to say just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Such a very important part of reuniting families, all the time, but especially now in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when we have so many families who were separated from each other.

Each of us who have children know what it's like to lose your child for a minute in a department store, so we can imagine what these families are feeling and what they're thinking if they've been separated from their children for the last week or so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: No question about that. Laura Bush talking about the families whose are now desperately looking for their children, or in some cases, children who are desperately looking for their parents as well.

And so, keeping that in mind, CNN is now going to kick off a 40- hour initiative. We will be broadcasting for 40 continuous hours the faces of these children who are missing or faces of children who are searching for their parents. It begins at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, continuously we will have part of the screen dedicated to the faces of these children. We will run it straight through until Sunday evening at 11:00 p.m.

Hopefully able to reunite some of these children and their parents as well. That's happening all this weekend right here on CNN.

Time to take a look at business news today. What factor presents the greatest risk to the U.S. economy is the question we're asking. Plus, we're looking at Wall Street, too. We have Andy Serwer "Minding Your Business".

Can I just say, first? I think it's so great we're showing the faces of these kids.

ANDY SERWER, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Yes, it is a remarkable story. I hope we do some good there.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, gosh, I hope so. Anyway, business news now.

SERWER: Business news.

S. O'BRIEN: Serious stuff.

SERWER: Yes, let's talk about the markets. First of all, Soledad, looks lie some positive response on Wall Street to the president's speech. Dow up 36 points this morning. A couple stocks of note here. Delta, Northwest airlines obviously in bankruptcy. You know that, but reports this morning that the two companies may merge. If it makes sense, I say do it. Why not? They don't overlap. Their businesses don't overlap. They could cut costs maybe without laying off more workers. So who knows?

S. O'BRIEN: Does that ever happen? Two bankrupt companies get together and recover?

SERWER: It can happen. Yes, it can happen. It can.

S. O'BRIEN: It can.

SERWER: "Can" being the operative word here.

S. O'BRIEN: You're protecting yourself.

SERWER: I am.

S. O'BRIEN: Go ahead.

SERWER: Other news here, a group of economists has come up with what they consider to be the greatest threat to our well-being, this may seem obvious to you but a couple interesting wrinkles.

They say higher energy price is the greatest threat to the U.S. economy. Now what's interesting here is six months ago they said it was deficits, and a year ago they said it was terrorism. You can see how things shift.

But help may be on the way, Soledad, because OPEC has just lowered its demand forecast for petroleum. Why? Because of high prices. It means therefore that people are buying less gasoline and heating oil because the price is high which would make prices fall back. The markets sometimes self correct a bit.

S. O'BRIEN: It's about time. Everybody has a car, or everybody has a house that they heat.

SERWER: Yeah.

S. O'BRIEN: Andy, thanks.

SERWER: You're welcome.>

S. O'BRIEN: Short break. Back in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Back now from St. Bernard Parish. Take a look at this mud. I stuck my foot in it. This cakes this entire parish. I can barely get my boot out. As it flakes away, becomes dry, as you can see there in cracks. It is a big concern because this is considered toxic. It's filled with oil, and in many respects this could become like the next Love Canal right here in St. Bernard Parish. Just to compound the misery here, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, it is a terrible picture. Miles, thank you very much and thanks for all your fine reporting this week. I know it is tough circumstances. And we appreciate it. We'll see you back here.

We also want to remind everybody again, all weekend from 7 a.m. on Saturday morning till 11 p.m. on Sunday evening, we're going to be showing pictures of children who are still missing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

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