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AMERICAN MORNING

Iran Nuclear Threat; Bad Call?

Aired April 10, 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: Iran's nuclear ambitions may be prompting talk of a nuclear response. Or so it is written in the new issue of "The New Yorker" magazine. Investigative Reporter Seymour Hersh wrote the piece, claiming the Pentagon already is in an operational phase with boots on the ground inside Iran, and the White House is insisting on keeping a nuclear option on the table.
Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joining us live now from the Pentagon.

Barbara, what are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, here at the Pentagon, like the White House, officials still say that all of the focus is on diplomatic options, and there are a lot of reasons for that. Mainly, officials say, that any planning that is going on for Iraq (sic) right now is what they call contingency planning, not operational planning, not looking at yet trying yet to match troops, airplane ships, assets against any type of plan in order to make it happen.

One of the other things, they say, that is not true is the contention in the "New Yorker" article that U.S. troops are inside Iran ready to paint targets, if you will, to guide in U.S. weapons or U.S. bombs. It's extremely unlikely that that is true at this point. There would be no clear reason to put U.S. troops at risk.

And, the other question, of course, on the table in this article is that nuclear option. Very unlikely, officials say, that that is something that is being considered realistically -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: What do you make of the piece then?

STARR: You know, it's a question here, officials say, of what is planning really all about? The U.S. military always plans. There's always contingency planning. But moving it to the next step, that question of operational planning, in the military world is something that's very different. And targeting inside Iran, officials say, is a very tough business at this point. There is not sufficient intelligence about where all of Iran's nuclear facilities are.

And the question, a very interesting one, of nuclear weapons, what experts say is those nuclear bunker-busters, the kind of weapons that penetrate deep underground, that are nuclear, simply don't have the capacity to penetrate deep enough underground to destroy these targets and contain any resulting nuclear fallout. So officials here say their focus remains on diplomacy, and that they don't see an evidence that the president is looking at any type of military options in the near future -- Miles.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you very much -- Soledad.

Well, 911 in Detroit is going to be sued over a woman's death. Back in February on February 20th, 46-year-old Sherrill Turner collapsed. Her 5-year-old son called 911. The operator, though, who answered did not believe him.

Listen to the call.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DISPATCHER: Emergency 911, what is the problem?

ROBERT TURNER, CALLED 9-1-1 FOR DYING MOTHER: My mom has passed out.

DISPATCHER: Where's the grownups at?

TURNER: (INAUDIBLE)

DISPATCHER: Let me speak to her. Let me speak to her before I send the police over there.

TURNER (INAUDIBLE)

DISPATCHER: I don't care. You shouldn't be playing on the phone. Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there to knock on the door and you gonna be in trouble.

TURNER: Ugh!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: Sherrill Turner died. Robert Turner, who's now six years old, joins us this morning. His attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, as well. They're in Southfield, Michigan. Thanks for talking with us.

GEOFFREY FIEGER, FAMILY ATTORNEY: Thanks, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Let me talk to you, Robert, first, if I may. I know your mom, you found your mom and she was sick and she wasn't talking. Can you tell me what you tried to do to revive her?

TURNER: Wake her up.

S. O'BRIEN: You tried to wake her up. Did you touch her? Did you shake her?

TURNER: Uh-huh.

S. O'BRIEN: And nothing happened, nothing worked. Then you called 911.

Who taught you how to call 911, Robert? TURNER: My mom.

S. O'BRIEN: Your mommy taught you.

And when you called, the woman said she wasn't going to send police until she could talk to your mom. So I know You waited a pretty long time, like three hours, and you called back again. When she scolded you, which is what we just heard, when she scolded you and said, stop playing around, what did you think?

TURNER: No, she said stop playing on the phone.

S. O'BRIEN: Stop playing on the phone, uh-huh.

So you must have been pretty worried. What did you think?

TURNER: Uh-huh. I was worried about my mom.

S. O'BRIEN: I bet you were.

Geoffrey, let me ask you a question. It was even long after that before police came to the house.

FIEGER: Hours, hours.

S. O'BRIEN: And found Sherrill Turner and she was dead by then. This is a case that has lawsuit written all over it, and probably criminal charges, too. What are you looking for in this case?

FIEGER: I'm not sure about criminal charges, but certainly we need to alert the public and hopefully 911 to take the lead in not allowing this to happen again. There is no excuse for this.

Children are taught. My children are two and four years old. Robert has just turned six. They're taught by their parents in the face of an emergency, call 911. When they call, they can't be intimidated. They can't be scolded. They can't be threatened. That's just counter productive, and in this case, it resulted in the loss of a life. It also isn't an isolated occurrence. This happens far more often than people think. And if we didn't have this tape, no one would believe Robert that he had done this.

S. O'BRIEN: Wow. You know, here's what the police department had to say about all of this. I'm going to read their statement.

FIEGER: Sure.

S. O'BRIEN: "It's important not to rush to judgment in these types of situations. The citizens of Detroit can be assured that our department is meticulously examining every aspect of what occurred. And if disciplinary action is recommended following the completion of the investigation, then that's the course that's going to be taken."

Tell me a little bit about Robert's situation is now. His mother's died. Where is he living? FIEGER: Well. He's with his sister, who loves him very, very much, and she has two children about Robert's age, so he's being taken care of wonderfully, but of course this is a situation that no child should ever have to go through. And I want to also commend the city of Detroit for not having this tape disappear. In my experiences, these tapes tend to disappear, so Detroit can take the lead. However, it's quite obvious that something needs to be done in this situation to make things right.

S. O'BRIEN: The 911 Operators Union, I believe, a spokesperson, said the quality of the tape we played, which was hard to hear, frankly, was even worse. I mean, we sort of played a cleaned-up version of it, and that might have played a role in operators thinking that this was a prank.

FIEGER: No, no, no, no. We have the tape directly from 911. It's quite clear. The operator understood exactly what was being said, and occurred twice. I mean, almost identical situation. The call, Soledad, at 6:00 p.m. and the call at 9:00 p.m. are almost identical, and the reaction to Robert is almost identical. He's being scolded. He's being threatened. And in fact, at 9:00, all that was sent was not at EMS, an officer to come and arrest Robert for allegedly playing a prank when his mother was lying there passed away.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, my daughter, who's four, I just taught her how to call 911, and I'm thinking, I'm not sure that she would be able to articulate herself very clearly as a 4-year-old if she finally got through to someone, God forbid there was some kind of emergency.

Are you...

FIEGER: And remember, they knew where he was. They have access immediately to address and the names of the people at the address.

S. O'BRIEN: So what kind of changes do you want? The operators have said, listen, we get a tremendous percentage, a huge percentage of the calls we get are pranks. What change do you want, in addition to whatever the lawsuit calls for?

FIEGER: I think rules are that all calls are considered life and death situations until proven otherwise. The fact that a large percentage, even 25 percent, are prank calls, can't make a difference. If that means that one out of four calls are not going to be treated realistically or seriously, that means that one out of four calls might result in a death. That's far too high of a percentage. So every call has to be treated -- and Detroit can really lead the nation in that, in recognizing, notwithstanding prank calls, that's got to be true in the system. They understand that going in. They have the system. They carry it out as if every call is a life or death situation.

S. O'BRIEN: Hey, Robert, let me ask you a question. You're six years old now. I know you're living with your sister, and she's got a couple of kids, too. You must miss your mom a whole lot.

FIEGER: Robert? TURNER: Uh-huh.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I bet you do. It's got to be so tough.

Listen, I thank you both for talking with us, Robert Turner and Geoffrey Fieger, who's attorney who's now taken on the case.

Oh, what a brutal story. And anybody I think, Miles, who's -- you know, you teach your kids, dial 911.

M. O'BRIEN: He did everything he was taught to do.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh my gosh. Like my 4-year-old, she would be as inarticulate as a 4-year-old would be or a 5-year-old would be, not really spelling out clearly this is an emergency. You just sort of hope that they pick up the phone and get connected to 911 and you'd be happy. What a brutal story.

M. O'BRIEN: I was always under the assumption, with enhanced 911, it didn't matter what you said. If you called in, you get dispatched.

S. O'BRIEN: Right, they could get connected because they knew your address.

I mean, three hours between the first call and second call, and then hours after that before they even sent the police. This poor woman didn't have a chance. Oh, so sad. Wow.

(WEATHER REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: A lawyer for one of the Duke lacrosse players in the middle of that rape allegation says he has pictures that tell a different story. We haven't seen those pictures just yet, but they should be coming out soon.

Carol Costello in the newsroom with more.

Hello, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a very interesting twist, Miles. You remember the alleged victim claimed she had been raped in a bathroom between midnight and 12:41 a.m. Well, lawyers for the team say these eight pictures have surfaced, and they say that these pictures prove that these alleged victims banged up before she came to the party to perform? They say she had cuts and bruises on her legs and feet, and she was also visibly impaired.

Now, these lawyers also say these eight pictures are time- stamped, and they take place over that 41-minute time period, between midnight and 12:41 a.m., and they also allegedly show this woman smiling at a time when she said she was afraid.

I say these eight photos are time-stamped, but we don't know if the times are accurate yet because we haven't seen the pictures, and we really don't know who took the pictures either. According to "The Mercury News," the pictures were taken by at least two cameras by several people. These photographs will be released by the lawyers at the very same time the DNA test results will be released, so we're going to have to be patient.

Of course that could come this week. That could come any time, but we'll continue to follow this -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: If you're keeping score at home, as far as weighing evidence here, DNA versus these pictures, I think the DNA is going to be the real key here.

COSTELLO: You never know.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Carol Costello in the newsroom, thank you very much.

(MARKET REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, she is only 4'11", but this project runway champ is quickly becoming one of the biggest names in fashion. A look at how she went from living in a refugee camp to the life of celebrity.

And the gossip biz was practically built on favors and freebies. So why is everyone in such a tizzy over a scandal at "The New York Post?" Well, it might take it to a new level. A gossip insider will dish some dirt for us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Just asking, what highly successful gossip column is now avoiding dishing details of its own steamy scandal involving a possibly loose canon stringer and a besmirched billionaire? The answer is "Page Six" which sits at the salacious summit of loosely sourced snippets of the rich, the powerful and the famous. Does it come as a surprise? Well, I guess you could say the gossip trade has been canoodling with disaster for a long time.

Deborah Schoeneman is the author of the book "Four Percent Famous," and has also contributed to the New York Post "Page Six" over the years. She joins us now.

Good to have you with us.

DEBORAH SCHOENEMAN, CONTRIBUTED ITEMS TO "PAGE SIX": Thanks.

M. O'BRIEN: Are you surprised?

SCHOENEMAN: Am I surprised? Well, I am surprised about a cash payoff. There's lots of arrangements in gossip reporting. There's lots of favors and favor banking and sources that you swap information with, and help each other out, but a cash payoff is something I'd never heard of before. M. O'BRIEN: All right, before we get to those details, let's talk about the favored banks and these little -- you know, favor deals and hotel rooms, all that. Give us an example of how that might work.

SCHOENEMAN: In gossip reporting, especially at a tabloid, there's a different set of rules than there are at other news organizations. A free hotel room or a free car rental, a first class plane ticket to a junket, free meals, free clothes. Those are par to the course.

M. O'BRIEN: And all these things, most journalists cannot even come close to accepting. Why is there a different set of rules for gossip?

SCHOENEMAN: Gossip reporting brings in a lot of ad revenue, it brings in a lot of readers. I think gossip is very addictive, and people buy the post for "Page Six."

M. O'BRIEN: And it is a --- obviously has been over the years a slippery slope, because the more you get into this, the more competition there is, the more of a desire there is to have that next scoop. So I guess they were courting disaster.

SCHOENEMAN: I mean, to come up with a column every day is extremely hard, and "Page Six" is so influential and attracts so many readers that they play all sorts of games to be first and to have the best news.

M. O'BRIEN: Now this potential stringer in question, his name is Jared Paul Stern. Do you know him?

SCHOENEMAN: I do know Jared.

M. O'BRIEN: What do you know about him?

SCHOENEMAN: Jared has an interesting persona. It's kind of Old Worldly. A monocle and a scotch.

M. O'BRIEN: A monocle?

SCHOENEMAN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow.

SCHOENEMAN: A fedora. It kind of harks back to the days of "Sweet Smell of Success."

M. O'BRIEN: Uh-huh. All right. So he's kind of -- sees himself -- he's created quite a persona for himself.

SCHOENEMAN: Mmm hmm.

M. O'BRIEN: The allegation is that he is sought a payoff from a billionaire who didn't like what was being written about him in "Page Six." Ron Burkle is his name. Hundred thousand bucks up front, $10,000 per month as a retainer, to have either nothing or good stuff in "Page Six."

SCHOENEMAN: Uh-huh.

M. O'BRIEN: Based on what you know about Mr. Stern, does that seem like something that would happen?

SCHOENEMAN: It seems surprising to me that it would be a direct cash payoff. I think Jared might have been looking for financing for his clothing line. And Ron Burkle does invest in clothing lines. And I think deals that happen where a billionaire or a powerful person might make themselves a desirable friend to "Page Six," perhaps giving them a book deal or giving them a ride on their jet. But I think actually writing a big check for protection, especially a monthly maintenance fee, that's something I've never heard of before.

M. O'BRIEN: You haven't? OK, so the jury is still out in your mind, as to what really went down in this case?

SCHOENEMAN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this. In your experience over the years, did you ever have any really uncomfortable moments where there are stories where you're, you know, pressured to put them in or gossip items that you thought maybe you shouldn't touch, that were too hot to handle? There must be stories like that.

SCHOENEMAN: Yes. I wrote the gossip column for "New York" magazine for two years, and now I only write features for the magazine, because I felt very conflicted about writing about gossip. It's a very hard line to walk. People are always getting upset with you. You're always delving into their private lives. It's very hard to do, especially every week.

M. O'BRIEN: And it is a different set of rules. I mean, as far as sourcing, for example. You can get one phone call and it ends up in the newspaper, essentially, right?

SCHOENEMAN: Well, it depends on your publication. At "New York" magazine, we have fact checking and lawyers look over items. We call everyone for comment. "Page 6," there is no fact checking. They don't really have the time. They have to crank out a column every single day.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow. And I guess that -- in that sense, you have to wonder what is real and what is not. What you read on "Page 6," what is real.

SCHOENEMAN: Or why it's so popular.

M. O'BRIEN: There you go. Deborah Schoeneman, who is a contributing editor for "New York Magazine" and the author of the book, which is coming out...

SCHOENEMAN: In May.

M. O'BRIEN: "Four Percent Famous." And we'll have you back for that, and you can explain what "Four Percent Famous" is.

SCHOENEMAN: Thanks very much.

M. O'BRIEN: Thanks for being with us.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: In just a moment, a look at the top stories of the day, including a big day for immigration rallies. Millions are planning to stage protests around the country.

And today is the day that DNA tests are expected back in the Duke rape investigation. A big day in the Enron trial, too. Former CEO Jeff Skilling will take the stand.

Then, the latest twists in what we were just talking about, the "New York Post Page 6" scandal.

And trouble in California, to fill in you in on torrential rains, pushing rivers and levees to their limits. And more bad weather is on the way.

We'll take a look at all of that, just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Just asking, what highly successful gossip column is now avoiding dishing details of its own steamy scandal involving a possibly loose canon stringer and a besmirched billionaire? The answer is "Page Six" which sits at the salacious summit of loosely sourced snippets of the rich, the powerful and the famous. Does it come as a surprise? Well, I guess you could say the gossip trade has been canoodling with disaster for a long time.

Deborah Schoeneman is the author of the book "Four Percent Famous," and has also contributed to the New York Post "Page Six" over the years. She joins us now.

Good to have you with us.

DEBORAH SCHOENEMAN, CONTRIBUTED ITEMS TO "PAGE SIX": Thanks.

M. O'BRIEN: Are you surprised?

SCHOENEMAN: Am I surprised? Well, I am surprised about a cash payoff. There's lots of arrangements in gossip reporting. There's lots of favors and favor banking and sources that you swap information with, and help each other out, but a cash payoff is something I'd never heard of before.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, before we get to those details, let's talk about the favored banks and these little -- you know, favor deals and hotel rooms, all that. Give us an example of how that might work.

SCHOENEMAN: In gossip reporting, especially at a tabloid, there's a different set of rules than there are at other news organizations. A free hotel room or a free car rental, a first class plane ticket to a junket, free meals, free clothes. Those are par to the course.

M. O'BRIEN: And all these things, most journalists cannot even come close to accepting. Why is there a different set of rules for gossip?

SCHOENEMAN: Gossip reporting brings in a lot of ad revenue, it brings in a lot of readers. I think gossip is very addictive, and people buy the post for "Page Six."

M. O'BRIEN: And it is a --- obviously has been over the years a slippery slope, because the more you get into this, the more competition there is, the more of a desire there is to have that next scoop. So I guess they were courting disaster.

SCHOENEMAN: I mean, to come up with a column every day is extremely hard, and "Page Six" is so influential and attracts so many readers that they play all sorts of games to be first and to have the best news.

M. O'BRIEN: Now this potential stringer in question, his name is Jared Paul Stern. Do you know him?

SCHOENEMAN: I do know Jared.

M. O'BRIEN: What do you know about him?

SCHOENEMAN: Jared has an interesting persona. It's kind of Old Worldly. A monocle and a scotch.

M. O'BRIEN: A monocle?

SCHOENEMAN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow.

SCHOENEMAN: A fedora. It kind of harks back to the days of "Sweet Smell of Success."

M. O'BRIEN: Uh-huh. All right. So he's kind of -- sees himself -- he's created quite a persona for himself.

SCHOENEMAN: Mmm hmm.

M. O'BRIEN: The allegation is that he is sought a payoff from a billionaire who didn't like what was being written about him in "Page Six." Ron Burkle is his name. Hundred thousand bucks up front, $10,000 per month as a retainer, to have either nothing or good stuff in "Page Six."

SCHOENEMAN: Uh-huh.

M. O'BRIEN: Based on what you know about Mr. Stern, does that seem like something that would happen? SCHOENEMAN: It seems surprising to me that it would be a direct cash payoff. I think Jared might have been looking for financing for his clothing line. And Ron Burkle does invest in clothing lines. And I think deals that happen where a billionaire or a powerful person might make themselves a desirable friend to "Page Six," perhaps giving them a book deal or giving them a ride on their jet. But I think actually writing a big check for protection, especially a monthly maintenance fee, that's something I've never heard of before.

M. O'BRIEN: You haven't? OK, so the jury is still out in your mind, as to what really went down in this case?

SCHOENEMAN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this. In your experience over the years, did you ever have any really uncomfortable moments where there are stories where you're, you know, pressured to put them in or gossip items that you thought maybe you shouldn't touch, that were too hot to handle? There must be stories like that.

SCHOENEMAN: Yes. I wrote the gossip column for "New York" magazine for two years, and now I only write features for the magazine, because I felt very conflicted about writing about gossip. It's a very hard line to walk. People are always getting upset with you. You're always delving into their private lives. It's very hard to do, especially every week.

M. O'BRIEN: And it is a different set of rules. I mean, as far as sourcing, for example. You can get one phone call and it ends up in the newspaper, essentially, right?

SCHOENEMAN: Well, it depends on your publication. At "New York" magazine, we have fact checking and lawyers look over items. We call everyone for comment. "Page 6," there is no fact checking. They don't really have the time. They have to crank out a column every single day.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow. And I guess that -- in that sense, you have to wonder what is real and what is not. What you read on "Page 6," what is real.

SCHOENEMAN: Or why it's so popular.

M. O'BRIEN: There you go. Deborah Schoeneman, who is a contributing editor for "New York Magazine" and the author of the book, which is coming out...

SCHOENEMAN: In May.

M. O'BRIEN: "Four Percent Famous." And we'll have you back for that, and you can explain what "Four Percent Famous" is.

SCHOENEMAN: Thanks very much.

M. O'BRIEN: Thanks for being with us.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: In just a moment, a look at the top stories of the day, including a big day for immigration rallies. Millions are planning to stage protests around the country.

And today is the day that DNA tests are expected back in the Duke rape investigation. A big day in the Enron trial, too. Former CEO Jeff Skilling will take the stand.

Then, the latest twists in what we were just talking about, the "New York Post Page 6" scandal.

And trouble in California, to fill in you in on torrential rains, pushing rivers and levees to their limits. And more bad weather is on the way.

We'll take a look at all of that, just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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