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Hurricane Blame Game Continues; Some New York Hotels Continue Hospitality to Katrina Evacuees; Interview with Gold Medalist Joey Cheek
Aired February 15, 2006 - 08:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Chertoff better be having a good breakfast right now. He's got a good day ahead of him, good hard day ahead of him, of tough questions on Capitol Hill. This in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as the hurricane blame game continues.
"Time" magazine correspondent Brian Bennett will join us from Washington to talk about what Mr. Chertoff faces as he heads to Capitol Hill.
For one thing, Brian, he does have a stinging report, which is going to be kind of almost around his neck like an albatross as he conducts his testimony today. The report was -- really didn't pull any punches, did it?
BRIAN BENNNETT, "TIME" MAGAZINE: No, not at all. This House report that is just coming out today really lays a lot at Chertoff's feet for the Department of Homeland Security not being prepared for a lot of the eventualities in Katrina that were forecasted. And there is blame that goes around, from the mayor of New Orleans to the governor of Louisiana to Chertoff himself and the department.
But one thing when you're running a new department, you don't want is to be in the limelight. Because new departments are messy, there's a lot of turf battles. And it takes time to bring everything together and make everything work, and that's exactly where Chertoff is finding himself, underneath a magnifying glass, and he's going to be asked a lot of tough questions today.
O'BRIEN: Mr. Chertoff is a former prosecutor, a judge, a legal scholar. Very short on management experience on his resume. Is this part of the problem, do you think?
BENNETT: Well, some people have pointed to the fact that Chertoff's predecessor Tom Ridge had been a governor. He had experience running a state, thinking about emergency management issues. And Chertoff comes to this from a law enforcement career, a career as a judge and a prosecutor. And one doesn't have the experience of running a large municipality or a large state. And, also, doesn't have that -- hasn't had to have that need to connect with people through television, other means, that politicians naturally have.
And we're going to see today whether or not, with a lot of people watching him, he can convince the American public that the Department of Homeland Security is doing what it set out to do.
O'BRIEN: Do you think he has the political skills to do that?
BENNETT: That's the big question. Certainly, he's a smart guy. He buries himself in the details and knows a lot about the department and its aims. What we haven't seen so far from him is really an ability to connect with the public, and this is a big day for him to try to do that.
He has done a lot of speechifying and talking about moving things around the organization chart, switching the priorities of the department from -- in order to be -- make risk base assessments. But, really, I think he hasn't done much to gain the confidence of the American people and probably the opposite.
O'BRIEN: Yes, I mean, I think that this might be one day that he probably shouldn't sound like a lawyer.
BENNETT: Absolutely. I think the senators themselves are going to be looking for him to not be dodging questions and giving a lot of qualifiers, and that that's his -- I've seen him speak a lot. And he's a nuanced guy, but really in this time, I think he needs to step up and give straight answers and convince this -- the senators who are going to be asking him questions that he has a handle on things and is the guy to bring the improvements to the department that haven't been made yet.
O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this. Is this going to ultimately lead to some discussion about the usefulness, the validity, of the Department of Homeland Security?
BENNETT: I think that's what really on the line here. We have a department that was created to one, be a clearinghouse for all intelligence about threats to the United States. And that hasn't happened. The FBI and the CIA ended up carrying most of the burden and creating the NCTE, the National Counterrorism Center that did that, that's doing that function right now.
And also another goal of the department was to coordinate across all of the government agencies, and state and local, our response to major either attack or national disaster. And Katrina put that to the test and really, the department failed. And it's going to be up to Chertoff's leadership right now and the department itself to prove that, you know, its raison d'etre is good, and, you know, to earn the confidence of the American people in that department and carrying out their stated goals.
O'BRIEN: Brian Bennett with "Time" magazine, thanks for your time.
BENNETT: Pleasure to be with you.
O'BRIEN: This morning's Senate hearings, which includes Michael Chertoff's testimony, set to begin at 11:15 Eastern. We will, of course, be following it for you, offer you some live coverage. You can watch the whole thing at Pipeline, CNN.com/pipeline -- Zain. ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, for some Katrina evacuees, this past Monday meant eviction from their hotels because FEMA was no longer footing the bill. But here in New York City, seven hotels made no move to kick out evacuees that were staying there. That was a pleasant surprise to those still trying to make the transition from the Big Easy to the Big Apple.
CNN's Allan Chernoff has the story.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Katrina evacuee Sam Smith packed up his belongings, expecting FEMA was about to stop footing his bill at Harlem's Apollo Hotel.
SAM SMITH, KATRINA EVACUEE: It's definitely not fair for all of us to just -- you know, to push out of our system. They haven't finished processing us so we can be able to move on comfortably.
CHERNOFF: But Smith got a last-minute reprieve from FEMA till the end of the month, giving him more time to furnish a studio apartment for which he's just signed a lease.
SMITH: Somebody finally figured out that I needed time and I'm glad they are responding to my personal needs.
CHERNOFF: At the Radisson Hotel near Kennedy Airport, where evacuees have been staying since September, FEMA's funding for nine families did expire Monday. But the hotel has agreed to foot the bill, $1,500 a night, partly out of generosity, but also hoping to avoid a messy legal battle.
TONI PINTO, RADISSON JFK MANAGER: Basically, they've been our guests, the hotel's guests, and they're not being charged anything for the room while staying here for the time being.
CHERNOFF: Evacuees who have called the Radisson home say the hotel has been more than accommodating.
ERNEST CONNER, KATRINA EVACUEE: They took us in like a family. You know, like for New Year's, they had a party for the employees and invited the evacuees to the party and I thought that was really nice.
ALISHIA MELANCON, KATRINA EVACUEE: They got people starching their clothes, and they're opening doors, they doing the room service. They just real nice to us.
CHERNOFF: There is a limit, though, to the Radisson's hospitality, especially with a $7 million renovation underway.
(on camera): The hotel says it can afford to pay for the remaining evacuees for only so long. Management isn't setting a deadline just yet, but does say if the evacuees are still here in a couple of months, it will pursue legal action to evict them.
Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)
VERJEE; A federal judge on Monday denied a temporary restraining order that would have stopped hurricane evacuees from being evicted from their FEMA-funded rooms -- Miles.
VERJEE: They call it "The CSI Effect." Now, the TV show incredibly popular, but it now may be causing problems. Tonight on "PAULA ZAHN NOW," a killer in Ohio used what he learned from the show to cover his tracks. And now police say that those lessons could be making their job much harder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's showing the crooks how not to get caught.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VERJEE: Tonight, Paula will take you to a real-life crime lab and she talks to the show's producers to find out what they think about "The CSI Effect." That's on "PAULA ZAHN NOW," tonight at 8:00 Eastern.
Andy is "Minding Your Business" just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Do you watch "CSI"?
ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" COLUMNIST: Not too much.
VERJEE: You watch dog shows, though.
SERWER: Dog shows, the Olympics, yes. I got the kids. They control the remote.
VERJEE: I've been missing "General Hospital," and I've been quite upset.
SERWER: Well, sorry about that.
VERJEE: Yes, I TiVoed it, though.
Some business news coming up, Zain. A billionaire media mogul's family feud spills into public view. Don't you love just that? I do. Stay tuned. It's coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.
O'BRIEN: Another sign of progress in the New Orleans hurricane recovery. Harrah's Casino expected to open its doors again this week, and tomorrow we'll get a sneak peak inside. Betting an even money on that one. Plus, we'll ask employees how they feel about finally going back to work. That's tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING, your safe bet in the morning.
A family feud in the media biz. You know, money can ruin a family.
SERWER: Yes. Billions and billions and billions of dollars.
O'BRIEN: And they still hate each other?
SERWER: Yes. It's amazing what money will do to a perfectly sgood family. Eighty-two-year-old Sumner Redstone controlled CBS and Viacom through his stakes at a company called National Amusement. He owns two-thirds of this company.
Well, guess what? His son Brent, 55 years old, is not too happy that pa is not letting him get a piece of the action here. He has filed a suit in Maryland. He wants to dissolve this company, National Amusements. He's irked that he's been frozen out of decisions, and even worse, Sumner seems to have tapped his younger sister Shari to become his heir.
VERJEE: Why has he frozen him out?
SERWER: Well, because there's some sort of bad blood. It's unclear, Zain, what's going on here. But you know what's happened is that Brent's moved off to his ranch in Colorado, where he earns a paltry million dollars a year sitting there looking at after his cows, presumably. Now, Sumner offered to put him in charge of the company's South American theater operations...
O'BRIEN: It's a juggernaut.
SERWER: A bit of a backwater, I would suggest.
SERWER: But Brent said he would only do that if he could run the operations from his Colorado ranch. Dad refused. And you can see on and on we go with this sort of thing. Good stuff.
VERJEE: You got a market preview?
SERWER: I do. First, I want to talk about yesterday, because it was a banner day and I want to take some responsibility. The Dow up triple digits yesterday. We had everything to do with this here on AMERICAN MORNING.
O'BRIEN: The Serwer rally.
SERWER: The Serwer effect, I like to call it, actually. You can see here the best day of the year. Nice retail sales in the month of January having everything to do with this. The price of oil below $60.
And very significantly today, you guys, Ben Bernanke, the new Fed chief, will be testifying before Congress starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. And unless Alan -- there's Ben Bernanke! That is the Fed chief. It's not Alan Greenspan, no matter what Alan Greenspan thinks. And Alan Greenspan shouldn't be out there giving a speech today. Maybe we'll actually listen to what Mr. Bernanke, our new Fed chief, has to say.
VERJEE: And that speech has moved the market?
O'BRIEN: You might have to do a split-screen. Alan Greenspan and his speech, Bernanke and his testimony. You decide.
VERJEE: And see what happens to the markets.
SERWER: Not the Fed chief. Bernanke, Fed chief.
O'BRIEN: Right. Thank you.
VERJEE: Business news.
O'BRIEN: All right. Willie Nelson...
SERWER: Ah, news.
O'BRIEN: Willie Nelson. Now, this is news! He sings on the soundtrack to the movie "Brokeback Mountain." That's the gay cowboy thing. And here is Willie Nelson and a cowboy song you won't hear in the movie, but was inspired by it. Let's listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIE NELSON, SINGER (singing): Cowboys, frequently, secretly, fond of each other. Say, what do you think all them saddles and boots was about?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: And this is the point where you go stop, Willie, please stop.
SERWER: What's this about? So he recorded this after the movie came out for a little fun?
O'BRIEN: Here's the deal. Yes. Apparently the song was floating around in the early '80s. And it got into his hands and then movie comes out and there was this, you know, frequently, fondly loving each other thing. And it seemed like the song to record. And Willie does have a sense of humor about such things. SERWER: He really does. You talk to him about all manner of things and he will start yukking it, big time. I talked to him just a couple weeks ago about some stuff.
O'BRIEN: You name dropper, you!
O'BRIEN: Moving markets, chatting with Willie.
SERWER: We were talking about bio fuel. No, he was talking to me about bio fuel. He is big on that.
O'BRIEN: He is big on bio fuel.
VERJEE: What did he say?
SERWER: He said he has a whole bio fuel business down in Texas.
O'BRIEN: Yes. What is -- there's -- is it...
SERWER: Willie. Bio Willie, it's called.
O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, Andy Serwer.
SERWER: You're welcome.
O'BRIEN: Coming up, more on that Cheney hunting accident. Beltway insiders say Cheney is known for keeping things close to the vest. I think we all know that. But did he shoot himself in the foot this time, if you will? Ahead, the impact on his legacy.
VERJEE: Plus, the gold medalist with a heart of gold. U.S. speed skater Joey Cheek will tell us why he gave away his Olympic bonus, $25,000. That's next on AMERICAN MORNING.
SERWER: Good guy.
VERJEE: Yes, there is.
O'BRIEN: You're a good guy, yes you are.
VERJEE: American speed skater Joey Cheek isn't letting a gold medal performance go to his head; just his heart. Cheek won the men's 500-meter event on Monday. Now he's donating his $25,000 bonus from the U.S. Olympic Committee to a charity helping children in the Sudan.
Now, there's a war going on in a place called Darfur. That's in the Western part of the African country of Sudan. Darfur is basically a region the size of Texas. Now, rebels have been fighting the government for the old-fashioned reasons, really: money and power. Rights groups say that tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than two million people are now refugees.
Joey Cheek wants to help. He joins us now live from Torino.
Joey, good to see you. Congratulations on your gold medal victory. Is that it around your neck? Let's see.
JOEY CHEEK, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: This is it. This is it.
VERJEE: Yes? It must feel good, wow.
CHEEK: Yes, thank you.
VERJEE: Tell us...
CHEEK: Thank you for having me.
VERJEE: You're welcome. Why did you decide to give your money to a charity to help kids in Darfur?
CHEEK: Well, I genuinely feel I've been blessed. I've had every opportunity in the world coming from the United States. And compared to how many, many kids across the world live, the opportunities I've received are -- have -- are the reason that I can be successful in the field that I am and have experienced the things that I have. So for me, it's, you know, it's not -- it sounds cliche, the from the heart stuff, but I feel like it's a debt owed if you've been feel blessed, and you have to pass it on to someone else.
VERJEE: Did you plan on making this donation all along? Did it help you in any way prepare differently for the race?
CHEEK: I think it does. I think it makes it easier, you know, doing something. And I knew that this was going to -- if I skated well, I knew that I was going to do this beforehand. I had to set up some things first. But I think that -- yes, it's been -- it's something that makes you relaxed and easy and prepared. And all these things contribute to athletic performance.
VERJEE: What is it specifically about Darfur and the children there that have become victims of the fighting there that you want Americans to know?
CHEEK: Well, our government has labeled it a genocide. And, you know, sometimes it takes a while for our government to act and make such a strong statement. But we've labeled -- or our government's labeled genocide in the Darfur region. And, you know, it's but a twist of fate that I was born where I am and have the blond hair and the blue eyes that I have. If I was in another place and another time, then I could be one of the people whose parents have been killed. And because of my travels, I've been able to see this.
And I don't think believe that we get the coverage because we're so inundated in the U.S. with media coverage. But the outpouring of support I've had from the people back home -- everyone who's seen has been so positive. Sitting in Lenova, i-line (ph) to the village, checking e-mails. These people from North Carolina, from Texas, from New York, from California, everyone has wanted to help out and I'm blessed.
VERJEE: You're putting your money to the charity called the Right to Play. Tell us a little bit about that charity and how you want them to use your money to help these kids.
CHEEK: Well, it's a non-governmental humanitarian organization and it works in 23 different nations. It is primarily in Africa and the Middle East and some of the more war-ravaged regions, and primarily in refugee camps. It was started by another Olympian, Johann Olav Koss, who, when I was 14 years old, I watched him win three gold medals in Lillehammer, and do a similar thing and rally Norway to support this cause. And, you know, it's something that I believe in and I want to see through.
So, unfortunately, the situation in Chad, where a lot of the refugees are, has destabilized. But as soon as we -- you know, hopefully , peacekeepers will go in, but as soon as it's been safe to go in, I hope to go into those regions and help out, provide sporting equipment and humanitarian aid to the children in these camps.
VERJEE: You've asked your sponsors to match your donations. Have any of them come through?
CHEEK: We've had several come through already. And nothing is complete until you've got the check in your hands, but it's amazing. The companies have offered to help out, and it looks like my $25,000 will be multiplied many times over. So if that's not a good enough reason to train for ten years, I don't know what is.
VERJEE: Joey, that's amazing. Joey Cheek, thank you so much. Really, I think, showing some true Olympic spirit. Thanks for being with us. And best of luck in your next race, which I think is on Saturday. You've got the thousand meters, right?
VERJEE: Good luck. Thank you.
CHEEK: Thank you very much.
O'BRIEN: What a good guy. Good job, Zain. Good job, Joey. Now, Joey, no question, he's a big winner. What about the network that's covering the Olympics? "A.M. Pop" looks at whether NBC's getting enough bang for its buck and whether its going to give away all its money. No, they're not going to do that.
Plus, how's the VP's misfire in Texas going to affect his legacy? We'll take a look at that, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.
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